Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chickpea, Beetroot and Nut Salad - Cooking to Combat Cancer

You don't need to look very far around here to find people impacted by cancer. And it is hard to know what to say about such a catastrophic topic in a post like this. Some of my close people have won their fight, others lost, some are currently fighting the battle. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to who develops it - just a horrible random lottery. I am comforted by President Obama's pledge to find a cure in our time, and hope that philanthropic dollars continue to make their way to researchers despite the GFC. And a cure is coming. In a great recent development, my daughters will be immunised against cervical cancer thanks to the pioneering work of Dr Ian Frazer. More power to him and all the other scientists and doctors on the frontlines.

Chris at Mele Cotte is hosting her third annual Cooking to Combat Cancer, challenging bloggers to post recipes that feature ingredients believed to be anti-cancer. This salad strikes me as a great choice for the challenge. Filled with beetroot and carrot (both high in anti-oxidants), chickpeas (high in fibre), nuts and seeds (including brazil nuts and flax seeds linked to anti-cancer benefits), flavoured with turmeric, ginger and chilli (also linked to possible anti-cancer benefits), it is very good for you. Even better, it tastes sensational, and it keeps for several days as the tastes develop more and more. It comes from NZ's Cuisine magazine which I currently love, love, love! I found it in the pages at the back where they collect recipes requested by readers from helpful chefs. The reader after this recipe said it was so good she had to order a second serving. I can only agree.....

Chickpea, Beetroot & Nut Salad
Courtesy of Vilagrad Vineyard - Chef Kristian Nooyen

For the salad mix
¾ cup dried chickpeas, soaked then cooked until tender with 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 medium beetroot, cut into matchsticks, rinsed and set aside to dry off
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
4 spring onions, sliced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 thumb fresh ginger, very thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 cup coriander leaves

For the nut mix
2 cups mixture of peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon each salt, cumin and coriander powder
¼ teaspoon chilli powder
25g chilled butter

For the dressing and to serve
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon brown sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil

For the salad mix

Toss together all the ingredients, setting aside half the coriander leaves for garnish.

For the nut mix
Bake the nuts and seeds for 5 minutes at 180°C then sprinkle with a mixture of the sugar, salt and spices. Grate the butter over. Bake for 10 minutes more, stirring often. Set aside to cool.

For the dressing and to serve
Mix all the ingredients together well. Toss the vinaigrette and 2⁄3 of the nut mixture with the salad mix. Garnish with the remaining nuts

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Parmesan Bread - An Easy Piece of Kitchen Alchemy

I have always been a bit scared of making bread. The alchemy of yeast and water and flour seems as impressive and mysterious to me as conjuring a rabbit out of a hat. However the February issue of Gourmet magazine from the US seduced me completely with a cover of varied rolls looking amazingly beautiful (check out the image at the bottom). Even better the recipes seemed remarkably achievable. I decided to opt for what appeared to be the easiest of them - no kneading and no hassling, just time. This seems to be one of the joys of bread - do a bit then disappear for a few hours, then do a bit more. My timings were not dictated by the recipe - the resting at each stage was at least an hour longer than the recipe called for (busy day and out of the house for most of it). But the scant attention I paid to the dough was amply rewarded with beautiful fresh bread - cheesy and delicious.

And I managed to get through this post without a single bread pun as well.... but I can tell you it was tempting.

Parmesan Pull-Aparts
Makes1 dozen rolls
Active time:35 min
Start to finish:4 3/4 hr (includes rising) - I would have taken 6+ hours
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon mild honey or sugar
2/3 cup warm milk (105–115°F), divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 Tbsp for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/3 oz)
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp pieces and softened
1 tablespoon water

Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/3 cup warm milk in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.) Whisk together flour (2 1/2 cups), cheese, and salt, with a paddle attachement on a stand mixer, then mix into yeast mixture along with remaining 1/3 cup warm milk at low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat in 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until a very soft dough forms, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, until dough is elastic, about 2 minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.)

Scrape dough into center of bowl and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Arrange rolls 1 inch apart in a buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled and dough fills pan, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.
Whisk together remaining egg with water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.) Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Loosen edges of rolls from pan with a sharp knife and invert rolls onto a rack, then reinvert and cool at least 20 minutes.

