Saturday, August 27, 2011

Requests: Lamb Casserole

This one was much easier!  (And hubby says "please thank the internets for the YUM" - he was pretty spoilt this week)

Alphamatrix requested a tomato-based lamb casserole, without herbs.  This is my favourite kind, so I can definitely relate!
Rogan Josh comes immediately to mind - this is one of my favourite ways to casserole lamb, and tomato is key.  The best recipes (or mixes) have you adding tomato very late in the game, so you can still taste the fresh tomato-ness through the spices.

The other thing that comes to mind is honey.  Usually with mint, but I know that's a herb so will put it with tomato instead!


This is quick, too, if you have tender cuts of meat.  I whipped this up in half an hour, on a weeknight.. or you could pop it in the slow-cooker if you had time (and could use a tougher cut of meat).

Slice and brown an onion in a little oil, then stir through a couple of teaspoons of rich, spicy honey (I used stringy bark, but in NZ would use Manuka or Rewarewa).  Let it caramelise, then remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
Dice potato and carrot, and boil in a small saucepan until starting to soften.  Drain and set aside with the onion.
Coat lamb pieces (I used a good quality casserole dice from the butcher, 300g for two of us) in a couple of tablespoons of flour, mixed with a teaspoon of smoked paprika, and a dash of chilli powder.  Brown in a couple of tablespoons of oil (preferably in the caramel left in the bottom of the frypan from the onions).
Add a 300g tin of chopped tomatoes, and a tablespoon of tomato paste.  Simmer.
Add the vegetables, and another tablespoon of honey.

Serve as soon as the sauce is thick.  This would be great with mashed potato - but I was in a hurry and just added potato directly to the casserole, and served with steamed broccoli!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Requests! Dessert Burger

When I asked for requests, I never imagined it would be something like this.  Meg, thank you for making my brain hurt - I have never even considered dessert burgers as a food option, so this put me firmly outside my comfort zone!  (I don't even flinch at dessert pizza though - must remember to share that one at a later date!)

One question played on my mind for some time: what defines a burger?  I decided, on my own authority, that it had to be stuff in a bun.  Preferably layers of stuff, and preferably a bread-based bun.
The other thing that leapt to mind was size.  If this burger was going to be dessert, it couldn't be full-size.  I like my desserts small, and of course sweet.

With those important points out of the way, the rest materialised pretty quickly:  this is my S'more Slider.


I made small, soft, sweet bread rolls (a cinnamon tea cake recipe, these are about 20g each - or two mouthfuls) and added a dark chocolate ganache "pattie", toasted marshmallows, and jam (a burger needs sauce!)

..and I have to say, it was delicious!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Requests please!

Just over a year ago, I responded to a series of requests - and really enjoyed the challenge of cooking what other people wanted, rather than what I felt like!  I had to think, and plan, and it was a welcome change of pace.

Bircher muesli for Kerryn
Beef Wellington for Emma
and Non-dairy ravioli fillings, also for Kerryn 

I've had a couple of similar challenges in real life recently, which I will add here, but thought I'd make it official:
Challenge me to make something, ask me for ideas, or tell me what you've always wanted to try.   

I'll see what I can do, but reserve the right to pass if I don't like it, or exercise artistic license and do it "my way"!! 

..and while I wait for you to inspire me, here are some beautiful photos of a blue swimmer crab.  I didn't like the pasta sauce I made with him (and his friends), but the photos are too good not to share! 



Truffle at Home

After a couple of great eating out experiences in mid-July (including the truffle tasting dinner, and a big birthday dinner), we decided to try this ourselves.
I mentioned previously that a pop-up truffle shop (Madame Truffles) opened a few blocks from here, so we called in to see what they had - and were thrilled that they had stock, as the previous weekend had sold out! 

Truffle Options

We took home an affordable 33g NSW - and found this was plenty to share with two friends over risotto, with a little left for breakfast the next day!

I made mushroom risotto - following the basic technique, with beef stock and several large handfuls of shimeji, oyster, and button mushrooms - with both shiitake and porcini adde to the stock - and parmagiano reggiano.  While it was delicious, the truffle could have stood on its own with nothing other than fresh pasta and extra-virgin olive oil. 
The real stars of the show were the eggs.. but I'll come back to that.  

