Friday, August 28, 2009

The Most Beautiful Beef Borscht

A few weeks ago, we were down in the Australian Alps and had a late lunch with kids and friends at Crackenback Cottage. It was freezing cold, and we all arrived starving and a bit knackered. Any parent will tell you that hunger and exhaustion never brings out the best in children, but the restaurant was warm, they had a big maze outside that kept the kids occupied and we all settled in for a lovely afternoon. On the menu was borscht. As a good Aussie girl, I love beetroot in a way that probably mystifies the rest of the world, so there was no question that I would both order and enjoy this soup. But even that predisposition does not explain how much I loved this soup - it was really fabulous. We asked the waitress to ask the chef if there was any possible way that we could have the recipe. Usually I would never be so cheeky as to ask, but it was that good. The chef replied via the waitress that the recipe came from "Snowflakes and Schnapps" by Jane Lawson.

I had looked briefly at this new cookbook in the shops, but had (stupidly) dismissed it because I thought that we don't get enough cold weather here to justify it. But, on this particular day my luck was in and I got given the book as a present (thankyou!). This is one of those cookbooks that is so pretty, with a gorgeous embossed cover and great handfeel to the paper, it could spend its life sitting on a coffee table looking completely glamourous but never being used. That would be a terrible waste of some wonderful recipes.

The borscht is one of those slow cooked meals that brings to mind the maxim that "all good things take time". My butcher was out of beef short ribs, so I used osso bucco instead, a switch that didn't make any difference to the final soup. I also subbed white cabbage in for red - the beetroot juice means you would never know. The beets and the meat mixture both need two hours to cook separately before being combined. By this stage, the beets are so soft they can be peeled using a knife and fork to lift / cut off the skin. I then grated them in my food processor, rather than deal with random splotches of beetroot juice all over my kitchen from hand grating. The end result is delicious, and I still have two or three tupperwares of the soup in my freezer. Perfect winter sustenance!

I am sending this one over to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday round-up. Head over there on Sunday for a bowl of something good.

Borscht With Horseradish Cream
from "Snowflakes and Schnapps" by Jane Lawson
serves 6-8
600g beetroot
1 tbl olive oil
1kg beef short ribs
1 large brown onion chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
2 tsps carraway seeds
4 garlic cloves finely chopped 1 tsp ground allspice plus 1/4 tsp extra
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried porcini mushrooms, crumbled
3 litres beef stock
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
1/2 small red cabbage, shredded
1 tbl cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1 large handful chopped dill
Horseradish cream
125g sour cream
1 tbl freshly grated horseradish or bottled horseradish

Wash beetroot well, then place in a large saucepan and cover generously with water. Bring to the boil and cook for two hours or until the beetroot are tender through to the centre. Cool the beeroot in the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Cook the beef short ribs in batches until browned all over, then remove to a plate. Add the onion, carrot and carraway seeds to the pot andcook over medium heat until the onion is golden. Add the garlic, 1 tsp allspiceand the bayleaf and cook for 30 seconds. Return the beef to the pan and mix in the mushrooms, stock, tomatoes, cabbage and vinegar. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Turn off the heat, remove the ribs and allow to cool slightly before shredding the beef and discarding the bones, and returning the beef to the pot.

Remove the beetroot from the cooking liquid, saving it. Peel the beetroot (either wearing gloves or with a knife and fork), then grate (a food processor may be useful here). Pour the cooking liquid through a sieve lined with paper towel to collect any little gritty bits, into the beef pot. Add the beetroot, stir and bring to the boil. Add sugar, extra allspice and sprinkle with dill. Season to taste.

Combine sourcream and horseradish, then serve a dollop on each bowl of soup.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

White Pizza with Rocket

This week's Barefoot challenge was to make a white pizza with rocket (or arugula), and I am so glad that it was. Under normal circumstances, I never would have pulled this recipe out of the book, but it was great and loved by everyone from the oldest to the youngest in the household (and yes, you're right, she did pick most of the rocket off). It also showed me that making your own pizza dough is pretty easy. I should have remembered that from making the grilled California pizzas nearly a year ago to the day, but somehow because they were cooked on the grill rather than baked in the oven, I had imagined the dough might have been different. It's not. You just dump the ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook and return 10 minutes later for a lovely ball of dough. It's that easy. The recipe makes half a dozen pizzas, so I have kept several balls of the dough in the freezer, and will see how well they defrost in the next few days. I'll update this post once I know. Oh, and by the way, because I am an evil mother, I didn't mention to the kids that one of the cheeses was goats cheese. If they knew, I'm sure the pizza would have been given an "er yuck" rating. Instead they lapped it up. Is that wrong?

