Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coq Au Vin for Barefoot Bloggers

This month's first Barefoot Blogger recipe was Coq Au Vin, chosen by Bethany of this little piggy went to market (such a great name!). As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love chicken braises (in fact "place in oven for 30-40 minutes" must be one of my all time favourite directions in a recipe). No surprises then that this recipe ticks all the boxes for me. The chicken was tender, and full of flavour. It was an easily expandable recipe - at this time of year, it is not unusual to have an extra soul at the table - so I just bought a couple of extra chicken legs and cooked them in with the rest of the chopped chicken. We all loved it - even the children. And for non-wine drinkers - don't be put off. The wine just adds a depth of flavour but no identifiable "winey" taste.

My only ever so slight issue was with browning the chicken. I always wind up with most of the chicken skin stuck to the bottom of the pot. Any suggestions would be much appreciated! Check out how all the other Barefoot Bloggers went here.

And on a personal note, December means the start of the Australian summer holidays. We will be travelling a bit and I will have only intermittent computer access, so Merry Christmas / Seasons Greetings / Happy New Year to all. Despite my best intentions, some posts are going to have to wait till January!

Coq Au Vin

from "Back to Basics" by Ina Garten

2 tablespoons good olive oil
120g good bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (1.5-2kg) chicken, cut in 8ths
250g carrots, cut diagonally in 3cm pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
250g frozen small whole onions (I couldn't find these, so I sauteed some small pickling onions in some oil and then added them)
250g cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

Preheat the oven to 125C. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.
Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer.

Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.

Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Beef - Skewered and Stuffed for Cook The Books

In my dreams, I have always imagined running a bookshop cafe. After all, what could be better than combining a love of food and reading? There used to be a cafe like this near where I lived in my early 20s, and even walking past it made me happy. It was tiny with a very eclectic collection of books, mostly fiction and art books I think, and a charming cafe with great sandwiches and little cakes. It also had stern signs telling you to pay for the books before going to the cafe to read them - too many greasy fingers on expensive art books perhaps! Sadly the cafe disappeared more than 15 years ago, and now the closest we get is a Gloria Jeans outlet inside a Borders bookshop - not the concept in my imagination at all.

So you can understand that when I read about the new Cook The Books club starting, I had to join in. The first book chosen was "La Cucina" by Lily Prior. This is a very light romp of a book, full of unlikely plot twists, love, passion and most importantly, lingering descriptions of the food that Rosa, our hero makes, especially for her lover L'Inglese. I didn't love the book, but I must confess that I read it with one eye on what I would make for this challenge. Ultimately, I decided on braciolettine, the meal prepared at the emotional peak of the novel. Rosa goes to the house where her lover is staying (in my mind it is Cary Grant's grandmother's house in An Affair To Remember). She can't find him, so she goes into the kitchen and puts together a beautiful meal of beef thinly sliced, stuffed and baked. I don't want to spoil your fun, so to find out what happens next, you'll have to read the book!
I really loved this and would make it again, maybe as a starter for a dinner party. Definitely use the hot salami - it gives the stuffing a real lift. Scrumptious.
Instead of following a recipe, I decided to cook it as it is done in the book, so here is Rosa's recipe via Lily Prior and me...
1 fillet of beef, very chilled (put in freezer for it to start to freeze)
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan
2 tbl raisins, plumped up in a little hot water for 10 minutes, then drained
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tomato, chopped
50g hot salami, sliced thinly
50g pecorino, cubed
Tomato passata, to serve
My fillet was quite long so I cut it in three. I then sliced it as thinly as I could horizontally. Very cold meat makes this easier, so either chill or slightly freeze our beef first. You want to finish up with thin slices of beef about 10cm x 15cm.
Gently fry onion in a little olive oil until it is translucent. Remove from the heat, stir in the bread crumbs, parmesan, raisins, pine nuts and tomato. Season to taste.
Take a slice of beef, lay a small slice of salami on top and then add a tablespoon of the onion mixture and a cube of pecorino. Roll up the beef, and secure it with two skewers. Keep adding more beef rolls to the same skewers until they are full (my skewers took about 6 rolls), then start more skewers if you need to.
Lay on an oven tray, brush with oil, and bake at 180C for 30 minutes. I served it with some tomato passata as a sauce.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blue Eye With Caper and Dill Sauce

Apart from the health advantages, and the fact it tastes so good, fish are also what I turn too when I need something fast for dinner. Something good that does not involve hours in the oven or on the stove; something that does not need overnight marinating. Something good for days when your daughter fractures her wrist, and you get sent home from the hospital by a casualty nurse who tells you there is nothing wrong. Something good for days when you sit with your daughter back at the hospital the next day so she can be X-rayed, seen by a specialist and plastered, almost from palm to underarm. (Don't worry - she's fine now).

I plucked this dish out of an old-ish Gourmet Traveller (Oct 2006). It comes from the phenomenon that is Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Restaurant, in this case Fifteen Melbourne. I had to dive into the fish shop for some blue eye, and the greengrocers for some dill. Otherwise everything else was in my cupboard. You could make it with any thick-ish fish fillet; for a thinner fillet, just reduce the cooking time so you don't overcook the fish. The sauce is full of flavour against the mildness of the fish. How finely you chop it is up to you - I was happy with chunky, but you could keep going until it is much smoother. A very handy recipe for one of those weeks.

Blue Eye Cod With Caper and Dill Sauce
adapted from Gourmet Traveller, October 2006

4 pieces of blue eye cod (skin on if possible)
Juice and finely grated rind of two lemons
1/3 cup baby salted capers, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
8 anchovy fillets
1/2 bunch of dill
1 small handful of flat-leaf parsely leaves
125 ml extra virgin olive oil

Place blue eye fillets in a bowl and pour over the lemon juice. Swirl the fillets around so they are all covered, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile chop capers, herbs, garlic and anchovies, then place in a bowl with lemon rind and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, and stir to combine. Season to taste with black pepper.

Remove the blue eye from the lemon juice. Pat dry with absorbent paper and season to taste. Heat remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat and cook fish, skin-side down for 3-4 minutes, then turn and cook on the other side for a further three minutes.

Serve the fish with a generous covering of sauce.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mexican Chicken Soup - Bright and Beautiful Flavours

Twenty years ago, Sydney journalist David Dale published a list of rules to help people who had never eaten in Australia find a good restaurant. Over time they have been refined, but here is some of the current list:
1. Never eat in a restaurant that revolves or floats.
2. Never eat in a restaurant that is more than 20 metres above the ground.
3. A restaurant with a pepper grinder on every table is likely to be good.
4. A restaurant with an accordionist is likely to be bad.
5. There is no such thing as a bad Thai restaurant in Australia.
6. There is no such thing as a good Mexican restaurant in Australia.
7. The longer the menu, the poorer the food -- except in Chinese restaurants.
8. A restaurant in which one wall is covered with signed black and white photographs of celebrities is unlikely to be state of the art.
9. Restaurants advertising karaoke are unlikely to be gastronomic temples, but this will become less important as you become less sober.
10. Restaurants that display their menus outside are likely to be more interesting than those that don't (and also make the application of these theories much easier).

