Sunday, March 29, 2009

Broccoli Soup With Grilled Haloumi

A week of feasting lies ahead with the brief trip home of my US-based brother, and the birthday of my ten year old. Between the two, I can count off at least five meals that I know could well be a little bit indulgent. Quite possibly a lot indulgent. So today's abstemious choice will start the week with restraint even if it does not finish that way. Broccoli is always my first pick as a vegetable when I want a solid dose of nutrition with next to no wickedness.

I found this recipe in an old Donna Hay magazine (Issue 14, Autumn). I subscribed to the magazine from launch, and now have a shelf groaning under the weight of Donna. Until a couple of years ago, it was worth hanging on to all the old copies because an index to each year's recipes was published. This made it easy to do a quick search for whatever I was looking for, and lay my hands on any recipe I needed. Infuriatingly, Donna doesn't publish indexes any more which apart from making me very cranky, makes my new mags a lot less valuable to me than the old ones. After all, no one has the time or inclination to go through 20 magazines to find a recipe that they think they remember. So what to do? Something for me to contemplate as I have a bowl of soup. The haloumi gives a lovely salty kick and a textural contrast to the smooth broccoli flavours.
Since this is Sunday, I will be sending this soup over to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her weekly Souper Sunday round-up. Go take a look at her offerings - thee is always something that will take your fancy on offer.
Broccoli Soup With Grilled Haloumi
adapted from Donna Hay
2 tsps olive oil
1 small onion
4 cups chicken stock
1 potato peeled and chopped
650g broccoli florets
100g haloumi, cut into slices and grilled in a non stick pan for 1 min
Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add oil and onion and cook for about 5 mins or until the onion is translucent. Add stock, potato and broccoli and simmer until the potato is tender. Pour the mixture into a blender, and puree until it is smooth. Season to taste. Garnish with cubes of haloumi.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lemon Cake - A Reason To Be Cheerful

Ten reasons to be cheerful:
1. Darling husband returned home today
2. Elder daughter is nearly out of quarantine
3. The sun is shining
4. My car will be fixed by Tuesday
5. Brother will arrive from the US on Wednesday
6. School holidays start in 10 days
7. A leisurely bath is ahead of me this afternoon
8. A long chat with an old friend
9. Younger daughter is turning 10
10. I loved this lemon cake

The lemon cake was born because I had some yoghurt in the fridge that I wanted to use up. I remembered that I had seen a yoghurt cake recipe on Pioneer Woman's website, and once I realised that I had all the ingredients on hand, I had no excuse not to get baking. For those of you who have not yet discovered Pioneer Woman, off you go quick smart! There are lots and lots of wonderful blogs that I love, but Pioneer Woman is among my favourites because she is a very talented writer and photographer as well as cook. She has the ability to make me laugh out loud at the same time as dazzling me with an incredibly beautiful photo of something as spare as an egg and a chopping board. I thought this recipe was great, although I skipped the marmalade glaze as I was trying to appeal to the younger members of the tribe and they were never going to fall for something covered in marmalade. One day perhaps, but not this day. In fact they didn't like the cake (too lemony) so I gave most of it away, but it still made me happy......

Lemon Yogurt-Marmalade Cake
from The Pioneer Woman

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 heaping cup of plain, lowfat yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup Canola oil
1/2 cup prepared orange marmalade
1/4 cup yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf tine. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, and canola oil until just combined. Pour over dry ingredients and mix until just combined; do not overbeat.

Pour into loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Remove from pan.
While cake is cooling, pour marmalade into pan. Heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Add yogurt to pan and turn off heat. Stir to combine, then pour slowly over the top of the cake, allowing icing to pool around the sides.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Photo for Friday

Our dog Angus

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tomato and Goats Cheese Tarts

It's nearly the end of March, and it's time for the last of our Barefoot Bloggers recipes. I love being part of this group because it is making me attempt things that I would not otherwise try, and I am discovering recipes that I will return to over and over again. Today's recipe, Tomato and Goat's Cheese Tarts (and last week's Brownie Pudding) will be among the few things about this month that I am keen to revisit. My elder darling daughter has been diagnosed with whooping cough / pertussis, so we are in quarantine again... (as an aside - it is starting to feel a little biblical around here with all the plagues visiting our house - I'll let you know if frogs or locusts appear). The up side of this is lots of time in the kitchen.