The Barefoot Bloggers are a group that are slowly working their way through the magnus opus of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. If you feel like popping on an apron every couple of weeks and trying out something new, feel free to join in. Thanks to Andrea from Nummy Kitchen for the great choice this week.

White Pizza With Arugula
from Back to Basics by Ina Garten

For the dough:
1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the topping:nocoupons
3 cups grated Italian fontina cheese (8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese (7 ounces)
11 ounces creamy goat cheese, such as montrachet, crumbled
For the vinaigrette:nocoupons
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
1 lemon, sliced


Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed. While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup of olive oil, the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (Be sure your oven is clean!)

Dump the dough onto a board and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Place the doughs on sheet pans lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place 2 circles on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.)

Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese. Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten. Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and a slice of lemon and serve immediately.

TIP Make sure the bowl is warm before you put the water and yeast in; the water must be warm for the yeast to develop.
TIP Salt inhibits the growth of yeast; add half the flour, then the salt, and then the rest of the flour.
TIP To make sure yeast is still "alive," or active, put it in water and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If it becomes creamy or foamy, it's active.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies from Martha

Martha Stewart sends me (and probably most of the rest of the English speaking world) three emails every day: one with a Cookie of The Day; one with a Craft of the Day and one with an Organizing Tip of The Day. Some are very useful:
- a downloadable stain chart to stick on the inside of the laundry cupboard
- how to fold a T-shirt (who knew there was a "right way'?)
Some are stupid:
- Rope seat stools which seem to me a good way to make a perfectly comfortable stool a lot less comfortable
- Clothespin picket fence for pot plants when surely not even the most desperate housewife feels the need for picket fences around her pot plants.
And some make me want to run straight into the kitchen and start cooking.
I know that I was not the only one to feel that way when this recipe turned up recently, because I saw it surface on blog after blog. Shortcake is an American bakery icon similar to scones, with a texture somewhere between cake and biscuits. These biscuits are easy to make with a very light and deliciously cakey texture. Just the thing to enjoy with a cup of tea and the paper, if the kids don't demolish them first.
from Martha Stewart

Makes about 3 dozen
350g strawberries, hulled and cut into a small dice (2 cups)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
90g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup pouring cream
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 185 degrees. Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 7 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or rub in with your fingers, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cream until dough starts to come together, then stir in strawberry mixture.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spacing evenly apart. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, and bake until golden brown, 24 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool. Cookies are best served immediately, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beef Bourguignon for Julie and Julia

When I worked in TV, the rule of thumb at production meetings was that three examples of something proved it was a trend and therefore a story (one was a fluke, two was a coincidence, but three was a trend). On the basis of this extremely scientific and journalistically thorough (you reckon?) method, I am going to claim a trend in food and cooking saving people from midlife crises. So far in the last year or so, I have read a pile of books that all revolve around a similar theme: bored / sad / lonely person dives into new experiences with food / cooking and emerges happy / healthy / stronger and often in love.

And now this topic is making it to the big screen with the film adaptation of "Julie and Julia". While I haven't seen the movie yet, it is based on the blog by Julie Powell, where she spends a year working through the 500+ recipes in Julia Child's "Mastering The Art of French Cooking". The book is very charming and the movie should stay that way, since it is directed by Nora Ephron. Nora wrote one of my favourite foodie novels ("Heartburn"), a thinly veiled memoir allegedly about the collapse of her marriage to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, as well as directing a long line of romantic comedies.

To celebrate the release of the movie, this recipe for Beef Bourguignon was published in the most recent Food Network magazine, and comes from a French restaurant that was a location in the Julie and Julia movie. While I wish I could have travelled to NY to enjoy the beef in situ, it was warm and hearty and delicious for a cold Sydney night. Bon appetit!

Beef Bourguignon
adapted from Food Network

6 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
1.25 kg stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium carrots, diced
2 medium onions, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 10cm piece celery stalk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups burgundy, cotes du rhone or other dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup pearl onions, peeled
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup quartered button mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat a 6-to-8-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add the bacon and cook until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon to a large plate, leaving the drippings in the pot. Pat the beef dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pot in a single layer (do this in batches); sear for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown all over. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the plate with the bacon.

