Monday, September 29, 2008

Curry Feast

I often fall back on curry when entertaining. It is so easy to make the curries in advance as well as many of the accompaniments, then on the day it is just a case of preparing rice and breads. I made a Lamb Korma and a variation of a Chicken Tikka. The Korma recipe is one I have made before and really love- I found it on Pistachio en la cocina - a fabulous blog that I am often inspired to cook from. The post also includes recipes for rice with peas (a pilaf) and chapatis, both of which I have also made and which I made again for this meal. I made the curries and transferred them to slow cookers to keep warm and develop a little more in flavour. The chicken curry is very much my standby made up as I go along curry, and is never the same twice, so I won't bore you with that one!
To go with the curries I serve my lemon pickle (which works really well!), raita, poppadoms, bananas with yoghurt and coconut and a tomato, fresh coconut and coriander salad.

Rex grated the coconut, using my mother's genius coconut grater that she brought home from Rarotonga. He also made the chapatis and dessert......which was of course Chocohotopots. He is proving to be a very valuable asset in the kitchen!!!! (Just need to get him to clean up now!!)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dessert Pizza

I can't say I have been a great fan of such things as dessert pizzas- however I tried a delicious one a few months ago and resolved to give it go sometime soon. I rarely have 'spare' dough but was making pizza for tonights dinner and had plenty spare so thought I would give it a go. Tonight's version was very much a throw together of ingredients to hand, fortunately they all worked together well! I had some left over marscarpone so added a bit of cinnamon and sugar to it and spread that over the base. I sliced some tinned pears up and lay them on, then scattered some chunks of 70% dark chocolate and sliced almonds over. It got baked at 230C (or as hot as your oven can get!) for about 12 mins. It was flipping delicious and so quick and easy I am going to make sure I reserve some dough next time I make pizzas. The kids really loved the idea and got stuck into them!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Buttermilk Scones

I had a go at making my own buttermilk the other day, I thought if I could get the hang of it I could maybe keep it on the go to encourage me to make lovely goodies like the scones I made today. I think buttermilk gives a fabulous lightness to both muffins and scones, but it is so much more expensive than milk that I often forgo it in favour of the cheaper (and more convenient) option. Sophie Grays second book Destitute Gourmet: More Stunning Food from Small Change has instructions on how to get around this - her whole philosophy is eating well for less and certainly she has a great deal of hints and methods that can cut a good chunk from the weekly grocery spend. This book has instructions on how to make your own yoghurt, buttermilk, creme fraiche, mascarpone and condensed milk. I have made the mascarpone, which turned out really well, and is definitely less expensive than the store bought variety.
To make your own buttermilk you do have to start with the bought version- this is only to begin with and once you have it going you just take half a cup from each lot you make to start your next one. I made mine in my yoghurt maker, it turned out fine.

2 cups milk
1/2 c buttermilk

Heat the milk to blood temperature- about 37 degrees C. Stir in the buttermilk. Transfer mixture to a clean jar and give it a good shake. Leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours. When thickened transfer to a plastic container with a tight fitting lid and store in the fridge. Keeps 7-10 days.

The scones I made were plain ones- the recipe is similar to my cheese scones but using buttermilk instead of milk.

4 c SR flour
2 tsp BP
1 tsp salt
1/4 c sugar
2 cups buttermilk
100 g cold butter
1 egg.

Oven at 210C. Put dry ingredients in large bowl. Grate in cold butter and work through flour mix. Beat egg into buttermilk and add to dry ingredients. Work together into dough, don't overmix. Turn onto floured surface and pat out to about 2 inches thick. Cut shapes and place on baking paper lined tray.
Bake 15-20 mins or until puffed up and golden brown. Makes 12 LARGE scones or 18-20 medium.I served these with my homemade strawberry jam and cream, they were lovely!! They also keep well- they were still very moist and tender the next day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Vegan Feast