And you see, Rule 6 is my problem: while there now may be some good Mexican restaurants in Australia, there aren't many and I have never eaten in any of them. My experience of Mexican food really begins and ends with tacos (something I know will have to change...) Which brings me to today's Barefoot Challenge: Mexican Chicken Soup. I wasn't sure if I was even going to make it, but decided to put it to the team. I told the family I was going to make a soup which used taco flavours, and they seemed keen enough to try it, for me to decide to go ahead and do it. I was really happy I did. This soup was very tasty and easy to make. And for me, very different!

Apart from some minor changes, and halving the amounts, I made the recipe as written, which was easily enough for four of us for dinner. I used chicken thighs instead of breasts (finding breasts here on the bone with skin is impossible), and substituted a single birds eye chilli (seeded) for the jalapeno chillis (also hard to find here). This gave the soup a nice background warmth without much heat. Even the kids had to ask whether or not there was any chilli. I also used the full amount of chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) because I love it in anything! Thanks to Judy from Judy's Gross Eats for the pick this week - you have prompted me to try making some more Mexican food!

PS Happy Thanksgiving!

Mexican Chicken Soup
from "Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten
4 chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
Good olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, optional
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas
Garnishes: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mashed Potato, Mashed Potato...

One of my favourite books is "Heartburn" by Nora Ephron (of "Harry Met Sally" fame), which later became a Meryl Streep film. In it she talks about how, for her, the phases of a love affair are always marked by potatoes. "In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you are feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a cold thin slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you are feeling blue, the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but lets face it: the reason you are blue is that there isn't anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it's almost always at the wrong time."

I think mashed potatoes are comfort food extraordinaire, and pair very well with everything from roasted salmon to BBQ beef to the old favourite of sausages. This recipe makes the mashed potato a little bit more of a star in the meal because of the additional flavours and textures. It comes from "Vogue Wine and Food Cookbook: A Book of Modern Food" by Joan Campbell (Conde Nast 1995). This recipe is my entry into Novel Food, a food event that calls on bloggers to make something inspired by their reading.

Mashed Potatoes With Onions and Pine Nuts
(serves 6)

3 brown onions, peeled and sliced thinly
3 tbls olive oil
1 kg potatoes
150g butter
70ml milk (or more to taste)
3 tbl toasted pine nuts

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the onions over medium to high heat, tossing frequently until they are cooked and some of the onion is crisp and golden. Season to taste. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender and then drain. Add the butter, some milk and salt and pepper and mash. Beat the potatoes with a fork until they are light and fluffy, adding more milk and seasoning as required. Serve the potatoes covered with the onions and the oil the onions were cooked in. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Grind over some pepper.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cucumber Gazpacho - Chilled Soup for A Hot Day

Variations on a theme.... last week I posted a traditional tomato gazpacho as a great simple Sunday lunch, and then enjoyed it as a light meal for the next few days. This week I decided to take gazpacho a little further, and make a cucumber version, again as a cool weekend lunch. Gazpacho in all its various forms is one of my favourite foods of all time. Travelling in Spain last year, I had a bowl at least once a day (pretty much every time I saw it on a menu). And I was all set to enjoy this bowl of summery goodness again this week, but sadly the weather has not co-operated with me at all. I made this soup on Friday expecting gorgeous late November warmth, and instead we are all wrapped up with the kids under a doona watching a movie.

Regardless of the weather, this soup is delicious. The recipe comes from a recent Matt Moran column in the Australian Financial Review (Oct 24). Matt suggests serving it with gravlax floating in the soup; you can get my recipe for gravlax here if you are that way inclined. Otherwise just enjoy this lovely soup, with the gorgeous warm chilli undertones in the flavour - it is really well-balanced: not too spicy, not too plain. A lovely recipe that I will make again once it does get hot. Thanks to Deb from Kahakai Kitchen for getting me moving with her Souper Sundays.

Cucumber Gazpacho
adapted from Matt Moran, Australian Financial Review October 24

2 telegraph cucumbers chopped roughly
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped roughly
1 bunch of shallots
10 mint leaves
1/2 bunch of dill
2 slices white sourdough bread, crusts removed
3 tbl natural yoghurt
100 ml water
50 ml good quality extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

Place the cucumbers, chilli, shallots, mint, dill, bread, yoghurt, water and olive oil in a food processor. Blend until smooth, then push the mixture through a fine sieve, forcing out as much liquid as possible. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Place the soup in the fridge and chill for at least two hours before serving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

When I first saw the recipes for this month's double-header bonus for the Barefoot Bloggers, I was thrilled to have a cake to make. Not only do I love chocolate and orange as a flavour combination, I had the perfect opportunity to serve it up, with a gorgeous old friend coming from the country for morning tea.
Lisa from Lime in the Coconut had chosen mini-chocolate chunk cakes as her reward for designing our very pretty Barefoot avatar (well done Lisa). Unfortunately, I felt that a platter with a few mini-cakes would look odd at morning tea (even for me, although my friend has known me long enough not to worry), so I decided to revert to the original recipe in "Barefoot Contessa: Parties" for a large bundt cake. There was a bit of work involved and a lot of washing up (a total of about 12 pans, bowls and measuring cups), however this cake will be revisited because it has a great flavour, is lovely and moist, and the ganache is so shiny and beautiful. (Trap for young players - if you are chopping up your own chocolate to make the chunks, make sure you chop it into relatively small pieces, as too large a chunk is definitely too much of a good thing).
Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

250g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup grated orange zest (3-4 large oranges)
3 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tbls
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups good semisweet chocolate chunks
For the syrup:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
For the ganache:
4 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and flour a large bundt pan. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, then the orange zest.

Sift together 3 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine the orange juice, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately in thirds to the creamed butter, beginning and ending with the flour. Toss the chocolate chunks with 2 tbls flour and add to the batter. Pour into the pan, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the sugar with the orange juice until the sugar dissolves. Remove the cake from the pans, put them on a rack over a tray, and spoon the orange syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
For the ganache, melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of the cakes.

Risotto Cakes - Tasty and More-ish

Today is the "super Thursday" of Barefoot Bloggers, when not one but two bonus recipes will be posted. The Barefoot crew are a group of food bloggers who regularly cook and post the same recipe from the collected wisdom of the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Congratulations and thanks to Deb from Kahakai Kitchen who chose this recipe after she referred the most people to the Barefoot Blogger site last month. It comes from Ina's new book: "Barefoot Contessa:Back to Basics".

