Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chantilly Meringues aka Individual Berry Pavlovas

Pavlova sits in the Australian culinary pantheon alongside vegemite and a barbecue, as a food that we really feel is our own (please ignore any Kiwis that try and argue the toss on this one). It seems as if everyone has a mother or a grandmother or an aunt who makes the best pavlova ever. There are dry pavlova shells for sale in the supermarket, alongside towering pre-made pavlovas (both horrible). There are battles within families between the purists who would never put anything other than either strawberries or passionfruit on top, and the radicals who would happily empty the fruit bowl and top the pavlova. Since I have been blogging, I have somehow overlooked posting my favourite pavlova recipe (in cae you were wondering, it is Stephanie Alexanders - completely failsafe as long as you follow it closely).
Imagine my surprise as I started to make the Meringues Chantilly for this month Barefoot Blogging challenge, when I realised that this is really a tricked up pavlova recipe. The meringue is a little less marshmallow-y than a normal pavlova and the cream is a little more exotic than usual and the fruit is slightly stewed, but basically, it is a pavlova. Maybe a pavlova wearing a cocktail dress, heels and perfume. It is very delicious, and the perfect dessert for a dinner party, as the meringues can be made a day ahead, and the cream and fruit also prepared and plonked in the fridge until serving time. I halved the recipe as there were only five of us for dinner and leftovers like this are way too dangerous. The problem with halving was that I wound up a little short on the meringue when it came time to pipe the sides of the nests; not a problem really because the cream was stiff enough not to require the support. The fruit was sensational - it would be just as good drizzled over ice cream. And a big thank you from me to the mysterious BMK of Reservations Not Required, for picking a recipe that used summer berries at the height of their season here.
Meringues Chantilly
from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten
6 extra - large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Whipped Cream with Orange Liqueur, recipe follows
Stewed berries, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 100C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small glass and a pencil, draw 6 x 10cm circles on each piece of paper. Turn the paper face-down on the baking sheets.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a large pinch of salt on medium speed until frothy. Add 1 cup of the sugar and raise the speed to high until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla. Carefully fold the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar into the meringue. With a large star - shaped pastry tip, pipe a disc of meringue inside each circle. Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells.

Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight. Spread some of the sauce from the stewed berries on each plate. Place a meringue on top and fill with whipped cream. Top with berries and serve.

Whipped Cream with Orange Liqueur:
2 cups pouring cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar, vanilla and orange liqueur and continue to whip until the cream forms stiff peaks. Don't overbeat, or you'll end up with butter!

Stewed berries:
1 half-pint fresh blueberries
3 half-pints fresh raspberries, divided
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
2 teaspoons framboise (raspberry brandy - I used normal brandy as I couldn't find Framboise)
Combine the blueberries, one-half pint of raspberries, 1/3 cup water, the sugar and zest in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. The juice will become a syrup and the berries will be slightly cooked. Off the heat, stir in the remaining raspberries and the framboise. Set aside.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Old-Fashioned Roast Lamb and Vegetables With Gravy

Roast lamb was a staple of my childhood. Always cooked medium rare. Always served with roast vegetables. Always swimming in gravy. To me, this is a meal that feels to me like an embrace from my childhood, and this was definitely a week for embraces. Many of the people I care about are doing it tough in one way or another at the moment. The economy, health issues, and other problems, both big and small, have lent the week a very sombre feel. Like many others, I also have a sense of foreboding about what else is in store this year. I feel like we all should be bracing ourselves for more trouble (which is most unlike me; I am famously Pollyanna-ish most of the time). So scoop up your loved ones and sit down for a meal. Whether you are laughing or crying is up to you. What counts is who is sitting there with you.

This lamb roast is a mixture of ideas from three writers: Neil Perry, Stephanie Alexander and Donna Hay. I timed it with my new digital meat timer (!), to make sure it was just perfect. If you don't have a meat timer, lamb on the bone will take

PS The potatoes cooked on the rack alongside the lamb, but I pulled them out before I remembered to take a picture. So just pretend you can see them there at the back.

