Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back in the Kitchen: Turkish Pizza

It's funny how you can overlook the most simple recipes and sometimes they're simply wonderful. That's not quite the case with this turkish pizza. I wouldn't call it simply wonderful, but it was pretty damn good and a very quick, easy way to whip up a yummy Tuesday night meal.

After my weekend of minimal cooking I was keen to cook something new. My quest to cook all clippings is still going and I've had this one ear-marked for a while. I'm getting down to the very difficult ones, or those with expensive ingredients or those that require very long cooking times. So I'm not entirely sure how this one slipped past the radar. I think I tore it out of a Gravox promo booklet of all places.

The mint really makes it but being beef mince there's something quite homely about it. It reminds of spaghetti bolognese, or the toasties you might whip up from the leftovers. I ate so many bolognese jaffels as a student. Most students have some form of toasted sandwich maker and whilst the sandwich presses allow a little more "gourmette", you can't go past a jaffel surely.

I didn't use lamb and mint gravy mix last night, I used a plain gravox that was floating around in the pantry. But I'm sure beef stock would be exactly the same really. I upped the mint to compensate though.

Luckily this can be a cutlery free meal once cool enough. So I trekked outside with my piece of turkish bread pizza to watch the lunar eclipse. I think I missed the moon at it's reddest though, I thought it was all a little overrated until I saw the pictures in the paper today. Clearly I went at the wrong time. Nevermind.

Turkish Pizza
1 tbsp oil
4 spring onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
500 g beef or lamb mince
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/3 cup Gravox (insert registered trademark symbol here) lamb with mint gravy mix (sounds appetising huh? Just use beef stock)
1 1/4 cups water
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 long turkish pide loaf, halved horizontally
1/3 cup pine numts toasted
2 roma tomoatoes diced
1 tbsp finely chopped mint
2 cups tasty cheese
extra mint to garnish

Preheat oven to 230 degrees C. Heat oil and cook onions, garlic and mince until mince is browned. Combine spices, gravy mix, water and tomato paste. Add to the mince mixture, bring to the boil then reduce heat and cooke for a further 4 min.

Cut each pide in half and place cut side up on a baking tray. Spoon mince mixture evenly over each piece and top with pine nuts, tomatoes, mint and cheese. Bake for 15-20 min until cheese is golden and base is crispy.

Serves 4.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Summer's come early?

Not a lot of food to blog about from the weekend just gone. The weather in Melbourne was stunning so even I found it hard to stay inside and cook. Times like these I need a barbecue.
Friday evening started with drinks at the Railway. We ambitiously sat outside but moved in quite quickly. Whilst the weather has been glorious it's also a little chilly when the sun goes down. The railway in South Melbourne is a popular spot for our work drinks and we often eat there too. They have great tapas style bar snacks and we often stock up. This Friday however I was off to S-bo's for tacos then I pottered on home for a quiet Friday.
Saturday was porridge in the sun and a banana smoothie. Can it get any better? Well apparently it can, as I headed to South Melbourne Markets to do the groceries and grabbed one of the famous steamed dim sims for lunch. S-bo then took a break from studying and we had coffee at Provincia. I still can't quite get over how well they make the coffee. I went there for breakfast last week and had gnocchi! For breakfast! It was breakfast gnocchi with mushrooms and chorizo and it was goooood. A totally new concept for me though, has anyone else come across this before? It's great for someone who doesn't eat eggs.

Sunday saw me stupidly throw myself around Albert Park Lake in a fun run. Westie and I have been doing a little running, mainly to control expanding waistlines bound to result from our monthly ironchef lunch. Obviously one can't over-control so we headed to Albert Park village for brunch afterwards. Too exhausted to remember my camera we plonked down at Dundas Place Cafe, sunnies on, and proceeded to order sugary pancakes with cream. Hmmm. Unfortunately the pancakes didn't live up to my expectations. It took a while for brunch to land on our table and when it did the pancakes were overcooked. Crispy and golden had given way to brown and just burnt. Sigh. Service was a little lacksidasical and apparently it's giggle-worthy to forget to serve a bowl of muesli with a spoon. Nevermind, it was so lovely and sunny nothing could break my spirit. That was until Westie and I stood up and our legs confirmed that yes, we had stupidly ran 5 km and were about to pay for it. I went home and slept on the couch.

