Friday, April 29, 2011

more cheesy goodness

I think I heard somewhere that cheese helps protect against Ebola.  I take my health and fitness very seriously, so I made this for dinner a couple of weeks ago.

You could make a green salad to go with it if you want to, but it totally rocks with fat, hot chips on the side.  Totally.

Aubergines Parmigiana
(from Roden, C. Foolproof Mediterranean Cookery BBC 2003)

Serves 4

3 medium aubergines (eggplants), approximately 675g, cut crossways into 1cm thick slices
vegetable oil or olive oil for brushing
1-2 balls mozzarella cheese, diced (I used 250g or so)
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

for the tomato sauce:
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
550g ripe plum tomatoes, skinned or finely chopped (I substituted tinned tomatoes)
1 tsp sugar
a few springs of basil or mint, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180ºC.

To make the tomato sauce, fry the garlic in the oil for a few second, until the aroma rises.  Add tomatoes, sugar and a little salt and pepper.  Cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened, then stir in the herbs.

Arrange the aubergine slices on a large piece of foil on a baking sheet.  Brush them with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Cook the aubergines under a hot grill, turning once, until lightly browned.  They will cook further in the oven, so don't need to be completely soft.

Arrange the aubergine slices in a 35cm ovenproof dish, cover with the tomato sauce and sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top.  Bake for about 40 minutes, until lightly browned.  Serve hot.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

a load of old cobblers

I love the tiny little book this recipe came from.  At last, somebody recognised the importance of having tasty dessert recipes close to hand at all times, and published this handy pocket-sized book.  It has replaced my wallet in the back pocket of my jeans.

Blackberry and Nectarine Cobbler
(from Pemberton, S. The Pocket Cakes and Puddings Cookbook Penguin 2000)

Serves 6

500g fresh nectarines, stones removed
100g fresh or frozen blackberries
50g soft brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

scone topping:
2 cups plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
125g butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup very cold milk
1 tbsp melted butter, mixed with
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200ºC.  Lightly grease an ovenproof dish.

Place nectarines and blackberries into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the sugar, lemon zest and juice.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.  Add the butter and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk, mixing to form a soft dough.  Knead lightly and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm.  Use a scone cutter or glass to cut enough rounds to completely cover the fruit (I was too lazy to do this, so used my hands to make vaguely round lumps).

Brush with the melted butter and cinnamon, then bake for 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 180ºC and bake for a further 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Cool a little before serving with ice-cream or custard.

the circularity of eggs

This recipe comes from Molly Wizenberg's book.  Molly is a blogger who wrote a book based on her blog, and now I have taken her recipe from her book and put it back into the blogosphere, and hopefully now I will get a book deal and I'll include this recipe and then some other blogger will put it on their blog.

But maybe they'll make little changes, like I did.  I added the dill, because I think dill makes scrambled eggs extraordinary.

Not that extraordinary, obviously.  At the end of the day, eggs are still just eggs.

Italian Grotto Eggs
(modified slightly from Wizenberg, M. A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table Simon & Schuster 2010)

Serves 2

1 tbsp butter
5 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt (you can omit this if your cheese is salty enough)
1 tbsp heavy cream
3 tbsp fresh goat cheese or fetta, crumbled
1 tsp fresh dill, chopped
freshly ground black pepper, for serving

Melt butter in a medium non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.

Crack eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork.  Add the salt, dill and cream and beat to blend.

When the pan is hot, pour in the eggs and swirl to coat.  Reduce heat to low, and using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the eggs gently, scraping the spatula along the bottom of the pan, until they are loosely set in large, pillowy curds.  They should be slightly runnier than you want them.

Remove from heat and scatter the cheese over the eggs.  Give them one more gentle stir to melt and distribute the cheese.

Serve immediately with salt and black pepper to taste, and, if you like, slices of buttered toast.

Friday, April 22, 2011

no bun intended

Every year I promise I will make hot cross buns on Good Friday, but most years I just end up buying slightly stale discounted buns from the supermarket the following day.

I am very proud of myself for actually making the effort today.

These were delicious.  Keen to observe the true spirit of Easter, I stuffed myself silly with them.