Cooks’ note: Rolls are best the day they're made but can be frozen (cool completely, then wrap well) 1 month. Thaw, then reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven until warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Croque Monsieur - The Uber Ham and Cheese Sandwich

Croque Monsieur should be on the list of dishes that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. Creamy, cheesy, indulgent, the croque monsieur is to a toasted cheese sandwich what the Eiffel Tower is to a sandcastle. Unfortunately it is also probably on the Heart Foundation's list of dishes people should try no more than once in a lifetime. According to Wikipedia, the croque monsieur was born more than 100 years ago when workers left ham and cheese sandwiches near radiators that melted the cheese. By 1910, you could order one in a Parisian cafe, and by 1918, Proust had added the croque monsieur to his madeleine memories in "Remembrance of Things Past". In the intervening years, the recipe for a croque has been further modified to include a bechamel sauce over the top, and a spreading of dijon in the sandwich itself.

This Barefoot Contessa recipe is (as far as I can tell anyway), a fairly authentic take on the croque monsieur, as still served in Paris. It was chosen by Kathy of All Food Considered - thanks for the indulgence! We made these as a wicked breakfast treat. Next time I make these, they will be bite-size appetizers... for me, this level of indulgence is best taken one mouthful at a time, and after 7:30am.

from "Barefoot in Paris" by Ina Garten

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
350g Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces ham, sliced but not paper thin
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.
To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted. Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quick Chicken Salad for an Unexpected Lunch

If you walked into my house unannounced this morning, you would find two school hats sitting near the front door, in the same spot they landed before Easter. There is a very large pile of newspapers, magazines and mail on the dining table. You would also find the oven trays and pans from last night washed but still sitting in the drainer waiting to be put away. My daughter's Egypt project sits with some school notes that need to be dealt with. There are a couple of spare pairs of shoes tossed to one side. There are some coffee cups yet to be put in the dishwasher. Ironing is sitting out waiting to be put away. The house is clean but it is certainly not tidy. I'm embarrassed to say that my house looks like this most mornings.

You will not be surprised to know that when visitors are coming, my house does not look like this. I run around making sure that everything is returned to where it belongs, ensuring that the tables that usually accumulate daily clutter are clear, the draining rack in the kitchen is empty and ideally most of the kitchen prep has been done too so that (on a good day) there is not even a chopping board sitting around. This takes time and creativity (one of my proudest moments was when I figured out that my washing machine could be used as a hiding spot - just don't forget what is inside or you could be creating a disaster). So a surprise visitor for lunch means a recipe that is both quick and simple to allow for a mad dash around the house returning everything to the places they belong. Please tell me that other people do this too...

This salad is lovely and easy, and the flavour combination is great. It also keeps really well - it was a delicious lunch for me for a few days. The recipe is from "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins which was published in 1984, and is still a great resource for me. Lots of really delicious ideas once you sift out the occasional 1980s horror - if you see this book in a secondhand bookshop, grab it. Just the thing for seeing an old friend, (and admiring how nice everything looks when all our clutter is put away). And it only takes about 15 minutes to make.

Chicken Salad With Red Grapes and Pecans
from "The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

4 whole chicken breasts (8 halves) poached and skinned (I used a cooked rotisserie chicken, skinned)
1 cup diced celery
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
Salad leaves
Roquefort Mayonnaise

Cut the chicken into 3cm chunks, then combine with celery, grapes and pecans in a large bowl.
Make the mayonnaise. Toss the salad with the mayonnaise and refrigerate until cold. Seve on a bed of salad leaves.

Roquefort Mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
1 tbl dijon mustard
2 tbls sherry vinegar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup crumbled roquefort (I used a goats cheese instead)

Process egg yolks, mustard and vinegar in a blender for 30 seconds. With the machine running, slowly add the oil to make a thick mayonaise. Add cheese and pulse a couple of times (until just combined, not smooth). Season to taste.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Bowl of Mussels for Anthony Bourdain

This month's Cook The Books choice is "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain. The tale of a chef on the restaurant frontlines in NY, this book made an enormous splash when it was first published. Bourdain brings us alarming tales of poor hygiene and drugged up chefs, as well as allegations of supplier racketeering and managerial incompetence, all against an ultra macho kitchen background. It's a place where a posse of guys treat each other in the same way that I imagine soldiers or pro-footballers or any other male only gang would - simultaneously taking each other apart, while watching each others backs. Readers who are prudish about language, drugs and sex are probably best advised to read something else - but they are also probably people who have never been near this kind of professional kitchen.