I was particularly dehydrated and felt horrible. I did manage to venture out for a stroll about 4pm and a pink cupcake from brumbies. I couldn't waste the whole day's sun afterall. With such warm weather it would seem illogical to make soup, but that's what I did. I still have pecorino to use up from the gnocchi. It's too good to waste so I made this hearty pasta, lentil and tomato soup. Please forgive the photos, they were taken with S-bo's phone as my camera went dead just in time (handy that).
I went to bed a very full, happy and sleepy girl.

(The Soup.......
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
110 g bacon, rind removed and, you guessed it, finely chopped
225 g green or brown lentils
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, skin and seeds removed, chopped
400 g can chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs of thyme
1.75 L chicken stock
225 g macaroni or other short pasta, cooked
3 tbs chopped fresh parsley
75 g grated parmesan (or pecorino in my case)

Heat oil and add onion, garlic, celery and bacon. Cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables soften. Add the lentils and stir to coat with oil. Add fresh and canned tomatoes and bring to the boil then add bay leaves, thyme and 1.5 L of the stock. Simmer for 40 min or until lentils are cooked. Continue to top with stock to ensure lentils are covered. Stir in the pasta and garnish with parsely and cheese.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Banana Sour Cream Cupcakes

I was searching for recipes the other day to use up some sour cream I had in the fridge. S-bo and I did a good job with a late night, after-pub meal of nachos but there was still quite a lot left. Because I usually shop and cook according to what recipes I want to try, rather than according to what’s in the fridge, I have to be very careful I don’t waste things. I had plans for the sour cream. There was the nachos, and later this week I hope to have chicken burgers with salsa and sour cream (a favourite from uni days at Burgerlicious on King St, Newtown). But still I had too much sour cream.

I thought surely I could find a cake recipe calling for sour cream. But it had to be quite straightforward, ‘cause I didn’t want to buy a whole stack of ingredients…it seemed to defeat the purpose of using up an ingredient. I looked high and low but it wasn’t’ till I came to my Women’s Weekly Cupcake book that I found a recipe. It’s funny how you always see things but then when you’re looking for something specific is eludes you. Like shopping really.

Anyway, that’s how I arrived at Flower Cakes. I thought I would be ambitious and make the suggested butterfly and flour decorations too. I’ve never used modelling fondant before and let’s just say these cakes aren’t what the book intended. I was meant to make pretty 3 dimensional butterflies but they were never going to work. First I couldn’t find an appropriate butterfly cutter, then I couldn’t really get the “damp wire” to stick to my hand-cut shapes. Plus I wasn’t quite sure where the wire was meant to go anyway. So I made some shapes anyway and set them to dry, but the next morning the wire snapped off as soon as I tried to manipulate it. Nevermind, I made the cakes according to the recipe below and then stuck some shapes, 2 dimensional, onto the cream cheese icing. A workmate of mine, known as The Other Dan, although her name isn’t Dan at all, has just bought and moved into an apartment and I had planned the cakes to be a congratulatory gift. So when the butterflies didn’t work I thought why not make a little house. Which is precisely what I did.

I don’t like this recipe as much as a normal banana cake but it’s really not too far different and did turn out to be a great way to use my sour cream. Next time (because I always have too much sour cream) I might try the raspberry and coconut cakes. No modelling fondant required.

Banana sour cream cake
90 g butter, softened
½ cup (110 g) firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
½ cup self-raising flour
½ cup plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp mixed spice
2/3 cup mashed, overripe banana
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to moderate (180 degrees) and line 12-hole standard muffin pan with paper cases.
Beat butter, sugar and eggs in a small bowl until light and fluffy.
Stir in sifted dry ingredients then banana, cream and milk. Divide mixture among cases, smooth surface and bake for about 25 min.
Turn cakes onto a wire rack to cool then ice with cream cheese frosting.
Please email me if you would like the cream cheese frosting and modelling fondant recipes They are both pretty standard.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jamie's Pasta with Amazing Slow-cooked Meat

When I made the Gnocchi last weekend I had some leftover pecorino, so I went on the hunt to find a recipe worthy of such delicious cheese. I was thinking of replacing the parmesan in risotto, then I came across this recipe. I have a stack of slow-cook recipes piling up that I don't have the time for. Not that they are time consuming, I just have trouble staying at home for too long without popping out for something or other, and I'd be too worried to leave the stove unattended.