The risotto cakes were relatively simple to make, although you can't reduce the fridge chilling time. The first night I made these, I rushed it a little and they tended to fall apart a bit. To keep them together, I had to be very careful lowering them into the oil on a spatula and lifting them out gently on a spatula as well. After two messes in a normal frying pan with oil on medium-low heat (as specified), I changed to a non-stick pan and put the oil on medium-high heat and the result was much better. I used the leftover mixture the next night (after it had been chilling 24 hrs), with better results. The cakes all hung together much more. I would probably make these again, but bite-sized as an hors d'oeuvre for a party. And in case you were wondering, I served the risotto cakes as a side dish with roasted duck breasts and a rocket salad, as an indulgent dinner with my husband.
Here is what Ina Garten had to say about the recipe:
"I used to have to wait until I made risotto in order to make risotto cakes from the leftovers. So I decided to do a recipe for risotto cakes that I make from scratch. Most of this can be assembled early in the day and then sautéed just before dinner. The yogurt, chives, and Italian Fontina give these a delicious creamy interior, and the panko gives them a wonderful crunchy crust.”
Chive Risotto Cakes
from "Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics" by Ina Garten

1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tbls minced fresh chives
1 ½ cup cups grated Italian Fontina cheese (150g)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
Good olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add ½ tablespoon salt and the Arborio rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. The grains of rice will be quite soft. Drain the rice in a sieve and run under cold water until cool. Drain well.

Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, chives, Fontina, 1 ¼ tsps salt, and the pepper in a medium bowl. Add the cooled rice and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, until firm.

Spread the panko in a shallow dish. Heat 3 tbls olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Form balls of the rice mixture using a standard ice cream scoop or a large spoon. Pat the balls into patties 3 inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Place 4-6 patties in the panko, turning once to coat. Place the patties in the hot oil and cook, turning once, for about 3 minutes on each side until the risotto cakes are crisp and nicely browned. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and keep warm in a 120C oven for up to 30 minutes. Continue cooking in batches, adding oil as necessary, until all the cakes are fried. Serve hot.

Note from Ina: “Panko, or Japanese bread flakes, have a crisper, lighter texture than regular bread crumbs."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Roast Duck Breasts - A Beautiful Romantic Dinner

I'm sure that I am right in believing that in every family there are certain recipes that you associate with particular people. Whether it is their favourite food, or something that they cooked for you, there are definitely meals that are very evocative of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, or others in your life. In my family, this recipe is widely referred to as Dave's Duck, because it was my brother Dave that introduced it to us all. While the duck is pretty simple to make, it is extremely delicious, and certainly has a bit of a "wow" factor attached. Because this recipe calls for only duck breasts, it is also a lot easier than cooking a whole duck, and it certainly plates up beautifully.

Enjoying a relatively peaceful weekend, Dave's Duck with a nice glass of pinot noir seemed a perfect way to spend Saturday evening. The usual vegetable served with the duck is a sweet potato mash, with rocket leaves stirred in and allowed to wilt. Because our Barefoot Bloggers challenge for this week was a risotto cake (recipe tomorrow), I used that as a side dish instead of the mash, but also served a rocket salad on the side. And my only tip is not to overcook the duck - it is much better served pink and tender. (Incidentally, if you want to prepare this for a dinner party, you can brown the duck breasts in the pan before your guests arrive, and finish off in the oven in the 10 minutes or so before you want to serve it). The recipe comes from a 1998 Australian Gourmet Traveller cookbook called "Gourmet On The Run"; sadly I can't find a reference to it in any of the usual cookbook shops. PS Dave - we miss you!

Roasted Duck Breast With Orange Sauce

adapted from "Gourmet: On The Run" edited by Carolyn Lockhart

4 duck breasts
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbl soy sauce
2 tbl honey
Juice of 2 oranges
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 tsps brandy
1/2 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped

Marinate 4 duck breasts in 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tbls soy sauce and 2 tbl honey for 1 hour. Heat a heavy frying pan over medium to high heat and brown duck well. Transfer duck to a roasting pan and roast skin-side up at 200C for 10-15 mins for duck that is tender but still pink.

Meanwhile combine orange juice, 1 tbl soy sauce, chicken stock, brandy, and vegetables, in a small saucepan. Boil over high heat until reduced by half. Serve duck with sauce poured over it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Veal Piccata (or Chicken if you prefer...)

As a member of the Barefoot Bloggers, from time to time I find myself making things that would not normally have occurred to me to cook. This is a good thing - both because I am discovering new recipes, and also because I am prompted to rethink old ones. It has also led me to confidently rely on the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten and her recipes for a dependable, yummy, relatively easy meal.

Last week our challenge was a side of onions, which left me wondering what I would serve with them. And rather than rethink the wheel, I decided to look back to Ina's own suggestion. Her recipes tend to be presented on TV and in her books, as part of a whole meal. She gives a little back story of who she is cooking for and why, and then the recipes. Our baked onions were part of a dinner for her husband Jeffrey who had been away all week for work, called "It's Friday Night Again". Comfort food at its finest in other words. Ina's suggested main was chicken piccata, but as we had had chicken already several times last week, I decided veal piccata would be a great match for us. Served with tomato and avocado drizzled in a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, this was good.
Chicken Piccata (or Veal)
adapted from "Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten. Serves 2-4 depending on how much chicken / veal you cook. The sauce is ample for four.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used four veal escalopes but kept other quantities the same)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 extra-large egg
1/2 tablespoon water
3/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
Good olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons), lemon halves reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
Sliced lemon, for serving
Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound out to 1/4-inch thick (my veal was already done). Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Mix the flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp of pepper in a shallow plate. In a second plate, beat the egg and 1/2 tbl of water together. Place the bread crumbs on a third plate. Dip each chicken breast first in the flour, shake off the excess, and then dip in the egg and bread crumb mixtures.
Heat 1 tbl of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium to medium-low heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place them on the sheet pan and allow them to bake for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

For the sauce, wipe out the saute pan with a dry paper towel. Over medium heat, melt 1 tbl of the butter and then add the lemon juice, wine, the reserved lemon halves, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced in half, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the remaining 2 tbl of butter and swirl to combine. Discard the lemon halves and serve 1 chicken breast on each plate. Spoon on the sauce and serve with a slice of lemon and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Andalusian Gazpacho for A Souper Sunday

Sunday is usually the day when I cook nothing. Breakfast chez nous is pretty haphazard (ie help yourselves to cereal, toast, juice, etc) unless we have had other people's kids for a sleepover. Then we usually go out for lunch, and dinner is officially "fend for yourselves". This can mean that the kids eat anything from boiled rice and scrambled eggs tossed together, to toasted sandwiches to a bowl of cereal, to whatever leftovers are hanging around the fridge. All very low key.