This is the second time I have read Kitchen Confidential - the first time I was completely swept along by the anarchy. This time my favourite parts of the book are the tiny details of the restaurant world eg who would have imagined that reach-ins have no light so chefs need to find everything by touch. Or that the lousy pieces of meat are saved for people who ask for it well-done (glad I don't). Or that patissiers are the obsessive compulsives of the kitchen world (well maybe we all could have guessed that one..) I was also amused by Bourdain's tips on what to avoid in restaurants. Among them:
- bargain sushi
- fish on a monday
- brunch
- swordfish
- and of course mussels.

Bourdain opines that "I don't eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them. It takes only a single bad mussel, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group... If I'm hungry for mussels, I'll pick the good-looking ones out of your order."

So in honour of Anthony Bourdain, I have made mussels. Mussels are now being lauded as an environmentally friendly choice, they are cheap and they are about the fastest thing you will ever cook. The liquid at the bottom of the pot is also delicious - make sure you have some good bread on hand to sop it all up.

Moules Marinieres
(my version adapted from Stephanie Alexander in "The Cook's Companion")
1 onion or 2 shallots, chopped finely
1 hot chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 large tomato chopped finely
1 bay leaf
Five peppercorns
500ml dry white wine
2 kg mussels, cleaned and debearded

Tip mussles into a large wok with onion, peppercorns and herbs. Pour in wine, cover tightly and turn the heat up to high. In 4-5 minutes, open the lid, remove all mussels that have sprung open. Allow unopened mussels to cook for a minute longer, then remove those that have opened. Any that are still unopened should be thrown away. Strain pot juices over mussels and serve.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chicken Bonne Maman

Can a soupy chicken dish make you a bonne maman or a good mother? I came across this recipe when I was struggling a little with organising my life and my family. I had recently given up full time work, but had yet to work out how to manage a family (yes I can be slower than the average bear). One of my daughter's pre-school teachers suggested that I have a look at the Flylady website for help in getting everything together. This site sends multiple email reminders every day, from "have you done a load of washing?" to "have you organised dinner yet?" Sounds basic, but at the time, this sort of prompt was exactly what I needed. They also sent out this recipe as part of some sort of de-cluttering challenge they were doing. And while it is a long time since I have subscribed to Flylady, this recipe still gets made often.
I wish the photo was better but sadly the strength of this dish lies in the taste and the smell, not its beauty. A long slow cook in the oven leaves the house smelling comforting and secure, just like a good mother's home should. Tender chicken, lots of vegetables and some chicken soup - it's really really good. Incidentally, also like a good mother, this recipe is very forgiving - use what you have or the quantities that make sense to you.
A bowl of poulet bonne maman is being sent over to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sundays. If you are looking for a little bit of soupy inspiration, drop by and have a look at her great selection.
Poulet Bonne Femme
from Leanne Ely via Flylady.net
1 1/2 tbl olive oil
12 chicken thighs
12 baby carrots or 4 large chopped into batons
12 pearl onions or 4 large, quartered
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tsps tarragon
1/2 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
5 potatoes peeled and sliced
Brown chicken thighs in oil on both sides (no need to cook through), then season well with salt and pepper. Place in an oven-proof casserole pot or a slow cooker.
Add onions and carrots (and extra oil if necessary) and saute till onions are golden. Add vegetables to casserole pot or slow cooker. Pour chicken brother into saute pan and scrape any brown bits from the bottom. Pour stock over chicken. Add herbs and potatoes to chicken. Cover and cook at 130 for 4 hours or in a slow cooker for about 6 hours (or until chicken is done).

Thirteen Meal Ideas To Get Kids and Parents Eating Together

I get asked all the time what I cook the children for dinner. People with little children, who are stuck making kids food and adult food, also ask how I got the whole family eating the same dinner. Here are my picks for meals that both children and adults are happy to eat, at least in this house. Hope this list gives you some ideas for some new meals to drop into your rotation.
Parmesan Crusted Fish With Braised Vegetables - This is a good choice to help your kids start eating fish. Choose a white fish with a mild taste - they will love it. Serve with the braised vegetables as suggested, or a salad.

