Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Birthday Competition and A Super-Rich No-Bake Chocolate Cake

I can't believe it is a year since I started writing this blog. It is my hope that you can tell how much I am really loving it, and for that I am indebted to my 12 yr old. About a year ago, we were all talking in the car about things that we would like to do at some point in our lives, and I mentioned that I would like to have a blog one day. Of course, I thought that I was discussing it in a completely theoretical way, and it was something I might tackle in 5 years or so (I really hate to rush). About half an hour later we were home, and she was calling out to me that she had set up the blog and what did I want to call it? So here we are.

To celebrate this milestone I would like to give one lucky winner a 1 year subscription to their choice of one of the following magazines:
- Vogue Entertaining and Travel
- Gourmet Traveller
- Delicious
- Donna Hay
Undoubtedly, we are spoiled in Australia with some very wonderful food mags - so here is your chance to add to your collection. All you have to do is tell me what you would cook for a milestone birthday. The most creative answer wins. This competition is open to both Australian and International readers - all these magazines do overseas delivery. To enter, just leave a comment on the end of this post (or any post before August 30th), or email me at munchandnibble@gmail.com .

And now for the cake. No birthday would be complete without a cake, and this cake is especially rich and decadent. Perfect with coffee for adults, it is probably a little intense for kids. The recipe comes from last month's Vogue Enertaining and is simplicity itself. Just three ingredients: dark chocolate, cream and vanilla, and no baking. My only small quibble is that my cake cracked a little when I was cutting it - you definitely need to let it sit outside the fridge for a little while before you cut into it. Don't be greedy - a very very small slice is plenty.

Deep Chocolate Vanilla Torte

from Vogue Entertaining + Travel (June/July 09)

500g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
550 ml thickened cream
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean
2 tsps vanilla extract

Grease an 18cm spring form tin, then line with cling wrap. Melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over gently simmering water. Stir occassionally until it has all melted.

Place 1/3 cup cream and vanilla seeds in a small saucepan over low heat until warm (not boiling) to infuse the cream with the vanilla flavour. Tip into a mixing bowl with the remaining cream and vanilla extract, and whisk to soft peaks. Stir in half the melted chocolate, then fold in the rest of the chocolate. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, then smooth the top into waves.

Refrigerate overnight until firm. To serve, remove from the fridge about 30 mins before serving to soften slightly. Slice into small wedges and serve with cream.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cheats Salmon Teriyaki aka Maple Soy Salmon

How do you know a recipe is a winner? I spotted this salmon recipe on Closet Cooking and bookmarked it a while ago, and promptly forgot about it. Then a month or so ago, looking for inspiration for dinner for the kids and some friends who had come to stay, I found it again. Since then, I have made it five times. I have made it at home. I have made it away. When my daughter was having a friend over for a sleepover last week and I told her she could pick "anything" for dinner - yes it was a good mummy day - this is what she picked. I now know this recipe off by heart (along with the start of the Madeline books, half a poem by Hopkins and a lot of trivia).

The recipe doesn't sound promising - maple syrup and soy sauce as a combination is a little odd, I admit, until you try it. At which point, you will realise that the flavour profile is very close to teriyaki, and it actually tastes better than the commercial teriyaki sauces (although not quite as good as the local Japanese). I am sure this will remain a favourite especially, but not only, when we are away on holidays because:
- it is so damn easy
- there are three ingredients (four if you are really getting fancy), and even the smallest town general store has soy sauce and maple syrup.