Classic Lamb Roast
1 leg of lamb, 2.5 kg
Bunch of rosemary
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup seed mustard
4 parsnips, peeled and halved lengthwise
4 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
4 onions, skin on, halved horizontally
4 potatoes, halved and tossed in some olive oil
1 tbl plain flour
1 tbl tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups of stock

Remove the lamb from the fridge two hours before cooking, season with salt and allow it to come to room temperature (Stephanie suggests only 30 mins for this step. I would aim for at least 30 mins). Rub lamb with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 220C. Place potatoes directly on the oven rack. Arrange remaining vegetables in a stove-proof baking tin filled with about 1 cm of water. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and water. Sit the lamb on the oven rack on a bed of the rosemary with the potatoes and the baking dish below it. After 30 mins, reduce the oven temperature to 200C. Meanwhile mix together the honey and mustard to make a glaze. Half an hour before the lamb is due to be ready, remove the lamb from the oven, brush the lamb with the glaze and then return to the oven. Continue cooking until lamb is ready.

For pink lamb, allow 10-15 mins of total cooking time per 500g. Medium lamb will take 15-20 mins per 500g and well done lamb will take 20-25 mins per 500g. If you have a thermometer, an internal temperature of 60C will give you perfect pink lamb.

Once cooked remove the lamb from the oven to rest (about 15-20 mins), covered in foil. Remove the vegetables to a serving platter and keep warm (I usually urn off the oven, leave the door a little ajar and sit them in there). The baking dish that held the vegetables can now be used to make gravy. Tip off any excess fat, leaving just a little with all the nice crispy brown bits. Place baking tin over medium heat and scatter in flour. Stir and cook for two mins, scraping up as many charred or dark bits on your baking dish as possible (they have all the flaour). Add the tomato paste and wine. Stir again then slowly add the stock until you have a smooth gravy. Bring to the boil. Add water to thin it if it is too thick. Check seasonings and strain into a serving jug.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Vichyssoise - A Cold Soup Classic

I once won a school spellathon because I knew how to spell vichyssoise, but that is not the only reason I like it. Cold and silky, it is completely perfect for the hot sticky days to which February has returned us. Even more blissful is the fact that it is very simple, can be made well in advance and most of the ingredients are probably already in your fridge. It is also wonderful for entertaining - a cold starter makes a dinner party much, much easier.

Looking at the net for the history of vichyssoise, I was expecting a French bloodline, but it was actually a New York hotel that spawned the soup. According to JJ Schnebel's Who Cooked That Up website, in 1917 the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Madison Avenue and 46th Street was about to open a new roof garden restaurant. " The head chef was a Frenchman named Louis Diat (1885-1957). He often made a potato and leek soup from a recipe given him by his mother, and he was preparing to serve it at a party celebrating the opening of the roof garden. Whether, according to legend, the soup, prepared in advance, wasn't re-heated in time to be served as a first course, or whether the day was warm and Chef-de-Cuisine Diat felt culinarily creative, he added cream to his mother's soup recipe and served it cold, sprinkled with chopped chives. He called it Creme Vichyssoise Glacee, or Chilled Cream Vichyssoise, in honor of the town where he was born. The soup's popularity doubtless comes from the fact that even in the hottest weather one can enjoy a bowl of soup and find it refreshing. For many years Lord and Taylor's department store Soup Bar featured only a bowl of Vichyssoise and a piece of apple pie for lunch all summer long." My kind of place.

This recipe comes from the Tetsuya cookbook and is only the second recipe I have tried (the first being the sensational avocado soup), and so far this cookbook is batting two for two. Tetsuya serves his vichyssoise over jellied eggplant, and topped with a sprinkling of chives and caviar - a surprisingly elegant combination. And by the way, because there are so few ingredients, this is one recipe where homemade stock makes a big difference. Here is the basic soup recipe; let me know if you are interested in the jellied eggplant, and I will post that as well. And if you are interested in other soups, Deb at Kahakai Kitchen has her weekly selection posting on Sundays, Hawaii time.