When I got the truffle home, it looked like this:

Paper bag Simple packaging

Great things come in simple packaging.   I love the logo, connecting farm with indulgence.  A simple glass jar and paper towel hide the beautiful, fragrant truffle.


I've been told many times how to truffle eggs, and never tried it.  Quite simply, you pop a couple of eggs - shell intact - into a small airtight container with your truffle.  Store in the fridge overnight, or for at least 12 hours.  Use the truffle as you had intended - on risotto, pasta, or as your heart desires.  Then cook and eat the eggs, and be astounded at how they have taken on the truffle smell and flavour.  (I just poached them, and served on potato roesti - simple.)
We tried a "normal" egg alongside for comparison, and the difference is quite remarkable.  I'm reluctant to ever eat plain eggs again - but will have to of course, or we'll go broke (or miss out on eating eggs).

Shaving truffle

Best poached eggs ever.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Ode to Truffles

For Mum and Dad, who are going to find truffles in the paddock at the bottom of the hill any day now (and for Leo who is trying his hardest!)..

We were fortunate enough to get a couple of seats at the latest Fringe Food Festival event this week - a truffle tasting dinner!  Very disappointed to miss the first one, and just so excited that they ran a second night!

Why so excited?
About 8 years ago I helped Mum and Dad to plant a few trees in the bottom paddock of the farm in NZ.  Small sticks which were barely visible except for the stakes holding them up, we didn't really care if they grew tall or straight - we were more concerned about the roots, which hold the perigord truffle fungus.
Any day now Leo, the world's coolest sniffer dog, is going to stop in the middle of his daily walk, and point at a patch of ground, and show us where the goods are hiding.  And Dad will probably have a heart attack.

These things are black gold.


And I'm a little embarrassed to say, I'd only tried them once before last night's dinner!

Dinner started fresh, and lively:


Boneless chicken wings (I have no idea how, but they were worth any effort required!) with a kick of lime, NSW truffle and squid-ink.

The next course was rich, warm, and wintery:


Soft polenta on buerre blanc, with a poached egg, a  hint of parmesan, and Tasmanian truffle.


(This was my favourite.  I'm drooling just looking at the pictures!)

And then the height of simplicity:


Hand-cut pappardelle, with king brown mushroom and butter, topped with Western Australian - you guessed it - truffle.

The objective was to see if we could pick the regional differences, so to finish we were given three plates of scrambled egg, with each of the three truffles, to see if we could pick them.


The differences were surprising - though I'm not sure I could pick these if they were not side-by-side.

Thanks to St Ali for hosting us (and for being a very comfortable couple of blocks walk from home!) Ed of Tomato blog for letting his many readers know about the event, part of the "Fringe Food Festival".  Scott Pickett cooked up a storm, and did a great job of putting the focus on Madame Truffles  We also had the pleasure of sampling Crittenden Estate's Los Hermanos Tributa a galicia, and The Zumma pinot noir (recently awarded 94 points by Gourmet Traveller and ranked the fourth best pinot noir in Australia).

Thanks to the lovely folks we shared a table with, for making it a memorable evening:


Now, no pressure Leo - but we're waiting...


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chicken with pomegranate dressing

For Cath, who shared the original recipe.


This has been sitting on a shelf in the living room since it was handed to me in summer - and is intended as a summer recipe, cooked on a barbeque hotplate.  It is neither summery nor barbeque weather, so I modified this to make an oven casserole, and it is outstanding.  Thanks, Cath!

Pomegranates are in season in the Southern hemisphere from March until May - but we are still seeing them in the markets as they refrigerate well.  Grab one, and try this immediately!


To get the beautiful 'jewels' from a pomegranate, score the skin and tear it apart with your fingers.  Either whack the hard outer skin with a wooden spoon to get the jewels to pop out, or gently tease them out with your fingers.
Be warned: the juice stains, so try not to drop these on the carpet, and don't wear white in the kitchen.

