Monday, March 28, 2011

Moody jaffa chocolate pots

D'ya like the dark background? Moody, intense ... chocolatey.

Since getting involved in this food blogging caper, it's been all about colour, atmosphere, balance.  And food photographs. I realise that the words can be just as important, and there are heaps of blogs that can wonderfully evoke the sense of a topic without pictures. This is not such a blog because I spend, oh, roughly twice as much time on the pictures than I do on the words. I am not a wordsmith, though I love to read and am really diligent about grammar (to the point of being all head-prefect bossy about it, though I'm probably gramatically wrong most of the time!).

The focus on photos means almost neverending search for the perfect props and backgrounds for the food pictures.  And it also means having one or two plates of a particular design and having to dine off mismatching crockery - "hey, don't use the good plates, I'm saving those for a photo!". For the backgrounds, I've found I like dark colours to show off food because black makes most colours pop.  Like with these chocolate pots where the mandarin segments become so vibrant. So, do you like the dark background?  I do.

Jaffa Chocolate Pots
serves 4

45g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
250g mascarpone cheese
1 tblsp grated orange zest
mandarin segments, to serve (optional)

1.  Melt the chocolate over simmering water or using the microwave (medium-low heat in 40 second bursts until almost melted).  Cool slightly.
2.  Place the mascarpone into a bowl and add the melted chocolate and orange zest.  Stir until well combined. 
3.  Spoon the mixture into small pots or ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes.
4.  Serve with mandarin segments or other fruit.

Only 3 ingredients: chocolate, orange and mascarpone.
Thinking I didn't have enough chocolate, I was going to use my dark chocolate Lindt bunny. Fortunately, he did not have to sacrifice his ears.
Combine the mascarpone, melted chocolate and orange.
The mixture is not that smooth; just mix until there are no streaks of mascarpone or chocolate.
Spoon into small pots and chill.
I only have 4 of these pots, so of course I had to use them here.
The mandarin segments (tinned) go beautifully with this rich mousse-like dessert.

See the snazzy slatted placemat? It was a gift to replace the ratty cardboard I normally use.
Thanks to heneedsfood for the advance warning =)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Puffy antipasto sandwiches for your convenience

Puff pastry sheets (PPS) are an overlooked convenience food.

I came to this conclusion after buying a packet of PPS to make something (forgotten what; I have a mind like a fine sieve). The PPS come in bundles of 6 sheets, which is great if you're making lots of sausage rolls for the tuckshop, but otherwise, they tend to hang around in the freezer for ages.

So I wandered through my extensive library of magazines (located in the East wing of my mansion, ha!) and found this quick recipe for some puffy sandwiches.  To make it even quicker I bought the roasted veges from the delicatessen, but you can roast your own if you like.  You only need one sheet of PPS to make 2 sambos, so invite your appetite, or your friends, if you want to use up those sheets. 

Antipasto Sandwiches
serves 2

1 sheet of puff pastry, approx 30cm (12in) square 
2 tblsp grated parmesan
2 tblsp bought pesto
50g roasted eggplant
50g roasted capsicum
8 small bocconcini, sliced
1 ripe tomato, sliced
Salad leaves, to serve

1.  Preheat oven to 180°C.
2.  Cut the pastry sheet into four equally-sized pieces. Place on a lightly greased baking tray and sprinkle with parmesan. Prick two of the pastry pieces with a fork to stop them rising too much. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes until light golden, then set aside to cool.
3.  Spread pricked pastry sheets with pesto, then layer each with roasted vegetables, bocconcini and tomato. Season with black pepper. Place the other piece of pastry, cheese-side up, on top and return to oven for 5 minutes to heat through.
4.  Serve the puffy sandwiches with salad leaves drizzled with olive oil

recipe adapted from delicious (Sept 2002)
Ingredients: roasted eggplant and capsicum (store-bought), little bocconcini, tomato and rocket leaves
The pastry is sprinkled with parmesan and baked till puffy and golden
Layer on your ingredients. Tall food is good food.
Bake until the cheese becomes soft and melty
And devour.
This would make a lovely light lunch. If only I had access to an oven at lunchtime rather than a city foodcourt full of non-puffy sandwiches...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

tomato zumbo

For a peek at 2 new cakes at Adriano Zumbo Patissier, click here

Includes 'Ring of Saturn' ($9) and the Tomato ($8!!!) that was on the SBS tv show.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The return of the Quinoa (now with harissa meatballs)

Remember my quinoa phase? Once I'd discovered this healthy grain, I couldn't get enough of it.  The old packet of quinoa wasn't even finished before I was buying another pack, scared that I would run out.  So.  I currently have three packets of quinoa in the cupboard. Run out? Not likely.  Better use them up, quick smart.