Cold Soup of Potato and Leek
1 leek washed and white part chopped
1 onion chopped
1 - 2 tbls grapeseed oil (use light olive or vegetable if you don't have grapeseed - something with as little flavour as possible)
1 litre chicken stock
6 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
200 ml milk
100 ml pouring cream
Garnish: chopped chives

Sweat the leek and onion in oil until softened and translucent. Add the stock and then the potato. As soon as the potato is soft, remove from heat and cool down. Puree the mixture and add the milk and cream. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Serve garnished with chopped chives.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Waldorf Salad and A Remembrance of Things Past

Last week, pondering my fridge as part of the ongoing 09 crusade against food waste, I noticed some lingering apples and celery. Like some sort of trivia game quiz, I found myself pondering: "apple + celery = ?" when the blindingly obvious answer hit me. It was time for a Waldorf salad. Waldorf salad was very chichi when I was growing up, but along with deep fried camembert (not kidding) and apricot chicken, it has disappeared. Having it again reminded me why it was so popular in the first place: the crunchy texture is very satisfying, the apples bring sweetness to the celery and the walnuts seal the deal. Make sure you use a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice in the dressing to stop the apples browning, and to lighten up the mayo a little. Feel free to throw in any other add-ins (raisins, other fruit, change the nuts add some leaves etc). And by the way, the leftovers will be just as nice tomorrow.

And in case you were wondering, the name comes from the Waldorf Astoria where this salad was created in 1896 by the maitre d' (not the chef).

Waldorf Salad
3 Granny Smith apples cored and chopped
4 sticks celery chopped
3 tbls walnuts, chopped
2 tbls mayonnaise
2 tbls lemon juice

Combine mayonnaise and lemon juice in a small bowl. Chop celery and apple and toss immediately with the dressing. Refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with the walnuts just before serving.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Citrus Marinated Spatchcock and the Demise of the Meal

An article in The Guardian sent to me yesterday (thanks Stew), has prompted me to think about the huge focus on the when, where and how of our meals and the enormous vested interests involved. Food at its most basic is our first pleasure as infants, it is literally our lifeblood, figuratively our cultural barometer, the mark of our celebrations and our commiserations. But it is different for all of us. Like many others, I think family meal times are invaluable, as a time when everyone gets heard, and we can all talk about serious issues or nonsense. It is a time to connect with each other, laugh, shout, tell, even whine. But at other points in my life, it has not always been possible. When your partner travels a lot, or you have small children who eat at 5pm, or you and your partner are working different hours or even when you live in a tiny flat with a kitchen the size of the proverbial postage stamp, a home cooked meal can feel completely unattainable. Instead, you have to work hard at building the connections that come so naturally over a shared meal - and frankly it's a lot more work than the making of a meal.

This meal wasn't for a special occassion for us apart from a return to health and normality. It comes from "Feedback" by Michelle Scamps, a cookbook that is hard to find and definitely deserves wider publication. While it is one of my husband's favourites and something I have made for dinner parties, I decided to indulge all of us. And the results on the night: husband very happy, one daughter liked it; the other found the orange marinade a little overwhelming. (Incidentally the reason I like spatchcock for a dinner party is that it is so easy and fast to plate and has a bit of a "wow" factor when it hits the table).

Citrus Roasted Spatchcock from "Feedback" by Michelle Scamps

4 spatchcock
2 oranges sliced into wedges
olive oil

For the marinade:
1 orange, zest and juice plus juice of 3 more oranges
1 lime, zest and juice
90 ml balsamic vinegar
125 ml olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
6 sprigs of thyme, chopped
2 tbsp dried oregano

Mix marinade ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Put the spatchcocks into the marinade, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. Turn the spatchcocks in the marinade every 1/2 hour or so (or when you remember).

To cook, preheat oven to 180C. Remove spatchcocks from the marinade (save marinade for basting) and put them into a roasting tin with the oranges. Drizzle some olive oil over the oranges, then put the roasting tin into the oven . Roast for 50 minutes or until the spatchcocks are cooked, basting with the leftover marinade every 15 minutes. Tip the pan juices into a small saucepan and reduce to become a tasty sauce.

Serve with couscous or rice to sop up the juices.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dates Stuffed With Goat's Cheese - A Middle Eastern Hors D'Oeuvre

This post was meant to be a review of a book that I am looking forward to reading: "The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu Jabar as a "Cook The Books" challenge. But a series of mishaps have intervened. I saw it when we were in the US but decided not to buy it until we got home because we were so close to being fined for overweight luggage. Then when I got home I found no local bookshops stock the book, although they were happy to order it for me from the publisher in the US. Eventually, I found a bookshop that promised delivery in 5-7 working days, so ordered it in the middle of January, and surprise, surprise, no book thus far....