Add the carrots and onions to the pot and cook until softened and slightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, make a "bouquet garni": Tie the thyme, bay leaf, garlic, parsley and celery together with twine (nestle the garlic in the celery stalk).
Return the bacon and beef to the pot. Add the flour and stir for a few minutes until the meat is coated. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the brandy and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine; cook until reduced by half again, about 10 more minutes. Add the stock and bouquet garni; bring to a low boil. Stir gently, then cover and transfer to the oven; cook until the meat is tender and cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pearl onions and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and 1/4 cup water; cook until the water evaporates and the onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms; cook until slightly softened and golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; set the skillet aside.
Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon. Let the sauce sit for a few minutes, then skim off the fat and discard. Return the meat to the pot. Add the pearl onions and mushrooms; heat through. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley. (For better flavor, make the dish a day ahead.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crashed Potatoes Crashed Potatoes

Do you have days when you should quit while you are behind? So far today, two batches of what should have been perfect pink macarons have failed on me. I have gone to the shops but forgotten to buy half of what I needed. I am trying to work out how to tie a sari on my daughter for a Bollywood party. She also wants to make a life size model of an emperor penguin for school, that incidentally will be taller than her. Red socks bled in the wash. Plus I have a BIG PILE of stuff to do like taxes, that make me want to beat myself with a garden fork because that would be more fun.

So here is a recipe for one of those days. I found it via some combination of Ree at The Pioneer Woman referencing Trish at Light Sweet Crude referencing Jill Dupleix. (How polite these blogging cooks are with everyone appropriately attributing recipes to each other.) But back to the potatoes: now that I think of it, this recipe is small and easy enough to be a haiku poem, which must be some sort of test for simple cooking.

Boil your spuds softish
Squash them flat, drizzle with oil
Hot oven roast then eat

I am happy now - what a concept: haiku recipes!

Crash Hot Potatoes
adapted from Jill Dupleix

16 small, round potatoes ( in an ideal world - mine were normal sized because that is what was in the vegie drawer, but little ones would look cuter)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 230 or 250C . Boil unpeeled potatoes in a pot of salted water, for around 15 minutes or until they are just slightly undercooked (ie soft enough to pierce with a knife tip but not mushy).

Drain, and arrange on a lightly oiled baking tray or sheet. Use a potato masher to squash each potato flat, until it is twice its original diameter. Brush the tops with olive oil, and scatter with sea salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices that flick your switch. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until crisp and golden. Serve hot.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rice With Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes

This Spanish dish was challenge #3 for me as a Daring Cook, following Chinese dumplings and Fish With Powders. And I certainly felt daring. Sourcing cuttlefish and squid for the recipe was no problem, but preparing them for cooking, including cleaning out ink sacks and innards took me places I had never been before (Stephanie Alexander had explanations). One of the cuttlefish had just had a meal, so as I was cleaning it, I discovered some half digested white bait. You should all feel grateful that I didn't take a photo. The sofregit was easy to make and very tasty, and the rice was also not difficult. The final dish was good, however, did not taste enough of the sea for me. I suspect that my fish stock (made from a salmon head, some onions, tomato, bay leaves, etc) was not powerful enough for my sofregit. I would try this again next time I have some rich prawn stock, and replace the cuttlefish and squid with prawns as well.

The highlight for me was the allioli, which is a Spanish aioli. I tried to make it twice by hand in my mortar and pestle, and each time the emulsion collapsed as I was adding my final drops of oil. So I put an egg in the blender, and then added the collapsed emulsion. This was completely delicious and worked very well with the rice. Thanks to Olga from Olga's Recipes for the chance to try something completely new, and have my own daring adventure, and apologies that the post is a couple of days late.

Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Ingredients (serves 4):
4 Artichokes (you can use jarred or freezed if fresh are not available)
12 Mushrooms (button or Portobello)
1 or 2 Bay leaves (optional but highly recommended)
1 glass of white wine
2 Cuttlefish (you can use freezed cuttlefish or squid if you don’t find it fresh)
“Sofregit” (see recipe below)
300 gr (2 cups) Short grain rice (Spanish types Calasparra or Montsant are preferred, but you can choose any other short grain. This kind of rice absorbs flavor very well) – about 75 gr per person ( ½ cup per person) Please read this for more info on suitable rices.
Water or Fish Stock (use 1 ½ cup of liquid per ½ cup of rice)
Saffron threads (if you can’t find it or afford to buy it, you can substitute it for turmeric or yellow coloring powder)
Allioli (olive oil and garlic sauce, similar to mayonnaise sauce) - optional

Directions: Cut the cuttlefish in little strips. Add 1 or 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and put the cuttlefish in the pan. If you use fresh artichokes, clean them as shown in the video in tip #7. Cut artichokes in eights. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in fourths. Add a bay leaf to the cuttlefish and add also the artichokes and the mushrooms. Sauté until we get a golden color in the artichokes. Put a touch of white wine so all the solids in the bottom of the get mixed, getting a more flavorful dish. Add a couple or three tablespoons of sofregit and mix to make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit. Add all the liquid and bring it to boil. Add all the rice. Let boil for about 5 minutes in heavy heat. Add some saffron thread to enrich the dish with its flavor and color. Stir a little bit so the rice and the other ingredients get the entire flavor. If you’re using turmeric or yellow coloring, use only 1/4 teaspoon. Turn to low heat and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than “al dente”) Put the pan away from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes.

