Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Fantastic Food in a flash

I must say that Nigella Express Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast is definitely living up to it's promise of good food fast. I cooked yet another dish from it's pages this evening - the Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad (page 6) and was very impressed with how lightning fast a great meal can be made. I think this took maybe 10-15 mins max and my husband and son pronounced it spectacular. (Carys doesn't do salad so she tucked into corn on the cob!) My son even requested that a little be left for him to spirit it away to pop in his sandwiches for lunch tomorrow (bless him, he knows how to make a mother feel chuffed!).

My husband had jokingly warned that it had better be spectacular as I had rather rashly bought some lamb eye fillets, something I have NEVER done before, and after admonishing him for spending $32kg on turkey breast, his eyes nearly popped out of his head when I revealed that the lamb was $44kg!!!!!! I must say I was rather surprised at myself for buying them, I have always coveted lamb loin recipes as getting fresh lamb loin around here is so rare, and then when they are around they are hideously expensive. I think I had experienced a bit of head rush in the supermarket as they had whole fresh duck in as well and the ridiculous euphoria I experienced upon spying that, grabbing it and putting it in my trolley obviously escalated even more upon seeing the lamb loin!
As soon as I saw this recipe I knew it was going to be a suitably impressive use of the lamb and of course it was. I am rather peeved with myself for not trusting Nigella's cooking times as I cooked them a little longer and they were definitely past pink (gutting I know, but they were still tasty and incredibly tender). The other fizzer was that the chillies I got were no where near hot enough, this dish can definitely do with the zing of chilli, which was there but not at the level that I think it should have been! Having tried the lamb loins I think I can safely go back to leg steaks which at less than half the price would definitely be a worthy substitute.
But, if you have occasion to entertain (or just feel like eating well!) and want something gorgeous and impressive in next to no time, this is a stunner!
2 tsp garlic oil
1 lamb loin (approx 250g)
1 packet salad leaves
3 x 15 ml tbsp chopped mint
2 x 15 ml tbsp fish sauce
1 x 15 ml tbsp redcurrant jelly
2 x 15 ml tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and cook lamb for 5 mins on one side, then turn and cook for 2 mins on the other. Wrap meat in foil, making it a baggy but tightly sealed parcel, and let rest for 5 minutes. Mix dressing ingredients in a bowl. Open foil parcel and empty meat juices into dressing (I also deglazed the pan with some more rice wine vinegar and added that!).
Cut the lamb in slices and add to dressing. Scatter salad leaves on platter (or individual plates) and then arrange the soused lamb with dressing over top. Scatter the chopped mint on top and serve.
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Inspired by NE

Tonights dinner started as one recipe, flipped to another then mutated into something of both. I have been revisiting Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast at the moment, as I got it just before Christmas I had a quick look through it, put it down and promptly left it idle. I have picked it up again however and am enjoying the simple recipes and food combinations that are suggested in it.

I liked the look of the Salmon Escalopes (page 9) with watercress, sugar snap peas and avocado, it seemed ideal for the warm weather we are experiencing, but then I took a look at the Swedish salmon (page 120) and I liked the sound of serving it with the warm potato salad (page 122). Dilemma!

So, as I didnt actually have all the ingredients for either I cobbled together a sort of fusion of the two, which worked surprisingly well.
I made the warm potato salad, but didn't put the bacon in. It was basically potatoes, mayo and chopped red onion.
I then mixed some smoked salmon (chopped into thin strips) with capers, finely chopped cornichons and shredded basil. I dressed this with some lemon juice and olive oil, then salt and pepper of course. Ideally I would have used fresh dill instead of the basil, but didn't have any so basil it was!

To assemble I placed cos leaves and baby spinach leaves with chopped avocado on the plate, piled on the potato salad, then topped it with the smoked salmon (and a little extra red onion). I then drizzled the whole thing with more of the lemon and olive oil dressing.