So to get you in the mood for a review and a recipe which will be forthcoming when the stars align, here is a plate of Middle Eastern inspired nibblies. Very simple to assemble, this dish introduced me to much more sweet and floral flavours than I am used to in an hors d'oeuvre, particularly with the orange blossom water. I am looking forward to exploring more food from the book when it arrives.

Medjool Dates Stuffed With Goat's Cheese and Pinenuts
adapted from "Cuisine Magazine" January 2009

1/2 cup goats cheese whipped with a fork
3 tbls toasted pine nuts, plus extra for serving
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tbls lemon juice
1/4 - 1/2 tsp orange blossom water (add more if you would like a stronger floral flavour)
12 dates sliced open lengthwise to remove the seed (make sure you keep them in one piece for the stuffing)
2 tsps ground sumac
2 tbls coriander leaves
2 tbls extra virgin olive oil

Combine the goats cheese with pine nuts, lemon zest and juice, orange blossom water, salt and pepper to taste, then mix well. Stuff the dates with the goats cheese mixture then sprinkle with sumac, the extra pine nuts, a drizzle of olive oil and the coriander leaves. Serve at rom temperature or slightly warmed.

Pappa Al Pomidoro - A Fantastic Tomato Soup

This soup has been naging me to make it for weeks. It was one of the December choices for the Barefoot Bloggers (thanks Natalie from Burned Bits), but we were travelling and it was impossible. Not physically impossible. I did have access to a kitchen from time to time however there just was no way that I was going to give up being spoiled and not cooking while on holidays. I'm sure every mother in the world would have done the same. Believe me when I tell you that there is an inordinate pleasure sometimes in not being responsible for dinner for days at a time. And so much less washing up.....

So I planned to make this soup ASAP after our return, but it was hot. Far too hot to contemplate a traditional warm Italian soup with crunchy oven-baked topping. I made some cold soups instead. But then this week, in the middle of what is traditionally our most stifling month in Sydney, the weather suddenly cooled off to the point where a bowl of soup was a wonderful and welcoming thing. And this soup was particularly warm and welcoming. I am so very glad that it kept nagging at the back of my mind, because I will make this soup again and again. I did change things ever so slightly - I had bacon in the fridge and no pancetta, but in future I don't think I will bother with either. The croutons and basil were topping enough. I also blended the soup in the pot with my stick blender, mostly because I had assumed the soup would be blended at some point (naughty naughty not reading recipe all the way through), and had been very haphazard in my vegetable chopping. Blending it really prettied it up, and I think I would blend it again in the future. And as for the flavour, it is mouth-watering - it will remind you why tomato soup is such a classic.

If you are in the mood for soup, check out the Souper Sunday round-up from Deb at Kahakai Kitchen - there is a growing band of soup-lovers arriving at her site each week. Incidentally, I served it with corn bread - recipe to follow later this week.

Pappa Al Pomidoro
from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

1/2 cup good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
3 cups (3 cm) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
4 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (I halved this because the kids don't like things too 'herby')
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the topping:
3 cups (3cm) diced ciabatta cubes
50g thickly sliced pancetta, chopped (or leave out)
24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C. For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine. Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sweet Nothings for Valentine's Day

Two Poems for Valentine's Day
love poem by e. e. cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

or, if you are less romantic:

Reflections on Ice-Breaking by Ogden Nash

Is dandy.
But liquor
Is quicker.

Romantic or not, here are some sugar cookies for your loved ones from Ms Dorie Greenspan. They are easy to make, and the resting period in the fridge means you can make the dough up to three days in advance of actually rolling it out, cutting and baking. The dough also lends itself to whatever additions or toppings you want to give it, and was sufficiently firm to hold even fairly intricate patterns (I will be making these again cut out as snowflakes at Xmas, I suspect). Have a Great Valentine's day.

Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies from "Baking: From My Home To Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (optional)

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

Beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated — because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you — I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you're going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with baking paper. If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies — I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.) After you've rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll, cut and bake.

