Friday, January 30, 2009

Sashimi Salad plus New Year's Resolutions - Yes They're Late

I like New Year's Resolutions, for the same reason I like new journals and new stationery. A sense of freedom and possibility wells up in me when I consider everything ahead - the literal as well as metaphorical turning over of new leaves. The year ahead always offers all the time in the world to read books, get fit(or just fitter), learn a new language, take up a new hobby, volunteer, figure out my next career, or even just ponder whether to plant an ornamental tree in the garden.

But I feel like I missed the boat in January. Freezing cold London on New Year's Eve felt like a time for bunkering down and retreating to a cave, not contemplating the abundant possibilities that midsummer in Sydney conjures up. No resolutions were made and now I feel a little adrift. So here is an abridged version of my 09 resolutions which are being made slightly late fr Feb 1 instead of Jan 1, at least as relevant to food and this blog.
1. My Green resolution: Throw out less food. Come up with wonderful recipes for leftovers. Treat my fridge like a giant Tetris game, where if I am left with two egg yolks from one recipe, I find another recipe to use it in. I am planning to track exactly how much food I throw out in Feb, to get a feel for the size of the issue.
2. My Clutter resolution: Get rid of the food magazine backlog by going through them, pulling out the recipes I want and throwing the rest into the recycling bin. I have piles of pre-incarceration Martha Stewarts, alongside pre-millenium Vogue Entertainings - this must change!
3. My Organisation resolution: Paste all my torn-out recipes into scrapbooks instead of leaving them to compost in a giant unmanageable box (this contains really ancient things like NY Times recipes from 1994; I promise to share any amazing discoveries).
4. My Waste Not Want Not resolution: Cook at least one thing from every recipe book I have never used. Enough said.
5. My Expand The Horizons resolution: Serve a vegetarian dinner once a week to my tribe of carnivores (hey, you've got to start somewhere)

But enough about me. Here is a wonderful salad I pulled together this week in the middle of the chicken pox nightmare. It took no time or effort (yay), but was enthusiastically enjoyed. And the colours are so pretty...

Sashimi Salad

Assorted sashimi (I used a large take-away box of salmon, tuna and kingfish), thinly sliced
1 cucumber, sliced with a peeler into ribbons
4 cups mixed leaves
1 bunch blanched asparagus tips
3 shallots (green onions, white part finely sliced)
Pickled Ginger to taste
1 tbl toasted sesame seeds

Dressing - Asian sesame dressing if available; otherwise juice one lime and sprinkle over salad then drizzle salad with extra virgin olive oil and toss.

Directions- Mix cucumber, asparagus, shallots and leaves together with dressing. Lay the sashimi on top just before serving, then sprinkle with ginger and sesame seeds.

Mango, Avocado, Papaya and Mint Salad - Time To Get Healthy

Having come back down to earth with a thump after our holiday, (thanks to the dreaded chicken pox) it is time for some virtuous eating. I'm not fussed whether it is soups or salads, just anything that has lots and lots of anti-oxidants and vitamins, as a bit of a restorative for all of us. I had spotted this salad in a Maggie Beer book when I was looking for Christmas recipes (she calls it her Christmas Salad), but it works just as well as a January salad (or an August salad provided that you can get your hands on a mango). This salad will definitely be making regular summer appearances at our house.
And on the subject of virtuous behaviour, I missed doing new year's resolutions because we were away, so I am officially declaring February to be the beginning of our new year. Tomorrow I will share with you my resolutions for 09 as well as some more "virtuous eating".
Christmas Salad from "Maggie's Table" by Maggie Beer
2 handfuls rocket
2 witlof bulbs, separated into leaves
2 mangoes
2 ripe avocadoes
1/4 papaya
30 mint leaves
Lime Vinaigrette
Finely grated zest and juice of two limes
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together.
Wash and dry the salad leaves. Slice the mango, avocado and papaya into similar sized long strips. Shred the mint finely and scatter over the salad. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette and adjust seasonings to taste.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Cheat's Recipe: Cheese Platter

I love cheese a lot: hard, soft, mild, intense, creamy, crumbly, you name it. Not my fault - I was brought up that way. My whole family loves cheese. We tend to have a cheese course at meals of any significance, and if my wine connoisseur brother is involved, you might also be spoilt with a wine that has been specifically matched with the flavour characteristics of whatever cheese is being served. Even in my childhood, Saturday lunches tended to be a cheese platter and a meat platter with condiments, salad and bread. No hard work for anyone to prepare, but absolutely delicious.