Sofregit (a well cooked and fragrant sauce made of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and onions, and may at times different vegetables such as peppers or mushrooms)- Cooking time: aprox. 1 hour Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of olive oil
5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 small onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
4 or 5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)
1 Bay leaf Salt
Touch of ground cumin
Touch of dried oregano

Directions: Put all the ingredients together in a frying pan and sauté slowly until all vegetables are soft. Taste and salt if necessary (maybe it’s not!)

Allioli is served together with the rice and it gives a very nice taste

Allioli (Traditional recipe) Cooking time: 20 min aprox.
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch of salt
Fresh lemon juice (some drops)
Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred but not essential)
Directions: Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt. Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.) Add the lemon juice to the garlic. Drop by drop; pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle. Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go. Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time—around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce. José's tips for traditional recipe: It's hard to think that, when you start crushing the garlic, it will ever turn into something as dense and smooth as allioli. But don't give up. It's worth the extra time and effort to see the oil and garlic come together before your eyes. Just make sure you're adding the olive oil slowly, drop by drop. Keep moving the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion and keep dreaming of the thick, creamy sauce at the end of it all.

Allioli a la moderna (Modern recipe) Cooking time: 3-4 minutes
1 small egg
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (as above, Spanish oil is highly recommended)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tbs. Spanish Sherry vinegar or lemon juice (if Sherry vinegar is not available, use can use cider or white vinegar)
Salt to taste
Directions: Break the egg into a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the garlic cloves, along with the vinegar or lemon juice. Using a hand blender, start mixing at high speed until the garlic is fully pureed into a loose paste. Little by little, add what's left of the olive oil as you continue blending. If the mixture appears too thick as you begin pouring the oil, add 1 teaspoon of water to loosen the sauce. Continue adding the oil and blending until you have a rich, creamy allioli. The sauce will be a lovely yellow color. Add salt to taste. José's tips for modern recipe: (1) If you do not have access to a hand blender, you can use a hand mixer (the kind with the two beaters) or a food processor. If you use a food processor, you must double the recipe or the amount will be too little for the blades to catch and emulsify. (2) What happens if the oil and egg separate? Don't throw it out. You can do two things. One is to whisk it and use it as a side sauce for a fish or vegetable. But if you want to rescue the allioli, take 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water in another beaker and start adding to the mix little by little. Blend it again until you create the creamy sauce you wanted.

Olga’s Tips: (1) In Spain, rice is not stired as often as it is when cooking Italian risotto. You must stir it once or twice maximum. This tip is valid for all Spanish rice dishes like paella, arròs negre, arròs a banda… (2) When cooking the alternative style you can change the cuttlefish or squid for diced potato. (3) If you can’t find cuttlefish or squid, or you’re not able to eat them because of allergies, you can try to substitute them for chicken or vegetables at your choice. (4) Sofregit can be done in advance. You can keep it in the fridge or even freeze it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Zucchini Salad for Hay Hay It's Donna Day

I have decided to jump into a new cooking group on the web: Hay Hay It's Donna Day. Regular readers would know that I am already cooking and posting Donna's recipes regularly (so a new group is not really much more incremental work), and I like the idea of a monthly challenge. I have had an ongoing love affair with Donna Hay's recipes for years. I have collected every issue of her food magazines (slightly obsessively embarrassing), plus have most of her cookbooks. She is so prolific that it is becoming a problem for me to house my collection of her work, let alone the other squillion cookbooks I seem to have amassed. So why do I hang onto her magazines when I am happy to ditch others? There are a few reasons:

- I find her recipes work (as long as you follow them) and they are generally pretty quick to pull together and never require a trolley of ingredients.
- the magazines are beautiful to look at, and the food is styled so wonderfully that it is a pleasure using them.
- there is an outstanding index to the magazines, which used to be in hard copy but is now on the web. This means that if I am looking for a particular recipe, I can track it down without literally thumbing years of accumulated magazines. Yay!