Simple, quick, light. Fitted the bill perfectly.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More tomatoes

The moonblush tomatoes I whipped up the other day have been sitting in my fridge yearning to be made into the salad we had for dinner tonight. The tomato recipe comes from the 'quick, quick, slow' chapter Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast of and it seems to be a chapter I am drawn to! Plenty of ideas to quickly put together, leave for a while then come back to when the flavour has developed. This is definitely the case with these tomatoes, they improve with a day or so in the fridge. I was desperate to try the suggested salad for these, Slow Roast Tomatoes, Goats Cheese and Mint salad. This is as simple as it sounds, I didn't manage to find any glorious chevre or the like (which would really have turned it from great to out of this world!) so settled for bog standard feta. You then combine the tomatoes, feta, plenty of chopped mint with spinach or rocket leaves, I used baby rocket leaves and they worked excellently. Nigella suggests a basic dressing of lemon juice and olive oil, but again not a lemon was near, so I settled for white wine vinegar, olive oil, a wee bit of mustard and a pinch of sugar. I could have quite happily sat down and scoffed this for lunch but decided to take it one step further and make it a component of dinner.
I couldn't think of anything better to marry it with than lamb, fortuitously the supermarket I visited today had magnificent looking lamb leg steaks so it was meant to be!

The lamb got the Ray McVinnie treatment, since finding this combination in an old Cuisine magazine I find it difficult to do lamb other ways. Very simply (of course!), you marinate the lamb in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, season with salt and pepper and leave for at least a couple of hours. Then you BBQ it until pink, rest it 10 or so minutes before slicing to serve. You need to be careful with cooking it, the marinade burns like anything, so I have learned to only do this one on the BBQ as my pans are nearly ruined when I use them!

I served my trusty couscous up with this, I finely chopped some spring onions and preserved lemons, then roughly chopped some flat leaf parsley and stirred it all through.

The combination of all three elements was a winner. What I most loved was how EASY it all was, took probably 30 mins in total and I am amazed that such a spectacular meal resulted!

Did you know........?

Recently I have made a couple of sales of books through the links that I have put on my blog so I thought I would take this opportunity to say thanks to those who had made purchases and also to let you know about it. That way you can make 'informed' decisions!
When I first set up this blog it was wholly to share my love of cooking and also to get into the discipline of composing posts around that cooking. It has fed my creative needs enormously and I am loving the food styling aspect of it, I am sometimes amazed at how good the food can look, even with my $300 camera!

After I started this I discovered that certain online companies (such as Amazon internationally and Fishpond in NZ) run what is called affiliate programmes, that is, you put links on your site to products they sell, and if you generate sales from those links then you get a percentage. I think it is a great way to turn a hobby/passion into an (albeit small!) income stream so thought I would give it a go.

I have only put links on my blog to things that I personally have experience of and recommend. Those who know me would know that I am not about to put things on willy nilly just for the sake of generating sales! However if you click through from any of the links here and then go on to buy something else then that counts too!

I love my assortment of cookbooks, they are what inspire what I am doing, so of course I am going to want to share that! I was really thrilled to see someone had purchased "The Cooks Companion" by Stephanie AlexanderThe Cook's Companion, this is the most fabulous reference book and is one of the few books I had to have that isn't illustrated at all. But for inspiration on how to use ingredients it is unrivalled, especially for us Antipodeans! It is arranged alphabetically by ingredient, plus it has a basics section, so I often refer to it for things like hollandaise, pastry or how to cook a certain pulse. It is not cheap at $125 and it is a weighty number but I have had my moneys worth out of it in that I use it so regularly. It forms the backbone of my cookbook collection and while I don't always cook from it, recipes I do end up making come from the guidance I first find in it's pages.

The main focus is and always will be my cooking experiences, but if I can generate a little income as a result of that then that is great too!

I know that other people have the same setup on their blogs too, so if you are thinking of purchasing online, do them a favour and use their links. I am sure they will be most grateful!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It's all Laura's fault!

Laura made me do it. No she implored I do it! That is, make the Nectarine and Blueberry Galette out of Nigella Express! Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast So who was I to not obey, after all it was definitely worthy of her is simple, beautiful and delicious! There is nothing like that whole maximum effect for minimum effort, I think I have emphasised that just a few times on this blog!