Hot Cross Buns
(from White Lennon, B. Best of Irish Home Baking O’Brien 2003)

Makes 12

for the buns:
4 cups unsifted strong white flour
7g instant yeast
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice/allspice
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup raisins (my addition)
1 tbsp mixed peel (optional)
1 medium-sized egg, beaten
250ml milk

for the crosses:
2 tbsp butter
45g flour
a little cold water

Mix the flour, yeast, salt, spices and dried fruit together.  Add the egg and enough milk to make a soft dough (you may need more or less liquid).  Knead the dough until really smooth to the touch and elastic in texture (about 10 minutes by hand, or 7 with an electric mixer).  Divide dough into 12 pieces and shape into round buns.  Place on a well-greased baking tray (or a floured pizza stone) leaving enough room for each bun to expand.  Cover and prove in a warm place until they have risen and reached twice their original size.

Make the dough for the crosses by rubbing softened butter into flour and wetting with just enough water to make a soft dough.  Roll out thinly and cut into narrow strips.  Wet the underside of each strip and palce two strips on each bun in the shape of a cross.  Bake at 200ºC for 25-30 minutes.  They are ready when well-risen and brown, and when the bottom of a bun is tapped, sounds hollow.

Serve freshly cooked with butter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

no birds

The world is full of strange instructions to protect stupid people from themselves.  Warnings that, ironically, are seemingly targeted at people who are probably too dumb to read.

You know the kind: BE CAREFUL!!!  This hot apple pie contains hot apple!

Or: CAUTION!!! This blisteringly hot cup of coffee contains hot coffee!

And the very sensible:  Do not stick fingers in bowl while blades are running!

Recognising that many people are lost causes, some warnings are instead intended to protect the hapless pets of morons:  Do NOT dry your hamster in the microwave!  Do NOT let your cat operate this toaster!  Do NOT stick this spaghetti server in your dog's eye! Do NOT remove your horse's stitches with this electric can-opener!  These poultry shears are for cutting deceased chickens only!

And these warnings cause much hilarity, and I read them with great pride in my own intellectual superiority, wondering what kind of idiot finds these warnings necessary.

Until the other day.

I had bought a new frying pan, and because I had other things I really should have been doing, I took half an hour to read the care instructions and terms of the guarantee.

Following the entreaties not to use harsh scourers, or melt the handle under a hot grill, was a strange little warning I didn't quite understand.  It had the look and smell of one of those Warnings For Silly People, but it wasn't something that leapt out as me as bleeding obvious, and I wondered if perhaps I had myself become a Silly Person, and it was something that all normal people instinctively knew.

I couldn't understand why, and I started to panic. I wondered if the next step was to wake up in the emergency room with scaldingly hot apple stuck to my precious face.  

But when I thought about it a bit harder, I realised there are lots of good reasons not to keep birds in the kitchen.

So I went back to being smug about being more sensible than the people for whom warnings are intended, and I made this omelette in my new pan.

Spanish Potato Omelette
(from Luard, E . The La Ina Book of Tapas: classic small dishes from Spain Martin Books 1989)

Serves 4, or makes 20-24 bite-sized cubes

750g potatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
1 thick slice of Spanish onion, chopped finely
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Peel and cut the potatoes into thin slices or fat french fries (or cubes, like I did).

Put the oil to heat in a small omelette pan.  Fry the potatoes and the onion gently in the oil.  Cook the potatoes until they are quite soft, but have not taken colour.

Transfer the potatoes and onion to a sieve placed over a bowl to catch the oil as it drains.

Beat the eggs lightly with the salt.  Add the drained potatoes.  Pour most of the oil out of the pan, leaving only a tablespoon or so.  Return the pan to the heat and tip in the egg-potato mixture.  The heat should be low or the base will burn before the eggs are ready.  With a spatula, push the potato down into the eggs so that it is all submerged.

As the omelette cooks, neaten the sides with a metal spatula to build up a deep, straight edge.  When it looks firm, slide it out on to a plate, then invert it back into the pan to cook the other side.  A little more oil in the pan might be necessary.

Don't overcook the omelette - the centre should remain juicy.  When it feels lightly set and firm, remove it and drain well on kitchen paper.