Oven Baked Risotto - if chicken and asparagus isn't a combination that works for your family, think about other possibilities like chicken and mushroom or pumpkin. This meal is lovely and soft for little teeth!

Chicken Bonne Maman - This dish is halfway between a bowl of chicken soup and a casserole. It helped my kids get into having soups. The long slow cook makes it perfect for an afternoon of running around - put it on at lunch time and you will return to dinner ready for you in the oven.

Old-Fashioned Roast Lamb With Vegetables and Gravy - This is more for a special occasion, or maybe a slap-up Sunday dinner. And the leftovers make wonderful sandwiches for school (with tomato and lettuce).

Meatball Spaghetti - certainly not glamourous, but this is a classic that makes everyone happy. Get the kids involved in making the meatballs for you as well.

Parmesan Chicken Schnitzel - since nuggets are such a popular kids meal, why not shift them onto a more grown-up version? My kids love doing the dredging for me as well.

Salmon burgers - these are fun to eat, and you will probably have all the ingredients in your cupboard already. Just don't over do the mayonnaise!

Fish pie - A tried and true classic, and mild enough to appeal to those who aren't that keen on fish (or think they aren't). Work some vegetables into the mix for a one dish meal.

Finger Licking chicken drumsticks - need I say more.

Beef sukiyaki - thin slices of beef stir fried, and served with noodles and vegetables. Adapt the vegetables to your family's tastes.

Roasted garlic chicken - garlic loses its pungency after the roasting so that this chicken is not too overwhelming for little ones.

Spaghetti carbonara - a meeting of bacon and eggs and pasta. Even Ruth Reichl says she never met a kid that didn't like this. Oh - and no cream involved.

Asian-style sticky chicken wings - these take no time at all to marinade and after an hour in the oven, they are fantastic. Serve over rice with salad or vegetables.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Savoury Coeur A La Creme

A couple of years ago, my friend Sally served up a phenomenal dip. It was incredibly more-ish (a perfect quality in a dip) and was tangy and fresh and spicy and indulgent all at the same time. Clever Sally later confessed the dip was nothing more than a tub of cream cheese tipped upside down, dowsed in sweet chilli sauce and then sprinkled generously with chopped coriander. Soon, everyone was making the same dip, so much so that Kraft released "Light Philly Pourovers", a range of dips that were inverted so either a sweet chilli or mango or chilli capsicum sauce poured over the cheese.

This month's Barefoot Bloggers Bonus Challenge is a savoury coeur a la creme, which achieves much the same result, albeit considerably more glamourously. It is also a lot slower, because it needs to drain and set overnight, before it can be unmolded for serving. In my opinion, the key advantage that this recipe has above simply using a tub of soft philly is the opportunity to flavour the cheese itself. I stuck to the lemon as written below, but the sky is really the limit if you felt like getting creative: why not use some taco seasoning in the cheese and salsa over the top? Or lime zest and juice with a Thai dipping sauce over the top? Thanks to Anne Strawberry for the choice of a great base recipe.

Savoury Coeur A La Creme
from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
1 lemon, zested
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bottle chutney (Ina recommends: Cross and Blackwell Major Grey's) Crackers, for serving

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip until it is firm like whipped cream. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick.
Line a 6-inch coeur a la creme mold or 6-inch sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth, allowing the excess to drape over the sides. Pour the cream mixture into the cheesecloth and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Fold the excess cheesecloth over the top of the cream. Place the mold on a plate or suspend the sieve over a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, unmold the creme upside down onto a plate and pour the chutney over the top, allowing it to drip down the sides. Serve chilled with crackers
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Creme Brulee Tarts

What's in a name? More than any of us would like to believe. Sometimes you need an exotic sounding French name to create the necessary allure for a dish, and my case in point is creme brulee. Can you imagine this dessert (or any dessert) taking the world by storm if it was called "burnt cream"? In fact can you imagine doing anything with burnt cream apart from throwing it out and starting again? Happily this magnificent pairing of cool, unctuous cream with a crackly toffee top, carried its French moniker to world domination.