I halved the recipe as a lunch for the two of us. And luckily for me, this is my kind of recipe. It is the sort of thing that I always order when I am out at a cafe. Tasty, and big on flavour, the crunch of the pastry is offset by both the creaminess of the goats cheese and the slippery cooked tomato. It is also endlessly modifiable according to your tastes and preferences (mushrooms, smoked salmon, provencal vegetables, pesto, etc are all possible additions / substitutions). Next time, I make this combination, I will throw some pinenuts into the goats cheese mix for an extra bit of texture and nuttiness. This recipe would also be wonderful for entertaining because it looks and tastes great, and plates so easily. You could also make tiny bite-size tasrts as an hors d'oeuvre.

The Barefoot Bloggers are a group of blogging cooks who whip up a couple of recipes each month from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. This week's choice was from Anne Strawberry - who is clearly a woman with tastes similar to mine. Merci beaucoup chere Anne! If you want to see how the other Barefoot Bloggers found this recipe check out the blogroll here.

Tomato and Goat's Cheese Tarts
From Ina Garten: Back to Basics

2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted
Good olive oil
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (2 large onions)
3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus 50g shaved with a vegetable peeler
120g garlic-and-herb goat cheese (I could only get plain, so I mixed in an Italian spice mix)
1 large tomato (or 2 small), cut into thick slices
3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

Using an 18cm saucer or other round object as a guide, cut 2 circles from the sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second pastry sheet to make 4 circles in all. Place the pastry circles on 2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 210F.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium to low heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine, and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Remove from the heat.

Using a sharp paring knife, score a 1/4-inch-wide border around each pastry circle. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.

Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edge. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Finally, scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. The bottom sheet pan may need an extra few minutes in the oven. Serve hot or warm.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Parmesan Crusted Fish With Braised Vegetables

The most common question I get about this blog is: "What do I make for a family dinner that everyone (ie kids and parents) will eat?" Tough question. The whole issue of a family dinner is a little vexed, especially if your kids are still in that tricky eating phase where they seem to subsist on a very limited rotation of two or three different meals. This leaves the rest of the family with two choices - either eat spaghetti bolognaise every second night for years, or slowly try and expand the boundaries a little.

About a year ago, I decided that I had spent enough time as a short order cook making different meals for kids and adults. It was time for us all to start eating the same food i.e. it was time for the kids to move beyond the spag bol / schnitzel / sausage / pasta rotation, and start enjoying meals that the darling husband and I also wanted to eat. When I discovered this dish, it felt like a personal gift from Bill Granger (thanks Bill!), via his Bill's Food cookbook. It seemed familiar enough to the kids for them to try it, while also delicious for the adults. It also opened the kids up to different soups. This fish and vegetable braise now makes regular appearances at our place. It feels like the sort of homemade comforting food that everyone wants to eat, regardless of whether it has been a tough day at the office or the playground. Incidentally, Bill's Food has at least six or eight recipes that worked for us while bridging that kids' food / adults food divide. In some cases you need to modify seasonings or drop the parsley or adapt the vegetables, but for me, it was a good starting point on the road to single meals at night.

Parmesan-Crusted Blue-Eye and Braised Potatoes With Peas
from "Bill's Food" by Bill Granger
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
45g grated parmesan
2 eggs
1 cup flour
4 blue eye fillets or other firm white fish
2 tbls olive oil
25g butter
4 potatoes, steamed or boiled until tender
1 onion sliced into thin rings
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups chicken stock

Slice potatoes. Heat 1 tbl olive oil in a pan, and fry onions until they are translucent not brown (about 5 mins). Add the peas and toss well. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 5 mins. Add the potatoes and cook for another two mins. Set aside, keeping vegies warm.

Meanwhile, mix breadcrumbs and parmesan in a bowl and season to taste. Crack the eggs into another bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Place the flour in a third bowl. Dip a fish fillet in the flour then the eggs then the breadcrumb mix. Repeat until all the fish are coated (you can do this up to two hours ahead, just keep the fish in the fridge once it is crumbed.

Heat 1 tbl olive oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium to high heat. Add the fish and cook gently for about 2 mins on each side or until the fish is golden and cooked through (do it in batches if your pan is small). Divide the vegetables among the serving bowls, and serve the fish on top.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mushroom Soup

I love this time of year. The air in the mornings and evenings is quite crisp and fresh, but the days are still gloriously warm. And the sea is still a wonderful temperature for swimming. It is also the last week of daylight saving, and I know that in a week we will start on the downhill slide to winter. So it is definitely the time to really savour the last remnants of summer (even though we are officially in autumn already). However I am already moving from cold soups to warm.