So thank you Kevin from Closet Cooking for the recipe (who incidentally attributes it to Allrecipes).
PS Click on the link below and look at Kevin's photo - much prettier than mine. In my defence, there were 10 yr olds nipping at my ankles.

from Closet Cooking
4 salmon fillets (skinned and boned if you prefer)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (if you like but you don't really need it)

Marinate the salmon in the maple, soy and ginger for about 20 minutes. Put the salmon on an oven tray and baste generously with marinade. Grill the salmon under a pre-heated hot griller for 5-10 minutes, depending on how rare you like your salmon . Place the salmon on a plate and pour some of the maple sauce from the bottom of the pan on top of the salmon. Serve with rice to sop up more of the sauce and some greens.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Winter Pear and Blueberry Crumble

Today is Barefoot Thursday and today's Barefoot Blogger challenge is a peach and blueberry crumble. Sorry to say, however, I did not use peaches. Crumbles are a real favourite with me. Any time of year and any flavour. I would have loved to be serving you up the Barefoot Challenge of a peach crumble today, but there are no peaches around here for at least another four or five months. And even if I could have found them, they probably would have travelled further than Captain Cook. So I am giving you an adapted winter crumble with pears subbing in for the peaches. Lucky for me, it worked beautifully. The sweet and juicy pears were balanced by the lemon zest and the sprinkling of tart blueberries, while the crunchy topping gave a great texture contrast to the melting fruit.

This was very delicious. So good in fact, that if I had had leftovers, I might have been tempted to put some on my muesli this morning. Good thing I got it outof the house pronto! I suggest you do the same, or you may wind up with crumble in your muesli too.

The Barefoot Bloggers are slowly working their way through the cookbooks of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, who specialises in completely achievable AND completely delicious food. This recipe was picked by Aggie of Aggie's Kitchen. Thanks Aggie.

Pear and Blueberry Crumble
adapted from "The Barefoot Contessa at Home" by Ina Garten

For the fruit
1 kg ripe pears
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup plain flour
1 cup fresh blueberries

For the Crumble
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
125g cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Peel the pears, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, granulated sugar, and flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the blueberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Spoon the mixture into ramekins or custard cups.

For the topping, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it’s in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and back for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tops are browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you want to make these early, store the unbaked crumbles in the refrigerator and bake before dinner. Serves 5 to 6.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Parmesan and Goats Cheese Bites at the French Laundry

Recently a local lotto was drawn with a prize of more than $100 million dollars. Like most of the population, I don't usually buy tickets in the lotto, but this prize was big enough to drive me to wander up to the newsagency and put my money down. The best part of any lottery is the happy time between buying the ticket ("I'm sure it is my turn to win this time") and the draw ("I was robbed. Surely I should have won.") This is the time when it is perfectly permissable to spend hours contemplating what you would do with all the money. Paying off debts is a given, as is sharing the good fortune around with family and charities. But what would your ultimate indulgence be, once all the sensible stuff was done? One of mine (alongside buckets of fresh flowers every week and a massage now and then) would be to eat at some of the world's best restaurants. And at the top of that list is The French Laundry, in California.

Sadly, I know that a meal at The French Laundry won't be mine in the foreseeable future. So I have invested in the cookbook instead. It runs the gamut of recipes from the very simple to the technically extraordinary, and is the subject of the excellent French Laundry At Home blog. This blog, written very wittily by Carol Blymire, works its way through the entire book, and is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to cook from the book. It is also a fun read with lots of great "music to cook by" recommendations.
One of Carol's first recipe attempts was the parmesan crisps with goats cheese mousse, and I decided to follow her lead and start at the simple end of things. This is a delicious nibble - my one piece of advice not included in the recipe is to do your piping at the last minute so your crisp does not go soggy (obvious I know but I still did it). Serve as a nosh with drinks and watch as they vanish.
Parmesan Reggiano Crisps With Goats Cheese Mousse
from "The French Laundry Cookbook" by Thomas Keller
Parmesan Crisps
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (from a moist piece of cheese)
Goat Cheese Mousse
180g fresh goat cheese (or other soft goat cheese)
4 to 6 tablespoons pouring cream
1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A clean egg carton
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
For the Parmesan Crisps:Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
Place a 2-1/2-inch ring mold (I used a scone cutter) in one corner of the baking tray and fill it with 3 tsps of the grated cheese. Using your finger, spread the cheese into an even layer. Repeat to make 8 rounds, leaving at least 3cms between them.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the crisps are a rich golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for about 30 seconds to firm the crisps enough so you can remove them with a spatula. One by one, remove the crisps and gently press each one into a hollow in the egg carton to form a tulip shape. After a few minutes, remove the cooled crisps from the carton and make 8 more crisps.