Serve warm or cold, cut into bite-sized pieces, or larger pieces if serving as a meal.

I made these mushrooms as a starter before the omelette.  But they were made in an old pan, so I'm not excited about them.

Chilli Garlic Mushrooms
(from Australian Women's Weekly: Tapas, Antipasto, Mezze ACP Publishing 2001)

Serves 6

1/3 cup olive oil
50g butter
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red thai chilli, chopped finely
1kg button mushrooms, or larger mushrooms cut into chunks
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil and butter in a large frying pan.   Cook garlic, chilli and mushrooms, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms tender.

Add remaining ingredients.  Serve immediately

Sunday, April 17, 2011

a curry, just like the kind I don't remember

This curry is a lot milder than I would usually make it, but it was nice to try it for a change.  It was a lovely, warm, comforting dinner.

I'd like to say it reminded me of dinner with my family on a gloomy Autumn evening, where we'd warm ourselves with steaming bowls of spicy goodness, and entertain ourselves until bedtime with stories and memories from trips to the beach, but it doesn't.

Now, if you gave me some fish fingers, a block of Old Jamaica rum'n'raisin, and argued with me about some ridiculous point of grammar, well, that would bring back some memories.

A Mildly Spiced Supper of Cauliflower and Potatoes
(from Slater, N. Tender: volume I Fourth Estate 2009)

Serves 4

3 large onions
vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
thumb-sized lump ginger
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
3 medium tomatoes
600ml water
3 medium potatoes
1 large cauliflower
a good handful of unroasted cashew nuts
6 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp garam masala
150-200ml creme fraiche (I used sour cream)
small bunch of coriander

Peel the onions, chop one of them roughly, then let it soften with a tablespoon or two of oil in a deep pan over a moderate heat.  Halve and thinly slice the others and set aside.  Peel the garlic cloves, slice them thinly then stir into the softening onion.  Continue cooking, without browning either the onion or garlic.  Peel the ginger, cut it into fine matchsticks, then add to the onion and garlic.

Stir the ground coriander, cumin, cayenne and turmeric into the onion.  Let them fry for a minute or two, then roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan.  Add the water and bring to the boil.  Season with salt and a generous grinding of black pepper.  Cut the potatoes into large pieces (as if for boiling) and add them to the pan.  Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 15 minutes before breaking the cauliflower into large florets (about 40g each) and adding to the sauce.  Quickly toast the cashew nuts in a small, non-stick frying pan until golden.  Tip them into the pot, cover with a lid and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the reserved onions in a little oil in a shallow pan till deep nutty gold.  Whilst they are cooking, crack the cardamom pods, scrape out the seeds, crush lightly and add to the onions.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes or so, then, when all is gold and fragrant, remove and place on kitchen paper.

When the cauliflower and potatoes are tender to the point of a knife, stir in the garam masala and the creme fraiche.  Simmer for a minute, then serve topped with the reserved cardamom onions and the roughly chopped or torn coriander leaves.

puddin' on the ritz

According to the nutritional information provided for these little puddings, each contains 413 calories.

We didn't think this was enough, so served them with double cream.  Much better.

Individual Self-Saucing Chocolate Puddings
(from Family Circle: Fast Desserts Murdoch Books 2000)

Serves 4

3/4 cup self-raising flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
60g butter, melted
1/3 cup soft brown sugar
3 tsp cocoa powder, extra
icing sugar, to dust

Preheat oven to 180ºC.  Lightly grease four 3/4 cup ramekins.

Sift the flour and cocoa into a small bowl and add the caster sugar.  Stir in the combined egg, milk and butter and mix together.

Spoon the mixture into the ramekins and sprinkle with the combined brown sugar and extra cocoa powder.  Carefully pour 1/4 cup boiling water over each pudding and place on a baking tray.  Bake the puddings for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the middle.  Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

gnocching on heaven's door

I've never had much luck with pumpkin gnocchi.  The dough always ends up as a sloppy goop that is impossible to form into balls, so I add more flour, and they become chewy little orange nuggets of failure.