So on to Hay Hay It's Donna Day #27. Denise from Chez Us has stepped in to facilitate the event after it was started by Barbara at Winos and Foodies and then nurtured by Bron Marshall. This month's challenge was chosen by host Priya from Akshayapaatram, and she nominated summer salads, preferably vegetarian as her theme. So off I went to my large pile of Donna magazines and found this Witlof with Zucchini, Mint and Fetta Salad in the Dec/Jan 07 issue. It was really good - so good in fact that I am planning to make it again as soon as I can get to the supermarket to get more zucchini. I have never been a zucchini fan, I think because I started eating zucchini as part of ratatouille (squishy and a bit of an underperformer). Served like this - sliced thinly and chargrilled - zucchini is a star. Throw in some fetta and mint and toss it through some lettuce (sadly no witlof to be found), and it is completely delicious. The dressing is nothing more than some white wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper - all you need to show off this gorgeous produce.

Witlof With Zucchini, Mint and Fetta
from "Donna Hay Magazine" Dec/Jan 07
Serves 8, as a side dish

2 yellow zucchini, thinly sliced (I used a vegetable peeler for the slicing)
2 green zucchini, thinly sliced
1 tbl olive oil
150g fetta, chopped
1 cup mint leaves
1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1 tbl white wine vinegar
1 witlof (I used oakleaf lettuce)

Heat a char grill pan over medium heat. Toss the zucchin with 1 tbl olive oil, and sea salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Chargrill in batches for 1-2 mins or until golden and soft. Place zucchini, fetta, mint, extra oil and vinegar in a bowl ad toss gently to combine. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mango Banana Daiquiris So Kick Up Your Heels

It's party time for the Barefoot Bloggers group as Veronica from Supermarket Serenade has sent over a tray of daiquiris as her recipe selection this month. I must confess to having some experience drinking daiquiris but nearly none making them. When we were at university, a friend used to have regular daiquiri parties, firing up the blender, with fruit, ice and rum. Picture INXS in the CD player, acid wash jeans and new romantic hairdos. I wish I was kidding. On a usual night, the fruit would start to run out a long time before the alcohol, so the drinks would get stronger and stronger and stronger. Probably more information about my misspent youth than you wanted.

Now, with a decade or two more sense, daiquiris tend to be a holiday indulgence preferably drunk by a pool on a balmy afternoon. But now I have discovered that making them myself is too easy, I might be able to indulge a little more frequently. At this time of year, mangos are nowhere to be found, so I cheated and used tinned mango. The result was OK but not as sublime as fresh. We'll be re-testing this recipe at Xmas time when the sweetest mangos are sold by the case. I can't wait.

Mango Banana Daiquiris
from "The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics" by Ina Garten
serves 4

2 cups chopped ripe mango (1 to 2 mangos, peeled and seeded)
1 ripe banana, chopped
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
1/4 cup sugar syrup*
1 1/4 cups dark rum, such as Mount Gay
Mango slices, for serving

Place the mango, banana, lime juice, sugar syrup, and rum in a blender and process until smooth. Add 2 cups of ice and process again until smooth and thick. Serve ice-cold in highball glasses with the mango slices.

*To make simple syrup, heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Chill.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Strawberry Granita - Better Than Ice Cream

If you haven't tried them before, granitas are an icy treat, similar to sorbets or gelatos. They don't contain cream or milk, and are probably closer in texture to an icy frozen slushie than to ice cream. I have two reasons why these are fantastic for home cooks:
- as far as I can tell they are not available commercially. Occassionally they show up on a restaurant menu, but this is not something you will find at the supermarket or even the gourmet deli (ie if you want it you have to make it)
- it is really easy - no churning, no ice cream machine and only a couple of ingredients
I started making granitas last summer with grapes, initially just as a garnish for a Spanish cold almond soup. Since then the love affair has blossomed and I have experimented with a few different fruits, recently landing on strawberries. Queensland strawberries are in season at the moment, and, even better, the punnet price has halved in the last month or so. This recipe is from Karen Martini's "Cooking At Home". I am starting to think Martini should be nominated as a national treasure. This granita is a knock out, and perfect prepare ahead fare for entertaining. With the double cream, somehow the flavours in this dessert made me nostalgic for those strawberry and cream lollies, although I am quite sure they never tasted this good.
Strawberry Granita with Double Cream
from "Cooking At Home" by Karen Martini
130g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
350 ml water
handful basil leaves
400g strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 lemon, juiced
125 ml double cream
6 large strawberries extra, hulled and sliced
Combine sugar, vanilla bean and water over heat in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then boil for 5 mins. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl to cool. Strain, discarding the solids. Puree the strawberries and lemon juice in a blender then strain through a fine sieve. Add to the cooled syrup, mix well and pour into a shallow wide tray (my freezer wouldn't fit this, so I used a couple of plastic slice boxes). Freeze for 2 hours, remove from freezer and scrape the frozen ice crystals from the edges with a fork. Return to freezer for about 1 1/2 hours until set. Remove and scrape/smash the crystals again. Divide the cream among serving dishes, then spoon in granita. Top with a layer of sliced strawberries to serve.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Chinese Supper For Cook The Books