This mushroom soup was very quick and easy for a Sunday night. Simply simmer mushrooms in chicken stock with a slice of sourdough. Season, blend and viola. It comes from one of the great ideas you find in the margins of Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. If you are not familiar with it, this book is stuffed with detailed recipes, organised by key ingredient, as well as mini-recipes in the margins. The mushroom chapter for example offers major recipes like:
- mushroom caps stuffed with goat's cheese on vine leaves or
- mushrooms en papillote
as well as mini-recipes in the margins eg
- morel pasta sauce
- pepper mushrooms, and this week's pick
- mushroom bread soup
So many good ideas, and even though I have had it for years, I still feel there are unexplored chapters in my book. Something to look forward to in winter perhaps? If you are in the mood for soup - drop in on Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday.
Mushroom Bread Soup
adapted from "The Cook's Companion" by Stephanie Alexander
500g mushrooms
4 cups chicken stock
2 slices sourdough bread, crusts removed
Simmer sliced mushrooms in stock with bread for 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender. Blend soup and season to taste. Garnish with chives and creme fraiche.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Goats Cheese, Potato and Rosemary Tortilla

Among the myriad of cooking blog events is the Blog Party run monthly by Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness. She is a very welcoming hostess - anyone happy to cook an appetizer and arrange some drinks is welcome to drop in. This month's theme was Brunch: Worth Getting Up Late For...Again, and I decided to turn up with this goat's cheese tortilla. For me, brunch = eggs, so it wasn't too hard to decide what to make. And as for drinks, I took the easy way out with a nice crisp glass of French champagne. Thanks for having me Stephanie.

This recipe is easy and endlessly variable depending on what mix-ins you want. Goat's cheese and rosemary were the perfect choice for a night at home alone (which was all the more reason to head along to a cyber party.) Husband would have found the rosemary a bit much, but I thought it was fabulous - judge for yourself where your preferences lie and adjust the recipe accordingly. And in case you slept really late today - this recipe isn't just a brunch - it is just as good as a supper.

Goat's Cheese, Potato and Rosemary Tortilla
adapted from Alex Kearns of Glebe Point Diner in Vogue Entertaining

2 tbl olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
350 g potatoes cooked, peeled and sliced
3 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
6 large eggs
100g goats cheese fetta

Preheat oven to 190C. Heat oil in a 22cm oven proof fry pan, then add onion. Cook onion over medium heat until it becomes translucent. Add garlic and continue cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in potatoes and rosemary. Crack eggs into a bowl without stirring, then tip into the pan. Use a wooden spoon to break the yolks and fold the eggs into the mixture. Press cheese into the tortilla. Transfer to the oven for 5-8 minutes or until the egg is set (if you are using a cast iron pan this will take longer). Cool for five minutes then remove and serve.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sauteed Broccolini

Its been a busy month for the Barefoot Bloggers, with four recipes to complete in March instead of the usual three. Bless those doing the choosing for the recipes, because it has been a lovely and varied selection. We started this month with Chicken Piccata, today we have both a Chocolate Brownie Pudding and sauteed Broccolini, and then next week we will round out the month with Tomato and Goats Cheese Tarts. And we definitely needed the Broccolini to increase our vitamin and anti oxidant levels around here.

I enjoyed this recipe although it was not universally acclaimed in this house. My favourite part of the recipe was the two stage cooking process, which I think makes this a good choice for entertaining - blanch your greens ahead of time and then reheat in the lemon garlic butter. I think this would work just as well for beans or snow peas as for broccolini. Sadly husband and children are not very fond of broccolini, and would prefer standard issue broccoli most days of the week. I will probably use the recipe again but for different greens. Thanks to Mary of Meet Me In the Kitchen for her choice - I'm sure one day I will convince the family about broccolini (or not).

Sauteed Broccolini
from Ina Garten

1 bunch broccolini
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, zested
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the broccolini in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the lemon zest and garlic and stir. Drain the broccolini and add it to the garlic mixture and heat for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper, and toss well before serving.

Chocolate Brownie Pudding - Can You Imagine Anything Better?