For the Goat Cheese Mousse:Place the goat cheese in a food processor and process (depending on the cheese used, it may look smooth or crumbly). Pour 1/4 cup of the cream through the feed tube and continue to process until the mixture is smooth but will hold a shape when piped; if necessary, add a little more cream. Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste and mix just to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning. The mousse can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days; let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften slightly before piping.

Place the mousse in a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Pipe 2 to 3 teaspoons of mousse into each Parmesan crisp and serve.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sensational Italian Mushroom Ragout

I grew up with a grandmother who believed that you should "never let anyone be as wise as yourself". In other words, never tell others everything that you know. But today I am disregarding that advice completely and giving you one of my favourite cooking secrets. This is a recipe that is as good and nearly as easy as the amazing Tetsuya avocado soup. Brace yourself for one of those recipes that is so unbelievably simple that it needs to be tasted to be believed. One that you will use again and again (unless your cardiologist is coming for dinner...). In my opinion it is a bit like a warm embrace, and this has been a week for warm embraces. But back to the mushrooms...

"Secret" may not be quite the right word for this mushroom ragout, since this recipe is on the ABC website, the Lifestyle Food website, and on various other sites. It comes from Kylie Kwong's book "Heart and Soul", and she attributes it to the Manfredi clan of Sydney restaurant fame. Kylie Kwong describes it as symbolic of the Manfredis : "down-to-earth, full of substance, elegant, vibrant and comforting". Kylie suggests serving with crusty bread, or as a side dish to accompany roasted poultry or meat. I also think it is beautiful tossed through pasta. And if you can't get all the varieties of mushrooms, feel free to experiment a little. Part of the joy of this recipe is the mixture.

I really like Kylie Kwong's "Heart and Soul" cookbook, and have very happily tried a lot of the recipes it contains. Unfortunately Kylie Kwong gets a hard time on some of the local blogs for not being "Asian" enough (and it really disgusts me that a whole lot of those commenting don't have the grace or the courage to post anything other than anonymous vitriol.) Lucky Kylie: she might not be Asian enough for some, but she is clearly Australian enough to be given a double serving of tall poppy syndrome. In my opinion, if the food tastes good, which these mushrooms undoubtedly do, then that should be enough.

Italian Mushroom Ragout
from "Heart and Soul" by Kylie Kwong

8 Garlic Cloves crushed
4 Onions trimmed & finely sliced
1 tablespoon sea salt
200 g fresh button mushrooms
100 g fresh oyster mushrooms
150 g shiitake mushrooms stems discarded
100 g swiss Mushrooms Brown
100 g fresh Mushrooms Enoki
100 g fresh black cloud ear fungus
125 g unsalted butter roughly chopped
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
cracked White pepper
½ cup Dry White Wine
½ cup roughly chopped Flat-leaf parsley

Place garlic, onions and salt in a heavy-based pan.

Cover with all the mushrooms except enoki and cloud ear fungus. Top with butter, olive oil and pepper and place over high heat for 5 minutes, without stirring, to allow the flavours of the onions and garlic to penetrate the mushrooms.

Add wine and remaining mushrooms, stirring to combine. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are just tender.

Stir in parsley and serve.
Serve as part of a banquet for 4–6

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blue Eye With Powders - My Adventures in Molecular Gastronomy

Apologies for the sporadic holiday posting! I am writing this in advance of us heading off for a week or so, but I couldn't bear to miss the Daring Kitchen deadline for this month's amazing challange.

Molecular gastronomy has had a somewhat murky reputation in Sydney built on non-descript foams and flosses and excesses. Only a couple of places here do it with any degree of success, and even those don't get it right all the time (a couple of hideaous courses in otherwise good meals spring to mind). But in its conception, molecular gastronomy is about using science, and unorthodox kitchen methods to harness and present flavours. I read with awe and amazement about some of the top international restaurants cooking in this way, and I am fascinated (if you are interested check out the fantastic Alinea At Home blog). So when Sketchy from Sketchy's Kitchen set this month's Daring Kitchen challenge to be a molecular gastronomy choice from The Alinea cookbook by Grant Achatz, I was very excited to give it a go. Although when I mentioned to friends they might like to come and try it, some said they would rather stick forks in their eyes... so I made this for my more adventurous family.

