Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Have a great day,
from your crafty Food Hag and her bewitching Cat

Friday, October 26, 2012

Buttermilk panna cotta for young and old

As I write this, I’m watching Two Greedy Italians on tv, the travelogue/cooking show with Antonio Carluccio and that Gennaro guy (Jamie Oliver’s mate). This is right after watching Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals.

You really notice the contrast between the two shows, with Jamie emphasising healthy fast food (calories per portion are shown for each recipe), while the 2 Italians get stuck into massive meals of cured meats, cheeses and barrelfuls of sauce-laden pasta. (But ooh, look, the 2 Italians are in a gym, sniggering at a muscleman. Oh, now they’re back to talking about porchetta…)

It made me think about how, why and when we decide to eat a certain way. Is it a generational thing, with the younger gen being more aware that what you eat now is going to have a bearing on your later years? Does the older generation think, ‘bugger it, I might as well enjoy life while I’ve got a couple of years left’?

I’ve always been wary of stuffing myself until I burst and believe me, the older you get the easier it is to a) eat more, b) put on weight and c) despair at how hard the weight is to shift. The different focus of the 2 tv shows has made me feel that a) I’m not that old (yet), b) it’s not too late to improve my eating habits, and c) I want to get to the age when I can say ‘bugger it, I might as well enjoy life while I’ve got a couple of years left’.

Here’s a recipe that’s deceptively light, tangy and luscious – just be careful you don’t have too much of it.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
serves 4

2 tblsp warm water
2 tsp gelatine powder
1 cup reduced-fat thickened cream
½ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk
Fresh or canned cherries (or other fruit), to serve

1. Place the water in a cup and sprinkle over the gelatine. Stir gently until the gelatine dissolves.

2. Meanwhile, place the cream and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour in the gelatine mixture and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla and buttermilk.

3. Pour the mixture into serving glasses and refrigerate for 3 hours. Top with fruit before serving.

recipe adapted from fast, fresh, simple (Donna Hay).

Looks like a laboratory, doesn't it?
One of the disadvantages of not having enough matching serving glasses.

This is quite a 'sloppy' panna cotta, so it can't be unmoulded onto a plate.
Never mind, just spoon it straight from the glass, it tastes just as good.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aussie Asparagus with Ricotta Gnocchi

Fresh is best. Or IS IT?

As someone who aims to ‘eat local’, a trip to the supermarket or greengrocer means keeping an eye out on the labels on the fruit and veg. Not only do the handy labels tell you what that wrinkled and knobbly round brown ‘thing’ is (it’s a celeriac), the label also tells you how much it is and its country of origin. Stating the obvious? Sorry!

You get to realise over time that it’s not possible to have cherries or pomegranates year-round, which is why you see them in winter labelled ‘Product of USA’. We also get oranges from California and asparagus from Peru (remember this?). I suppose, if you can’t get it without doing something funky with a syringe and a beaker, then a trip on a boat from the other side of the world is better than nothing.

Which brings us to the fact that it’s Asparagus season here in Australia! Three cheers!
I was sent some lovely, healthy (folate-rich) Victorian asparagus by Woolworths, as part of their Fresh Food Experience, and was eager to put them to good use in this recipe. Asparagus season runs from September to November, so the price is currently right and there’s heaps of gorgeous crisp spears to put into your trolley, so ignore the imports for now and get to it.

Ricotta Gnocchi with fresh Asparagus and Pancetta
serves 4

500g low-fat ricotta
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup plain flour, sifted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 bunch fresh asparagus, washed, and ends snapped off
4 slices pancetta
70g butter

1. For the gnocchi: In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan, flour and eggs until well combined. Shape tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on a baking tray. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.

2. For the Asparagus: Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the asparagus and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove the asparagus and refresh under cold water. Cut into 1cm slices. Set aside the asparagus and the pan of water.