My youngest daughter was a terrible sleeper from birth, and remained that way for two years. For those of you who do not have children or were blessed with a baby that slept through from the first few weeks, pause to think about the poor tortured souls who for years (yes years) at a time do not get an unbroken night's sleep. Eventually, having tried every other approach known to man, I gave up on worrying about whether she slept and made a deal with her: "If you don't wake up Mummy during the night, you get to have chocolate for breakfast." I know that no parenting book on earth would recommend this (and I'm not sure I am entirely comfortable with it either) but, miracle of miracles, at more than two years old, she slept through the night for the first time. We had three chocolate breakfasts before the pattern was broken and she started sleeping through the night.

All of which helps you understand why this month's Barefoot Bonus recipe challenge was such a hit in our house. We all enjoyed it, but it was the little one who kept coming back for more (and incidentally it reheats well in a low oven - it lasted us three dinners). The pudding was just like a real brownie: underneath was fudgy and rich with the crunchier cake on top. We will definitely make this again (probably for the little one's birthday in a couple of weeks.) It is also quite forgiving - I overfilled my water bath, and some slopped into the pudding on its way into the oven, and it didn't seem to matter too much. The Barefoot Blogger Bonus Recipe is chosen by the blogger who directs the most traffic to the Barefoot Blogger site - congratulations and thanks for the great choice from Tia of Southern Eh.
Brownie Pudding
from "Back to Basics" by Ina Garten

250g unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon framboise liqueur, optional (we left this out)
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 160C. Lightly butter a 2 litre (9 by 12 by 2-inch) oval baking dish. Melt the 250g of butter and set aside to cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside.

When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla seeds, framboise, if using, and the cocoa powder and flour mixture. Mix only until combined. With mixer still on low, slowly pour in the cooled butter and mix again just until combined.

Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish and place it in a larger baking pan. Add enough of the hottest tap water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish and bake for exactly 1 hour. A cake tester inserted 2 inches from the side will come out 3/4 clean. The center will appear very under-baked; this dessert is between a brownie and a pudding.
Allow to cool and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Marinated BBQ Prawns

Australia seems to be doing its level best to live up to all the cliches about it at the moment. We have been through a summer of horrendous bushfires and destructive floods, that have mostly brought out the best in people. Generosity, bravery, mateship and an indomitable spirit are easily found every time I pick up a newspaper at the moment. But at the same time, some not so attractive traits are also on display: relentless undermining of our tall poppies, small mindedness and various governments that could not run a bath. And in case you missed the news, the sharks and crocodiles are also doing their bit to hold up our international reputation as a wild and dangerous place.

So just to make sure that all cliches were cemented into place, we threw some prawns (or as Paul Hogan would say, shrimp) on the barbie last weekend. Marinated for about 10 minutes before being served with thai chilli jam, they were really delicious. The marinade recipe comes from The Spirit House restaurant at Yandina in Queensland - if you are ever travelling in the Sunshine Coast, their cooking classes are wonderful. If you have never cooked with prawns here are some tips:
- green prawns should be kept in a box filled with ice and water in the fridge, to keep them as cold as possible.
- if you are not eating them the same day, make sure you ask your fish monger whether they will still be OK when you want to serve them (he will know how long since they came from the fish market)
- to peel, pull off the head, then pulling at the legs, remove the shell from the body of the prawn, leaving the tail in place. Devein by gently slicing about 1mm into the back of the prawn - you will see the vein and can pull it out.
- do not marinated for too long as the marinade will "cook" the prawns
- it is worth skewering prawns if you are barbecuing them - it helps them cook a bit more evenly, and makes them more manageable for whoever is holding the tongs. Push a skewer through the prawn starting in the middle of the tail.
- washing your hands with soda water helps remove the prawn smell
- if you get rubbish collections only once a week, double bag the prawn head and shells and keep in your freezer until it is collection day, or your bin will stink (trust me on this one)

Barbecued Garlic Prawns
adapted from "Hot Plate" from Spirit House Restaurant and Cooking School

1 kg green medium king prawns
2 cloves garlic, crushed
50ml olive oil
juice 1/2 lemon
2 tbls sea salt

Peel and devein the prawns leaving the tail. Skewer the prawns. Comine marinade ingredients and mix well. Drizzle over prawns making sure each one is coated. Allow prawns to sit for 5-10 mins. Grill on a barbecue until prawns are pink and cooked through (a couple of minutes).
Serve with chilli jam, aioli or any other sauce that appeals.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oreos DIY

I was killing a little time the other day before an appointment, browsing through a local bookshop's selection of food magazines (as you do...), looking for something to thumb for half an hour before an appointment. Local Australian magazines often dominate this area: Gourmet Traveller, Vogue Entertaining, Delicious, Donna Hay, alongside Kiwi imports Cuisine and Dish. American magazines appear and disappear a little more sporadically. Martha is usually available, but Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Saveur are much more hit and miss. Some editions seem to make it through to Australia; some don't. Last week I came across a new arrival: the Food Network Magazine, and while skimming through it, found a recipe that made me buy the magazine: do-it-yourself oreos.