I cooked the meal pretty much as per Sketchy's modified recipe below, although I substituted Blue Eye Cod (which is actually a trevalla) for the skate. The first step is to create the powders. I do not have a dehydrating machine, and I initially tried using the microwave, but I found my best option was my oven which drops to about 75C. The microwave seemed to make my ingredients sweaty, while the oven left everything feeling crisp and crumbly like an autumn leaf. I did all six powders in the recipe in three batches (lemon, capers and onion were in the oven together), then the dried milk powder and then the herbs. The lemon, capers and onion took the longest (probably about three or so hours), while the milk powder was pretty quick (about half an hour). Then each powder was ground in my coffee grinder, bottled up and put aside until needed.

Making the beurre monte emulsion for poaching was a new technique for me, but one I will definitely use again. The fish emerged incredibly moist and tender, and the beans were lovely and tasty. I also went with the banana fan under the beans and fish, despite being a little skeptical, and bizarrely it works very well. Because there is so much going on taste-wise from the powders, the banana was more a textural presence and a sweet note rather than being distinctly "banana-y". My favourite powders were the capers and the onions, as well as the burnt butter powder on the fish.

As a dish, I really loved this and will definitely cook it again (I have enough of the powders left to have another go without too much work). I loved playing with the pretty powders on the plate and the interplay of the flavours. And if clean plates are an indication of a meal enjoyed, it was a succes for my guests / guinea pigs as well.

Skate, Traditional Flavors Powdered - with changes
from the Alinea Cookbook by Grant Achatz

4 skate wings (or other white fish fillets)
* Beurre monte
* 300g fresh green beans
sea salt/kosher salt
1 banana
454g butter - 4 sticks
300g lemons
5g citric acid/vitamin c tablet (I didn't use)
150g coriander
150g parsley
100g dried banana chips
300g spray dried cream powder (or powdered milk)
100g cup minced red onion
200g capers (brined, not oil)
* For green beans, slice each beans into very thin rounds (2 mm)
* Beurre Monte - 454g butter (4 sticks, 1 pound) cubed and cold, 60g water. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter 1 cube at a time. This should from an emulsion. Keep this heated, but under 195 degrees. The emulsion will not break - this is your poaching liquid.

Powders - prepare ahead of time
caper / onion
lemon powder
cilantro/parsley powder
'brown butter' powder

Once dried, all powders should be pulsed in a coffee grinder/cspice mill/morter and pestle then passed through a chinois or fine mesh strainer.

Citrus powder
300g lemons
1000g simple syrup
5g citric acid/vitamin c tablet

Zest 300g of lemons (10.6 oz), remove the pith from the zest and poach in the simple syrup three times. Dry with paper towels and move to a dehydrating tray. 130 for 12 hours. Pulse the zest in a coffee grinder, pass through chinois, and mix with citric acid/vitamin C powder.

If you do not have a dehydrator, place in microwave for 8 to 10 minutes at medium powder. Once dried, follow the other instructions.

Cilantro (coriander)/parsley powder
150g cilantro (coriander)
150g parsley

Blanch the parsley in boiling saltwater for 1 second, submerge the leaves in ice water for 3 minutes. Dry on paper towels and place on dehydrator tray. 130 for 12 hours. Grind and pass through chinois.

If you do not have a dehydrator, place in microwave for 30 seconds, turn over leaves and microwave for another thirty seconds. They should be dry by now, pulse in coffee grinder, pass through chinois and reserve.

Onion powder
100g cup minced red onions

dehydrator - 130 for 12 hours
microwave at medium power for 20 minutes.