And in a scary double up I also made the chocolate croissants and the moonblush tomatoes! Thing is, I can see why Laura did it this way, you get the frozen pastry to make the gallette, you have spare sheets so you make the chocolate croissants (and I ALWAYS have bars of 70% chocolate in my pantry, I consider it vital!)

and of course the oven is at 220C so you bang in the tomatoes and turn it off! Brilliant!
The galette is a simple combination of nectarines and blueberry on preprepared rolled puff pastry, score the edges to get it to puff up, smear the pastry with jam mixed with a little cream (I used my tayberry jam for this, Nigella suggests apricot), lay on fruit, dust with sugar (I used vanilla sugar) and bake for 15 mins at 220C.

The croissants are just a case of cutting triangles of the same pastry placing a square of chocolated in the middle and rolling up to form a crescent, have the point facing away and it will work out just fine. Then it's just a case of brushing them with a little beaten egg and baking them at 220c for 12-15 mins.The tomatoes get sprinkled with olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar. Nigella suggest dried thyme as well, but I didn't have any so drizzled on some balsamic. I didn't read the recipe properly and I used large tomatoes, which should have been cut up smaller, so after leaving them over night and thinking they didn't look 'done' enough I put them on at 100c for another hour or so. They are just lovely.

They were all a doddle, quick and so yummy, I took the galette to a friends for dessert and served it with mascarpone. Heaven!
You can check out Laura too at

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Refreshingly summer

These kebabs jumped out at me as a quick and easy light dinner. This is from the January taste magazine which I have already made several recipes from, it seems like the subscription was money well spent! The reason I was drawn to this recipe is it used pomegranate molasses, something I bought a little while ago and have been wondering what to do with. You drizzle it on at the end, I only wish I had known how wickedly concentrated its flavour was as I was too heavy handed with it and it overpowered the dish. I will know for next time as this was lovely apart from that!

Chicken and Pineapple skewers with Pomegranate Molasses

Makes about 16

3 chicken breasts
1 large red pepper
1/2 fresh pineapple
227g can water chestnuts drained (I left these out as didnt have them)
16 Kaffir lime leaves (I used ordinary lime leaves from the tree in my backyard!)
Bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
Pomegranate molasses for drizzling
Steamed rice to serve

Cut chicken, red pepper and pineapple into cubes. Thread onto skewers. Cook on an oiled bbq hotplate over low-medium heat, if you cook too quickly the ingredients will char and the chicken may not cook properly.

Transfer to a platter when cooked and drizzle with the molasses and serve immediately with the steamed rice.

Quick easy nibbles part two

The other couple of nibbles that were childs play to make were the turkey on rye bread with cranberry and creme fraiche. This was simply a case of bringing together lots of lovely ingredients. I happened to tea smoke my turkey breast which made it a little more complicated but actually smoking is not such a difficult thing to do now that I have tried it a few times. This was smoked with a mix of loose leaf tea, brown sugar and rice (instead of wood shavings) and the

breast meat had been marinated in honey, sherry, garlic, mustard and butter for a few hours before smoking.
It gave a really lovely result and I am keen to try chicken done this way next.

Then it was just a case of slicing the breast, mixing together some cranberry jelly and creme fraiche, and putting them on top of some lovely dark rye bread that I had bought from the Danish bakery while we were in Christchurch. I popped it straight into the freezer when we got back and it was just excellent.

The roasted pepper and feta cream bruschetta (or are they crostini?)were also pretty straightforward. I sprayed slices of french bread with olive oil spray then baked them and topped them with feta mixed with cream cheese and roasted red and yellow peppers. Again all of this was able to be done ahead of time and assembled at the last minute.

Lastly the chilli prawns with lime mayo. I mixed the defrosted cooked prawns through with a couple of tablespoons of chilli and soy paste that I had received in my swap parcel from Jessica (I am nearly at the end of the jar, I love it!) and stir fried them until warm through, serving them with a lime mayo, which is just a basic mayo made from scratch with the juice and zest of two limes added. I love home made mayo for something a little more special, it keeps for a few days too although generally doesn't last that long in my house anyway!

Easy quick nibbles part one

As I had plenty of experience creating canapes for our Christmas dinner I thought I would go over what I made and how easy they were..... First up are the sundried tomato palmiers.