Anyway, cut a long story short, I love slow-cooked meat but rarely cook it. So this time I was determined. The recipe's pretty straightforward. S-bo gave me a hand cutting things up finely as I was cutting the time a little short. 2.30 pm and already time's running out to get dinner ready. Funny huh? There's not a whole lot to say about the initial cooking phase. I actually was planning on eating the sauce the next day, so I cooked the meat for 2 1/2 hours then left it 'til the next day. It was very liquid-y but perhaps that was 'cause I used crushed tomatoes, maybe it was meant to be whole. Also the size of my pot meant a lot of water was required to over the meat by 1 cm.

I'm not good at slow-cooking, I see little movement in the pot so I turn up the heat. But this time I finally decided to rely on past experiences and I kept it very low indeed. Still I was worried that I'd stuffed things up nevertheless, when the meat wasn't flaking off the bone so well on day 2. Turns out (I think) that I didn't have such great osso bucco. There were lines of sinew through the meat. Now I quite like fat, not afraid of it at all. I have been known to eat the whole lamb chop, fat and all, licking the bone clean as I criticise other's and their healthy ways. Fancy putting the fat to the side and not eating it. But this wasn't melt-in-your mouth fat, it was clear hard-to-cut-with-carving knife sinew. That was a little disappointing but in the end it mean I just used a sharp knife instead of 2 forks to shred the meat.

I set the shredded meat aside and boiled off some of the liquid still in the pan. It worked a treat, although I probably boiled too far.

The dish was delicious and very deserving of the pecorino. S-bo was most impressed, Flatmate enjoyed leftovers for lunch the next day and workmates looked on enviously as I ate my lunch share. Give it a shot, it beats spaghetti bolognese.

1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
800 g braising meat on the bone (such as lamb shanks or osso bucco)
Handful of fresh rosemary and thyme, leaves finely chopped, plus extra rosemary to serve
1 small red onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 wineglasses of dry red wine
800 g canned roma tomatoes
2 tbsp pearl barley
400 g fresh or dried pappardelle or pasta of your choice
100 g unsalted butter
2 handfuls grated parmesan, plus extra to serve.

Heat the oil in a large casserole over high heat and fry meat in the oil for 3-4 min ‘til brown. Add herbs, onion, garlic, carrot and celery, then reduce heat to medium and continue to fry for 5 min ‘til veges have softened. Add wine and simmer until it has almost cooked away but left you with fantastic colour and fragrance.

Add tomatoes, barley and just enough water to cover the meat by 1 cm. make a cartouche of greaseproof paper – cut out a sheet the size of the pan, wet it under the tap, rub with a little oil, place over pan and put the lid on.

Cook over very low heat for 2-3 hours, depending on the type of meat. It’s ready when it flakes away in tender strands. Season to taste and cool slightly before removing meat from the pan. Pull apart meat with 2 forks, discarding bone, then put the meat back in pan over low heat.
Cook pappardelle in a pan of boiling, salted water. Remove sauce from heat and stir in butter and parmesan (pecorino!) with a little of the pasta cooking water – this will make it juicy and shiny. Toss together with pasta and serve immediately, sprinkled with rosemary and cheese.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Chocolate Spiders, Childhood Favourites

I’m not sure if anyone would know of these childhood favourites. I’ve had mixed reaction from people my age, some remember and some look at me like I’m crazy. “Sorry? A chocolate crackle thing made with peanut butter and fried noodles?” Um yes, that’s right.

I thought of these a little while ago when reading a post on Esurientes about peanut butter cups. I googled and googled, which was difficult since I couldn’t remember the name, only to find that the recipe is still on the back of the Chang’s Original Fried Noodles packet. There you go. So basically you melt 200 g cooking chocolate (milk or dark – I used a mix) with 2 tbsp peanut butter in the microwave. Once melted, stir in 1 packet Chang’s Original Fried Noodles and spoon mixture onto a baking tray or into individual paper patty pans.