Obviously feeling a similar vibe from thousands of kilometres away, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen launched a great idea a few weeks ago - Souper Sundays. Anything goes as long as you eat it with a spoon. Given the weather here and personal "no cook" preferences for Sundays, I have picked a traditional Spanish gazpacho for this week. All the work is done by the blender, and then the fridge. The end result - a delicious icy tomato-ey soup. Perfect for a light dinner or as part of a bigger meal. Just make sure you get top quality bread and olive oil for the gazpacho. There is no hiding the flavours - so you need to go for the best. This recipe comes from a Williams Sonoma cookbook called "Barcelona" by Paul Richardson. The first night, I ate it garnished with capsicum and cucumber; the leftovers I had garnished with boiled egg. For my money, the boiled egg worked better because of the texture contrast. (And incidentally, the easiest way to peel tomatoes is to pour boiling water over them into a bowl and let them sit in it for a couple of minutes. The skin will come away very easily. To seed a tomato, split it in half and squeeze out the seeds - or scoop them with a teaspoon. )

Gaspatxo Andalus
from "Barcelona" by Paul Richardson. Serves 6-8.

11 slices day-old coarse country white bread (about 315g total weight), crusts remove
2 tbl sherry vinegar
1.5 kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1/2 yellow onion, chopped into chunks
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into chunks
1 red capsicum, in cored, seeded and chopped into chunks
1 cup good quality olive oil

Garnishes: (choose which appeal to you)
cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
capsicum, seeded and diced
hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
serrano ham, finely chopped

Place 9 slices of bread into a food processor. Sprinkle the vinegar over the top. Then add the tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, 2/3 cup olive oil, and 1 cup water. Pulse until smooth. Add more water according to whether you prefer the souper more or less thick. Pulse again. Season to taste with more salt and vinegar if desired.

Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled - two hours at least. Meanwhile, chop the remaining two slices of bread into 1cm dice. Warm the remaining oil in a frying pan. Add the bread cubes and fry until golden brown on all sides - about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Just before serving, put the gazpacho in a serving bowl and add a handful of ice cubes. Offer your choice of garnishes in small bowls with the soup.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Barbecue Turkey Legs - Help Me Please

I read an article the other day about food blogs, and how what people want to hear is the messy details of bloggers lives in the kitchen not the air-brushed perfection. And I've had one of those weeks, so here goes:

For a couple of weeks I have been seeing turkey legs in the supermarket. They have been playing on my mind: inexpensive ($5 for two enormous legs), appropriate as a nod to Thanksgiving (which isn't celebrated here), I thought that making them would be a good idea. Traditionally at Christmas, there is a bit of a battle at my house over who gets the turkey legs, and my husband is always one of those keen for them, so I figured he would be on board and the kids would follow. But what to do with just turkey legs? My recipe for the Christmas turkey is a 24 hour production involving marinating (twice), wrapping the entire bird in bacon, then long slow baking with a baste of whole cream every half an hour. You won't be surprised to hear that my turkey is very moist and tender. But was I prepared to do anything like that apart from once a year on December 25th? Not a chance.

So I googled some recipes, and the best suggestion I could find was one involving a marinade with some chilli sauce, onion, etc. It all smelt great, and expectations were high. But then the weather was iffy, so I did them in the oven (following the suggested temperature and cooking time). Sadly, this recipe failed me - the legs were tough - and the taste was not anything to write home about (or really write in a blog about). In fact bordering on unpleasant. If anyone has a recipe for turkey legs, I would love to hear it - there must be a knockout recipe for turkey legs somewhere. In the meantime, forgive me if I stick with the smaller fowl.

Savoury Spicy Barbecue Turkey Legs

4 turkey drumsticks, about 1 lb each
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chili sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried thyme

In a small saucepan, combine garlic, chili sauce, oil, vinegar, onion, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and thyme. Simmer on low heat, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes. Place drumsticks in roasting pan. Pour prepared sauce over. Cover and marinate for at least two hours in refrigerator. (If the roasting pan won't fit in your fridge, simply toss turkey with sauce in non-reactive bowl or plate, and pour into roasting pan when ready to start cooking.) Turn pieces occasionally in sauce while marinating.

Grill: Spray rack with nonstick spray (don't do this while rack is over fire). Grill turkey legs approx 7 minutes per side, til browned. Turning and basting often with sauce, continue to grill about 1 hour, or until tender.

Oven: Cover drumsticks loosely in foil. Bake in 325 degree F oven for 1 and 1/2 hours, basting frequently. Uncover, then continue baking approx. 30 minutes, or until barbecued turkey drumsticks are browned and tender.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Herb Roasted Onions - A Really Good Side

I use more onions than people would think possible. In fact I find the idea of cooking without them completely mystifying (unless life was simply one big dessert table). When my children were little, they took a stand on onions declaring that they didn't like them - of course without realising that a lot of their family favourites began with a soffritto of onions and garlic before anything else was added. Now they are older and will happily eat onions as a side dish, so when I saw this week's Barefoot Challenge, I was confident it would be a winner. And I was right.

Chosen by Kelly from Baking With The Boys, these onions are really good. I made them pretty much exactly as Ina suggested, although I popped in an extra brown onion and I forgot the parsley sprinkle at the end. It took only 30 mins to cook - possibly because I was a bit haphazard with my chopping and didn't always cut through the root, so some pieces were cooking individually instead of in wedges. I loved the warm mustard flavour and the way it married with the onions. Because I was stuck for inspiration on what to serve with them, I referred to Ina Garten's suggestion in "Barefoot Contessa at Home", and served Veal Piccata, and an avocado and tomato salad. It was all delicious. And the leftovers were just as good the next night with roast chicken. Thanks Kelly for the excellent choice.

Herb Roasted Onions
from "Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten

2 red onions
1 yellow onion
2 tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tbl minced fresh thyme leaves
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 200C.

Remove the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onion. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onion in wedges through the root. Place the wedges in a bowl.
For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a sheet pan, reserving the vinaigrette that remains in the bowl. Bake the onions for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and browned. Toss the onions once during cooking. Remove from the oven, and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Sprinkle with parsley, season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chocolate Cakes and Other Acts of Love

When I saw that Not Quite Nigella was holding The Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge, I knew that I would not be able to resist entering. I also knew exactly which cake I would make. I had girlfriends coming over, it was Halloween, and because this cake needed substantial fridge time before serving, I could make it a day ahead, no worries, leaving me free to supervise trick or treating.
So why did I pick this chocolate cake out of all the chocolate cakes out there? This chocolate cake is the ultimate chocolate cake in my opinion. It is every bit as rich and indulgent as the name suggests, with four layers of chocolate (genoise cake, dark mousse and white mousse and icing). It is also the sort of cake that you only make for people you love. There is no possible way that you could consider making it for anyone you just met or were not very fond of, because it takes a lot of work. Definitely not a one-bowl wonder. But despite the effort required, it is a cake I keep coming back to, because it is so delicious it knocks people sidewards. I have been making this cake for a long time (it pains me to say that I think I first made it in the late 80s - wince wince). I adore it, and it actually improves over a day or two in the fridge, so the leftovers are fought over fiercely. And there will be leftovers - it is far too rich to eat anything more than a dainty slice in a sitting.