This time, I thought I would heed Kurma's advice and not succumb to the temptation to add more flour.  The result was a sloppy goop that was impossible to form into balls.  My gnocchi barely maintained any structural integrity through the cooking process, and although I was aiming for magnificent pillows of firm, sweet pumpkin goodness, what I ended up with was something more like soup with personality.

This would be an excellent dish to serve to friends and relatives who don't have any teeth.

Gnocchi di Zucca (pumpkin gnocchi)
(from Dasa, K. Cooking with Kurma: more great vegetarian dishes Chakra Press 1998)

Serves 4-6

for the gnocchi:
800g pumpkin, weighed after peeling and deseeding
200g plain unbleached plain flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

for the sage butter:
50g melted butter
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
5 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Wrap the pumpkin in foil and bake it in a hot oven for about 1 hour, or until very tender.  Remove and mash thoroughly.

Set a large saucepan of salted water over full heat, and bring it to the boil.

Melt the butter in  another, smaller saucepan.  Remove it from the heat and mix in the chopped sage.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the mashed pumpkin with the flour, salt and pepper.  Work the mixture into a paste.  It will be a little sticky, but do not add more flour.  Form the paste into 40 balls, and divide them between 2 plates.  Take 1 plate of the balls to the boiling water.  Dip the prongs of a fork in the water and press into a ball.  It will flatten and be marked with ridges.  Repeat for all the balls, dipping the fork back into the water between dumplings.  When you've completed pressing the dumplings, transfer half the plate of dumplings, one at a time, with the fork, into the water.  They will probably stick to the fork, so submerge the dumpling and the end of the fork momentarily in the water and the dumpling will slide off.

The dumplings will sink, then gradually float to the surface.  Make sure the water stays boiling.  When the last dumpling has fully risen to the surface, allow them to cook for another 2 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain.

Repeat this process until all dumplings cooked.  Serve hot, drizzled with the warmed, herbed butter and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.  Alternatively, serve with a tomato sauce.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

good news and bad news

The good news: this post contains THREE recipes!

The bad news: they are all from new cookbooks that hadn't been added to my list until today.

The badder news: there are another four new cookbooks in addition to those three.

But at least some of those are very beautiful.

I really need to ban a certain someone from going to book fairs.

The first recipe comes from a genuinely lovely cookbook - the gorgeous Plenty.  I know it's technically autumn, but Canberra has surprised us with some icy winter weather this week, so this recipe was an excellent choice.

And it has such beautiful ingredients.

The Ultimate Winter Couscous
(from Ottolenghi, Y. Plenty Chronicle Books 2010)

Serves 4

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
8 shallots, peeled
2 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
3 bay leaves
5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground turmeric (I added a little more)
1/4 tsp hot paprika
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
2 1/2 cups cubed pumpkin
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups chickpea cooking liquid, or water, if using tinned chickpeas
1 cup couscous
large pinch saffron
1 cup boiling vegetable stock
3 tbsp butter, broken into pieces
2 tbsp harissa
30g preserved lemon, finely chopped (I omitted this)
fresh coriander (cilantro) to garnish

Preheat oven to 190ºC.  Place carrots, parsnips and shallots in a large ovenproof dish.  Add the cinnamon sticks, start anise, bay leaves, 4 tablespoons of the oil, 3/4 tsp salt and all the other spices and mix well.  Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the pumpkin, stir and return to oven.  Continue cooking for about 35 minutes, by which time the vegetables should have softened whilst retaining bite.  Now add the dried apricots and the chickpeas with their water or cooking liquid.  Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes, until hot.

About 15 minutes before the vegetables are ready, put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the saffron and half a teaspoon of salt (nb. if your stock is salty, you may wish to reduce or omit extra salt).  Pour the boiling stock over the couscous.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for about 10 minutes.  Then add the butter and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter melts in.  Cover again and leave somewhere warm.

To serve, spoon the couscous into a deep plate or bowl.  Stir the harissa and preserved lemon into the vegetables, taste and add salt if needed.  Spoon the vegetables onto the centre of the couscous and finish with plenty of coriander leaves.

This recipe was selected as a way of using up a bag of quinoa that had been sitting in the pantry for months.  We were very excited when it came home with us, but neither of us were quite sure what to do with it once it was there.  A bit like being followed home by a tapir.