I forgot that my perception of size has probably changed a bit over the last 15 years so I made them a little large. I served them as dessert when I held my HHDD Gnocchi dinner party. You might think it’s a strange dessert; more an after dinner treat really. However we were eating an early dinner and drinking red wine before heading down to the pub to watch the Swans play. I stated that we probably didn’t want chocolate whilst drinking red wine, but the punters were keen.

They were a bit of a success, in an ugly-as-a-picnic kind of way. A very easy way to satisfy your chocolate + peanut butter craving. If you really like your peanut butter you’d do well to up the content.
As I write this I’m thinking the reason not many people know of these is that they probably aren’t allowed in schools anymore due to peanut allergies. So whilst I’m marketing this as a childhood favourite I guess it’s really an adults-only snack now. Pretend you’re 10 years old again and enjoy.

If you do have peanut allergy sufferers in your household there are two other recipes from the Chang's packet: Fruit crunch and Oriental Fried Noodle Salad. I bet there's a few people out there who remember Oriental Fried Noodle Salad from summer Christmas buffets.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Weekend Food Shopping

I have a new weekend routine. Well, I call it a routine but I’ve only done it twice. I intend to make it a routine, how’s that? Last weekend I wandered from the South Melbourne Markets to St Ali and realised how very close the two are. So this weekend I collected my groceries from the markets, strolled up Coventry St via Chefs Hat and the Hardware store to pick up some supplies, and then sat and had coffee and toast at St Ali with S-bo. I’ve taken to going to the markets quite early to avoid the crowds. I love the bustling feel of the place when it’s busy and you have all the time in the world but when you’re in a hurry it’s terribly tempting to use that green bag as a battering ram just to get what you need. Best to go when it’s quiet really.

When I put it into words it seems like a terribly dull routine. But it’s a great feeling buying fresh ingredients bright and early on a Saturday then enjoying a leisurely stroll past some great homewares stores, only to be rewarded with excellent coffee at the end.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hay Hay it's Donna Day #14 - Gnocchi

Gnocchi! This month’s Hay Hay it’s Donna Day theme is Gnocchi, set by Lynne at Cafe Lynnylu. Gnocchi has always seemed very complex to me. So complex in fact that I hadn’t even bothered to consider how to make it. So it was very tentatively that I went on a search for a recipe. I rarely buy food magazines as it takes me so long to cook anything I tear out, let alone a whole magazine! But I do have a copy of Delicious magazine dating back to 2005. S-bo bought it for me one day and it’s an Italian Special. So that’s where I found my Gnocchetti recipe. (Gosh Gnocchi is a funny word isn’t it.)

I found the recipe surprisingly easy. I cooked the potatoes and probably one of the hardest things was peeling the hot tatas. I always knew that song “hot potato” was silly. Who in their right mind would try and pick up a hot potato. Ouch. I didn’t have a potato ricer or food mill so I used my new food processor to grate. Potato cooled then I got set making the dough. This was all fine and dandy and I’m thinking “Gee this gnocchi stuff is easy”. I rolled and chopped and then proceeded to put my little gnocchi’s in a bowl. I looked at them and though “they might stick together” so I smothered each layer in more flour and then left them, covered for the afternoon (NOT in the recipe). Easy right?

I had some friends around to help me eat the Gnocchi. I began to cook the sauce (70 g butter and 70 ml oil…this stuff was going to be good) and alas, all my little gnocchis had stuck together. Now here is where I decide gnocchi is not so easy after all AND that I have great friends. We all picked up bits of dough, roughly rolled them up and cooked them. Before you can say “where’s the flour” we were sitting down to eat, disaster averted (well, corrected really).