Mark Armstrong's Light and Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake
Chocolate Genoise:
250g egg (after shelling)
125g sugar
100g flour
35g cornflour
25g cocoa
50g melted butter
Beat the eggs with an electric beater in a steel bowl, and gradually add the sugar. Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water and continue to beat until the mixture is thick. (I don't have a hand held electric beater, so I used a whisk). Remove bowl from the heat and fold in the flour, cornflour and cocoa which have been sifted together. Carefully fold in the butter and pour mixture into a buttered and floured 25cm spring form tin. Bake at 180C for 30 mins or until cake has pulled away from the edges and is firm in the centre. Turn out onto a rack and allow to cool.
Dark Chocolate Mousse:
280g dark chocolate
5 eggs, separated
150 ml thickened cream
Melt chocolate over hot water. Do not let water boil or touch the bowl containing the chocolate. Stir well. Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and creamy, and pour onto the warm chocolate. Beat well to smooth the mixture. Cool. Beat cream until it holds soft peaks, then fold into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the egg whites whipped until they hold stiff peaks.
White Chocolate Mousse:
125g white chocolate
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups thickened cream
2 tbls coarsely grated white chocolate
Place the 125g white chocolate in a steel bowl over hot water until it is half melted. Add the sugar then stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove form the heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool to room temperature. Whip cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold chocolate mixture and grated chocolate into the cream.
To assemble the cake:
Return the genoise cake to the springform cake tin. Pour in the dark chocolate mousse and set it in the fridge while you make the white mousse. Pour the white mousse on top and allow to set in the fridge for 24 hours. Release the springform and ice the mousse cake with the rich chocolate icing. Refrigerate until serving and store in the fridge.
Chocolate Icing:
200g dark chocolate
40g butter
160 ml cream, warmed
Chocolate coated coffee beans
Melt chocolate and butter over warm water until the chocolate is just dissolved. Ad the cream and mix quickly to get a glossy and smooth mixture. Allow to cool and thicken to a spreadable consistency. Decorate the cake with chocolate coated coffee beans.
The last slice......

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chinese Chicken Parcels - A Light Weeknight Dinner

I first contemplated making this recipe a year or even more ago, but for one reason or another never got to it. However, it has been playing on my mind (does anyone else get recipes nagging at them?), and last week seemed a great time to give it a whirl as a light weeknight dinner. I thought it might have been a bit tricky or fiddly, because it looks so smart. But it isn't. I was also worried that the kids might not like it, but they really enjoyed it (although they did peel a lot of the cabbage off their parcels). And unlike most Asian dishes, there was nearly no knife work - the food processor does it all.
The recipe comes from "Jamie's Kitchen" by Jamie Oliver, the book he wrote as part of the launch of Fifteen. There are lots of fresh and simple ideas in it. Jamie explains that the famous Jools (his missus) craved these when she was pregnant. I love hearing those little details - for me, it gives a cookbook an extra dimension to provide those extra details - must be why I love food blogs so much. I would definitely make these again - possibly as deliciously different finger food for a party, since it is that season.
Chinese Chicken Parcels
1 Chinese cabbage (wombok) or savoy cabbage
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed
1 handful of fresh coriander
1-2 fresh red chillies (if you don't want it to be too spicy, seed the chillies)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 trimmed boneless chicken thighs, skin removed, roughly chopped
1 handful of water chestnuts
zest and juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon sesame oil
sweet chilli sauce
soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Remove and discard the core and outer leaves from the cabbage, undo the remaining cabbage leaves and place them in a pan of salted boiling water for 2 minutes to soften. Cool them in a bowl of cold water, drain and put to one side.
In a food processor, whiz up your garlic, ginger, spring onions, coriander, chilli and fish sauce with a good pinch of salt. Then add the chicken, lime zest and juice and sesame oil and pulse until you have a minced meat consistency. Finally add the water chestnuts and pulse a little to combine, but not too much so they add a little texture to your rolls.
Place a heaped dessertspoonful of the flavoured mince on to one end of each cabbage leaf. Fold it up and tuck in the sides, then roll up. Spray a bamboo steamer, colander or normal steamer with a little olive oil and place in the cabbage parcels, tucking the loose end underneath. When they're all in, sit the steamer over a pan of boiling water, making sure the water doesn't touch the parcels and that it's just the steam that's cooking them. Put a lid on top and steam for about 6 minutes until cooked. If you're worried about the cooking time, take one of the parcels out and cut it in half to make sure that the heat has penetrated and that they're cooked.
Serve with rice and some sauteed asian greens eg bok choy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Blondies (for Brunettes as well...)

The Christmas Concert season is beginning. Mothers everywhere (as well as a father here and then) are whipping up something sweet or savoury, and delivering it with their offspring to church halls and school auditoriums. I'm not being unkind when I say that these concerts always seem to go forever, the halls are always hot, and someone tall inevitably takes the seat in front of me so I spend the night ducking and weaving to try and see the kids performing. Once the formalities are over, everyone gets to have a drink and a nibble (even a light meal of you are lucky). The arrangements are generally no more formal than "bring a plate", and there are always stories of newly arrived expats, who arrive with an empty plate, rather than a full one.

If you have been told to "bring a plate" to your kids concert, this slice from Dorie Greenspan is perfect. It is not going to collapse in warm weather, or melt or go funny. It tastes delicious, so the kids will wolf it down. You can also tailor it depending on personal preferences - any of the usual stir-in ingredients would work (nuts, dried fruit, etc). It is also scrumptious with a cup of coffee. You might even decide it is too nice for the concert, and keep it at home, while you stop for something else on the way..... (and by the way, if you are thinking about asking Santa for a recipe book, Dorie's book, "Baking: From My Home to Yours" is worth putting on your list).

Chewy, Chunky Blondies
from "Baking: From My Home To Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
250g butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (light) brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips or toffee bits (because we don't get these here, I smashed up Werthers toffees)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, waiting until each is fully incorporated to add the next, then beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the flour mixture, stirring only until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in the chips, nuts and coconut by hand. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few crumbs. Cool blondies in the pan, but turn them out (and then reinvert them so the top is facing up) before slicing into 32 bars.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Veal Stew - Freezer Friendly Meal For Busy Weeks Ahead

Here is a tip from someone who knows - the next few weeks will be crazy. Regardless of where you are in the world, the months of November and December always feel like life has its foot jammed on the accelerator. In this neck of the woods we have the school year ending in mid-December, Christmas concerts, carol services, singing recitals, school orientations and a million other things, on top of Xmas shopping, and holiday planning. Exhausting. So now is the time to make a couple of meals to throw in the freezer, because you can bet there will be a night coming soon when all you want to do is warm up something you have already cooked.