And another thing - do you know what's annoying (apart from an oversupply of quinoa in the cupboard)?  It's when you need something for a recipe and it's not in season.  I suppose that's why chefs are always on about cooking with what's available.  But I can't help it, if the recipe says to use pomegranate and orange, I will search far and wide for them.  Luckily, navel oranges are sweet and juicy at the moment, but poms are harder to find.  Eventually I got one, imported from the other side of the world and a bit thick-skinned and pale, but found it nonetheless.  This colouful dish is ready to go!

Harissa chicken meatballs with quinoa
serves 4

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 tblsp harissa
500g lean chicken mince
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
1 tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp finely chopped mint
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
2 oranges, segmented and membrane removed

1.  For the quinoa: Bring the water to the boil, then add some salt for flavour.  Add the quinoa then cover the pan and for about 8 minutes, until the water is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
2.  For the meatballs: Mix the harissa and chicken mince, chopped onion and some salt and pepper until well combined.  Roll into walnut-sized balls.  Heat olive oil in a large non-stick frypan and cook the meatballs for about 15 minutes, turning until golden all over and cooked through.
3.  For the salad: Mix the cooked quinoa with the sliced onion, mint, pomegranate and orange segments.  Drizzle with more olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.
4.  Serve the meatballs with the quinoa salad.

recipe adapted from olive
Not usually a fan of citrus in dishes, but the orange in this salad was fantastic, particularly due to its sweetness (just realised, it's a California orange).  Peeling the membrane off the orange segments also makes it quite presentable.

I'm also pleased that my previous recipe for Jewelled Rice with Pomegranate and Walnut Chicken is featured on the Women's Health magazine website. Click here to see it and lots more.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Treasure chest of Jewelled Rice

This is a treasure chest of glistening jewels and healthfulness.

There are many recipes for Jewelled Rice, but they all have in common the ingredients of rice (!) and the jewel colours from dried fruits like cherries or cranberries, and saffron and pistachios.  This recipe is from Jamie Oliver, so while it's probably not that authentic, the flavours are spot on and it's really easy to make.

Speaking of being easy to make (and where there's simplicity - I'm there), I served the rice with a pomegranate and walnut chicken. It's another straightforward effort made even easier because it's on the page following the jewelled rice in jamie magazine.  What's another word for lazy? C'est moi!

Jewelled rice
serves 4

200g red, wild, brown or basmati rice, cooked
1x400g can of lentils
75g pistachios, chopped
100g dried cranberries or dried sour cherries, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Large bunch of mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 tblsp fried onions
Extra-virgin olive oil

1.  Place the lentils in a large bowl with the cooked rice, pistachios, cranberries and lemon juice, and season well with salt and pepper.
2.  Add the mint and a drizzle of olive oil, then toss to mix.
3.  Serve sprinkled with the fried onions

Pomegranate and walnut chicken
serves 4

4 chicken thighs, fillets or with bone in
3 tblsp pomegranate molasses
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp crushed garlic
2 red onions, quartered
50g walnuts
Handful of rocket leaves

1.  Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Place the chicken in a roasting tray and pour over the molasses. Season well, then sprinkle with the cinnamon and olive oil.  Add the garlic, onion and walnuts and toss.  Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and roast for a further 15 minutes until the chicken is golden, sticky and cooked through.
2. Scatter the rocket leaves over the chicken before serving.

recipes adapted from jamie magazine

Some of the colourful ingredients, including dried cranberries, pistachios, red onion and lemon (juice).

The chicken before and after cooking, moist with pomegranate molasses, garlic and walnuts.