These are spectacularly simple and yet always look so impressive. They are lovely in their own right, but are also lovely used to dip in something that compliments the filling (for example a cheese filled one would work great with a tomato salsa or the sundried tomato one would work with an avocado dip). You can fill them with whatever you like, we had a very nice anchovy filled one at a restaurant recently, and you can go sweet or savoury. I use prepared puff pastry (if you want to make it really easy buy the ready rolled sheets). You spread your desired filling on (in this case sundried tomato pesto and grated parmesan but other suggestions could be cheese, tapenade, basil pesto, sugar and cinnamon, chocolate, jam)

fold them over until they meet in the middle

cut them up into little heart shape looking pieces

pop on a tray

cook at 190C for about 10-15 mins, until golden brown.

Cool on a rack and keep in an airtight container. Alternatively if using fresh pastry freeze at the uncooked stage and bring them out when a quick, impressive snack is desired!

Friends who cook

It is really nice to have friends who own cafes and cook lunch for you specially, even more so if while you are eating that lunch they shoo other would be diners away telling them lunch is finished! I love that feeling!

We have friends who have a cafe that we always visit in Mount Maunganui called Two Small Fish. It has had several write ups in the likes of Cuisine and other mags and is always pronounced to be a good place to eat. I concur!

It is run by Trent Clarke and Nicola Brown, both of whom used to work for us when we had our ill fated restaurant. Both showed the potential they have definitely realised in their own venture, their cafe has been going strong for about 5 years! They concentrate on seafood obviously, usually they have about 7 different kinds of fish, which changes regularly, depending on availability. They also do a number of other seafood dishes, squid, prawns, crayfish, scallops and crab are regulars. All of which I have tried, all delicious. One favourite that appears quite regularly are gurnard tails stuffed with scallops (I think!) and wrapped in nori then fried. I have always liked them!
The last time we dined, we were worried that we wouldn't get fed as it was quite late in the day, fortunately we weren't refused and I chose John Dory on kumara mash with green beans, beetroot and a cabernet sauvignon verjuice jelly. It was YUM! Can't remember what Glen had, I was too busy concentrating on mine. I am always amazed that Glen orders seafood when we are there as he is not a big seafood fan, obviously the way it is described on the menu entices him!

Trent is a pretty laid back character and always makes time for a chat even when he is flat out in the kitchen. Nic manages the front of house with startling efficiency and makes it look so effortless. I always enjoy a foodie chat with both of them, it gets me inspired!

While we were there we were discussing blini as I had made them for the first time over Christmas. He happened to be whipping up a batch so showed me how he makes them. Different to mine, as he used mashed potatoes, his were denser and larger but still had the same lovely yeasty flavour that sets blini apart from your standard pancake. I think I will go with his method next time as it looks so much easier and nicer.

If you are ever in the Mount, pop in and try their lovely food. They are open most days for lunch and dinner (might be closed Mondays?).

After that gorgeous big lunch I wasn't keen on too much dinner, but kept with the seafood theme and had prawns and smoked fish with basil mayo and a glass of well chilled sauvignon blanc. Bliss!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Garden's Bounty

The main theme of this post seems to be about making the most of fresh produce, both home grown and store bought. I have been revelling in the vast range of great fruit and vege available at the moment, and am so spoiled for choice it is almost getting the better of me as I try to decide what to do with it all!

What kicked me off was receiving a large container of gooseberries from my mother's friend Pam. Both Mum and Pam are keen (and great) cooks and gardeners. I love this of course as I am often a recipient of gorgeous fruit or vege that is too plentiful for them to eat themselves. Rhubarb is a common one that I spirit from them, plus various types of lettuce, beans, cherry tomatoes and herbs from my mother and citrus fruit from Pam, including her lovely limes! They are a lifesaver at times, knowing that if I can't get one of those things (or have forgotten to get them is more like!) at the supermarket, I can pop around and do a raid!