And what could be even better than creme brulee in a pot? Why creme brulee tarts of course, that add lovely buttery pastry to the soft, rich cream and the toffee topping. Three textures that contrast beautifully make this a fantastic dessert. The recipe comes from the lovely Cuisine magazine from NZ, in a feature by Natalie Schamroth of The Engine Room (July 2008). While this dessert is involved in its multiple steps, none of it is tricky, and it certainly has the WOW factor covered if you are looking for something special for guests. (And incidentally, with Mother's Day fast approaching, doesn't every mother need a gas torch of her own?)

I am sending these tarts over to Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness whose party this month is themed Devil's Food - Give in to Your Most Tempting Treats. Check out all the other wickedness here.

Creme Brulee Tarts

180g cold unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the tins
250g flour, plus extra for rolling the pastry
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
2 tbls cold water
baking beans for blind baking the pastry
1 egg white lightly beaten

Grate or finely dice the butter. Mix together the flour, sugar and salt, then rub in the butter (or pulse in a food processor until it all looks like find bread crumbs). Add the egg yolk and water and mix quickly until a dough starts to form. Tip it out onto a floured board, and bring together into a ball but do not work it or knead it. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 150C. Grease eight loose bottomed tart tins. Roll out the dough to 1/2 cm thick, then, using a cutter slightly larger than your tart tins, cut circles of dough. Press the circles of dough into your tins and refrigerate them for at least a further 30 mins. Prick the pastry with a fork, line with circles of baking paper and then cover the bases of each tart with baking weights. Blind bake for 15 mins. Remove the beans and the paper, then bake for another 2-5 mins until the pastry is completely cooked. Remove from the oven and immediately brush each tart lightly with egg white to seal it (the heat from the tarts should cook the egg white). Allow the tart shells to cool completely.

Vanilla creme:
1 1/2 cups pouring cream
1 split vanilla bean
2 egg yolks
2 tbl sugar

Preheat the oven to 120C. Place the cream and vanilla in a saucepan and heat gently to boiling point. Remove from the heat. Whisk egg yolks and sugar together. Slowly whisk in the hot cream. strain the mixture then pour into the tart shells. Bake for 10-15 mins until the custard has just set (it should still be a little nervous in the centre.) Cool the tarts completely on a cake rack.

To serve:
3/4 cup caster sugar

Sprinkle each tart evenly with 2 tbls of sugar. Use a gas torch to melt and burn the sugar, or place under a very hot grill. Cool the tarts, then remove from their shells and serve.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Old-Fashioned Shepherd's Pie: One for the Kids (and the Big Kids)

Shepherd's pie is one of those recipes that has stood the test of time. I make it for my children, just as my mother made it for me, and I'm pretty sure her mother made it for her as well. There is nothing fancy or trendy or impressive about it, but it is comfort food par excellence. In my opinion, the smell of it cooking works at the same level as a hug or a call from an old friend. A lovely reassurance that regardless of how lousy your week has been, or how bad the Easter weather is or how disappointing your holiday was, some things remain right in the world.
Shepherd's pie is equally popular with the children and the adults in our family. Only my husband, scarred from years of boarding house shepherd's pie with powdered mash on top, took a while to come around to eating it again, but even he enjoys it now too. I like to make shepherd's pie as a one dish meal, so our vegetables for the night are incorporated into the mix. This means that every time I make this recipe, it changes slightly depending on what I have on hand that I want to add. Corn, carrot and peas all work well - and only the carrot needs any pre-cooking (unless you like yours very underdone).
A Large Shepherd's Pie
2 tbls olive oil
1 kg mince (I generally use beef, but feel free to use whatever you prefer)
1 onion, diced
150g bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (you could substitute tomato sauce)
1 tbl tomato paste
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup diced carrots
5 potatoes
milk and butter for the mash
Preheat oven to 180C. Heat oil in a large pan, then add onion and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add bacon and continue to cook until the bacon starts to render its fat (another couple of minutes). Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add mince and continue to cook until it is browned. Stir in BBQ sauce and tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper. Taste the mixture, and add more sauce or tomato paste if required. Stir in vegetables and warm them through, then tip meat mixture into a large baking dish.
Meanwhile, boil potatoes until they are tender, then mash with milk and butter according to your taste. (I usually use 1/4 - 1/2 cup milk and 1-2 tbls of butter). Spread the mashed potato over the mince mixture. Swirl the tines of a fork through the mash to create a pretty textured top, then put into the oven for 1/2 hour. If top is not golden, put the pie under the grill for a minute to brown - do NOT walk away while you are doing this or you risk burnt pie - the potato toasts very quickly.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fig and Walnut Tart