This month's choice for the Cook The Books Club is "The Last Chinese Chef" by Nicole Mones. "The Last Chinese Chef" introduces the reader to the intricacies of Chinese life and Chinese cuisine through the eyes of Maggie, the outsider journalist from the US, who is recovering from personal tragedy. Maggie arrives in China with two missions: to conduct an interview with chef Sam Liang and to resolve a paternity claim against her husband's estate. Her stay becomes an education (for the reader as well) as she follows Sam's preparations for a competition banquet held in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics. He shares with her thoughts on everything from achieving the right intensity of taste in a dish, to balancing the textures of a meal and even the importance of making allusions to history and literature (in particular poetry) with dishes. Sam's cooking is Chinese food at haute cuisine level - and, as he points out, it bears no resemblance to the western dishes like spring rolls, lemon chicken or sweet and sour pork that are the only Chinese dishes many people have tried.

I found myself completely swept away by this book, so much so that I somehow forgot that it was fiction on the way through. By the time I got to the end and read the author's notes, I was really sad to have these people (who had become so real to me) firmly sent back to the world of fiction. You see I wanted Maggie and Sam to fall in love, commit to each other and run the restaurant together. I wanted them to hire Gao Lan as a waitress and have Shuying as a permanent part of their lives. I wanted Sam to reach enormous professional heights and for his mother to come from the US and see all he had achieved, and for his father and he to discover a closeness as adults that they had never previously had. I even wanted to read the fictional reference materials, quoted in each chapter. Maybe even eat at their restaurant one day......

For me, the cultural reference points were particularly interesting. Some of my family are Chinese, although not from China, but there are clearly many similarities and connections (guanxi!). Certainly the Chinese concern with food and flavour and texture, rang true with me, as did the importance of restaurants in daily life. I felt that much of what Maggie learnt along the way, are also things that I have learnt. I also felt that the ongoing tension between western and eastern perspectives, as personified by Sam who straddles both, was very illustrative. I will certainly be handing this book on to family that I know will love it as much as I did.

So when it came to choosing a meal to cook inspired by this book, I had lots of thoughts on what I wanted to achieve:
- I wanted to illustrate "guanxi" or relationships and connectedness because I was cooking for my family.
- I decided to make the poached chicken that Sam makes for Maggie early in the book. When Sam made this chicken, he reached across the usual journalist / subject divide and paved the way for their friendship to develop, as well as setting her on the path to healing. Maggie says "It was as soft as velvet, chicken times three, shot through with ginger and the note of onion....I may never have tasted anything so good." I had to have a go at it!
- I wanted vegetable dishes to complement the chicken. I chose braised soya beans which were in Kylie Kwong's book "My China" as a Beijing dish, and are therefore hopefully true to the sort of thing that Sam would make. Soya beans are also symbolic of the continuance of society (more guanxi). The snowpea and garlic stir fry introduces the colour of jade to the table, while snowpeas are a Chinese symbol of unity, and garlic symbolizes luck and health.
- I wanted to make a reference to a Chinese fable, as many of the book's dinners referred metaphorically to literature as well, and so I chose the story of the Moon Lady, Chang Er. We ended the meal with ginger cookies in the shape of a moon with a little speck of candied ginger to represent Chang Er sitting on the moon.

While everything was good, I particularly enjoyed the chicken and will definitely use this technique to poach chicken in the future. It was so tender that I could have nearly carved with a chopstick, while the chilli, ginger and coriander dressing gave it a very powerful kick. The cookies were also good - not too gingery, just sweet and crisp with a slightly warm aftertaste. All in all, a great meal that capped off a wonderful story, and which was enjoyed by all of us. In the next few weeks, I will make another meal to take advantage of some of Nicole Mone's recipes - sadly I had already planned my dinner before I discovered that treasure trove.

White Cooked Chicken
from "Recipes and Stories" by Kylie Kwong

1.6 kg free range chicken
6 litres water
3 cups shao hsing wine
6 green shallots, trimmed
12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped ginger
4 tbls sea salt

Place all ingredients except chicken in a large stock pot, bring to the boil then simmer for 15 mins to infuse flavours.