When I saw that this month's Barefoot Blogger challenge was to create a cheese platter, I couldn't resist, even though I feel like I am cheating by posting this along with my recipes. I would love to show you 30 cheeses and the various condiments and fruits that I like to serve with them, but budget and space meant editing the choices down to three: a hard, a blue and a soft. I chose them for a mixture of textures (hard, crumbly, creamy) and flavours (from mild-ish to very intense). Today they all came from France, but don't assume I don't also love cheeses from other places, especially local cheeses.

Thanks to Rebecca from Ezra Pound Cake for the great choice. Yum!

So here are today's selections:

1. Roy Des Vallees - a semi hard, mixed goat and sheep cheese from the Aquitaine region of France
2. Carles Roquefort AOC1 / White Label - a sheeps' milk blue from the Pyrenees in France
3. Fromage des Clarines - a very creamy soft cow's milk cheese from the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps. When ripe, this cheese is very runny, so it is served by cutting the top off the cheese and scooping it out from the box with a spoon (sadly not quite ripe enough when I took the photo today.

As condiments, I like to serve some sort of savoury paste, usually quince paste. If you have never tried it, it is a revelation with cheese, especially the hard cheeses. I have also included a prune and walnut log, to either slice thinly and eat with the cheese (especially the soft cheese), or to eat alongside the cheese as a flavour and texture contrast.

Because we are now at the late summer end of our fruit, I am able to include figs. Figs are the most fantastic pairing with soft cheese. I also like grapes, apple, pears and strawberries depending on what is in season (or more importantly in the house).

I like to offer a range of crackers - almond bread is best with the soft cheese; a wheaty cracker works with the hard cheeses and something without too much flavour for the blue as the blue is able to provide more than enough taste for one mouthful.

And finally the platters - don't pick anything too heavy as you need to be able to pass the cheese. A few smaller platters works much better than one ginormous one. Take it from someone who knows.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Banana Yoghurt Pancakes - Better Late Than Never

As I have mentioned before, breakfast at our house tends to be a slightly shambolic affair. In other words, everyone helps themselves to whatever they want: juice, cereal, muesli, fruit, toast. It is only on rare occasions that we have a hot breakfast, and that is usually when we have house guests. However, with an empty long weekend and a Barefoot Challenge to complete, we all sat down to pancakes for breakfast on Sunday.

These were good, and my favourite part was that the batter did not need any resting time before it was ready to be used. If you are a pancake person, I would definitely recommend these. Incidentally, I made them with yoghurt instead of sour cream, because in my current state, I accidentally put the sour cream in the freezer.... Here's to a return to health for my little tribe.

Barefoot Bloggers is a very relaxed internet group who cook something from the collected wisdom of Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa a couple of times a month. If you feel like being pushed to extend your cooking skills and try new things, click here. Thanks to Karen of Something Sweet by Karen for the great choice. I got them done just in time for the end of Jan deadline!

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes from "Barefoot Contessa Family Style" by Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
2 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Unsalted butter
2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving
Pure maple syrup

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Ladle the pancake batter into the pan to make 3 or 4 pancakes. Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used. Serve with sliced bananas, butter and maple syrup.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies for a Long Weekend

Thanks for all your kind wishes but sadly we are very much still in the grip of chicken pox. Darling daughter has recovered enough to return to school tomorrow, however darling husband is still unwell. Very very unwell in the way that adults seem to get when they catch childhood diseases. So the gorgeous Australia Day long weekend saw us confined to barracks, with lots of DVDs, and general mooching around. On the bright side, it was a last chance to catch our breath before school starts for the year tomorrow. And, fingers crossed, maybe he will start to improve tomorrow....