Desserts are a subject where I feel you need to play to your audience. No point in giving an overly-sugared, overly-chocolatey cake to older members of the family. No point making toffee desserts for the family members in braces or with teeth problems. No point giving a big floury cake to someone who can't deal with gluten very well. You need to play to your crowd, and no one likes not to go to the trouble of making a cake and not see it enjoyed. Happily, this recipe was enthusiastically received last week, with all plates scraped clean. A fig and walnut tart from Maggie Beer, it is a wonderful dessert for anyone looking for something a litle bit different, that also happens to be gluten free. It is soft, not overly sweet, and very delicious. I undercooked mine slightly - next time I will make sure to wait until it has pulled away from the tin a little (as per instructions below).

The recipe comes from her book, "Maggie's Table", where she comments that she has been embarrassed by the enthusiastic response to this tart when it couldn't be simpler to make. The combination of "enthusiastic responses" and "simple to make", are a combination of comments ensuring that I had to give this tart a try. I think it looks luscious and soft and romantic too. It also used up the egg whites that have been sitting in my freezer - always make sure you freeze leftover egg whites or egg yolks for later use. By the way, Maggie Beer also advises not to worry if it falls apart a little as you serve it as it is meant to be soft sticky and rustic. Thanks Maggie.
Fig and Walnut Tart
180g walnuts
330g dried figs
6 egg whites
250g dark brown sugar
creme fraiche and very thin slice sof lime for serving
Preheat the oven to 220C. Roast the walnuts on a baking tray for about 5 minutes. Once cooked, tip them onto a tea towel, fold the towel over and rub them to remove the bitter papery skins on the nuts. Pick out the nuts, leaving behind the skins, and allow to cool.
Reduce oven to 180C. Line and grease a 24cm spring form tin. Remove the hard stem from each fig, then chop them finely (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Toss the walnuts and figs together.
Using a stand mixer, whisk egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugr table spoon by table spoon as you continue beating. Once all the sugar is incorporated, the mixture should be thick and stiff. Take a couple of spoonfuls of the meringue mixture and mix it through the figs and walnuts. Tip the figs and walnuts back into the meringue and fold through. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 mins; until the tart starts to pull away from the sides of the tin and feels set on top.
Allow to cool. Serve with creme fraiche and very fine slices of fresh lime.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chinese Chicken Salad

Unlike many Barefoot Blogger picks of dishes I've neither seen nor heard of, this week's Chinese Chicken Salad had me on very familiar territory. The honey/soy/sesame oil flavour trio makes regular, well-appreciated appearances around here in salads, marinades and stir fries. We also tend to eat at Chinese restaurants a lot, where my daughters love a northern chinese salad called kai see fan pei (forgive me the English approximation of the Chinese name - you won't be surprised to hear I don't read or speak Chinese), which tosses cold shredded chicken, cucumber and rice noodles with a peanut based sauce. So I was very interested to try Ina's version of this dish. And the verdict? Enthusiastic from all the family.

I tweaked the recipe slightly. It is not easy to get breasts on the bone with skin here (breasts tend to come only as fillets), so instead I opted for an already-cooked rotisserie chicken from the supermarket which I then skinned and shredded. Since it is the night before school holidays start, I was glad to have taken this short-cut. Then I added some celery and some cucumber to increase the vegetable content. I also reduced the amount of salt in the dressing after reading the comments earlier in the week. And the kids had crisped chinese noodles sprinkled over the tops of theirs for a bit of fun and texture. The next time I make this, I will increase the amount of ginger as I would like a bit more of a zing in the dressing, and maybe even chop in some raw chilli for a tiny bit of heat. I also suspect that the salad will be even better tomorrow after it has sat for a while. Lucky me - lunch is sorted.

Thank you to Mckenzie of Kenzie's Kitchen for the great choice. You can have a look at how all the other Barefoot Bloggers enjoyed the recipe here. See you all after Easter - apologies in advance for the late comments.

from "Barefoot Contessa Parties" by Ina Garten

4 split chicken breasts (bone-in, skin-on) - I used one pre-cooked chicken, skinned and shredded 250g asparagus, ends removed, and cut in thirds diagonally
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
2 scallions or green onions (white and green parts), sliced diagonally
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
For the dressing
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup good apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 175C.
Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub with the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred the chicken in large bite-sized pieces.