For a long time in Australia, oreos were an exotic and unknown biscuit (cookie), mentioned enticingly on TV shows like the Brady Bunch, but completely unavailable. About five years ago, they turned up in supermarkets here, and were taken straight to the same place in my children's hearts where TimTams, Montes and Choc Wheatens also live. The chocolate wafers and creamy centre are a winning flavour combination, which has been widely adopted as cookies and cream for everything from ice cream to kitkats. This do-it-yourself recipe comes from chef Emily Isaac at Trois Pommes Patisserie. It is absolutely fantastic and makes an enormous number of biscuits. We had so many that I was sending friends away with boxes of them just to get them eaten before they had a chance to go stale. And how good were they? Fantastic - the biscuit more chocolatey than the original and the cream more vanilla-y. No surprises then that the grown ups liked them just as much as children did.

For the Dough:
1 1/3 cups Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Filling:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (copha), melted and then allowed to cool
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare the dough: Sift together the cocoa powder, flour and salt in a large bowl.
Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, incorporating each ingredient before adding the next. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces; place one piece between 2 lightly floured sheets of parchment paper and roll into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Refrigerate both rectangles, covered with the parchment sheets, until firm, at least 1 hour or up to several days.
Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut the dough into circles. (You can reroll the scraps.) Place the cookies about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and chill for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake the cookies until they are set and slightly darker around the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Using a mixer, cream the butter and shortening until fluffy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Flip half of the cookies upside down and top each with 1 level tablespoon of filling. Press the remaining cookies on top to make sandwiches.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chicken Piccata Because Everything Tastes Better Crumbed

Robert Byrne claims "Anybody who says that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, flunked geography." Nigel Slater says "It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you." Fellini says that "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." And Mark Twain adds "Eat what you like and let the food fight it out on the inside." But the most pertinent piece of wisdom for today is that "Everything tastes better crumbed". Comedian Dave O'Neill, has published a book under this title - one of his big statements about life. I'm not sure I agree entirely, although my children probably would. Lucky for them that Chicken Piccata was the first of this months' Barefoot Blogger recipes. (For newcomers to this site, the Barefoot Contessa has spawned a motley crew of Barefoot Bloggers who cook from the collected wisdom of Ina Garten a couple of times a month.)

I have made this recipe before (here) but last time I subbed in veal for chicken. We also had a similar Barefoot Blogger recipe in September when we made Parmesan Chicken. This time I made it just as Ina instructed, although I cooked some thigh fillets as well as the breast fillets (husband regards chicken breasts as the work of the devil). If I had to compare the recipes, I think I would pick the Parmesan chicken - the extra flavour from the cheese really lifts it, although I really liked the lemon sauce from the piccata - maybe the solution is to marry the two?? If you are planning to make this, try pounding the fillets from the middle out, to make for less raggedy edges. And just in case you are left with some, the leftovers make great sandwiches. I served the chicken with some steamed asparagus - which also went very well with the lemon sauce. Thanks to Lindsay of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings for her choice.

Chicken Piccata from the Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten
2 chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
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. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Mix the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a shallow plate. In a second plate, beat the egg and 1/2 tablespoon 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 tablespoon 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 tablespoon of the butter and then add the lemon juice, wine, the reserved lemon halves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced in half, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons 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.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Marinated Pork Ribs - A New Family Favourite

While we were eating these ribs, my husband told me at least half a dozen times "these are really good ribs". A good sign, I thought. Because, although we have eaten ribs fairly regularly, I usually buy them pre-marinated. In fact it is usually a meal I make when I can't be bothered thinking about what to cook and / or arguing with the children about their table manners. (Has anyone else noticed how when you are eating with your hands, the arguments about table manners evaporate?) The downside of pre-marinated ribs, is that when the butcher puts them in a bag, you are left with only the remnants of marinade clinging to the ribs, which I don't think is enough for a moist tasty rib.
Honey soy is usually a winning combination for a marinade because of the simultaneous sweet and salty hits. When I found this recipe at Cookbook Recipes, I knew it would be a winner because the garlic and ginger add a bit of strength to the flavours, and star anise always adds an amazing background note. If you have never cooked with star anise, get some to throw into a marinade, or an asian hotpot - it is definitely worth trying. And cooking ribs is definitely a two step process - bake them first then whack them under the grill to caramelize / char them a little. It makes them so much yummier! Then simply slice them up and serve. I did a side of corn on the cob (when you are already eating with your fingers why not continue?) and rice to soak up the marinade. And apologies about the photo - it was all eaten before I thought to take another picture....