Pulse in grinder, pass through chinois

Caper powder
200g capers (get the ones packed in brine/vinegar)

Run the capers under cold water for two minutes to remove some of the brine.
Dry on paper towels and dehydrate for 12 hours at 130 degrees.
Microwave instructions are unclear. Dry them as much a possible with paper towels, the microwave on medium for 1 minute. Check the moisture content and stir them. repeat for 30 second intervals until they are dry. If you use this method, pleas post the time needed to dry the capers.

Once dry, pulse and sift the powder. Mix it with the onion powder.

Brown Butter powder
100g Dried banana chips (unsweetened if possible - many are coated in honey - the freeze dried ones would be brilliant)
300g spray dried cream powder

If you cannot find the cream powder, you can substitute Bob's red mill non fat dry milk powder, or even carnation instant milk powder. The substitutions will alter the flavor a little, but you will still get the general idea.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, sift the cream powder into a fine layer on a silpat or on parchment. Bake for 4 minutes, then remove for heat. If it bakes for too long, it will burn. Be very cautious with all powders in the oven. They all go from browned to burnt in a few seconds.
Grind the banana chips in a coffee grinder and mix with the toasted cream powder. Pass this through a chinois or fine mesh strainer and reserve.


* For green beans, slice each beans into very thin rounds (2 mm)
* Beurre Monte - 454g butter (4 sticks, 1 pound) cubed and cold, 60g water. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter 1 cube at a time. This should from an emulsion. Keep this heated, but under 195 degrees. The emulsion will not break - this is your poaching liquid.

Prepare the skate - 50G v shaped cuts are recommended
Bring 100g water, 100g beurre monte, and green bean rounds to a boil over high heat. Cook until the water has evaporated (about 3 minutes), when the pan is almost dry, remove it from heat and season with 3g salt

Bring 300g water and 300g beurre monte to simmer over medium heat, add skate wings and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and flip the wing over and let rest in pan for two more minutes. Transfer to warming tray lined with parchment and season with 5 grams of fine sea salt.

Take the tip of a small spoon and make a small mound of the citrus powder, the onion-caper powder, and the cilantro parsley-powder. Swirl these around in a hurricane type pattern. I found that it is easier, and you get finer lines if you lightly shake the plate to flatten out the mounds, then swirl the spoon through it to get the pattern.

Peel the remaining banana into very think slices (3mm) fan three slices on the plate, place green beans on top and place skate wing portion on top. On the tall edge, sprinkle the brown butter powder.


The Skate can be replaced with flounder or cod.
If you can get skate that is not 'prepared' IE - Skinned- get the fish monger to prepare it for you.

The powdered cream can be omitted completely, just replace it with more banana powder, or pineapple powder. Possibly non dairy creamer, but I have NO idea what would happen if you tried to brown it.

The poaching liquid is pretty much butter - it could be replaced with other poaching methods. Water, wine, bay leaf, garlic clove, pepper, etc. Try to go easy on the salt in the liquid if you use a replacement.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pasta Salad With Sun Dried Tomatoes

I can remember making my first pasta salad, at around the same time I discovered sun dried tomatoes. It was a recipe from one of the old Vogue Entertaining cookbooks, and used multi-coloured fettucine. The sun dried tomatoes were a revelation for me - I can still clearly remember the surprise of the intense burst of taste delivered by something that looked like a shrivelled up hibiscus flower. It was oily, salty, tangy, pungent, and incredibly more-ish. Suddenly sundried tomatoes were turning up in pastas, salads, sandwiches and quiches everywhere (ah yes the 80s). But then, after a few years, we moved on to semi-dried tomatoes, olives and then to goats cheese, and the sun-dried tomatoes moved back a bit on the deli shelves.

This recipe reminded me why I loved sun-dried tomatoes in the first place. It was full of flavour, and is the sort of side dish that would stand up well to a marinated steak or a BBQ, without being swamped by the other flavours. Make sure you use the fusilli rather than any other pasta because the spirals seem to grab the dressing and hold it close, so no bite is bland. I substituted baby bocconcini for the mozarella as it is a little lighter, and I like the shape of the balls. I also reduced it to about 250g, which was plenty of cheese for me. And my supermarket was out of green basil but had purple basil, so I used that - I like the dark tones it gave the salad, less colourful but more dramatic than green, and the taste is the same. I also skipped the oil in the pasta water as I don't believe it is useful. Just make sure you stir your pasta as it goes into the water and every couple of minutes while it is cooking and it won't stick.