If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife to slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust the cookies with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you'd like. Let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.
Storing: The cookies will keep at room temperature in a tin for up to 1 week. Wrapped well, they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Real Spaghetti and Meatballs

When I saw that this month's Barefoot Challenges included meatballs, I was very pleased. I knew that the family would love it, and it gave me the chance for a bit of experimentation with a new recipe. I have been making spaghetti meatballs for years with the same recipe from Diane Seed's Top 100 Pasta Sauces. So how would Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa stack up against Diane Seed when the battle ground was meatballs?

The answer was an easy win to the Barefoot Contessa. The differences between the two recipes are significant. Ina uses three types of mince in hers (beef, pork and veal) where Diane uses one (beef). Ina does not add garlic to her mince mixture, it is only in the sauce, where Diane has garlic in the meatballs but not in the sauce. Ina uses one egg, plus water which makes hers moister than Diane's using two eggs and no water. Plus you mix Ina's with a fork (instead of in a food processor), and there is no rolling the balls in flour before browning. All in all, I was sold on this recipe and so were the family. The meatballs were definitely moister and tastier. Even better, the single recipe made enough for us for two dinners (one is sitting in the freezer). We got almost twice as many meatballs as Ina did out of her ingredients, and they were still the size of golf balls. I didn't want to increase them to the size of tennis balls just to get Ina's suggested 14-16.

And if you have never made meatballs, do! As Peter Clemenza said in "The Godfather", "You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys some day..."

Thanks so much to Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake for the fantastic choice. If you feel the urge to expand your cooking repertoire, consider joining us at Barefoot Bloggers, as we work our way through fortnightly challenges from the repertoire of the Barefoot Contessa.

Real Meatballs and Spaghetti from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

For the meatballs:
250g ground veal
250g ground pork (NB I used the pork veal mixture from the supermarket)
500g ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup good red wine
2 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan

Place the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Baked Sausages and Capsicum

Despite my undying devotion to cooking, I only ever watch TV cooking shows very fleetingly because I find them bizarrely unsatisfying. There are some notable exceptions: I really love "The Best in Australia" (three professional chefs compete each week to create the ultimate dish in a particular category eg the ultimate egg breakfast or the ultimate pasta dish), and "The Great British Menu" is also compelling, but mostly I turn on a show, see a little but then find myself wandering away to do the laundry or unpack the dishwasher (see - really bored). But every now and then, something catches my eye. I spotted this dish while blitzing through the channels last week, and landing on a British show called "Come Dine With Me". Hilariously, the concept seems to be a competitive dinner party show, with people making bitchy comments about someone's bathroom wallpaper and decor choices before sitting down to a dinner that they then critique fairly mercilessly. Just like having Simon Cowell over.

In any event, the dish I saw featured had potential as a quick, simple dinner, although I must confess that I would not consider it for a competitive dinner party with snarky celebrity judges. The colours are gorgeous but make sure you get really good sausages as they are definitely the star. (Leftover note - I mixed the leftover capsicum with some of the meatball sauce from tomorrow's posting, instead of having pasta. Scrumptious).

Roasted Sausages and Capsicum

6-8 spicy Italian sausages
2 orange bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
1 large red onion
1 tbl dried oregano
Ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Chop capsicums into 3 cm squares, discarding seeds and membranes. Chop onion into quarters and then split into layers.

Place all capsicums and onions in a large baking dish and mix well with a drizzle of olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper. Pierce the sausages and place on top. Cook at 200C for 30 mins or until sausages are cooked and capsicum is tender. (Remove the sausages and allow the vegetables to keep cooking if necessary).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Oysters for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is around the corner, so it is time to pull out the heart shaped cookie cutters, and dust off the recipes for a great meal for two. For those of you who want something simple to start the night, my suggestion is oysters. Not only do they have famed aphrodisiac qualities, they are low in caklories and high in good things like zinc (click here for more nutrition info on the oyster). You can see I have served them here with a mignonette dressing I spotted on Steamy Kitchen (a great Asian cooking blog if you haven't discovered it yet), but if you have romance not cooking on your mind, good oysters really need nothing more than a squeeze of lemon.

And, in keeping with the Valentine's Day mood, I am giving you a poem from another fan of the oyster, Jonathon Swift of "Gulliver's Travels" fame.