To make the marinade for the chicken, mix the following in a small bowl:
2-3 tsp ground cardamom
about 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard


Add the zest and juice of one orange (or a few mandarins work well too)



This is sufficient for up to 2kg of chicken pieces, or 2 butterflied whole chickens (for the barbeque).  Throw it all in a big zip-lock bag, with the chicken, and pop it in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
I've used chicken maryland (whole leg/quarter chicken), allowing a generous one per person, and cut slices into the flesh to let the flavour in.


You could bake this on its own, or on the barbeque, but I felt like rice.  To make saffron rice:
Gently toast a pinch of saffron threads in a small (dry) pan.  Crush to a powder.
Add to a large casserole dish with 1 cup of basmati rice, and 2 cups of chicken stock.

I seared the chicken in a hot frypan, and added straight to the casserole dish, on top of the rice.
Cover, and cook for 1 hour at 180C.  The rice will swell up around the chicken, and the steam will keep the chicken beautifully moist and tender.


While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing.  This is best if it sits for a few minutes - I made it straight after the chicken went in the oven so I didn't forget!

Mix the following in a small bowl:
seeds from 1 pomegranate
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely sliced
2 shallots, finely sliced
1 large ripe tomato, finely chopped (preferably vine ripened.  you want rich flavour)

Serve with the dressing drizzled over the top.



Okonomiyaki: Japanese egg pancake

Many years ago, when alphamatrix returned from a year in Japan (her first visit), I remember her cooking something which she said she really missed, and just had to have.  When she explained what it was, I didn't get it.  Clearly, the Japanese are crazy.  An egg pancake with cabbage in it is just not right. 
When we visited Japan just over a year ago, we stumbled upon a great local spot and tried this okonomiyake we had heard so much about.  And I was so wrong.  Don't knock it til you've tried it.  
This has become one of those foods that I dream about for days if someone mentions it and I can't make it straight away!


I've heard this described variously as Japanese pancake, Japanese omelet, and Japanese pizza, but none of these does it justice.  This is a thick, eggy pancake, filled with delicious chicken, leek and bacon (you can put all sorts of things in it, but I keep coming back to these as my favourites), and cabbage - there's always cabbage.  Really, though, it's about the sauce, and the crazy bonito flakes - and these two ingredients are well worth tracking down so you can try this.  Trust me.


Okonomi sauce is something I've tried to substitute for, but it really is unique, and essential.  You can hunt for the word "okonomi" or cheat like I do, and look for a bottle with a picture of okonomiyaki (and the unmistakeable mayonaisse criss-cross)!
I also believe bonito flakes are essential - and I wouldn't have dreamt of outting these near food before I visited Japan.  I've found a brand with individual 3g sachets, which stay fresh and are perfect as I don't make this that often.

Rather than buy okonomiyaki mix, I read the English translation on the back and have come up with an easy batter which tastes the same to me.


Take two eggs, and mix with about 1/2 cup of plain flour and 1 tsp of white sugar.
Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water until you get a thin consistency, like this:


Stir-fry your main ingredients: I typically use slices of chicken thigh, leek, and bacon - but also use sliced mushrooms, and onion regularly.


Add thinly sliced cabbage, and stir until just warmed through (this will cook further when the batter is in)


Now, pour the batter over, cover, turn the heat to low, and let sit for a couple of minutes.


Carefully flip when the batter starts to set on top.  You want the batter cooked through, and only lightly browned.


Transfer to a plate, cover with okonomi sauce, draw pretty pictures with mayonnaise (purists insist on kewpie mayo, but I find standard store-bought is just fine).  Sprinkle generous helpings of bonito flakes, and dig in!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Risotto. Another winter favourite.

Thanks to alphamatrix/Tadpole (who introduced the subject back in October), I’ve been obsessed with risotto for the past year..  I’ve discovered a few variations that I’m absolutely in love with, and will share them all here at some point in the near future.

Basic risotto can be a one-saucepan meal, which was a big help when that was exactly what I had to work with.  Now that I have my full kitchen again, I can play with a few more variations.  For now, though, I’ll share what I’ve learnt since alphamatrix showed us chicken and leek risotto.