This salad was the first July pick for the Barefoot Bloggers and came from Cat of Delta Whiskey. Drop by her blog, she always has something worth reading to share. The Barefoot Bloggers are a far flung group who are cooking their way through the opus of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Join us twice a month for something completely delicious. Thanks Cat - you brought back some great memories.

Pasta With Sun-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten

250g fusilli (spirals) pasta
500g ripe tomatoes, medium-diced
3/4 cup good black olives, such as kalamata, pitted and diced
500g fresh mozzarella, medium-diced (I used 250g baby bocconcini instead)
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

For the dressing:

5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons good olive oil
1 garlic clove, diced
1 teaspoon capers, drained (I used salted, just rinse them well and then use)
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup packed basil leaves, julienned

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water with a splash of oil to keep it from sticking together (I left out the oil). Boil for 12 minutes, or according to the directions on the package. Drain well and allow to cool. Place the pasta in a bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

For the dressing, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt, and pepper in a food processor until almost smooth.

Pour the dressing over the pasta, sprinkle with the Parmesan and basil, and toss well.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cheesy Chicken Lasagna

It is amazing how much one good meal can do for your general well-being. Life has felt a little grim around here lately. Then last night, came a restorative dinner out with some of my closest girlfriends: good food, a glass or two of wine and non-stop chat about lives, loves, books, kids, plus everything important and frivolous in our lives. It was the perfect mid-winter balm, and has left me feeling very blessed to have such lovely friends around me. An evening that left me feeling nurtured both by the food and the company and today, the world feels a much warmer place.....

This lasagna is definitely good warming winter food. To me, lasagna looks like an unmade bed, and I mean that in a good way. Relaxed, warm, comforting, soft, easy. This recipe has been calling to me from a recent issue of Gourmet magazine. It was the second part of a "four meals from two chickens" feature, but because I jumped in at step 2, I bought a pre-cooked BBQ chicken, and just stripped off the skin and pulled out the bones to get enough cooked shredded chicken (in fact, I used more than the recipe called for). The recipe is not too involved - just make the white sauce, keep half plain then mix in the chicken and mushrooms to the other half. Layer the sauces and noodles and bake. My only change was using cheddar instead of gruyere, because one of the girls is a bit unenthusiastic about cheese and gruyere is a bit too pungent for her. I think that may have been a mistake - I would love to make this again with the gruyere for an even cheesier taste. Maybe I'll convince her?

Cheesy Chicken and Mushroom Lasagne (serves 4)
from Gourmet, March 2009

300g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 roast chicken, skin discarded, meat shredded (about 2 1/4 cups),
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
12 Barilla no-boil egg lasagne noodles
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère

Preheat oven to 210C with rack in middle.
Cook mushrooms, garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened, about 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer briskly 2 minutes. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl and stir in chicken. (Set aside saucepan.)

Bring milk to a bare simmer in another saucepan. Melt remaining 4 Tbsp butter in the large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook to make a roux, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Add hot milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Add thyme, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and divide the mixture, reserving 1 cup sauce separately. Stir parmesan into the remaining sauce, then stir into mushroom filling.

Pour half of reserved plain sauce into a 20cm squre baking pan, spreading evenly to coat bottom. Add 3 lasagne sheets, overlapping slightly, and one third of mushroom filling, spreading evenly, then sprinkle one fourth of Gruyère over top. Repeat 2 times. Top with remaining 3 lasagne sheets and remaining plain sauce, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with remaining Gruyère.