The cinnamon spice in the chicken and jewelled rice bring a Middle Eastern flavour to the meal

The rice is served with fried onions on top.  I used brown rice and its nutty flavour goes well with the cranberries, mint and lemon

A colourful dish is so easy to eat!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Taste of Sydney 2011 - sunny, with a chance of over-eating

Taste of Sydney 2011 - a festival of eating, drinking and the search for a shady table.

Honestly, I wasn't going to go to Taste of Sydney this year - the high cost of tickets ($25-$30 for standard entry), the risk of inclement weather and the outdoor setting did not make me enthusiastic at all.  Then I saw some of the dishes that were on offer and I changed my mind like a fickle, mind-changing glutton food-lover. And I prayed for dry, cool weather (the Bureau of Meterology said it would be partly cloudy with chance of showers).

I always like to go to the Saturday afternoon session of Taste, so I aimed to arrive at 12pm, grab a table, eat and drink for 1.5 hours, walk around a bit then go home.  The day sort of went to plan. After lining up for tickets and buying $60 worth of crowns (tokens with which to pay for the food), I got a feeling for how hot it was going to get and made a beeline for the nearest table with an umbrella (not too near the loud bandstand). Then I got out my list of 'dishes I must get' and sent my dining companion out to collect.
This is what we had.

From Assiette and District Dining: Crispy pork belly with cashew nut caramel, watermelon and mint ($12); Spicy free-range chicken with lime aioli and coleslaw ($10).
The pork belly skin was quite chewy rather than crispy, though the meat was moist and tasted of Asian spices. The watermelon and radish were very refreshing, though I think this dish was overpriced given the size. The chicken was fantastic (much better than KFC, dare I say).

From Restaurant Balzac: Crisp Wagyu beef with wild mushroom and truffle foam ($12).
This restaurant always surprises with its wonderful pork and beef offerings, and this spring roll was excellent. Like a beef Wellington, the meat inside was pull-apart tender, and the 'foam' was like cream of mushroom soup with lots of truffle flavour. This dish was so good, it was almost enough for me to forgive the constant emails from Restaurant Balzac since I got on their mailing list 2 years ago.

From Berowra Waters Inn and Ad Lib Bistro: Slow cooked fillet of ocean trout with French onion soup puree and peppered oxtail croustillant ($12); Chilled Vichyssoise, oyster beignets, salmon roe ($10).
The salmon was perfectly cooked (it always amazes me how the restaurants manage to churn out hundreds of dishes of mainly high quality). The 'croustillant' was oxtail meat wrapped in pastry and very tasty but the French onion puree was extremely strong-tasting and reminded me of Bonox or boullion cubes (not in a good way).  The Vichyssoise was fantastic, like a creamy foam with an intense flavour of leeks, and the 'pop' of salmon roe balls.

We had to buy another $30 worth of crowns because I forgot to factor in drinks. This is a limonata ($4), a cider ($6) and a 'beer and nuts' ($8) from Cotton Duck restaurant.  I later bought a bottle of water as well ($4).

Now onto the desserts.
From Bird Cow Fish: Tiramisu roulade with caramel sauce ($8)
From Otto Ristorante: Amedei milk chocolate mousse with salted caramel and fresh berries ($8).
The Tiramisu had a wonderfully strong flavour of coffee/Tia Maria, but the serving was a bit small.
The milk chocolate mousse from Otto was more like a tart and was INCREDIBLE. The mousse was so light and the salted caramel was hidden in the centre. The base of crumbs was matched with chocolate crumbs on top of the rich chocolate glaze. And the size was massive, I could barely eat all of my half.

In our wanderings after eating, we came across the Sensology cocktail-making classes which looked fun. There were the usual cookware, wine producers, cake outlets (Patisse shown here) and 'purveyors of fine meats' to inspect.  I didn't try it because I already had it last year, but the massive paellas from Aperitif smelt marvellous, full of seafood and saffron.  And that's my 'must eat' list above - printing out the menus beforehand really helped me to focus on the end goal.