Rinse chicken and cut away any excess fat. Lower chicken, breast side down into simmering stock ensuring it is fully submerged. Poach gently for exactly 14 mins (reduce the temperature so that there is nothing more than the occassional ripple breaking the surface). Remove pot immediately from stove and allow chicken to steep in stock for 3 hours at room temperature.

Gently remove chicken from stock, being careful not to tear breast skin (I lifted it out with y hands). Place chicken on a tray to drain and cool. Cut the chicken chinese style (bone in with a cleaver). Serve drizzled with soy chilli and coriander dressing below.

Soy Chilli Dressing
1/4 cup mushroom soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 finely julienned large red chilli
1 tbl ginger julienne
1/2 tsp white sugar
2 1/2 tsps peanut oil
1/3 cup corander sprigs
Pinch of szechuan pepper

In a bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, chilli, ginger and sugar. Drizzle over chicken. In a small pot heat peanut oil to smoking point then pour over the chicken. Garnish with coriander and pepper.

Red Braised Soy Beans with Star Anise and Vinegar
from "My China" by Kylie Kwong

1 cup dried soy beans
1/2 cup shao hsing wine
5 cm pice of ginger peeled and finely sliced
1 spring onion trimmed and cut into 5 cm lengths
3 star anise
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup water
2 tbls brown rice vinegar

Soak beans overnight in cold water, then rinse and tip into a heavy based saucepan. Cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil then simmer, adding more water as necessary, for 1-1 1/2 hours or until tender. Drain and set aside.

Sauce: Place shao hsing wine, ginger, star anise and spring onion in a wok. bring to the boil and simmer for 2 mins. Add suagr, soy sauce and sesame oil and simmer for a further minute. Add chickpeas and water and simmer briskly for 10 mins. Stir in vinegar and serve.

Stirfried Snow Peas With Garlic
from "Recipes and Stories" by Kylie Kwong

2 tbl vegetable oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
250g snow peas
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 garlic clove finely diced
1/4 tsp white sugar
1/2 cup chicken stock (I used the stock from poaching the chicken)
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Heat vegetable oil in a hot wok until it shimmers. Add salt and snow peas and stir fry for two minutes. Add garlic and stir fry for 1 min. Add sugar and stir fry for 10 secs. Pour in stock and sim mer for 2 mins or until snow peas are tender. Lastly add sesame oil and serve immediately.

Ginger Moons
from "China Moon Cookbook" by Barbara Tropp

125g cold unsalted butter chopped
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbl minced fresh ginger
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbl plain flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup finely diced crystallized ginger

Cream butter and sugar for about 3 mins until smooth. Add both gingers, vanilla, flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until the dough just comes together. Turn out the dough, gather into a ball and flatten slightly.

Dust some parchment paper on a tray with some flour. Place the dough in the centre and roll out to an even thickness of about 2-3 mm. Cover and refrigerate the dough until firm (abt 1 hour). Preheat the oven to 175C, and line baking sheets with parchment. Using a cookie cutter, cut crescent moons, and place 1 cm apart on baking sheets. Press a pie of ginger near the tapered end of each biscuit. Bake until the biscuits are golden, 10-12 mins. Cool on wire racks.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lemon, Garlic, Chilli and Anchovy Pasta with Crisp Breadcrumbs

If chocolate cakes are the sort of recipes that everyone loves reading about, then this is probably the reverse. All the carb haters will ignore it because it features pasta and breadcrumbs. The anchovy-phobics won't go near it because it contains a generous dose of what one friend refers to as the "devil fish". And I know that there are legions of people who won't even look at anything marked chilli. They probably had a traumatic childhood experience where someone convinced them to swallow a birds eye chilli whole and have never recovered. (Or is that only my circle of friends?)

If you're still with me, this is a fantastic dinner, especially for those nights when you want something tasty without too much time or effort or planning. Everything you need is probably already in your cupboard. This is a meal that is big on flavour and big on texture thanks to the softness of the pasta and the crunch of the crumbs. Just the thing for curling up on the couch for a night in front of whatever boxed DVDs you are working your way through. The recipe comes from an old Donna Hay Magazine (March / April 2006). I have been thumbing through some old Donna Hays because the web cooking event Hay Hay Its Donna Day is back. Check back in later in the week for my entry in this month's challenge of a summer salad.
Lemon, Garlic and Anchovy Pasta with Crispy Breadcrumbs
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine March / April 2006
serves 2
200g spaghetti
10g butter
1 tbl olive oil + 1 tbl extra
4 anchovy fillets finely chopped
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and return to saucepan.
Meanwhile, put butter, 1 tbl olive oil, anchovies, chilli and garlic and cook for 1-2 mins, until anchovies are starting to melt. Add breadcrumbs and parsley and continue to cook for another 3-4 mins or until breadcrumbs are crisp and golden.
Add lemon juice, parmesan and extra oil to pasta, and toss. Twirl the pasta into serving bowls and top with the crumb mixture.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Brown Sugar Biscuits - Yum