I used to have 2 lovely raised vege gardens before we extended our house and they got swallowed up in the name of more floor space, fortunately we were able to uplift them and rehouse them in my mothers back yard and they continue to bear fruit so to speak! I so miss having veges in my back garden, I have never quite gotten the momentum up again to start a garden somewhere else in my backyard. As our plans are to move in the next year or so it doesn't look likely either! So I am grateful for being able to enjoy the fruits of my mother's labour!
I have never cooked gooseberries before. I absolutely love them but realised as I was looking for recipes to do something with them that all my experiences were of my mothers cooking of them, usually in a lovely buttery shortcake. I decided this was my best bet too, as the other option, a gooseberry and elderflower fool required me hunting down the elderflower cordial, which I knew was going to be mission impossible around here! The gooseberries are a bit of a pain in that you have to top and tail them, got a bit boring I must say. This is when the lazy cook that I am shines through, I am really not one for lots of prep with fruit and vege! I also wasn't sure whether to cook them first or put them in uncooked. I decided to cook them, I added a couple of tablespoons of sugar and even though I added no water they were decidedly runny. I decided to thicken it with cornflour and let it well and truly cool down before I popped it into the pie.

I used an absolute favourite recipe of mine from Allyson Gofton, which is a shortcakey kind of krummeltorte. It was one of her very first "Food in a Minute" recipes and I have thrashed it ever since as it can all be done in the food processor and is so little effort for such excellent reward!
I now use self raising flour instead of the flour and BP and I use it as a base for any fruit, as I always have tinned apple (which is more lacking in flavour I concede, but is a good standby) and frozen berries, these are the usual culprits. I love it - if someone drops in I can throw it together in no time flat, bung it in the oven and have something lovely to serve with coffee.

Apple Shortcake (or Gooseberry as mine was!)

250 g very soft butter (but not melted)
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
grated rind of one orange
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsps baking powder
Fruit to fill (around 1 1/2c)

1. In a bowl or food processor beat together the butter, castor sugar, egg, vanilla essence and orange rind until creamy and well mixed.
2. Add the flour and baking powder and stir or pulse to mix well.
3. Spread 2/3rds into the base of a well greased and floured 23cm loose bottom cake tin.
4. Spread over the apple or other fruit.
5. With floured hands dot the remaining dough over the top.
6. Bake at 190oC for 40 minutes. I have also been making pesto after seeing the prolific amount of basil my sister's green house was producing I arbitrarily decided she did not need it all and I would take a huge bag home. This was served just tossed through spaghetti, one of my favourite summer meals! My food processor is really getting a work out at the moment!I visited the nearby farmers market for the first time today, it is in its infancy and still rather small, with the selection quite limited. I did manage to pick up some lovely organic potatoes, the purple skinned variety, some broad beans and a luscious looking rockmelon. I had a dish in mind for the potatoes and broad beans, but wasn't sure whether the rockmelon would last until the evening to do anything with!
After a couple of rave reviews I wanted to make Pi's (from Violet's Pantry) crushed potatoes to go with panfried fish, broadbeans and hollandaise (from the October 2007 Taste mag). Again the scraping of those lovely little potatoes was arduous but I suppose worth it, they are so waxy and creamy and lovely!
For the crush you just flatten them with a fork, pop on some butter and a handful of chopped spring onions, plus I added a mix of fresh herbs (basil, parsley, chives and mint). It was really nice and worked well with the rest of the dish.
The hollandaise recipe was a departure from my usual version in that I didnt have a lemon and I have never bothered to make hollandaise if I didn't have lemons. I decided to give this one a go, as instead of lemons you reduce white wine vinegar by boiling it with peppercorns and bayleaves until it has reduced to a quarter of its original amount, intensifying it. You then proceed as you would with a normal hollandaise, mixing it with the egg yolks and adding the butter in slowly while mixing over a double boiler. It turned out well and I will definitely use it again (although I do definitely prefer the lemon version).