Blanch the asparagus in a pot of boiling salted water for 3 to 5 minutes until crisp-tender. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain. Cut the peppers in strips about the size of the asparagus pieces. Combine the cut chicken, asparagus, and peppers in a large bowl.
Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cornbread Stuffing For Roasted Chicken or Turkey

Earlier this year I made cornbread for the family, to eat alongside some soup. Cornbread is not something you see often around here, and sadly, the family didn't really enjoy it as much as I had hoped. I hate it when that happens. Away into the freezer went the cornbread, until I could decide what to do with it. Last week, darling husband was arriving home from overseas, and as roast chicken is his very favourite dinner, I thought I would tart it up a little. The cornbread stuffing my sister-in-law made for us at Christmas time was playing on my mind, and so two great ideas collided. The recipe below was an improvisation on a Julia Child stuffing I found on the net, and it was great. Not too heavy or stodgy or (even worse) mysterious like most of the stuffings around here; it was light and tasty and delicious, and the leftovers were every bit as good. Because I was running late with dinner, I baked the chicken separately from the stuffing because I wanted to avoid any extra cooking time on the chicken. Is stuffing still stuffing when nothing is being stuffed? Not sure. I'll let you ponder that one.

Incidentally, the cornbread recipe was one of the 08 Barefoot Blogger Challenges that had come and gone before I joined the group. I have included the recipe for the cornbread below as well.

Cornbread Stuffing
adapted from Julia Child's Cornbread Stuffing Recipe, on plaincook.com

5 cups cornbread, crumbled
500g sausage meat
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups celery ribs, chopped
2 cups breadcrumbs, unseasoned, lightly pressed down
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons dried sage (more if you like - I didn't use because I forgot to buy it)
120g melted butter
1 large apple, cored and diced
1/2 cup toasted pecan nuts, roughly chopped

Brown sausage meat in a pan over medium heat. Lift into a large bowl, leaving fat in pan.
Using the same pan, saute onions for 5-6 minutes (or until translucent). Add celery and saute for 2 minutes. Add the onion and celery to the sausage, along with the cornbread and bread crumbs. Combine sage and eggs, and pour into mixture. Fold in the melted butter. Season to taste.

Stuff cavity of chicken or turkey with mixture and bake according to poultry roasting times. If baking separately, place mixture in a baking pan, cover with foil, and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, maybe even less. Do not overbake otherwise the stuffing will dry out.

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
from Barefoot Contessa at Home

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
8 ounces aged extra-sharp Cheddar, grated, divided
1/3 cup chopped green onions, white and green parts, plus extra for garnish, 3 scallions
3 tablespoons seeded and minced fresh jalapeno peppers (I left these out although I would definitely include if we were to make again)

Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don't overmix! Mix in 2 cups of the grated Cheddar, the scallions and jalapenos, and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking pan.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated Cheddar and extra chopped scallions. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Savoury Palmiers = Delicious Nibbles with Drinks

Easter is fast approaching, and so are the school holidays. It can't happen fast enough from my point of view. Our little family has had a fairly bumpy start to 09 so the thought that Easter and school holidays are just around the corner is wonderful. Books, sleep, crosswords, movies - all I am craving is some serious R n R. Throw in a friend or two for a meal and a coffee and it will all be perfect.

If Easter means getting together with family and friends for you, this is the perfect thing to nosh on with drinks. It was the Barefoot Bonus recipe in December, which I aspired to make but ran out of both time and puff. I am so happy I decided to try it out this week - if you are about to entertain, make these for your guests. You will blow them away with how truly scrumptious these palmiers are. Happy Easter!

Savory Palmiers
from Ina Garten in "Back to Basics"
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used goats fetta because that is what happened to be in the fridge)
1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Spread the sheet of puff pastry with half the pesto, then sprinkle with half the goat cheese, half the sun-dried tomatoes, and half the pine nuts. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt.