Cover with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top of lasagne but sealing all around edge, and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until cheese is golden, about 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Really Gorgeous Green Pea Risotto

Provided both are cooked well, where does the line lie between restaurant food and home food? I am talking about taste, not presentation, as obviously restaurants have the edge in presentation. If you were going to consider it as an equation, where D=Dinner, C=Cooking and P=Presentation, a meal at home is pretty much D = C, whereas in a restaurant, D = C + P. I have no problems with this - when I am cooking at home, I rarely have the time or inclination to make food look like it is athletically springing out of the plate (but a restaurant that didn't bother would irritate me).

So, looking purely at taste, where does the gap lie between home food and restaurant food? The scientific conclusion I have come to on the basis of this risotto is the number of ingredients and processes. The resulting dish was really good in a "oh my god, this tastes like something you would eat at Machiavelli" kind of way (or maybe at Fifteen if you are in Melbourne?). But you do need to devote a bit of love to it. There are spices to toast, then pound in a mortar and pestle, then make the risotto, stirring, stirring, stirring, then peas to cook and pound, before it all gets mixed together. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely, and it will definitely get served again at a winter dinner party. If I was serving it to the kids again, I would probably leave out the fennel seeds - they give a lovely background flavour but the kids found it a bit much. For a weeknight, however, I would still go to the Bill Granger oven-baked risotto, which does not have the finesse of this one, but is a lot less labour intensive.
Pea Risotto
adapted from Italian Local by Tobie Puttock
1 litre chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 tbl olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 sticks celery finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 small dried red chilli
large pinch of white pepper
200g arborio rice
100ml white wine
50g butter
1 cup freshly podded peas (I cheated and used frozen peas)
1/4 cup parmesan
2 stalks mint
2 stalks continental parsley
8 slices crisped prosciutto (to serve if desired)
1/2 cup goats curd (to serve if desired)
Bring the stock to the boil in a small saucepan, then drop the heat and keep it at a low simmer. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add onion, celery and garlic, and saute until soft but not browned (about 10 mins). Pound the fennel seeds, chilli and pepper to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle, then add to the saucepan, and continue to saute for another 5 mins.
Add the rice and saute for 10 mins more, or until the grains are translucent. Once they are translucent, increase the heat to medium and add a glass of wine. Stir the rice until all the wine has been absorbed, then add the stock, one ladle at a time. Stir constantly and await for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next ladle. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to the boil, and blanch the peas for 2 mins, then drain.
When all the stock has been added and the risotto is looking creamy, add the butter, remove from the heat and cover with a lid. Let the rice sit for 5 mins.
Pound the peas with a mortar and pestle until smooth. Stir the parmesan into the rice and season to taste. Stir in the crushed peas, mint and parsley, and spoon onto plates. Top with prosciutto or goats cheese if using.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Roasted Chicken - Comfort Food Par Excellence

If I don't know what to cook for dinner, I tend to fall back on roast chicken. It is easy, it is delicious and the leftovers make for killer sandwiches the next day. I also find the smell of roasting chicken incredibly comforting, and comforting is something I am valuing highly at the moment. Work continues on the rear of our house to repair the hideous termite damage we discovered a month or two ago, and we are all feeling a little despondent. Dust. Noise. Mess. Expense. Strange men in the house. More expense. More noise. More mess. Not fun. (If you are interested, take a look at the sad and sorry photo at the bottom of this post, showing a ruler sliding into one of our eaten beams).

So when Donna Hay sent me a roast chicken recipe to "make Mum's day" (I had fun writing that but it is not as exciting as you might imagine; I subscribe to her emails), I knew I had to give it a whirl. The recipe is very simple - just peel and slice potatoes and lemon, toss with oil, bake for half and hour, top with chicken marylands, bake for another 20-25 mins and you are done. I liked the recipe, but thought it could be improved on a little, at least for my family. The slices of potato that cooked next to the lemon came out too intensely flavoured for my kids, although the rest of the potato was gloriously tasty from the chicken drippings (I prefer the lemon inside the chicken cavity for more subtle flavouring). Also, the marylands weren't browned enough for my liking so I popped them under the grill for about a minute to give them something like the chicken equivalent of a spray-tan. A few days later, with Donna's original as the starting point, I decided to remake the recipe to my own taste, as a simpler comfort food version. It was really lovely, with the added bonus of the potatoes and carrots cooking together with the chicken, so most of the meal is cooked out of the one pan. Less washing up, plus an hour for doing other things while it all cooks, and the carrots and potatoes become incredibly tasty. (You can see pics of both attempts above.)
And if you feel like trying something a little more exotic, here is Kylie Kwong's Radical Roast Chicken.
Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
adapted from Donna Hay