In my opinion, the best things to freeze are casseroles and stews. This stew is light enough to eat here in the warm late Spring, and is very tasty (but would also work just as well for the chillier Northern Hemisphere). Depending on your appetites and what other side dishes you serve, this recipe will feed about 8 people (so for our family that is 2 meals taken care of). The recipe is from the delightful Silver Palate cookbook - definietly a cookbook worth having on your shelf.

Pearly Veal and Onion Stew
adapted from The Silver Palate

1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 kg veal stew meat, chopped into 3cm cubes
4 tbls plain flour
10 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 tbl fresh rosemary
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 kg white pearl onions (If you can find them, otherwise regular brown onions)
1 cup frozen peas

Heat oil in a large stew pot, and then add the veal a few pieces at a time to brown. As each batch browns, remove from the pot and transfer to a bowl. Add the next few pieces of veal. When all the pieces are browned, sprinkle the veal in the bowl with the flour and toss to coat.

Add more oil to the pot if necessary, then cook garlic over low heat until light golden in colour. Preheat oven to 160C. Return veal to the pot, adding the stock, wine, haerbs, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil on the stove then cover and put in the oven for 1 hour, stirring occassionally.

Meanwhile cut a small cross in the root end of the pearl onions. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the onions and cook until tender (15 mins or so). Drain them and refresh under cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, peel and trim them.

Uncover casserole and taste the stew; adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir in the onions and return to the oven for another 20 mins, uncovering the stew for the last ten minutes of cooking time. Stir in the peas and serve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Macaroons To End Off A Lovely Meal

Macaroons are one of my favourite sweet treats. Coconutty and moist, they are a perfect little indulgence at the end of a meal, with a cup of coffee or tea. They are also gluten and dairy free - so a good choice for anyone trying to limit either one in their diet. The best bit is that no one else at the table will feel deprived either. Macaroons are not to be confused with the pastel-coloured French macarons that have taken the world by storm. According to Wikipedia they originated in Scotland.
These delicious bites are also easy enough for a child to make - if only my children loved coconut the way I do. I like to make them very small and dainty - feel free to roll them bigger if you would prefer a more substantial morsel.
Coconut Macaroons
adapted from "Modern Classics Book 2" by Donna Hay
2 cups dessicated coconut
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 egg whites
Preheat oven to 180C, and line a baking tray with baking paper. Mix ingredients in a bowl until well-combined. Roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls, and place on tray. Cook for 10 minutes or until they are light golden.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Baked Ricotta - A Light Meal With Friends

A very busy and exciting week. Catching up with old friends, the Melbourne Cup and now the excitement of the US election. A week like this needs something simple and more-ish that you can keep coming back to. I served this baked ricotta to some girlfriends who dropped over. It was paired with thinly sliced sourdough, some cured salmon (posted here) and a tossed green salad. Perfectly simple and simply perfect - a lovely light dinner, which of course left room for a killer chocolate cake that I will share with you later in the week. And enough leftovers for some lovely lunches. (PS You can see my Melbourne Cup hat in the picture! I couldn't resist including it)

Baked Ricotta
From "Flavours" by Donna Hay
4 tubs fresh ricotta (more or less depends on the size of the tin you are using- I used a loaf tin) Black pepper to taste
Olive oil

Mix ricotta with a generous amount of black pepper to taste. Line a tin with baking paper. Fill with the ricotta mixture. Bake at 180C for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven. Unmold the ricotta,then coat the top with more cracked black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and return the ricotta to the oven until the edges have started to turn golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.
When I got back from Melbourne there was a lovely surprise for me - a Kreativ Blog award from Deb at Kahakai Kitchen. Deb is a talented and enthusiastic blogger who is inspiring us all with (among other things) her Souper Sundays and Cook the Books. Along with the award was a meme, so you all get to know a little bit more about me.

So here goes:

7 things I did before
1. Sold zodiacs at a jewellery shop when I was 14
2. Worked in catering through school and university
3. Used to spend 4 hours on a Friday peeling prawns for the Friday prawn roll special at the pub where I worked (easily the worst job I ever had)
4. Worked as a nanny
5. Completed a law degree, but never practised law
6. Researcher for A Current Affair ( I promise it was a different show then)
7. Director of Corporate Affairs for a large US Card company

7 things I do now
1. 700 small things every day
2. Look after our little family
3. J'etudie la langue francaise
4. Spend too much time in front of the computer (a recent post-blog development)
5. Try to exercise 4 times a week (there is nothing easy or spontaneous about this for me)
6. Read in the bath (my secret guilty pleasure)

7 things I want to do
1. Meet my new niece Sophie in Connecticut
2. Finish my Xmas shopping
3. Put my photos in albums
4. Stress less
5. Keep improving my blog
6. Be more organised
7. Sleep better

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex
1. Love
2. Laughter
3. Smile
4. Eyes
5. Intelligence
6. Calm
7. Face

7 Favorite Foods
1. A really good runny brie
2. Pavlova
3. Coffee
4. Mangos
5. Roast Chicken
6. Raspberries
7. Oysters

7 things I Say Most Often:
1. Yes
2. Bugger!
3. Sit down and eat your dinner!
4. I have no idea where it is.
5. Sleep tight
6. Unprintable
7. Love you

And now the seven people I would like to tag for this award and meme:

1. Christy of Sew Much Fabric Sew Little Time, who sent me my wonderful Blogging By Mail Box
2. Esi at Dishing Up Delights, whose adventures I love to follow
3. Anne at Anne Strawberry because she cooks with such love
4. Karen from Bookbath because I love books and baths
5. Helen at Grab Your Fork - a local food blog that I read closely
6. Heather at SLO Cooking - who has lots of fun ideas
7. Lorraine at Not Quite Nigella because her Halloween Party looks as fantastic as the rest of her blog. Check it out here.

Now they get to pass on the award to some blogs they admire.....

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cured Salmon Gravlax - Easy & Delicious

There is no doubt that food goes through fashions. I think we have just come through the winter of the Pork Belly, and we are definitely now going into the summer of the Tapas. When I look back, I can clearly remember the year of the Sticky Date Pudding, the summer of the Pannacotta, the winter of Pesto, the spring of Salt and Pepper Calamari, the year of Laksa. These items have all at different times become ubiquitous in Sydney to the point where you would imagine that chefs might be de-registered if they fail to include some version or other of the dish on their menu. But, the truth is that the reason they become so very popular is because they are all completely delicious.