This recipe was strange looking.  Also like a tapir.

And delicious.  And that's where the analogy falls over.

Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to use this eggplant.  I didn't need an eggplant, but when I saw this at the market, how could I not buy it?

Quinoa-Vegetable Jambalaya
(from Vegetarian Times: vegetarian entertaining Macmillan 1996)

Serves 4

1 1/4 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups hot water
1 tbsp canola oil
1 green capsicum, seeded and diced (I only had a red one)
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced into 1cm slices
2 cups diced eggplant
12 button mushrooms, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced (I omitted this)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 x 400g tins diced tomatoes
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
hot pepper sauce, to taste

Combine the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and cover.  Cook over low heat until all the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil.  Add the capsicum, onion, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, celery and garlic.  Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in remaining ingredients except quinoa, and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When ready to serve, fold in the cooked quinoa and cook for 5 minutes more over low heat, stirring frequently.  Serve with hot pepper sauce at the table.

These pancakes are more effort to make than my usual ones, but they were absolutely worth the effort.

The original recipe has a choice of blueberries or bananas and walnuts added to the batter, but we ate them plain, with maple syrup.  I have omitted the extras here.  If you do want to add fruit, sprinkle it over the batter once you've put it in the pan - do not mix it through the batter in the bowl, as it will get damaged.

Neil's Pancakes

(modified from Lahman, D. & Kleinberg, N. Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook Little, Brown and Company 2010)

Makes 18-20 small pancakes

4 cups plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder, plus 1 tsp
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
6 large eggs, separated
3 cups full-cream milk
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for frying
1 tsp vanilla extract

Measure and sift all dry ingredients into a large (preferably stainless steel) mixing bowl: flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, melted butter and vanilla until combined.  Whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture.  The result should be slightly lumpy, yet combined to form a batter.

Whip the egg whites in a medium mixing bowl until they reach medium peaks.  Take care not to over-whip.

Gently mix half the whipped whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula.  Then fold the remaining half into the batter.  Remember: this batter should be slightly lumpy and have large parts of egg whites not fully incorporated.

Heat a frying pan, and grease with butter.  When hot, drop about 4 tbsp, or 1/4 cup, batter on pan and cook to set.  When you see bubbles start to form, lift the pancake halfway up to see if it's golden brown and crispy on the edges.  If ready, flip the pancake.

When golden brown on both sides, remove with a spatula and eat hot.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the best competition on the interwebs

It's that time of the year again.

Time for me to shake the spiders out of my runners, air out my good tracksuit pants, and start motivating Ellen to put down her bone and take her training to the next level, to give it 110% and to be pumped to the extreme max.

Actually, Ellen doesn't need a lot of encouragement to go walkies, especially when it's in the company of hundreds of other dogs. And there are wading pools! And dog biscuits! And children holding ice-cream cones at a convenient height!

Yes, on May 15th Ellen and I will be participating in our second Million Paws Walk, and like last year, we hope to raise money for the RSPCA.  We won't get a say on what they do with the money, but Ellen and I both agree we would like it to be spent on wombat actors for their adorable TV ads.

If you followed my old blog, you may recall I ran a competition when we did our first walk.  I offered to make a pair of dog, or other animal-themed silver earrings for one of the people who sponsored Ellen.  The winner was drawn randomly by Ellen using the ancient "Dangling Meatballs" technique.  You can  read the background here, and this is last year's prize draw:

The winner, Bosca, asked for dachshunds:

This year I am offering the same prize, but this time the winner can choose earrings or a pendant, shaped like any animal they fancy.   It's very exciting!