These chocolate biscuits (cookies) from Bill Granger are very easy and very more-ish; I love teh slight salty taste. They got a big thumbs up from both darling daughters. Incidentally, the recipe makes a huge number - Bill claims 30, but I got more than 50, so feel free to halve the recipe and you will still have more biscuits than you know what to do with. Unless all you have to do is ponder the giant long weekend crossword. Anyone know what a slang term for a New South Welshman is? Cockroach doesn't fit.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

from "Simply Bill" by Bill Granger
250g unsalted butter, softened
350g soft brown sugar
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
2 eggs lightly beaten
310 g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps sea salt
350g dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C. Beat together the butter and sugar, until fluffy, then add the eggs and vanilla, incorporating everything well. Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, then stir in until just combined. Place large spoonfuls on baking trays lined with baking paper, leaving some room for spreading. Cook for 15-20 minutes, then cool on trays for a couple of minutes before transferring to wire racks. As soon as they are completely cool, put them into an airtight box, so the humidity does not make them soggy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ajo Blanco or Dazzlingly Good Chilled Almond Soup with Grape Granita

I am always shocked when people say they don't like cold soup. To me, especially when the weather is cripplingly hot, there is nothing more refreshing or satisfying than a cold soup. And mostly, cold soups are very easy to make. Usually the only work is in selecting beautiful fresh produce and then the blender takes over. But sometimes, it's nice to put a bit of effort into a cold soup.

This recipe definitely requires a bit of effort, but don't let that put you off. It is from Movida: Spanish Culinary Adventures Cookbook by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish, a book that I am in love with at the moment. Everything I have tried so far has been amazing. While I am yet to find a super simple recipe in it, I have been richly rewarded for the effort required by the recipes. I have been eyeing off this recipe - Chilled Almond Soup With Floating Grape Granita - for months, and intended to get it done before the Christmas Holidays but life got too frantic and it didn't happen. So here it is - not something to whip up tonight, but definitely worth it for a summery special occassion. Incidentally, this soup has a couple of sub recipes to complete first: an aioli and a fresh grape granita, both of which are great on their own.

PS I am sending a bowl of this over to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday.

Ajo Blanco or Chilled Almond Soup with Grape Granita
from Movida: Spanish Culinary Adventures by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish

250g blanched almonds
135g caster sugar
250g muscatel or any other sweet grapes (I used menindee seedless - if your grapes have seeds, remove the seeds before you start the granita)
1 x 2cm slice of 2 day old firm crusty bread
1 garlic clove
900 ml chilled water
90g aioli (see below)
2 tbl sherry vinegar

Put the blanched almonds in a bowl, cover with water and soak overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, pour the sugar into a saucepan with 1 1/4 cups water, bring to the boil and simmer until it reduces by about 1/3 (approx 15 minutes). Allow to cool.

Wash the grapes and pick them from the stem. De-seed if necessary. Puree the grapes in a food processor or blender, then strain through a fine sieve, pushing on the solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard solids. You should have about 2/3 cup of juice. Add 1/3 cup of sugar syrup, or enough to create 1 cup of mixture. (Put remaining sugar syrup in the fridge for another use - maybe a margarita?) Pour the grape and sugar syrup into a shallow cake tin, and place in the freezer. After 30 mins, remove from freezer, scrape the mixture with a fork, fluffing and mixing to create an even texture. Return to the freezer. Repeat this process two or three times, until all the granita is frozen into even crystals. Leave granita into the freezer until you are ready to use it (it may need a final scrape just before serving).

While the granita is freezing, cut the crusts off the bread, cube it, and soak in a bowl of cold water for 2 hours.

Drain the almonds and place in a food processor. Drain the bread, squeezing out any excess water and place it in the processor, with a clove of garlic. Add 1/2 tsp salt. Blend for 1 minute, then keeping the motor running, slowly add the chilled water a little at a time to create almond milk. Blend the mixture until it is as smooth as possible.

Strain the almond milk twice. Stir the solids to release any liquid but do not push on them or try to force them through, so the soup remains very silky. Put aioli in a bowl, then whisk the soup in a little at a time, until it is all incorporated. Refrigerate for at least one hour, then serve in chilled bowls with some granita floating in the top. Season to taste with sherry vinegar.


At least 2 garlic cloves
2 pinches sea salt
2 egg yolks
1 tbl dijon mustard
150ml extra virgin olive oil
150 ml sunflower oil
2 tbl lemon juice

Pound the garlic and salt into a paste with a mortar and pestle until you have a garlic paste. Place a bowl on a wet tea towel that has been folded into quarters to stabilise the bowl. Add the egg yolks, mustard and garlic paste and begin whisking until it is smooth.