Without wanting to date myself too much, I also remember a summer of gravlax, or sugar-cured salmon, in the late 1980s. Tasty, soft, indulgent, it is the perfect thing to make for entertaining in summer. All the work is done ahead of time (24 hours ahead), it is very very easy to do and people are incredibly impressed that you have cured your own salmon. Even better, it is delicious and light and sumptuous. And if tapas, do take off this summer, it will be a very easy tapas-style dish to prepare. This recipe comes from Joan Campbell in a Vogue Wine and Food Cookbook called "Home Truths: What The Foodies Cook For Themselves". The cookbook is out of print now but if you trawl around eBay or some of the second-hand cookbook sellers, you may find it.
Gravlax With Dill Sauce
adapted from "home Truths" edited by Joan Campbell
1 side of ocean trout or salmon (you can get your fish shop to skin it and pin bone it for you)
100g sugar
100g salt
1 tbl white cracked pepper
1-2 large bunches dill, stems crushed
Dill Sauce
2 tbl sugar
2 tbl white vinegar
2 tbl dill
2 tbl dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
9 tbls vegetable oil (any flavourless oil is OK)
If your fillet has not been boned, go over it with tweezers and pluck out any bones you can feel by running over the fillet with your fingers. If it is not skinned, you can leave the skin on. Mix sugar, salt and pepper together. Place a heavy piece of foil on your kitchen bench, and make a bed of dill on it the size of your fish. Rub half of the sugar and salt mixture into one side of the salmon, then turn it over and rub the other half into the other side. Place the fish on the dill, then top it with another bed of dill the size of the fish. Wrap tightly in foil, and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning the fish over regularly. To serve, scrape the pepper and dill from the fish and slice thinly. Serve with the sauce.
Sauce: Place sugar, vinegar, dill, mustard and salt in a bowl and beat well. While still beating add the oil slowly. Pour into a container and refrigerate until serving.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lemon Chicken With Croutons

Halloween is over for another year. Thank heavens. The trouble with importing festivals from other parts of the world, is that the weather here often won't co-operate with you. Friday afternoon was spent wandering the streets with the younger darling daughter in 35C heat (95F). She was dressed up in a big heavy costume, when she really should have been at the beach in her swimmers. Melted chocolates, gooey lollies... but none of this worried her. She told me it was the best halloween ever.

So now it is time to get back to grown up food. This recipe comes from "Barefoot in Paris" by Ina Garten, and in the usual Barefoot style, it is not difficult to make, and it is very delicious to eat. Crunchy croutons soak up the juice of the chicken as well as giving a wonderful texture contrast. If you are interested, you can actually watch a video of Ina making it here. You might be wondering why I would make a Barefoot recipe outside of my Barefoot Blogger commitments, and the simple answer is that some recipes scream out to be tried, and this is one of them.
Lemon Chicken With Croutons
1 chicken
1 large brown onion, sliced
Olive oil
2 lemons, quartered
2 tbls unsalted butter, melted
4 cups bread cubes (use a good quality sourdough or something similar)
Preheat the oven to 215C. Wash the chicken and pat dry. Toss the onion with some olive oil in a roasting pan. Place the chicken on top. Place the lemons inside the chicken. Brush the chicken with the melted butter and season well with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string.
Roast for 1 1/4 hours to 1 1/2 hours, or until the chicken is cooked. Remove from the oven and rest the chicken covered with foil for 15 minutes. Don't be concerned if the onions are very brown - their flavour is great.
Heat a large pan with 2 tbls of olive oil until very hot. Lower the temperature to medium low and saute the bread cubes tossing frequently until they are browned all over. Add more oil if you need to. Season the croutons, and place on a serving platter. Slice the chicken and sit it on the crouton bed. Pour over any extra pan juices and serve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Chocolate Biscuits

Halloween has just started to take off in Australia. As a child, I can remember jealously watching shows like The Brady Bunch and wishing we had Halloween here. Now it has arrived and is spreading like wildfire - after all what's not to love about dressing up and buckets of lollies? When you are in a household with a nine year old and an eleven year old, it is pretty obvious that Halloween is something you will be involved in.

Because of the time of year, I was inspired to make Halloween themed biscuits this week. I used an online recipe from Martha Stewart, which is pretty simple to make. Unfortunately, (and I know it is because the dough needs to maintain its shape), these biscuits were a bit on the dry side. You also need to watch them carefully in the oven because they can burn pretty easily. I don't think an adult would be in raptures over these cookies, but a kid faced with a chocolate pumpkin biscuit? What's not to love?

Ghostly Pumpkin (or Bat and Cat) Cookies

adapted from Martha Stewart Online

Makes 40 to 50
1 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for rolling and cutting out dough
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
180g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg. On low speed, mix in flour mixture. Divide dough in half, and form into 2 disks, each about 3/4 inch thick. Wrap disks in plastic; chill until firm, at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days.

On a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, roll dough to 3mm thick. (If dough becomes too soft to work with, refrigerate for a few minutes.) Cut out shapes, dipping cutters in flour as necessary to prevent sticking; place on a baking sheet, spacing them 3cm apart. Bake until surface is dry to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes (if decorating, press candies into dough halfway through baking). Cool 1 to 2 minutes on baking sheet; transfer to a rack to cool completely. Serve, or store in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cherry Tomato Crumble - Why Didn't I Think Of That?

In light of my public commitment to reduce the amount of food waste in this house, I am having to keep an extra close eye on the vegetable drawer. This is definitely the place in my house where things can get pretty ugly. (Don't judge; I know I am not the only one!). So after I made the Kylie Kwong lively tomato salad, I wound up with some leftover cherry tomatoes and I was determined to use them before they went off. Cherry tomatoes don't lend themselves to quite as many uses as regular tomatoes, although the kids will sometimes take them to school as a snack. But, in the funny way that planets will align sometimes, I spotted a recipe for a cherry tomato crumble when I was writing up the beetroot salad. The perfect solution!

Cherry tomato crumble (or cherry tomato crisp as Martha calls it) struck me as such a blindingly obviously wonderful idea that I wanted to make it quick smart. And it was great. Big thumbs up from all the family, even the family members who generally don't like cooked tomatoes. And even better - the leftovers from this leftover meal were perfect tossed through some pasta the next day.

Cherry Tomato Crisp

2 slices white bread
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tbls shredded fresh parsley
1 tbl olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
5 cups cherry tomatoes (or whatever you pull out of the bottom of the crisper)

Preheat oven to 200C. Combine bread, parmesan, parsley, olive oil and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until bread is coarsely chopped - cubes about the size of dice is what you want.