If you would like to support this great cause, you can donate here, or via the snazzy widget on the sidebar of this blog.  Thank you!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

not another curry recipe

This recipe makes more cookies than even the Fella and I can comfortably eat.  Fortunately, the dough freezes very well, and is an excellent standby to have in the freezer for when you're sad/happy/cranky/emotional/philosophical/ seditious/stabby/nostalgic for childhood whimsy, or in any other way in need of cookies.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(from Torey, A. & Appel, J. The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook Simon & Schuster 2009)

Makes 24-36 cookies

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarb)
1/2 tsp salt
160g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate pieces

Preheat oven to 190ºC.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until smooth, about 3 minutes (or quicker if using an electric mixer).  Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.  Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, or sheets lined with baking paper, leaving lots of space between to allow for spreading.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.  Cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

masaman of human kindness

This curry is a brown curry.  I mean, it's really brown.  It's brown in the way that 70s casseroles, academics' suits and the chunks'n'gravy styles of dog food are brown.

But in spite of its inescapable brownness, it was absolutely delicious.

The original recipe suggests using beef or chicken, but it works beautifully as a vegetarian dish.  I don't think you can have a masaman curry without potatoes.  I also fried up some Lebanese eggplants, because I'd just picked them from the garden, but you could add any vegetables you wanted.

Well, maybe not any vegetables.  You'd be daft to put an artichoke in there.

Masaman Curry
(modified from Solomon, C. The Complete Asian Cookbook Landsdowne 1988)

For the curry paste (makes one quantity):
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tbsp ground coriander powder
1 tsp cumin or ground fennel
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground mace
2 tbsp oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

Heat oil in a frying pan, and cook onions and garlic over low heat until soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Dry roast ground coriander and fennel or cumin over low heat until they turn a rich brown and are aromatic.  Set aside.

Add lemon rind to onion garlic mixture, and crush to a paste in a mortar and pestle or electric grinder.  Turn into a bowl and combine with the dry ground spices.

For the curry:
2 lebanese eggplants, sliced
2 tbsp oil
2 medium sized potatoes, cut into 3cm cubes
2 x 400ml tins coconut milk (I used light)
1 cup roasted peanuts
15 cardamom pods
1 x 5cm stick cinnamon
1 tsp soy sauce
1 quantity masaman curry paste (see above)
1 tsp tamarind concentrate
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1-2 tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and fry the eggplant until starting to brown.

Add potatoes, coconut milk, peanuts, cardamom pods, cinnamon and soy sauce.  Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low, and cook until potatoes are tender (about 20 minutes).  Do not cover.

When the potatoes are tender, stir in the curry paste, tamarind concentrate, lemon juice and sugar.  Allow a few minutes to thicken if necessary, otherwise serve immediately with jasmine rice.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

life of pie

If I was asked to nominate a sacred text, a book that would provide me with spiritual nourishment and guide me through life's darker challenges, I would choose this one.

I think if everyone embraced the fundamental message of Pie Every Day, the world would be a much brighter place.

Cromwell's Squash Tart
(from Willard, P. Pie Every Day Algonquin Books 1998)

Serves 6-8

Single savoury tart crust, partially baked (recipe follows)
2 leeks
2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups cubed pumpkin, steamed
100g goat's cheese, crumbled
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fresh parsley

Prepare the tart crust.

Preheat oven to 190ºC.

Quarter the leeks and wash well, then slice thinly.  Melt the butter in a medium sized frying pan.  Add leeks and saute until tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Beat eggs in a large bowl with the cream and milk, then add the steamed pumpkin and mix well.  Stir in the leeks, cheese and herbs (I used a very soft goat's cheese, so I dotted it on top of the tart once assembled so it didn't disintegrate during mixing). Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the batter into the tart shell and bake in the centre of the oven until the centre of the tart is firm, about 45-50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

Savoury Tart Crust
(from Willard, P. Pie Every Day Algonquin Books 1998)

Enough for 1 big tart (no clever comments, thanks)

1 1/2 cups sifted plain flour, chilled
165g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp iced water

In a food processor, process the flour, butter and salt until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

With the motor running, pour 2 tbsp of the water through the feed tube and process until the dough just holds together.  Add more water if required.

Form into a flat disc and wrap in cling film.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and press into the pie dish you want to use, removing any excess and crimping edges, if desired (I always find my pastry shrinks quite a bit, so I tend to leave the sides fairly high).

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to pre-bake, line with foil and fill with weights or dry beans. (Don't use wet beans.  That would be silly.)

Place in the centre of a 180ºC preheated oven for 15 minutes.  