1kg sebago (starchy) potatoes, peeled and sliced
4 carrots, peeled and cut into batons (or slices or whatever)
1 lemon, halved
2 tbls olive oil
1 whole chicken
sea salt flakes
Preheat oven to 200ºC. Place lemon inside the chicken cavity. Place potato, carrots and 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl and toss to coat. Layer in a dish and top with the chicken. Sprinkle with sea salt. Roast for 1 hour or until golden and cooked through (a large chicken may take 1 hr and 10 mins).
I served the chicken and vegetables with a green salad, and some corn (corn and chicken are a great match).
And here is part of our eaten walls, once the plasterboard was stripped off. I feel sad just looking at it.... ouch....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"My Favourite Salmon" - Roasted With Crumbs

There seems to be some consensus in the medical profession that eating salmon regularly is a good thing. Health benefits claimed for salmon include everything from the high levels of essential fatty acids it contains (which help maintain our immune and circulatory systems as well as reducing the risk of arterial blood clots) and helping eliminate dry eye syndrome and possibly reducing the risk of sunburn (?! ). It even turns up in longevity diets, along with dark chocolate and red wine. But forgetting about the health benefits, I love salmon for two very good few reasons:
- it makes for a very fast dinner and
- the kids like it, possibly because fresh salmon does not have the same sort of "fishy" smell as some other fishes, and is easy to eat.

I made this salmon the other night, at least partly because I had a stale lump of bread that I wanted to use up, and these crumbs were a perfect use of bread too good to throw out. Even though I was serving this to the kids, I kept in the chilli (it was a very mild chilli and I chopped it very finely) and the capers. Both just gave some background depth of flavour, but no really strong tastes. In fact, my elder daughter declared half way through the meal that this was definitely her favourite ever salmon dish. Incidentally, I forgot to buy tarragon, so if you're not keen on herbs or don't like the slightly aniseed-y flavour of tarragon, you can leave it out. The recipe is still great without it. It comes from Tobie Puttock's book "Italian Local" and is the second fantastic thing I have made from this book. He is definitely batting 2 for 2 so far, and I still have a few more things bookmarked to try out.
Roast Salmon With Crispy Pangrattato Crumbs
adaped from "Italian Local" by Tobie Puttock
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 chilli, seeded and finely chopped*
1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
4 x 1 cm thick slices of ciabatta or other good bread, crusts removed and roughly chopped then blitzed in a food processor until they are crumbs
1/4 cup salted capers, rinsed and chopped finely
2 tbl chopped flat leaf parsley
a small handful of chopped tarragon (I forgot this !)
4 x 200g salmon fillets, boned with skin on
Heat the oven to 220C. For the pangrattato crumbs, combine garlic, chilli and olive oil. Place the bread crumbs in a dry frypan over medium heat, stirring often until the crumbs are very crispy. Add the chopped capers and fry for 5 minutes then add the garlic and chilli oil and cook for another five minutes. Remove the crumbs to some paper towels to drain for 5 minutes, then add parsley and tarragon and season to taste.
Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof frypan over high heat then add the salmon, skin side down and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, scatter the crumbs over he top, then roast in the oven for 3-4 minutes for medium rare fish, or longer if you prefer your salmon well-done. When the salmon is ready, squeeze over some lemon juice.
I served this with some steamed green beans and some cherry tomatoes.
*the easiest way to seed a chilli is slice it in half lengthways with a knife and fork. Then holding it still with the fork, scrape the seeds out with a teaspoon. This spares you the irritation of getting hot chilli on your hands.