Working from the short ends (unless your sheets are square, in which case just start on one side), fold each end halfway to the center. Then fold each side again toward the center until the folded edges almost touch. Fold one side over the other and press lightly. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Repeat for the second sheet of puff pastry using the remaining ingredients. Cover both rolls with plastic wrap and chill for at least 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the prepared rolls of puff pastry into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place them faceup 2 inches apart on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.

Hollywood Red Carpet Cake

The Hollywood Party for the 10 year old has been and gone (a big phew from all of us). Here is the cake Miss 10 saw on the web and asked me to make. The girl is made out of white chocolate dyed for the dress and the skin (a fondant girl being way beyond my abilities at this point). I made her a week before the party, and she lived on top of a tupperware lid in the fridge. Unfortunately she had a couple of accidents - I hear that many starlets have the same problem -and wound up being pieced back together with more and more chocolate at the back. Regardless, she made the appropriate grand entrance on the day and was then taken to pieces by hungry 10 yr olds.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes.....

There are a lot of things that are great about being a kid. Someone tucking you into bed each night, for example. Someone else doing all the cooking and shopping. Hanging out with your friends all day at school. And having absolutely no qualms about healthy eating. Hell, if left to their own devices, most kids would subsist exclusively on ice cream, chocolate and whizzfizz. So, with four kids in tow last weekend, I let my daughter pick which cupcakes we would make. (What do you expect me to do? It was four against one). She of course picked the wickedest looking cupcakes in the book to make while the cousins were here.
I am not going to pretend that they had any redeeming qualities beyond being delicious, and looking very pretty in my cupcake wrappers. However, if you look at it from a kids point of view, these cupcakes contain two of the major food groups: biscuits and cake. So why not?
Cookies and Cream Cupcakes
adapted from "500 Cupcakes" by Fergal Connolly
250 g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
10 crushed oreos or similar biscuits
for the icing:
375g icing sugar, sieved
225 g unsalted butter, softened
10 crushed oreos or similar biscuits
Preheat the oven to 175C. Line cupcake tins with 18 paper cases. Combine all ingredients except the crushed biscuits in a mixer bowl and beat with an electric whisk until smooth and pale (2-3 mins). Stir in biscuits. Spoon the batter into cases. Bake for 20 mins. When cooked remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5 mins, then remove to a baking sheet and cool completely.
To make the icing, beat the icing sugar, butter, and salt with an electric whisk. Spread icing onto the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle biscuits on top.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Curried Crab and Watermelon Salad

Sometimes I am surprised by the things that go beautifully together that at first blush appear to be incompatible. Blue cheese and dessert wine. Goats cheese and rosemary. Chilli and chocolate. Vanilla and fish. I am sure that there is someone with a lot more knowledge than me about the science of taste profiles who could explain why these pairings work. I'm also sure I am not the only one to sometimes look at recipes and wonder whether some combinations are even edible let alone successful. Sometimes however, being bold in your combinations can pay off.

This recipe leapt out at me from a Delicious magazine (December 08/ January 09) that I was thumbing a few weeks ago - one of the reasons I love food mags like this one. It brings together an apparently odd combination of ingredients - watermelon, crab, curry powder - into a very delicious and elegant salad. Even better, it can be prepared an hour or two in advance. It would also work as an hors d'oeuvre if you cut the watermelon circles smaller. The gentle heat of the curried crab sits beautifully with the crisp and sweet watermelon - a perfect last taste of summer.

Curried Crab and Watermelon Salad
from Valli Little in Delicious Magazine
serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
2 small Granny Smith apples, grated
1/2 onion finely chopped
2 1/2 tsps good quality curry powder
2 tsps lime juice
1 tbs chopped coriander
1 tbs chopped mint
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup fresh crabmeat
4 slices of watermelon, 3cm thick, cut into 7cm rounds (use a biscuit or scone cutter)
Pappadams to serve

Heat 1 tbl olive oil over medium heat. Add apple, onion and 1 1/2 tsps curry powder and cook until onion and apple have softened (5 mins or so). Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Cool slighlty then puree in a blender with herbs and mayonnaise until smooth. Mix with grab, season to taste, then chill.

Combine remaining 2 tsps oil and 1 tsp curry powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place a watermelon round on each plate, then using the cutter to help you shape it, pile the crab salad on top of each round. Drizzle with curry mixture and serve with pappadams.