Begin adding the oil very slowly, whisking coninuously. Ensure that each addition of oil has been completely absorbed into the emulsifying mixture before adding more. Conitinue adding and whisking until you have a thick mayonnaise. Season with lemonjuice and sea salt to taste (nb dissolving the salt in the lemon juice will stop white spots forming in your aioli.) Once satisfied, whisk in 1 tbl of warm water to help retain the emulsification. Aioli will keep 2-3 days in he fridge.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fish Roasted With Capers and Lemon Butter

Yesterday was really hot. Today is really hot. Tomorrow will be really hot. So hot that it is hard to walk from your towel to the sea. So hot that every blind and curtain in the house is drawn to try and keep as much heat out as possible. So hot that every theatre in town is full with people watching movies just for a couple of hours in the air conditioning. And to top it all off - the bushfire commissioner announced a complete fire ban on the radio this morning, so no Australia Day BBQs. And we are still in quarantine with chicken pox!

So dinner needs to be quick and easy (which also fits my general post-holiday mood). Donna Hay is the go-to girl for quick and simple. If you don't own at least one of her cookbooks, I suggest you buy one. Nothing too hard, no long ingredient lists, nothing that needs a couple of days preparation and a few sub-recipes. This fish was delicious, and very low stress. Apart from buying the fish, all other ingredients were on hand. A great dinner in less than 30 minutes - and a good solution if your fish BBQ has just been cancelled.

Fish Roasted in Capers and Lemon Butter

from "Off the Shelf" by Donna Hay

4 x 200g firm white flesh fish fillets
2 tbls salted capers, rinsed
1 tbl finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (I used about 1/4 cup)
60g butter softened
cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 200C. Place the fish fillets in a baking dish lined with baking paper. Combine the capers, lemon zest, parmesan, butter and pepper. Spread the mixture over the fish. Bake for 20 mins or until the fillets are cooked and the topping is golden.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Easy Sticky Buns or Snails and A Return From Holidays

A long time between posts... so Happy New Year to all. Since I last posted, I have been thoroughly blessed with the holiday of a lifetime. But now, a return home and a return to normalcy, marred only slightly by chicken pox! Darling husband and darling daughter have both come out in spots, and both are suffering with them too.....

Being a little housebound made it easy to get the sticky buns made for this month's Barefoot Blogger Challenge. (If you haven't been following before now, the Barefoot Bloggers are a group of keen cooks working through the assorted wisdom of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Each month, a couple of recipes are selected and the group posts results here. I love it because I am always being pushed to do something I would never usually make). Thanks to Melissa from Made by Melissa for the choice.

These buns are quite popular in Australia and are called snails (for the obvious reason). I had all ingredients on hand, but decided to halve the recipe as there is a limit to how much of this type of pastry our family is ever going to eat. They turned out well although a little small - about the size of a smallish cupcake. I think the problem may have been the difference in the size of a sheet of puff pastry. I am not sure that one sheet of puff pastry here = 1 sheet of puff pastry in the US. Our sheets are about 20cm x 20cm, so if you are making this in Australia and want larger buns, join an extra half sheet by brushing the joins with a little water. If I make this again, I may play around with the add-ins - maybe some apple would be good?

Easy Sticky Buns from "Back to Basics" by Ina Garten

180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup pecans, chopped in very large pieces
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place a 12-cup standard muffin tin on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the 12 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture in each of the 12 muffin cups. Distribute the pecans evenly among the 12 muffin cups on top of the butter and sugar mixture.

Lightly flour a wooden board or stone surface. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry with the folds going left to right. Brush the whole sheet with half of the melted butter. Leaving a 1-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle each sheet with 1/3 cup of the brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of the raisins. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly like a jelly roll around the filling, finishing the roll with the seam side down.

Trim the ends of the roll about 1/2 inch and discard. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place each piece, spiral side up, in 6 of the muffin cups. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry to make 12 sticky buns.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the sticky buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert the buns onto the parchment paper (ease the filling and pecans out onto the buns with a spoon), and cool completely.