The sauce was sensational, aided by the excellent ingredients I’d been able to pick up. I went off in search of pecorino dolce amongst numerous delis and I’m still not sure if it’s a soft cheese or hard. The picture in the magazine suggests soft but I came home with a chunky piece of hard cheese. I wasn’t sure about it until the lady gave me a little sample, then I was sold. I needed much less than the recipe stated though, so there is now some very expensive, very delicious pecorino in my fridge, waiting to be used. Also expensive was the basil. At $5 a bunch you’d expect it to be good and frankly, it was the highlight. I’m not sure quite how to describe it. Just think of the best basil you’ve ever had then think this was better! The basil at the markets was looking all a little sad so I purchased it from our 24 hour (!) fruit shop.

Back to the Gnocchi, how was it? It was pretty good. Not as heavy as I was expecting, and almost a little creamy. What with all the fuss of trying to turn my lump of dough back into gnocchi and feed 4 diners there wasn’t a lot of time for a beautifully composed Donna Hay photo. I hope what I managed will suffice.

Gnocchetti (baby gnocchi) with tomatoes and sweet pecorino
500 g brushed potatoes (such as coliban)
1 cup (150 g) plain flour
1 egg
200 g pecorino dolce (sweet pecorino) or ricotta salata tostata (baked salted ricotta), grated, plus extra to serve
1/3 cup basil leaves, to serve

70 g unsalted butter
70 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
400 g can diced tomatoes

Leaving skins on boil the potatoes until cooked through. When soft drain, peel and, while still warm put them through a mouli or potato ricer. Set aside to rest and cool, then mix with the flour and egg and season well with salt. Dust a bench or other work surface with a little flour, divide the dough into 4 equal parts and roll each into long stick or snake shapes. Cut these into 1 cm cubes.

To make sauce, melt the butter and oil together in a saucepan over low heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions until softened, without colouring-this will keep them nice and sweet. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and cook until the oil separates from the sauce and sits on the top for about 10 – 15 minutes. When tasting the sauce, make sure it is sweet in flavour, this is the secret to the dish.

To cook gnocchetti, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, then place your gnocchetti into the water – cook in batches if necessary to prevent the water temp from dropping too quickly. They will be cooked when they rise to the top and float on the surface. Drain and add to the sauce with the grated pecorino. Serve with extra grated pecorino and fresh basil leaves.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sunday Lunch

Fish and salad seems like a summer meal to me. It reminds me of the beach and crisp, fresh ingredients. That didn’t stop me one sunny, but wintery Sunday, from cooking up a lovely late lunch for S-bo and I. It all started like this: I had some blue cheese in my fridge that was probably near its end. I’ve never made blue cheese dressing so that’s what I had decided to do. But what to serve with the dressing? Yes, I know people generally organise a meal around the staple, but that’s not how this meal was working. So crisp greens were a start and I just decided that a lovely piece of fish would go well.

I’m relatively new to cooking fish so I feel much more comfortable with a recipe I hand. I had in mind a good swordfish steak or similar but every recipe I came across was of the Asian slant. It didn’t seem appropriate with blue cheese dressing. Stephanie Alexander, my ever present “companion”, came through for me with tuna grilled with rosemary. This was also the source of my blue cheese sauce.

Not only have I never made blue cheese sauce, I’ve never made mayonnaise either. It’s always seemed terribly daunting but in the end it was quite a piece of cake, really. A lot of whisking, but otherwise ok. My mayonnaise turned out a little bland because I didn’t include white-wine vinegar, white pepper or Tabasco, I didn’t think it would be necessary when going into blue cheese dressing. My quantities were all a bit out as I only had a little chunk of cheese left but here’s how it went: 1 tbsp finely chopped shallots, 1 clove garlic, home-made mayonnaise (1 yolks worth), some sour cream (don’t remember how much), ½ tbsp red-wine vinegar and salt n pepper. Whizz then add enough parsely to add colour & interest to the dressing. Simple huh!

The tuna recipe is below. I unfortunately don’t possess a barbecue or char-grill plate so I used my trusty frypan. I would imagine the rosemary would have burnt away a little if not cooked in a pan, but I left it there ‘cause I thought it looked good. When I got to the markets there was very little fish left so I had purchased some very pink looking, sashimi quality tuna. I’m not sure if sashimi quality might be a little more expensive, but I really didn’t feel like it cost much more than a piece of salmon.