Arrange the cherry tomatoes in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the crumbs. Bake until the crust is browned and the tomatoes are tender, about 20 mins.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Favourite Brownie Recipe

Brownies are one of those things (like chocolate chip cookies) that have probably been cooked by everybody at one time or another. Everyone knows what they like and most regular cooks (or at least regular cooks with children) have their own "go to" recipe that they look to whenever they are asked for a plate of brownies. And when it comes to brownies, everyone's taste is different - some people like brownies at the cakey end of he spectrum, some at the fudgey end of the spectrum, some in-between. I am definitely in favour of the fudgey brownie, and this is my "go to" recipe.
I first discovered this recipe because I wanted to whip up some brownies but had no chocolate in the house. I was going through recipe after recipe to see if I could find one that required only cocoa powder when I found this one in "Marie Claire: Flavours" by Donna Hay. It is dense and rich and soft and so gooey you need to keep the brownies in the fridge. Preferably a fridge with a padlock to stop the constant raids these brownies inspire. In my view, these brownies can't be beaten (although I do have one member of the household who prefers the Betty Crocker packet brownies which are thin and cakey, so there is no accounting for taste!) If you are cooking for grown-ups not kids, you can make these into fancier mint-chocolate brownies. (After putting half the mixture in the tin, cover it with a single layer of after dinner mints and then the remaining brownie mixture. Cool and slice as usual). Thanks to the darling daughter for the photo.

Chocolate Brownies

250g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 170C. Place the butter, both sugars and the vanilla in a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat each one until well-incorporated. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder over the butter mixture and fold through. Scrape the mixture into a 20cm square tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 40-50 mins until set in the middle, but still quite soft (remember we are going for fudgey not cakey). Cool in the tin, and then cover and put in the fridge until completely set. Cut into squares. Fall into raptures.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fun in Blogland

I am really loving doing this blog for a thousand different reasons: pushing myself to cook more, and to cook more adventurously; learning about taking photos; writing and driving myself to be more creative. Even better is the way that I am suddenly connecting with people in different parts of the world, or even in my own city through a shared love of cooking. In that spirit, I saw that another blogger, Stephanie (aka The Happy Sorceress) at a blog appropriately called "Dispensing Happiness", runs an event called Blogging By Mail. This is basically a global care package swap, where everyone who signs up is assigned someone in the world to send a package to, and also receives a package from someone else. The theme this time was 10 items or less - and it was up to each sender to peruse the blog of the receiver and try and create a parcel that would thrill them. My parcel left for the state of Georgia, USA, a couple of weeks ago, while the parcel destined for me arrived late last week.

I feel very lucky to have been allocated to Christy from Sew Much Fabric, Sew Little Time who lives in Florida. Christy creates the most amazing aprons, and the centrepiece of my parcel was an apron covered in perfect 1950s housewives whipping things up in the kitchen. It is retro and fun and I will love using it. You can see it on her blog here, just scroll down to the yellow trimmed apron that appears 3/4 the way through this post. The other aprons you will see are also incredible. Christy also included in the parcel:
- 2 gorgeous handmade tea towels
- 4 mini loaf tins (I have never seen anything that small here and can't wait to make some tiny banana bread loaves)
- flavoured skewers to make my next BBQ extra tasty
- four different spice mixes (Garlic and Herb, Italian, Cinnamon and Basil and Tomato - all flavours I love)
- oven bags for a turkey (Christmas is coming!)
- a mesh bag that you put inside the turkey cavity so you can simply pull it out full of stuffing once the bird is cooked (fantastic idea that I have never seen here)

WOW. Christy thank you and I can only hope that you are as spoiled by someone else as I have been by you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Beetroot and Carrot Salad For A Bit of Colour in Your Life

It might be an Australian thing, but I really love beetroot. We grow up with it as a standard inclusion on take-away hamburgers (unbelievable to many non-Australians, but 100% true), so I can't even remember trying it for the first time. In recent years, it has become an increasingly common salad addition or garnish, largely because of the dramatic splash of crimson it offers. On top of that are the significant health benefits, and a sweet, easy flavour.

This salad has a Middle Eastern flavour to it with the cumin, coriander and cinnamon combination - and it packs a punch; an ideal combination to serve with a lamb or chicken tagine. It is also easy to make, and brings a definite splash of colour to the dinner table. Even better, it can be prepared in advance and refrigerated as both the beetroot and the carrot will hold their texture. The recipe comes from "Great Food Fast" published by Martha Stewart, which has lots of nifty ideas for quick meals. If you prefer less strong flavours, I would reduce the cumin and coriander by about 1/4 tsp each. I liked their advice and used the food processor for grating. Just make sure you either use gloves when you are peeling the beetroot, or hold it with a fork to avoid staining your hands pink.

Shredded Beetroot and Carrot Salad
from "Great Food Fast" by Martha Stewart

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tbl extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbl honey

3/4 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

500g raw beetroot, peeled

3 carrots, peeled

1/3 cup torn continental parsley leaves

Whisk together lemon juice, oil, honey, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne plus 3/4 tsp salt. In a food processor, shred the beetroot and then the carrots. Add to the bowl along with the parsley and toss all the ingredients together.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vegetable Pot Pie - For A Quiet Night At Home

Pot pie is one of those home-y recipes, that speaks to me of nurturing and goodness. It is warm and forgiving and flexible. A yummy mixture of whatever vegetables you want to use, bound together in a lovely sauce and capped with a pastry crust. What could be better? And an unexpected cold snap this week, meant it was even more perfect. This recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, is lovely, and a great way to spend an hour or so, pottering around the kitchen. I halved the butter and skipped the pernod (had none) and baby onions (no frozen baby onions here), and halved the quantities, to get two very lovely pies, which I shared with the darling daughters. In fact the vegetable mixture was so delicious, I couldn't help but nibble at it while waiting for the pastry. If you were in a rush, or felt a little intimidated by making pastry, simply use pre-rolled shortcrust and continue with the baking.

I made the vegetable pot pie for this week's Barefoot Blogger challenge, chosen by Debinhawaii from Kahakai Kitchen. For me it really was a challenge. I have rarely ever made pastry from scratch and I have certainly never made it with shortening. In fact, the only thing I make here with shortening is chocolate crackles. So I have some questions for my friends in the blogosphere unanswered by the recipe:
1. Do I melt the shortening before using? If so, do I then need it cool it to room temperature?
2. Do I simply chop shortening? This is what I did, but I wound up with two funny melty patches on my pastry, where I did not chop the pieces small enough. Or should I grate the shortening to get even smaller pieces?
Any advice from the Barefoot Blogging troupe would be most welcome!!

Regardless of a couple of odd patches in my pastry, this was a great recipe. Thanks Deb for the choice. You can see the beautiful pastry created by the others here.

adapted from "The Barefoot Contessa Parties"

12 tbls unsalted butter
2 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
1 fennel bulb, top and core removed, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup plain flour
2 1/2 cups good chicken stock
1 tablespoon Pernod
Pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 tsps salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups large-diced potatoes
1 1/2 cups asparagus tips
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced butternut squash
1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions (1/2 pound)
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

For the pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, Pernod, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the asparagus, carrots, and squash to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes, mixed vegetables, onions, and parsley to the sauce and mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.