(PS If you are looking for more Valentine's Day recipes, head over to Mele Cotte, who is doing a round up called Kitchen of Love 2009 . I'm sending this over to her as an appetizer)

"Oysters" by Jonathon Swift
Charming oysters I cry:
My masters, come buy,
So plump and so fresh,
So sweet is their flesh,
No Colchester oyster
Is sweeter and moister:
Your stomach they settle,
And rouse up your mettle:
They'll make you a dad
Of a lass or a lad;
And madam your wife
They'll please to the life;
Be she barren, be she old,
Be she slut, or be she scold,
Eat my oysters, and lie near her,
She'll be fruitful, never fear her.

Asian Mignonette Dressing from Steamy Kitchen
1 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons sweetened (seasoned) rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red peppercorns
1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
1 teaspoon finely minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together the Asian Mignonette ingredients. Set aside while you carefully shuck the oysters (or buy them pre-shucked from a good fish-monger). Serve the Asian Mignonette sprinkled over the oysters.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Raspberry Friands On A Very Grim Day

I was going to give you an ode to summer fruits today, but have just woken to the news that more than 100 people died in the bushfires in Victoria yesterday. Entire towns are now gone: the shops, the pubs, the houses. More than 700 homes destroyed. This morning's paper says that this is Australia's worst ever loss of life outside of war. It is very hard for me to even get my head around it - and even harder to accept that at least some of the fires were deliberately lit. Apart from the constant refrain from all quarters to "hold your loved ones close", there doesn't seem much more to say.

If you are lucky enough to be sitting with your loved ones, enjoying the last of the summer fruits, these friands are a very simple treat. They also freeze well, so box up any leftovers, for days when stunned silence is as much cooking as you can manage. PS The recipe comes from Donna Hay's Modern Classics Book 2 - which is always simple but reliable. Feel free to play around with the fruit according to what needs using in the fruit bowl.

Raspberry Friands
from "Modern Classics 2" by Donna Hay

125g butter
1 cup almond meal
1 2/3 cups icing sugar sifted
3/4 cup plain flour sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
5 eg whites
1/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, etc

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and flour a regular sized friand tin or a muffin tin. Melt the butter over low heat and allow to bubble just until it starts to go slightly gold in colour. Set aside.

Mix almond meal, icing sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg whites, and stir until just mixed in. Add the melted butter and stir again until just mixed in. Spoon 2 tbls of the mixture into each muffin tin, then sprinkle berries on tp. Bake 15-20 mins or until golden and springy on top.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Caramelized Carrots with Mortadella - Today's Nomination for Best Supporting Role

We are well and truly in the middle of awards season at the moment, and I couldn't be happier. I love four hour telecasts of increasing inanity featuring people wearing fantastic dresses who will possibly disappear into the ether leaving nothing behind but the smell of flaming ego. (No really I do. And while I'm confessing, I like Eurovision as well.) In years gone by, I would even make a passing attempt to see all the Best Picture nominee films before the awards were announced. Children and the economics and logistics of babysitters vs movie tickets put an end to that. I can't really explain why, but spending $50 on a babysitter makes sense when you are going out to a restaurant or a dinner party but does not make sense when all you are doing is watching a movie.

All this brings me, very circuitously to supporting acts, and their importance. Just as a film can be lifted enormously by the quality of supporting acts (imagine "Four Weddings and a Funeral" if it was two hours of unabridged Hugh Grant and Andy McDowell simpering), and so can a meal. These carrots may not win an Oscar but they definitely won curtain calls here, if you'll allow me to extend the metaphor. Take my advice and make more than you think you will need because they will all be eaten - I used five large carrots for four of us and next time I will use 6 or 7.

This recipe comes from the fabulous Stephanie Alexander in her amazing encyclopedic tome "The Cook's Companion". This is an extremely useful book covering everything from very simple to very complex recipes organised into chapters for every ingredient you could imagine. It is a mainstay in Australian kitchens - if you don't own it, buy it now. Stephanie credits Marcella Hazan as her inspiration for this recipe - an impressive bloodline if ever there was one.