With a couple of dinner parties to attend, it was time to get baking, and make something delicious for the lovely hostessi (do you like my latin plural of hostess?). I am quite taken with baking gifts for friends at the moment, partly because it gives me extra sweet things to write about here. And let's be honest, a batch of biscuits (cookies to some of you) takes half an hour to make, so its easier than ducking out to the shops for a bunch of flowers. This recipe for brown sugar biscuits caught my eye because, brace yourselves, THEY KEEP FOR THREE WEEKS. There is nothing worse than creaming butter and sugar and doing everything else to make the perfect biscuit and then have your beautiful creation taste much less delicious than it should because it has gone stale in half a day. Grrrrrr. These beauties would never do that to you.

And as for taste? They have a similar flavour to a pecan pie with the combination of the pecan and the dark brown sugar. They are really crunchy (maybe not the best choice for someone with teeth problems) and are scrumptious dunked in a hot cup of coffee or tea. They even look perfect. I will make these again and again and again. Just don't tell my friends how easy they are.

The recipe comes from "From Market To Table" by Joan Campbell and Barry McDonald. Coincidentally, this was the book that supplied my first post just over a year ago. Since August is my blog's birthday month, I am giving away a food magazine subscription. If you haven't already entered send me an email or leave me a comment with a suggestion for what you would make for a milestone birthday.

Brown Sugar Biscuits
from "From Market To Table" by Joan Campbell and Barry McDonald
125g butter softened
250g dark brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain flour
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
pecan halves to decorate
Preheat oven to 185C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Beat butter and brown sugar together until they are light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, and beat into the creamed butter mixture until just combined.
Roll teaspoonfuls of mixture on a lightly floured surface, then place on the oven trays, leaving about 5 or 6cms between each. Press a pecan onto the top of each ball, flattening it a little. Bake for 15 mins or until golden. Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight container up to three weeks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Salmon Kibbeh

A few months ago, I was in a bookshop browsing when a couple of women wandered in and started chatting about cookbooks. I am never one to shy away from a good bit of eavesdropping, especially when I might learn something, so I continued my (apparent) browsing, while listening in hard to what they were talking about. Karen Martini. How good her cookbooks are. How everything I have made out of this one (couldn't look to see which one) has been an absolute winner. How this pasta was so good. How my husband loves this dessert. On and on and on. As soon as the women moved on, I casually wandered over to the bookshelves and started thumbing through the Karen Martini books, trying to figure out which to buy. Eventually I decided on "Cooking At Home", bought it and then got distracted and it sat unused for a month or two.

Then last week, when I was having an "oh @#$% what in the hell will I make for lunch for 11 people?" moment, something prompted me to pull back out the sadly neglected Karen Martini book. I spotted a recipe I recognised from the stonesoup blog, Kibbeh-style ocean trout. And it was, in my opinion at least, sensational - no reflection on my cooking skills - it is served raw. Definitely unusual, but deliciously flavoured, easy to put together and needs to be prepared a couple of hours in advance. In other words it has every element for a perfect starter for a lunch or dinner party. Kibbeh is usually a meat and burghul dish, from the middle east, but it really works well with the raw fish instead. Karen Martini suggests that this may be the dish to tempt people who are nervous about eating raw fish as it is so more-ish. I think she might be right.

Kibbeh Style Ocean Trout
from "Cooking At Home" by Karen Martini

400g ocean trout, skin and bones removed and pulsed in a food processor to a medium fine paste
2 golden shallots finely chopped
150g coarse burghul, soaked in 185 ml hot water for 10 mins then squeezed to get out any excess water
3 tsps sumac
3 pinches allspice
1/2 clove garlic finely chopped
1 1/2 tsps salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper
1 large green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 large red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
3tbl extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Chill a large ceramic or glass plate, then mix trout paste, shallots, burghul, spices, garlic, salt and pepper, chillies, lemon zest and juice, and oil until just combined. Press the mixture onto the chilled serving platter and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve with finely chopped pickled vegetables and mint scattered on top and toasted lebanese bread to spread with the kibbeh.