3. Cook the gnocchi: Add some salt to the reserved saucepan of water and bring to the boil again. Add the gnocchi and cook for approx 3 minutes, or until they rise to the surface. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked gnocchi and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

4. For the pancetta: Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Place the pancetta in the pan in a single layer, and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until crisp. Remove pancetta and break into small pieces.

5. In the same frying pan, add the butter and heat until the butter turns brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully add the gnocchi and asparagus and toss to coat. Remove from the heat and tip the gnocchi, asparagus and butter into serving bowls. Top with pancetta and serve.

The uncooked gnocchi can be frozen for up to 1 month. Just put the gnocchi on the baking tray into the freezer for one hour, until the gnocchi harden, then remove them to an airtight container or Ziploc bag, separating the layers with greaseproof paper. They can be cooked in boiling water from frozen, although they'll take a bit longer to rise to the surface.

'Aussie-grown asparagus is fresh at Woolworths right now'.

Asparagus and pancetta. Can it get any better?

The gnocchi on a baking tray, before being chilled.
They swell up after cooking, so don't make them too big unless you like them that way.

The brown butter sauce lets the cheesey gnocchi flavour shine through.
And look at that pointy Aussie asparagus, the best kind!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

tweet tweet: Thai-style Beef Salad

Are you on Twitter? Who do you follow? And who follows you?

I’m yet to get on the facebook bandwagon (in fact, I think it left the station long ago and I’ll have to wait for the next wagon to come along). But I love Twitter’s immediacy – and brevity. If you’ve got something to say, then just say it in less than 140 chars. Brilliant!

Twitter’s particularly good for catching up on the latest news – what’s ‘trending’, in Twitter-speak – although it can make you feel a bit behind the times when someone you’ve never heard of is getting lots of attention.

I mainly follow other bloggers – food, fashion and craft tweeters, hi there! – but not too many Hollywood or music stars, unless they support good causes and also tweet glamorous photos of A-list events. Restaurant tweeters are a mixed bunch – some of them use social media really well and regularly interact with their clientele, but others have no idea and you can tell that someone’s told them to get on it but really, they act like they’re at a party but are too up themselves to talk to anyone.

Which brings me to today’s recipe. I’ve made this super-simple, extra-delicious salad heaps of times since NZ cooking celeb, @AnnabelLangbein, tweeted it a couple of months ago. She often provides links to fabulous dishes from her own website, and this one is a winner. She has also just produced a new cookbook, so hopefully there will be more of the same on the twitterwaves.

Oh, and a bit of self-promotion: if you don’t already follow me on Twitter, well, shame on you! Try it, you’ll like it – lots of Tabitha cat pics!
Twitter: @OohLookBel
Instagram: @OohLookBel (for even more cat pics!)

Thai-style Beef Salad
serves 2

2 thick sirloin or rump steaks (approx 170-200g per person)
2 tblsp fish sauce
salt and pepper
½ tblsp vegetable oil
2 eschallots or 1 small brown onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into small batons
12 cherry or baby grape tomatoes, halved
20 mint leaves, torn in half
½ bunch of chives, cut into 2cm lengths

1/3 cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
1 tblsp fish sauce
Juice and zest of ½ a lime

1. For the steaks: Sprinkle the steaks with fish sauce and salt and pepper. Pour the oil into a large frypan over high heat and cook the steaks for 3 minutes on each side (for medium-rare). Add the eschallots to the pan when you turn the steaks over. When done, remove the steaks from the heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes while you make the salad. Keep the eschallots in the pan with the meat juices.

2. For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce and lime juice and zest.

3. Put the cucumber, tomatoes and mint leaves into a large bowl.

4. Cut the steaks into 1cm-thick slices. Add to the salad bowl with the eschallots and pan juices. Pour over the dressing and top with the chives. Serve.

recipe adapted from

A bowlful of fresh flavours: baby grape tomatoes, eschallot, cucumber, mint and lime.

It's the dressing that really ties this salad together, with the heat of the chilli sauce combining brilliantly with the tang of fish sauce and the tingle of lime.