The rockmelon did get a little attention, my son decided he liked the idea of using the melon baller so we dressed them with some brown sugar, balsamic and mint and it was so sweet yet refreshing. Made me feel a little more virtuous after the other things I have been putting away!Lastly, while out and about I visited all the local berry farms as they are about to close for the season. They all do their own frozen berries up and they are cheaper and tastier than the ones generally available at the supermarket. They are great for jam too, I made a few jars up with one lot of Tayberries which are I believe a cross between a blackberry and raspberry and make the most gorgeous tart jam. Of course I had to make some fresh bread rolls up to use up the last bits that weren't going to fill another jar! Was going to do a spiel on bread but this post is long enough so that will be told in the next instalment!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Calorie Laden part 2

The other recipe I made was out of this month's Taste mag, it took my fancy as soon as I saw it, Tiramisu on a stick! I have always loved Tiramisu, don't care if it is not very 'now'! I adore trifle and this is the coffee lovers version in my opinion, and now that I can easily get mascarpone I have made it several times. My usual recipe uses a ridiculous amount of eggs, 9 to be exact, but I usually try to scale it back to 6 eggs and adjust everything else accordingly. The usual recipe requires beating the egg yolks and sugar to make a zabaglione (traditionally done over a double boiler), beating the egg whites, cream and then mixing them all with mascarpone cheese and layering this mix with coffee dipped sponge fingers. This can be a bit of a pain, traditional trifle makes a custard and uses that to layer and I know that making custard is infinitely easier than the drama with the zabaglione etc. However, when you are feeding a crowd, I think Tiramisu looks and tastes so much more impressive, and is easy to make up in huge serving dishes.

This recipe borrows from the traditional trifle by using custard instead of the zabaglione, however I just couldn't bring myself to buy prepared custard like the recipe asks for as I think it tastes plastic! I am ok with convenience when taste isn't drastically compromised! So I came up with the next best thing and used the box of Green's custard I got sent in my very first swap parcel from I don't actually know who sent this to me, so if you want to identify yourself that would be nice as I could thank you properly! It worked perfectly! The process of layering the mix and spongefingers was a bit time consuming but fortunately my friend and her daughter had called in so I engaged their extra hands to make it go faster!

These were pronounced very yummy by all who tasted. A novel dessert that can be prepared ahead of time and whipped out at the last minute! Just get them out of the freezer about 20 minutes before serving so they have softened enough to enjoy!

This recipe made 10 large desserts, I would make them smaller next time as it was a little too large a serving!

Tiramisu on a stick
2 shots strong espresso (I added coffee liqueur to it too!)
12 sponge fingers (I used savoirdi biscuits)
1 c cream
2 c store bought custard (or make your own!)
1 c mascarpone
2-3 tbsp cocoa

Put coffee and liqueur into shallow dish and dip sponge biscuits until just moist (need to still be dry inside). Set aside on a plate. Whip cream then gently fold it into custard. In another bowl whisk mascarpone with another shot of coffee then whisk custard mix in. Arrange 10 paper or plastic cups on the bench and dust inside with cocoa (I sprayed mine with cooking spray first so the cocoa would stick to the sides). Drop in a dollop of custard mix, crumble a bit of the sponge fingers over then dust with a layer of cocoa. Repeat until cups are half full, smooth the top of the mix, add a final dusting of cocoa powder. Place an icecream stick in the middle of each cup and pop in the freezer preferably over night (I made mine in the morning and served them in the evening and they were perfect.) Take out and let 'ripen' for 20 mins before serving. Tip each icecream out of its cup before serving.

The other summer cooler I have been relying on in this heat is chocolate or coffee frappe type drink that I seem to find myself making at about 3 or 4pm each afternoon. When Starbucks first hit NZ I always thought they made lousy coffee but loved their frappacinos. It didn't take me long to not want to pay the ridiculous price for them or even to support the fact that they are a serious undermining of the idea of good coffee (anyone who serves coffee in such ridiculously large cups or adds 50 different flavours to them isn't really about coffee!)

So I experimented with how to make them at home. 2 blenders later I have perfected the mix. A blender that crushes ice well is essential (also serves up terrific margaritas and daiquiri slushies!) and I just make a chocolate syrup, add it to milk, some icecream and a tray of icecubes and blitz!!!! For the coffee version I add a shot of espresso sweetened with a tsp of sugar and the rest is the same. Sometimes I lash out and combine them both for a mocha version!
They are an uplifting way to move through the we topped the country with 33 degrees C!