The fish was great, although I had a little trouble determining when it was cooked enough. Between S-bo and I we managed not to overcook it so that’s a bonus. The blue cheese dressing was very sharp, we both liked it quite a bit but next time I will try and make it a little creamier.
So main course safely served and enjoyed, it was time for dessert. I am lucky enough to live particularly close to Jock’s ice cream in Albert Park so dessert was a very simple affair. Before the meal I cut a square of puff pastry (approx 10 cm) in half diagonally then placed in a moderate oven to cook. Once cooked I split the triangles in half and sandwiched the ice cream in. S-bo produced some chocolate freckles from Haigs and all of a sudden some very humble ice cream (or not-so-humble if you know Jock’s) was transformed into quite a classy dessert.

I think this meal would be great as a dinner party. There’s just so much you can prepare in advance, to the point where salad is plated, the fish is marinating and the puff pastry split. All you do when the guests turn up is cook the fish and serve!

1 egg yolk
pinch salt
lemon juice or white-wine vinegar
100 ml olive oil
white pepper or Tabasco

Work yolk with salt and 1 tbsp lemon juice ‘til smooth. Gradually beat in olive oil a couple of spoonfuls at a time, beating very well after each addition. There is now some info about adding the oil in a steady stream, but I didn’t have said helper so I just continued bit-by-bit. And then I had mayonnaise. Like magic really.

Grilled Tuna with Rosemary
4 x 180 g tuna steaks
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
16 sprigs rosemary, each about the length as the tuna steaks
freshly ground black pepper.

The recipe says, several hours before dinner, to rub tuna with half the oil and cross-tie each steak with fine sting as though tying a parcel. Slip 2 sprigs rosemary under string on each side of each steak. I didn’t have string so I simply wrapped the steak, with rosemary on each side, in some cling wrap and refrigerated. Recipe says refrigerate up to 6 hours…I managed about 1 ½.

Remove steaks from fridge 30 min before cooking. Prepare barbecue or preheat a chargrill pan. Season fish and grill for 2-4 min each side, depending on thickness. It’s best medium-rare. Snip strings and slice steak, or serve whole. Drizzle with remaining oil and serve at once.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pea, Pimiento and Prosciutto Pasta

With my recent vow to cut back on fatty foods (it's a short term thing, I'm already planning my next bake-a-thon) my quest to get through my recipe clippings has fallen behind a little. Now when I cook I aim to get through at least one clipping per week. It's not really a rule, just the way it's working out.

I've had this recipe for ages. Since 2002 to be precise. I must have torn it out of the Sunday Life magazine whilst at home on university holidays. Next to the pasta are "Quick Pasta Sauce Ideas From the Deli" whilst on the opposite side is Chicken with Potatoes and Olives and Marinated Bocconcini. I tried the former last year and wasn't too impressed. Marinated bocconcini is a keeper however...maybe I'll blog about that another time.

So, the pasta. To start with, it includes one of my favourite vegetables: frozen peas (no really). I think I like frozen peas so much because it takes me back to being a child and eating them, still frozen, whilst waiting for our meat and 3 veg. The recipe calls for small pasta shapes however S-bo had recently done a bit of work at a pasta manufacturer and as a result I had some delicious fettuccini. Not entirely suited to this dish, as you want to get as many components on your fork at once, but delicious all the same.

The pimiento sauce adds a little kick although it wasn't necessarily the peppers that I used. I had some roasted red pepper strips from the supermarket leftover from something or other. They weren't terribly exciting but did need to be used up, so I combined them with some freshly bought roasted red capsicum from the deli. I think the kick might have actually come from the mustard seed floating around the supermarket variety. Anyway, long story short, there was a kick and it was pleasant.

Don't be alarmed if you make this recipe and the sauce is a little runny. I kept boiling and boiling to thicken but it really wasn't necessary.

Pea, Pimiento and Prosciutto Pasta
1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh peas
3 zucchini, sliced
100 g prosciutto, cut into strips
300 g small pasta shapes
1 1/2 cups pimiento sauce (below)
1 cup small Ligurian olives
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook peas on boiling for 3 minutes, then drain well and keep warm. Pan-fry zucchini slices in a little oil to brown. Set aside. Pan-fry proscuitto strips until crisp.