I read recipe books and blogs as inspiration, but rarely follow recipes as they stand.  If I were hankering for risotto, I might do a quick search, read through a handful of promising examples, and get a feel for the general technique
.. then I pretty much just do my own thing!

In this case, the basics are as follows:  You need 2 cups of liquid to 1 cup of rice.  Toast the rice then temper with wine.  Add stock gradually, and pre-heat it for a more creamy risotto.  Add other ingredients as you see fit!

My version of leek and chicken to start with:



I used chicken sausages.  These are oregano, lemon, and chicken sausages from a stall at my local market (South Melbourne).  I think they deserve a photo of their own, as thyey are fantastic:




One large leek, or three baby ones.  Slice, rinse, and toss in a little oil until they start to soften.
Set aside, and make the basic risotto: I used an onion, a clove of garlic, and chicken stock.

Add the chicken (the pre-cooked sausages you saw earlier), and the leek.


Serve hot.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Magic Roast Chicken

OK, this time we're taking it up a notch.  This is roast chicken with a twist.


The secret is that this is a self-basting chicken. The bigger secret is that it's reallllly easy!

Before you start taking the chicken out of its bag, do a quick bit of preparation:  in a small bowl, mix 1-2 tablespoons of softened butter with a clove of garlic (chopped, sliced, or crushed), a teaspoon of lemon zest, and a teaspoon of chopped herbs (I used basil and thyme.  Please use basil if you can get it.)  Set aside.
Cut one lemon into quarters, and set it aside too.
..and preheat the oven.  I always forget that.  180C please.

Now, take one whole chicken.  Double-check it's clean (they still shove little plastic bags of liver inside them every now and then),  and pat it dry with a paper towel.
Using your fingers, make a small pocket between the skin and each breast (this is usually quite simple, just push gently through the neck-hole.  You could use a dessert spoon if squeamish, but be careful not to tear the skin).  Divide the butter mixture between the two pockets, and then tuck the loose skin back into the neck-hole.  Your chicken should now look a little like this:


Trust me, it is worth it.
Shove the quartered lemon up the chicken's bum.  Yes, really.  
Tie feet together with kitchen string (I use these really cool silicon bands I picked up in Portland, Oregon) and use a skewer to hold the lemon in if required.
Now drape a piece of tinfoil over the chicken (this stops the butter burning) and pop it in the oven.  Remove the foil after 30 minutes, and roast a further 40 minutes or until cooked.
(To check if the bird is done, poke a skewer into the thick part of the thigh.  Juices should run clear. The legs tend to move freely and almost fall away when you touch them.)

To carve a chicken, I generally remove the legs with a knife and a pair of tongs.  They don't typically put up a fight, and should come away easily.  Repeat for wings.


Now, carve the breast, slicing across the grain with a sharp knife.  See all that flavour packed under the skin?  Magic.


Serve with brussels sprouts, or your favourite roast veg, and gravy.  But use a nicer jug than I did if you are entertaining!


I need to make this again, soon.  My mouth is watering! 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Roast lamb 101

One thing I love about winter is roasts!

Preheat the oven to 200C, and line a roasting pan with baking paper.  If you can, leave the lamb on the bench for a couple of hours to warm to room temperature, too.

Trim fat if you prefer - or score it in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife so that it runs off during cooking and leaves a crisp crust.  Rubbing with oil, and salt and pepper, helps too.
I almost always add garlic and rosemary.  Make cuts into the flesh with a small sharp knife, then push a (peeled) clove of garlic, and a sprig of rosemary into each hole.


Finally, pour over approx 1/4 cup of wine (red or white - whichever is open, or whichever you want an excuse to open!).


Pop into the oven, and after 20 minutes turn the dial back to 180C.  Roast for 30 minutes per kg.
Remove from the oven, cover with foil, and allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes before carving (this gives the juices time to settle, and helps to make the meat moist, and tender).  I usually take this opportunity to crank the heat up and finish the vegetables.


Tell the man of the house that it's his job to carve the roast (I'm terrible at this, but it does taste the same even if you don't slice tidily).  Serve on heated plates (cold lamb is greasy), with roast veges and gravy.