Caramelized Carrot and Mortadella

mortadella sausage chopped (or any other sausage - I actually used hot salami because that is what I had)
olive oil

Saute carrots and sausage in 5mm olive oil for about 20 mins over medium high heat, turning frequently. The carrots shrink enormously and get dark brown crispy edges. When tender, season and serve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Easy Peasy Chicken and Leek Pie (made from leftovers!)

One of my resolutions for 09 is a commitment to reduce the amount of food thrown out by our family. Last year, my conscience was well and truly pricked on this issue by my green friend Patty, as well as various magazine articles and statistics. Annually, every Australian throws out approximately 145 kg of food, at enormous financial and environmental cost. So in an effort to substantially decrease that figure for our house at least, I am determined to use up as much of our leftovers as possible, either by freezing them to eat later or by using them up in other meals.

This pie was conceived as a way of utilising some chicken that might otherwise have been ignored until it was too old to eat. Leftovers from a roast chicken are mixed into a leek and garlic sauce and then baked under some puff pastry. Easy, delicious and much better than having the chicken land in the bin. This was so nice, it would nearly be worthwhile buying a takeaway chicken just for the purposes of this leftover pie. And next time I will use the full 1 tbl of cornflour - I tried to reduce it and my sauce was too loose. PS I love my blackbird pie vent - it makes me want to sing!

Chicken and Leek Pie

1 tbl olive oil
3 leeks, white part washed and sliced
1 brown onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic
600g leftover chicken, shredded into bite size pieces (feel free to usemore or less depending on what you have)

1 tbl chopped fresh thyme
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbl corn flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbl of water

Place oil in a pan over medium heat. Add leek, onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent but not brown. Add the thyme and stock and bring to the boil. When reduced by about half, spoon a couple of tbls of the stock mixture into a small bowl, and add the cornflour. Stir cornflour mixture with a fork until all lumps have disappeared, then tip it back into the stock. Add chicken and cook for another minute. Check seasonings, then pour mixture into a pie dish.

Cover the pie dish with the sheet of puff pastry, cutting a criss cross vent (2 cm by 2 cm) in the middle. Pinch the pastry around the edges to seal and cut off any excess. Brush with the egg wash, then bake in a 200C oven for 25-30 mins or until golden brown.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cold Pea, Mint and Prawn Soup for A Hot February Night

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month. February means back to school or back to work; time for new routines and new challenges. But the weather does not always co-operate with what should be an industrious time of year. Right now it is classic February weather in Sydney: very hot and sticky, the sort of weather that makes you breathless because the air is so heavy. I remember February days when I was in kindergarten being told to lie down on the cool tiled floor because that was the only bearable place to be on such hot days. Our teachers would read stories or play us records while we just lay flat on the cold tiles for what seemed like hours at a time. Heaven.

So, with weather like this, indulge me with another cold soup. This week it is chilled pea and mint, garnished with prawns to make it all a bit more interesting. I found it on the Gourmet Traveller website, having seen something similar in one of my food magazines (possibly Gourmet) and then losing it. This soup is filling enough to be a light supper on its own, and is dead easy to make: water, peas, a little garlic, shallots (or onion would be fine too) and some mint. Plonk a prawn on top, then enjoy before you go back and lie on the tiles some more.

The original recipe suggests straining the soup after blending but on a day like this, that was one step too far. I am sending this over to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday. There is quite a collection of people starting to meet in her kitchen every Sunday (US time), so go take a look! And one final note, styling for this photo was by the elder darling daughter.

Chilled pea and mint soup with poached prawns

adapted from Gourmet Traveller website

1 tbsp olive oil
3 golden shallots, finely chopped (use 1/2 a brown onion if you don't have shallots)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600 gm frozen peas, defrosted
1 cup (loosely packed) mint leaves
1/3 cup yoghurt (the original recipe calls for creme fraiche but I did not have any)
12 small green prawns, peeled, cleaned and halved lengthways

Heat oil in a saucepan, add shallot and garlic, cook over medium heat until soft (2-3 minutes). Add 500ml water, bring to boil, add peas and mint, remove from heat. Add yoghurt. Blend with a hand-held blender until smooth. Season to taste, refrigerate until chilled (1-1½ hours).

Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of salted water to boil, add prawns and cook until pink (2-3 minutes). Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of iced water, drain and set aside. Check soup seasoning. Pour soup into bowls, top with prawns and serve.