Well, actually, this is more of a semi vegan feast as there were some non-vegan options for those of us who desired! I recently had friends for dinner, one of whom is vegan. I had never cooked an entirely vegan meal before so decided I would challenge myself to do an entire dinner party of vegan food. It proved to be more challenging than I thought it would be so I succumbed to adding interest by including a little cheese and meat for those of us who enjoy meat and cheese! I went for a Morrocan 'mezze' style meal, lots of little plates of goodies, and plenty of yummy home made breads to eat it all with. I did make EVERYTHING from scratch so there was plenty of flavour and of course no nasty additives!! This turned out to be a really great option for entertaining as I was able to do a fair bit of it in the days before and it was nice to have lots of different options to pick and choose from and to pass around the table. I thought I had (as usual) overcatered when I saw all the things on the table, but there were 10 of us and it turned out there was only a little left over, so I got it about right.
On the table was:

Pizza bread with rosemary

Wholemeal bread
Pita pockets

Toasted ciabatta

Marinated feta
Morrocan spiced lamb cutlets
Tzatziki
Roasted mushrooms
Roasted red peppers
Slow roasted tomatoesCarrot, orange and poppy seed salad
Baby spinach with sunflower seeds
Onion jam
Hummus
Olives
Sauteed zucchini ribbons with garlic, lemon and flat leaf parsleyFor dessert I poached some pears in a white wine syrup, I used a muscat which I added sugar to and infused with saffron, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and cardamom pods. I made a pinenut and almond praline to go with it, along with my own homemade mascarpone to which I added orange zest and cointreau. It was an absolute triumph, gorgeous flavours and a very easy dessert as the poaching was done slowly in the oven - so easily done ahead. I think I liked this version more than the red wine version, it is more subtly flavoured and the pear shines more too.The praline was dead easy and very yummy. I used a recipe from the Destitute Gourmet again!

Praline
100g sugar
75 ml water
100g slivered almonds (I used extra pine nuts, about 70g almonds and 70g pinenuts- as those are the packet sizes!)

Toast almonds and pine nuts first. Then in a heavy pan dissolve sugar and water. without stirring for about 10 mins or until the syrup is golden brown. Scatter nuts on a large piece of parchment/baking paper. Pour syrup over nuts to get good coverage and leave to set for about 10 mins. When set, place in a sturdy plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin to crush praline into shards, chunks and crumbs.

Footnote:
This dessert was dreamed up after reading Laura's post "Wickedly Good", which had such lovely descriptions (and photos) that made me want to pull some of the flavours right out of the screen!!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

'Pepped up' Pumpkin

It is dishes like these that really transform a meal. I have to say that I am terribly conservative when it comes to veges and how I serve them. Apart from salads, where I quite happily experiment and mix it up, cooked veges in the winter tend to be simple and unadorned. Tonight I tried a recipe from Nigella's lastest book Nigella Express. On Violet's Pantry we have set a recipe from it once a fortnight to try. The first one was the 'Curry in a Hurry' which failed to appear on my blog as I was having terrible camera trouble and wiped it from my memory card! It was very nice though and it is always good to be prompted to try a recipe I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.
This time Minnie was responsible for the recipe choice and it is really delicious. Flipping easy and totally lifted our meal to a whole different level. I naturally think of feta to pair with pumpkin, but if you are a blue cheese lover, you will LOVE this! I popped some lettuce with it, just because I wanted to get a bit of extra green into our dinner.
My husband really enjoyed this, I will definitely make it again!


Butternut squash with pecans and blue cheese


2kg/4lb 8oz butternut squash
3 tbsp olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried thyme
100g/3½oz pecans
125g/4oz Roquefort, or other blue cheese, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
2. Halve the squash, leaving the skin on, and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into 2.5cm/1in cubes - you don't need to be precise, just keep the pieces uniformly small.
3. Place into a roasting tin and drizzle with the oil. Strip about four sprigs of thyme of their leaves (or use dried thyme) and sprinkle over the butternut squash.
4. Transfer to the oven and roast for about 30-45 minutes, or until tender.
5. Once out of the oven, remove the squash to a bowl. Scatter over the pecans and crumble over the cheese, stirring everything together gently. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
6. To serve, tear the remaining sprigs of thyme into small pieces and sprinkle over the top of the butternut squash mixture.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My favourite colour