So in the end, I'm glad I went.  It's annoying that Sydney's Taste is held outdoors while Melbourne's is inside. This weekend's weather was fortunately fine, but very warm and uncomfortable when you're sitting in the sun (and can't afford the air-conditioned VIP area).  Most of the dishes we had were lovely, but rather over-priced when you factor in the entry fee as well.  All up, we spent $94 on food and drink for two people, which is quite a lot for lunch.  I wasn't too full afterwards, though being in the heat made me a bit woozy on the walk back to Paddington. But that's probably just my being out of shape for an afternoon of lazing about and stuffing myself!  So, for Taste of Sydney, it's Adieu till next year.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chorizo pilaf in cute dishes is a winner - FACT!

Fact: Putting food in small, cute dishes makes mundane food look irresistible
Fact: Calling an everyday dish something different will make it seem more exotic
Fact: Putting the word ‘FACT’ before a statement makes it more believable. FACT!
First, let’s look at this ‘pilaf’. Now, I’ve made many rice and chorizo dishes in my time – click here and here – and they’ve been called many things, including paella and ‘Spanish rice’. This dish is called pilaf because it uses long-grain basmati rice instead or paella rice or short-grain Calasparra. In any case, I was looking for a quick after-work recipe and ‘pilaf’ attracted me (fact number 2 in action). The pilaf is redolent with the fragrance of cumin and paprika and together with the spicy, oily chorizo, it makes a wonderfully exotic dish.

Now, onto the presentation. How delectable are these dishes? Fact: They are incredibly cute! The mini chef pans are from Luke Nguyen’s new range. The local chef has a range of cooking utensils, woks and frypans, mortar and pestle and serving dishes out (see details here) and they are bound to produce cries of ‘ooh, I must try some of that’ when you wheel them out at your next party. I bought these ones at Myer, and will keep my eye out for other designs. Cuteness overload!

Chorizo Pilaf
serves 2-3

1 tblsp olive oil
2 chorizo sausages, sliced
1 brown onion, halved, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tblsp ground cumin
8 small mushrooms, sliced
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tblsp parsley leaves, chopped
lemon wedges, to serve

1. Heat 1oil in a large non-stick frypan over medium heat. Cook chorizo for 2 to 3 minutes each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels.
2. Add onions to the pan. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
3. Add garlic, chilli, paprika and cumin. Cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring, or until soft.
4. Stir in rice and mushrooms. Add stock and chorizo. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir through parsley, and salt and pepper. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over.

recipe adapted from
Ingredients, including cumin and paprika, crushed garlic, mushrooms, chorizo, onion and lemon

Simmering in the pan.
Note: I cheated a bit and used pre-cooked microwave basmati rice from a pouch - I don't often use basmati rice and didn't want to buy a 1kg bag, and the microwave stuff takes less time to cook in the pan anyway.

The lemon here is for display purposes, to show the scale of the tasting plates.
I wouldn't normally serve the evening meal in these little plates but they'd be great for your next party.

One serve is enough for each guest. Only problem is, you'd have to get more than one set of plates if you wanted to invite more than 4 guests!

Yes, the plates are worth it for the delightfulness factor.
The chorizo pilaf was very good, too.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Zucchini-wrapped lamb koftas

How often do you make the same dish, over and over and over?

I have phases where I'll make the same favourite dish every week... until I get sick of it, or something else takes the mantle of 'most wanted'.  I've made this lamb kebab/kofta three times in three months, so I'm not yet weary of it.  It does take a bit of effort in pre-cooking the lamb and the zucchini, but this can be done beforehand, with the dish assembled, ready for the oven just before you want to serve it.  And don't forget the amazing red sauce - the hint of chilli flakes in the sweet tomato sauce will have you coming back for more.

Just a note on terminology: I call them 'zucchinis', but the recipe (which is by UK-based Yotam Ottolenghi) refers to them as 'courgettes'.  I'd also refer to the lamb balls as 'koftas' rather than 'kebabs', but I thought I'd follow the recipe. Heck, who am I kidding? This isn't some Nobel Prize essay - just call them scrumptious.