Remove weights and proceed according to tart recipe above.

pimp my beans

Often I find a recipe that looks fantastic, but sometimes it's difficult to decide how to serve it.

This white bean puree is suggested as a spread, but I thought it would be a delicious complement to the flavours of mushrooms and onions.  So here is the rather convoluted meal I made up as a vehicle for the puree.

As usual, I have made some modifications: tinned cannellini beans were used in place of the suggested dried beans - and all the effort they entail - and the original recipe calls for only one tablespoon of tomato paste.  I think a quarter of a cup makes the puree a much nicer colour, and adds a bit of punch to offset the softer flavours of the mushrooms and caramelised onions.

Mushroom Galette with Caramelised Onions on a Bed of White Bean Puree and Wilted Baby Spinach
(white bean puree recipe adapted from Alexander, S. & Beer, M. Tuscan Cookbook Viking 1998.  The rest is mine.)

For the white bean puree:

400g tin cannellini beans, drained
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp freshly chopped garlic
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup hot stock
juice of half a lemon
freshly ground black pepper

Puree the beans.

Saute the garlic and rosemary in a little olive oil.  Add the puree and tomato paste and mix well.  Pour in the hot stock and stir over heat until thoroughly absorbed.  The puree should now be smooth, thick and shiny.  Add extra oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm with the following galette, or serve on thick slices of white bread.  Keeps well, refrigerated, for several days.

For the galette:

(Serves 4)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (I perversely used reduced-fat)
6 medium-sized button mushrooms, or 2-3 large field mushrooms
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp dried, or 1 tsp fresh, chopped oregano
extra virgin olive oil
1 brown onion
1 red onion
2-3 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 210ºC.

Cut the sheet of puff pastry into quarters.  With a sharp knife, carefully score a border about 1cm in from the edge of each one.  Do not cut all the way through.

Slice the mushrooms thinly and arrange inside the scored border of each pastry square so they are slightly overlapping.

Mix the crushed garlic and chopped oregano in a bowl with enough olive oil to make a sloppy paste.  Spoon this mixture evenly over the top of the mushrooms.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden.

Meanwhile, slice the onions finely and cook over low-medium heat in 2-3 tbsp olive oil until caramelised (or at least until soft and starting to colour, if you are impatient).

To assemble:

Wilt 100g of baby spinach in a hot pan with a teaspoon of water.  Arrange artistically on a plate.  Spoon warm white bean puree over the spinach, then place a mushroom galette on top.  Finish off with a generous spoon of caramelised onions.


Friday, April 1, 2011

when hippies attack lasagna

I'm usually a traditionalist when it comes to lasagna - that is, I've always believed that lasagna sheets are to be used as structural supports for cheese - so I was bit uncertain about the addition of kidney beans to this recipe.

I need not have worried.  It is delicious and hearty, and still has a comforting amount of saturated fat.

(modified slightly from Buchman Ewald, E. Recipes for a Small Planet Ballantine Books 1992)

Serves 8

250g lasagna sheets (instant or fresh, prepared according to directions)
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce, canned tomatoes or thinned paste
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tsp salt
300-400g sliced mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil
1 x 400g tin kidney beans, drained
400g mozzarella, thinly sliced
2 cups ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft and transparent, but not browned.  Stir in  tomato, oregano, basil, parsley and salt.  Cook sauce for about 30 minutes, simmering and stirring often until it has thickened.  Stir in the sauteed mushrooms and the kidney beans.

To assemble the lasagna: place a thin layer of the tomato sauce, followed by lasagna sheets on the bottom of a baking dish.  Cover with another layer of tomato sauce, then add a layer of ricotta, then a layer of mozzarella, then a third of the Parmesan cheese.  Repeat these layers twice more, ending with Parmesan. (You can vary these layers to suit.  I prefer to have more pasta, so I separated the tomato sauce from the cheeses with an extra layer of lasagna sheets.  You can do what you want, as long as you end up with cheese on top.)

Bake the lasagna in a preheated 180ºC oven for 30 minutes, or until lasagna sheets are soft and cheese is brown.

thrifty like a fox

If I see something in the supermarket that is reduced to clear, I have to have it.  Often these bargains are bulk packages of things that the rest of the buying public have reasonably eschewed on the basis of, oh I don't know, maybe not needing a sack of dried basil or a litre of red food colouring.