Marinated Pork Spare Ribs
1.5kg pork spare ribs
1\4 cup (90g) honey
1\2 cup (125g) Kecap Manis (a thick sweet soy sauce)
2 tsp sesame oil
2 star anise
3 cm fresh ginger grated finely
1 clove garlic crushed

Combine the marinade ingredients. Tip marinade either into a very secure tupperware that can be shaken around a bit, or into a plastic bag that you can seal. Add the ribs and make sure they are well covered with some marinade. Allow to marinade for three hours or preferably overnight. I usually turn them or give them a shake every few hours to make sure everything is really soaking in the marinade.
Heat oven to 180C. Put the ribs into a large baking tin so they can lie flat. Tip the marinade over them, cover with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the ribs from the baking tin and put on a grill tray, and grill each side under high heat until caramelized and starting to char. Slice ribs between each bone and serve with cooking juices and remaining marinade from the baking tin tipped over the top.

Bubble Bath Birthday Cake

I have been looking on enviously at all the beautiful cakes that appear on the web, feeling somewhat intimidated by the artful fondant decorations... However a recent family birthday seemed a great time to try my hand. I had the cake I wanted to make in mind: a girl in a bubble bath. This meant no carving of the cake into intricate shapes - I could just use a loaf tin. I then iced the cake in butter cream, and the fondant icing went on over the top. I also used fondant icing for the tiled squares under the bath, the taps, and for the little girl and her feet. Sugar pearls gave me the bubbles, and a rubber duckie candle finished it off. I know there is enormous room for improvement, but I am excited enough to keep trying. And, if like me you feel a bit nervous, it actually was a bit like playing with play-doh for grown-ups: a little frustrating when the shapes you wanted weren't coming together right, but mostly good fun. And a big thank you to Chris from Mele Cotte for her advice!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pissaladiere - Take Tarts While Tarts Are Passing

I grew up lucky enough to have two wonderful grandmothers with me all the way through to adulthood. One was a really wonderful cook, who passed her handwritten cookbook on to me, and I feel a very strong link with her in my kitchen. The other grandmother was an appalling cook (possibly deliberately), who left me with a lot of colourful sayings that still float through my mind in all sorts of situations. Among her collected sayings and wisdom was:
- mad as a ha'penny watch (a watch that sold for half a penny was obviously not going to be anything other than silly)
- miserable as a bandicoot (bandicoots are native Australian animals. I am unaware of whether or not they are miserable)
- you catch more flies with honey than vinegar (ie be nice)
and my favourite
- take tarts while tarts are passing (or grab whatever life sends your way because you may never get another chance)

I cannot make a tart (or more particularly serve a tart) without instructing everyone to "take tarts while tarts are passing". And this tart is definitely worth taking. A traditional French tart from Nice, the pissaladiere uses minimal ingredients and effort (thanks to sheets of pre-rolled puff pastry). The only requirement is a fair bit of time to allow the onions to caramelize and become a bit jammy. I love it as a Sunday night dinner with a green salad. So if you are the sort of person who starts wondering at three or four in the afternoon what you will make for dinner, pop some onions on to start caramelizing. The rest of the tart takes minimal time to assemble, and then 20 mins in the oven to bake, leaving lots of lazy sunday afternoon time to do other things. This recipe comes from the incredible Stephanie Alexander cookbook, which is constantly referred to in my kitchen for her insights on what to do with every ingredient under the sun.