Courgette-wrapped lamb kebabs
serves 2-4

2 tblsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
50g stale white bread, crusts removed
300g minced lamb
55g feta cheese, crumbled
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 egg
15g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
light olive oil, for frying
2 medium courgettes (zucchini)

2 tblsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g Italian tinned tomatoes, crushed
pinch dried chilli flakes
1 tsp basil leaves, chopped

1.  For the sauce: Place the oil and crushed garlic in a saucepan and stir over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  Add the tinned tomatoes and chilli flakes and season with salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.
2.  For the kebabs: Soak the bread in cold water for 2 minutes, then drain and squeeze to remove most of the water. Crumble the bread into a large mixing bowl and add the lamb, crumbled feta, pine nuts, spices, garlic, egg, parsley, salt and pepper.  Mix the ingredients with your hands until well combined, but do not overmix.  Shape into 12 fat, cigar-shaped balls.
3.  Pour 5mm (1/4") depth of olive oil into a large frying pan and shallow-fry the kebabs for 1 minute on each side until they are browned. Remove from the pan and set aside on a baking tray.
4.  Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
5.  For the courgettes: Slice off both ends and then cut long, thin slices down the length of each courgette. You'll need about 12 slices (the same number as there are kebabs).  Brush each slice with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place a chargrill pan over high heat. When heated, lay the courgette slices in the hot pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until grill marks appear.  Remove to a tray to cool.
6.  Wrap each kebab finger in a slice of courgette and arrange in a single layer in a baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through.
7.  To serve, bring the sauce back to the boil, add the basil and stir through.  Arrange the kebabs on serving plates and spoon over the sauce.

recipe adapted from Ottolenghi the cookbook
Ingredients, including tomatoes and garlic (for the sauce), and feta, egg, spices, pine nuts and lamb (for the kebabs)
The zucchini are chargrilled before wrapping around the pan-fried lamb kebabs.
Keep away from curious Tabitha cats.  
The kebabs are beautiful when served with the sauce on top

And the sauce is also fantastic on its own, with pasta

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spicy chicken and a tale of a poorly Tabitha cat

I don't know about you, but you couldn't drag me to the shop to buy chicken breast to cook with, even if it came with a signed photograph of David Beckham with his top off.  That pretty much sums up my aversion to chicken breast, so why is there a recipe for Coconutty Chicken featuring the feared white meat?

It's all because of
Tabitha cat.

The other morning, I found Tabitha sick, lying on a cushion and completely off her food. I mean, Tabs is NEVER off her food, so I was pretty worried. So much that I came home early from work and found a vet that made house calls. By the time the excellent vet arrived, the Tabster was a bit better, enough to bite, scratch and hiss at him when he tried to take her temperature.  The vet diagnosed a probable gut virus and prescribed no food for the rest of the day (poor Tabs!) and something 'bland, like boiled chicken' for the next day. So I bought some chicken breast (less fatty and more bland than thigh meat), chopped a third of it off and poached it in some water for Tabitha. She loved it.

The rest of the chicken became our dinner that night. I had to find a recipe that would mask the dryness of the meat and this chicken with coconut milk fit the bill. Speaking of bills - the vet bill was quite high, but it was worth it for the Tabster. She has made a full recovery.

These photos were taken while Tabs was sick, and afterwards the same day:
Before: "Get that effing camera out of my face"
After: "Well, I'm glad that's over with. Now, where's the food?"

So that's the story of how chicken breast graced my kitchen. Here's the recipe:

Chicken with coconut and chilli
serves 2

2x 200g chicken breast fillets
200ml coconut milk
1 tblsp lime juice
2 tblsp fish sauce
1 long red chilli, sliced
100g bean sprouts
2 spring onions, sliced
to serve: blanched snow peas, steamed rice

1.  Place the chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce and chilli in a bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to marinate.
2.  Place a non-stick frypan over high heat.  Cook the chicken, reserving the marinade, for 4 minutes each side, or until golden.  Add the marinade to the pan and cook for a further 4-6 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Add the bean sprouts to the pan and heat through until they soften, about 1 minute.
3.  Remove the chicken from the pan and slice.  Serve the chicken with rice, snow peas and the bean sprouts.  Spoon over the pan sauce and sprinkle with spring onions.

recipe adapted from donna hay (feb/mar 2011)
Ingredients, well the vegetable part, anyway.

Chicken simmering in coconut milk marinade, with bean sprouts

Serve the chicken with some healthy brown rice and some greenery
 This has been one of the rare occasions where chicken breast has turned out quite tasty and moist. Thanks to Tabitha!