Meanwhile, cook pasta until just tender. Drain well and toss with pimiento sauce, peas, zucchini, proscuitto and olives. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6

Pimiento Sauce
1 cup pimientos or roasted red capsicum
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Puree half pimientos and juice with garlic and chicken stock. Thinly slice remaining pimientos.

Place puree and pimiento strips in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 1 1/2 cups

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Spicy Fish

Should I have realised that all dishes in a restaurant called Spicy Fish would be spicy? No, probably not. The reason all our food was spicy was 'cause we left the ordering to the South Australian & S-bo. The restaurant actually indicates spiciness of food by placing chillies on the menu and I tell you what, they don't lie.

This venue was the South Australian's recommendation and it should be noted that he hasn't failed us yet. I'm not so sure about this place though.....

According to the South Australian, the drawcard dish here is the Scallops & Eggplant however I didn't get around to trying it as we ordered far too much food, most of it of the "burn off your tastebud variety". We were not sure what to do with Chicken & Chilli (top) when it arrived. However turns out it's not the spiciest thing we ordered. I've never encountered this before, perhaps because I usually eat the westernised version of Chinese food, but in this particular dish the chicken came complete with bones. Now this wouldn't normally be a problem, but the pieces were very small and about one third chicken, one third batter and one third bone. I persevered but in the end crunching bones is not my favourite meal. I actually enjoyed the chillies more.

I followed the chilli chicken with crispy duck and was unimpressed. As I said, I'm sure Flower Drum has ruined any chance I have of enjoying Chinese food because S-bo and the South Australian raved about this duck.

After duck I moved on to salt and pepper calamari (not pictured sorry). The calamari pieces were great. I love anything battered and this was a prime example. Also there was just enough chili lingering on the batter to add a kick. In amongst the calamari were bright red slices of fresh chili, with seeds. Now I'd handled the Chilli Chicken fine so surely the smallest little slice of chilli in this dish would be a piece of cake, right? Nope. This was pretty hot, possibly the most concentrated spice I've had (the slice was less than half a centimetre). I toughed it up however and kept eating. That's when I came across my downfall...a whole half of one of these lethal little guys sitting on the plate. I offered it to S-bo and he politely declined. Being the mature (and slightly tipsy) person I was that night I then challenged the South Australian to eat "the chunk". He accepted the challenge and proceeded to pick out an equal amount of chili for myself. With four pairs of eyes on me I couldn't offer a challenge and then refuse to take it myself. I should have though. After a good 30 seconds of chewing I no longer had tastebuds and the South Australian was crying, water teeming down his cheeks.

How do you recover from such an experience? You eat as much rice with sweet and sour sauce and drink as much red wine as possible, because that's the only relief available on your table. You can ask for water but the waiter will laugh as he delivers it. But can you handle more spice? I was yet to try the restaurant's namesake, spicy fish so I gave it a shot. I really didn't think I had any tastebuds left but I had just enough for this dish to tip me over the edge. All I can say about it is hot! Now others might disagree and granted I'm not the biggest eater of spicy food, but I did just eat nearly half of the hottest chili in the world so no-one's allowed to call me a wuss this time.

The wrap up from Spicy Fish is that I didn't enjoy the food that much, but let's be fair, I didn't make any selections myself. I'm sure there are items on the menu which aren't spicy and that's what I would have chosen. If you like your spice, go for it but don't expect any other taste sensations at the same time. My main gripe was the price, we payed$130 between 5 for our selection of crazy Chinese spice and I thought it was a little too much considering the portion sizes. The South Australian has not let us down previously and again made a good selection. Perhaps not because of the food but because we spent all night laughing. You can find such hilarity yourself in Chinatown.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Our very own Iron Chef

That's right, the great monthly cook-up has started. We talked about this on and off with different people for a little while and then over dinner at Aloi Nah. From there we scheduled a meal to plan and we came up with some rules:
1. Each person in our group of 5 has to cook a late Sunday afternoon meal, with the main according to 1 of 2 themes given to them. They can invite whoever they like provided the original 5 are all included. The monthly chef has to cook 2 dishes: entree and main or main and dessert.
2. The person who will cook next month must bring the third dish
3. The person who cooked the previous month must bring the wine (as must any special guests).
It was Westie's turn to kick it off (named so because she lives in West Melbourne which is quite different to Western Sydney or far western NSW as the name might suggest). She had to choose between Moroccan or seasonal and with a menu like Moroccan lamb followed by apple crumble, I'd say she hedged her bets and covered both.