And I will leave you with a little wisdom from my other grandmother - "never let anyone be as wise as yourself". If you have some grandmotherly wisdom to pass on, I'd love to hear it, just leave me a comment.

adapted from Stephanie Alexander in the Cook's Companion

3-4 brown onions thickly sliced
olive oil
1 sheet puff pastry
16 anchovy fillets halved lengthwise (or 32 anchovies if you would rather have them thicker)
12 black olives
Slowly cook onion in 2 tbls olive oil until it is very soft and caramelized (if it seems to be getting a bit too browned and not jammy enough, add a tbl of water and cover the pan with a sheet of foil, pressed onto the onions to help it get to the right texture). Preheat oven to 220C. Lay pastry sheet on a baking tray. Leaving a 1cm border untouched, prick the pastry all over with a fork, then spread the onion in a thick layer on it. Arrange the anchovies in crisscross rows to form large diamonds. Sit an olive in each diamond and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for 20 mins until pastry is brown and crisp. Serve warm.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Better Than A Snickers Bar Pie

The more I write this blog, the more I want to push myself and my cooking into new areas. After all, no one, myself included, is interested in hearing about something that was bland or boring in both conception and execution. Everyone wants to know about the more interesting stuff - the successes, the failures (when I am not too humiliated to write about them...) and the 'extreme sport' end of cooking. And for me, I am a little embarrassed to admit, this pie sat at the extreme sport end of the cooking spectrum. Now before you raise your eyebrows in disgust at my lack of experience in what is clearly a fairly popular and commonplace dessert, let me confess a few things which made this a bit trickier for me:

1. Pies at my house are usually savoury, not sweet
2. I usually use pre-rolled pastry
3. When I make pies they usually have only one filling, not what felt like eleventy (OK three)
4. Making anything where peanuts are a major ingredient feels like you are tearing up the harbour on the trapeze of a skiff (where I live the allergy issues associated with peanuts are fairly extreme)
5. I had never cooked anything like this before and was making it for a dinner for old friends we hadn't seen in months and months and I had no Plan B for dessert.

So I was feeling the pressure, but eventually wound up with a pie that was pretty amazing. Reminiscent of a snickers bar but better. So good that I am showing you two photos of it. I think desserts are probably the only area where you shine with pride when someone says "it looks as if you bought it in a shop." But, if you are thinking about making it, keep in mind that it is very, very rich - a sliver as shown in the picture is plenty. The recipe came from Bon Appetit magazine (January 09), and is the first thing I have made since I got a subscription for my birthday (thanks Dave and Weeza!). And incidentally, if you are using a Bon Appetit recipe, I have just noticed that they have a "ask the test kitchen" button at the bottom of their recipes, in case you have any problems. Nifty.

1. Crust
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/4 cups plain flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
125g chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg, separated
2 (or more) teaspoons ice water
2. Filling
125g unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup pouring cream
1/3 cup honey
1 cup lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts
1 cup icing sugar
1/3 cup creamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt)*
2 tablespoons plus 1 to 2 teaspoons milk
3. Ganache Glaze
180g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Spray 27cm square or 30cm diameter tart pan with removable bottom with nonstick spray. Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter and blend until coarse crumbs form. Add egg yolk and 2 teaspoons ice water. Blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into square or disk (depending on shape of pan). Wrap and chill 1 hour (you can do this up to 1 day ahead).
Roll out dough to 27-30cm square or round. Transfer dough to prepared pan. Cut off all but 1.5 cm of overhang. Fold overhang in, creating double-thick sides. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake crust until pale golden, checking every 5 minutes and pressing bottom if bubbling and pressing sides up with back of fork if slipping, about 28 minutes.
Beat egg white in small bowl until foamy. Brush some white over hot crust to coat inside. Bake 1 minute longer. Cool on rack. Increase oven temperature to 375°F.
Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar and salt, then cream and honey. Bring to rolling boil, swirling pan occasionally. Boil 1 minute. Whisk in 1 cup peanuts. Pour filling into crust. Bake tart until filling is bubbling thickly, about 15 minutes. Cool on rack until firm, about 2 hours; freeze 15 minutes.