More frequently though, my purchases are of foodstuffs that are not the sad victims of gross consumerism and over-zealous and stupid marketing strategies, but items that I might otherwise have bought full-price.

Only I would usually purchase them before their expiry date.

So, not for the first time, I arrived home from the supermarket the other night with a whole ricotta that had to be eaten by the following morning.  It wasn't long before the exhilaration of bagging a bargain was swamped by the familiar panic I get when I am required to eat a kilo of cheese in a single evening.

Fortunately, this recipe for ricotta cake used up a third of my purchase.  And even more fortunately, ricotta freezes quite well.

Torta di Ricotta
(from Harmon Jenkins, N. The Essential Mediterranean HarperCollins 2003)

Serves 10-12

for the pastry
2 1/2 cups unbleached plain flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp dry white wine or water

for the filling
360g whole milk ricotta
grated zest of 2 lemons
grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup, plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange flower water (I omitted this)
3 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp whole milk, or more if needed (I found I did not need to add any milk)
butter and flour for the pan
1/2 cup icing sugar, to sprinkle on top (I did not bother with this)

First make the crust.  Mix together the flour, 1/3 cup sugar and the salt.  Cut the butter into pieces and work rapidly into the dry mixture.  Make a well in the centre.  Separate one of the eggs and reserve the yolk.  Add the white to the pie dough along with the second egg in its entirety.  Add lemon zest and, using a fork, gradually work all of the elements of the dough together, working in the wine or water (I found it was easier to just get stuck into it with my fingers, but I'm very lazy).

When everything is well mixed, shape into a ball, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.  Note that the dough is fragile and crumbly, and it is easiest to roll out between two sheets of baking paper, working quickly as it gets crumblier the more it's handled.

While the dough is resting, drain the ricotta in a fine-mesh sieve.  When you are ready to make the filling, turn the drained ricotta into a bowl and add the citrus zests, 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla and orange water (if using), and beat with a wire whisk until the ricotta is light and fluffy.  Don't use an electric beater as it's easy to overbeat.  Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well to incorporate the yolk after each addition.  Beat in the milk (if needed).  The filling mix should be like a loose custard, not too firm to pour, yet not at all soupy.  If it's too firm, beat in a bit more milk.  If it seems too loose, beat in another egg yolk.

Preheat the oven to 190ºC.  Lightly butter and flour a 25cm springform pan.

Roll out the pastry dough between two sheets of baking paper to make a disk large enough to fill the tart pan, with a little excess to flute around the top.

Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a separate bowl to soft peaks.  Sprinkle on the remaining 2 tbsp sugar and beat to stiff peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the filling mixture, then turn the filling into the pastry case.  Use the reserved egg yolk from the pie dough, mixed with a little water, to paint the exposed surface of the pastry.

Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown.  Remove to a rack to cool to room temperature, but do not chill before serving.  Sprinkle with icing sugar if you want to.

poor me

I have been at home with a cold this week, feeling very sorry for myself, and making damn sure everyone around me feels sorry for me too.

Fortunately I have had the comforts of Torchwood DVDs and soup.

I added peanuts to this soup because peanuts and capsicum go together like brie and fig paste.  Or chips and mayonnaise.  Or William and Kate.  Or Nutella and a spoon.

Red Lentil and Capsicum Soup
(modified slightly from Stafford, J. Julie Stafford's Soup Cookbook Viking 2000)

Serves 4-6

200g red lentils
2 red capsicums, seeded and chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped
200g potato, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1 tsp basil
2 tsp cumin
1 x 425g tin tomato puree
1 litre vegetable stock
finely chopped fresh parsley, coriander or basil to garnish

Rinse lentils in cold water.  Discard any discoloured lentils, stones, spiders etc that you find.

Combine all the ingredients except the garnish herbs in a large pot.  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until vegetables and lentils are soft.  Puree soup.

Serve garnished with herbs.

Eat while wearing your pyjamas, with a hot, buttered bread roll, in front of the telly.