Foges is scheduled next and was therefore responsible for entree. When she turned up with a large stockpot under one arm we knew we were in line for soup. Many a carton of cream went into that pot and in no time at all we were served steaming mushroom soup. I've never had mushroom soup before and this was delicious. I could really detect flavours of thyme and lemon. Just kidding...I knew what recipe she used. The soup is meant to be very smooth but Foges decided that a little blending was enough. She was right as the soup had a great texture. It is rather rich so we're all glad Foges followed the recipe and served small portions (well, they weren't that small but we didn't fill the bowl to the top or go back for seconds....promise. Although the only thing that held us back was the knowledge that Westie was about to feed us moroccan lamb.

Westie claims to have never cooked couscous before but I'm hesitant to believe her. Sometimes I find couscous to get a little dry and boring by the end of the plate but she did a wonderful job. Apparently the butter was omitted accidentally but the couscous was so light and fluffy that I'm tempted to try that out next time. Adding to the delicious-ness of it all was amazingly fresh herbs (parsely, mint and oregano) very generous servings of lamb backstrap of the moroccan variety.
And just when we thought we couldn't eat any more, out of the oven pops "mum's apple crumble" Foges asked for a small serve but the boys and I figured we'd come so far, why stop now? Vanilla ice cream and some cream left over from the soup topped us right up. Fifteen minutes later the boys were falling asleep on the couch and us girls were staring into our wine glasses. The most we could do was make a cup of tea and keep staring out the window. Quite a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon and an excellent start to our challenge.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

My flatmate is trying to kill me.....

With heart disease that is..... As I mentioned earlier, I have recently celebrated a birthday. In aid of the celebration Flatmate generously made me a birthday cake. It was a big surprise. I had to choose the main ingredient (chocolate, of course) and the est was a mystery. After a sport of birthday shopping I came home to this:

The richest chocolate cheesecake I have ever experienced. We’re still working our way through it, one week later. After having N1 & N2 visit and then my parents I was feeling like I’d been eating and drinking a little too much and was planning a health kick. Chocolate cheesecake has postponed that somewhat. Someone has to eat it. Said cake contains: 150 g butter, 450 g dark chocolate, 675 g cream cheese and 1 ½ cups sour cream. Flatmate assures me she used low fat options but I’m not so sure…it all tastes pretty full-fat and divine to me.

In addition to cheesecake there was “late cake” to be made and eaten. Everyone who bakes knows what late cake is, even if they don’t use that name. Late cake is when you are cooking a cake for the next day. You might be taking it to work or preparing it for a friend’s birthday and before you know it you’re pulling it out of the oven at 10 pm and hoping like hell it cools soon so you can ice it. My mother is a queen of late cake. Heading off to boarding school or back to uni I would request some form of baked goods. However I would also request help packing my bags, doing my washing, mending that jumper, hemming those pants and so on. Poor mum would participate in late cake after all that just so I had something to nibble on during the first week.

Late cake this time was Stephanie Alexander’s banana cake, as posted about previously and a caramel mud. The banana cake, though cooked from the same recipe and for the same length of time was a completely different colour and texture to last time. I rarely measure the amount of banana, just throw in 2 or 3 that are looking sad on my bench. As for caramel mud, this is an old favourite of mine that never used to work out at home. Mum’s oven was not the best for baking which made it a seldom-rewarded gamble. But this time it worked and was extremely popular at work (everyone provides cake on their birthday and eats everyone else’s year round) despite being perhaps the sweetest cake I’ve made ever. As you would expect given the quantities of brown sugar required for caramel!

So this week it’s on to that health kick for me. Less butter, more vegies and I’m sure my body will thank me for it. That’s after I fill it with (late) birthday drinks this evening. And then I promise to be good. Really…..