Beat icing sugar and peanut butter in medium bowl until blended. Gradually beat in 2 tablespoons milk, then more by teaspoonfuls to thin slightly; spread evenly over peanut filling. Refrigerate tart while preparing glaze.
ganache glaze
Place chocolate in medium bowl. Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan; pour over chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Spread glaze over tart. Sprinkle chopped peanuts around edge. Chill tart until glaze sets, at least 1 hour.
Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving. Using tip of small knife, gently loosen crust from pan. Push up pan bottom, releasing tart. Cut square tart in half and cut each half crosswise into 7 or 8 slices or cut round tart into wedges.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Curried Chicken Salad aka Coronation Chicken Salad

When I was studying at university, I had a job in a fairly rough pub, making counter lunches. We used one end of the Front Bar as a makeshift kitchen, with a pie warmer, fridges and a microwave, all jammed into a tiny corner. The clientele was largely railway workers and people who lived in the nearby Salvation Army men's hostel, and the food we served was substantial blokey food - pies, bakes, rolls and so on - always good food but definitely no frills. But once a year on Melbourne Cup Day the whole place went decidedly upmarket. The office workers from nearby would descend on the Ladies Lounge for a cup lunch, and we would serve a fixed price meal, to go with their cheap champagne and cask wine. The owner of the pub always insisted that we include Coronation Chicken in the menu. Having little experience of Cup lunches at the time, I just presumed that this meal must be "de rigeur" for a day of hats and horse racing. Needless to say, I have never since seen Coronation Chicken served on Cup Day.
Which is not to say that it shouldn't be. I had completely forgotten how charming this salad is, especially in the hot and sweaty months of the year, however a column from Jill Dupleix in last month's Delicious Magazine (Feb 09) reminded me. It really is a lovely cold salad. Even better, I put it together using up some leftover cooked chicken (part of my ongoing 09 crusade against leftovers). Served in a hollowed out papaya shell, it was easily winning enough for a day at the races.
(And why is it called Coronation Chicken? Apparently the recipe was conceived as a lunch for the Commonwealth Heads of State who gathered for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. Cold salad was easy to serve to a multitude and the curry spices were a diplomatic nod at some of the far flung reaches of the empire).
Coronation Chicken adapted from Jill Dupleix in "Delicious"
1 poached, roasted or BBQed chicken (or leftovers - if less than one whole chicken, adapt amounts accordingly)
6 cooked potatoes chopped (I think I would leave this out next time and serve with a lovely bread on the side instead)
1 Lebanese cucumber chopped
1 tbs chopped chives, plus extra as garnish
1 butter lettuce (or 1 bag mixed summer lettuce leaves)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 papaya, cut into chunks
2 tbs mayonnaise (use the best you can)
1/3 cup yoghurt (low fat is fine)
2 tbs mango chutney
1 tbs mild curry powder
1 tsp tomato paste
Tabasco to taste
1 tbl of lemon juice
Whisk dressing ingredients together until smooth then season to taste. If it is too thick, water it down a little by whisking in 1 tbl of water. Cut chicken into bite size chunks. Toss the chicken, potato, papaya, and cucumber in the dressing. Put a bed of lettuce on each plate and top with the chicken salad. If you are serving in a papaya shell, slice a tiny bit off the bottom so it sits flat on a plate and serve the salad into it. Sprinkle with cumin seeds and chives.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snazzy Sausage Rolls

So that the catering burden does not fall solely on one pair of shoulders, a lot of our school functions tend to be "bring a plate". There is good and bad in this (good: chicken sandwiches are usually excellent; bad: way too much sushi has been served up over the last few years to the point where I can no longer look at a maki roll). This week we had the first function for Year 7 parents, and I was under instruction to bring a plate of hot savouries eg sausage rolls or pies. Both sausage rolls and pies can be either delicious or dodgy depending on the quality of the meat and pastry. If I could have mustered more energy, I might have attempted some baby pies, but February is hot, humid and exhausting enough without making pies as well. NZ's Cuisine magazine came to my rescue with a brilliant take on sausage rolls: this recipe featured in the November edition.
Simple: buy the best chipolatas you can (any flavour you like). Roll in honey and mustard. Twirl a strip of pastry around it. Drizzle with honey and mustard. Serve with BBQ sauce or chutney. Perfectly easy. Easily perfect. (And I am still shocked as I reread this post to think of myself as a Year 7 parent. High school - how on earth did I get here so fast?)
Chipolata Twists With Honey and Mustard
1 kg small chipolatas
3 tbls honey
3 tbls wholegrain mustard
1 egg beaten
2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted and sliced into 2cm strips
Preheat ove to 180c. Toss mustard and honey together in a large bowl. Add the sausages and make sure they are well covered all over with the honey mustard (it will help the pastry to stick). Wind a strip of pastry around each sausage and place on a baking try, ends underneath the sausage. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and bake until the pastry is puffed and golden (around 30-40 mins). Meanwhile warm the leftover honey and mustard in a small saucepan, and drizzle it over the sausages once they are cooked.