Is RED!!!! Because my freezer had defrosted all my lovely berries needed dealing to. I had planned on making jams with them anyway, it just wasn't on my to do list right at the moment!! But at least looking at these gorgeous red berries (and taste testing all the way through) eased the burden!!!!
I make jam with an equal ratio of sugar to fruit. So I had 500g cranberries, I used 500g sugar. It might sound like a lot, and to be fair sometimes I do try to reduce it. But every time I do muck with it, it just takes longer to set, so I end up boiling the heck out of it and probably it ends up just as concentrated in sugar anyway!
I really LOVE making jam. It is such a quick and easy thing to do and soooooo satisfying. Because I pretty much eat toast every morning, I enjoy home made jams to spread on it. I will often give jars as gifts and they are a great standby gift. I have become accustomed to how jam 'looks' when it is ready to pop into the jar.
This lot is cranberry jelly, redcurrant jelly and strawberry and vanilla jam. The first two will be stowed away for Christmas and will probably get given as gifts too! I might have to hoard the strawberry one though!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Venison Pie

I was fortunate to be given some wild venison recently and had it stowed away in the freezer while I ruminated about how to cook it. My room for rumination was abruptly cut short when my freezer defrosted!!!! Fortunately I caught everything in time to be able to cook it all up, but it was a real pain to have to suddenly kick into a couple of days of cooking when it wasn't planned for! I happened to have some puff pastry that had also thawed so decided to make a venison pie. The meat was cut into schniztel, which made it very easy to deal with. I know that venison is usually best not mucked around with, certainly it is supposed to be cooked reasonably quickly as it is so very lean. This was no exception, it was very lean. However, I decided to be reckless and make a ragu with it - I fried some onions, and then cut the meat up into strips and quickly flash fried them. I popped the onion and venison in a large oven tray, then deglazed the pan with some red wine, tinned chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. I poured this over the venison and onion, then added in a couple of chopped carrots and parsnips, then about a cupful of quartered mushrooms. Some thyme scattered over and about a cup of beef stock finished it all off, then I covered it with foil and cooked it at 160C for about 2 hours.
It reduced down to a lovely rich sauce, the meat just melted into it and there certainly wasn't any kind of overwhelming game taste- it was just a lovely rich and meaty ragu.
I rolled out the pastry and lined a pie dish with the pastry top and bottom, ragu in the middle (and also sneaked in a couple of thick slices of cheese). I brushed it with eggwash and baked it at 200c for 25 mins (or until puffed up and deep golden brown).
This was basic and delicious comfort food at its best.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spring is here!

Personally, I think NZ's seasons are not classically defined and daffodils and lambs are around in August and the weather doesn't really warm up until October (they are talking of the ski season going til Christmas!), so I have never been big on the whole September 1st being spring thing. However I do know it is spring by the produce that is available and a classic has to be asparagus. This has to be just the most wonderful thing when it first comes out- it is not something that is available here all year around, usually there is about a two month window where I feast on it as I love it so much. Tonight's lot got steamed and covered in cheese sauce........can't wait to get more and start making asparagus soup....asparagus risotto......asparagus with smoked salmon and hollandaise.....so many yummy options (and I WILL be trying them!!!)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quick Rise No Knead Bread

I needed a nice quick bread to whip up to go with the Potato, Bacon and Corn Chowder last night and had in mind to make some no knead bread I had seen on George's blog . Her version used spelt flour but I was just going to substitute that for normal flour. As luck would have it however, when it came time to get the recipe our internet was down, so I had to resort to sifting through my cookbooks, as I had a recipe that I used to use many years ago. This was one of my first bread making recipes, I made this often in my early twenties, as it is one of those no fail versions and I was not yet acquainted with the wonders of using a bread maker for kneading!!!! It calls for the usual dried yeast, but as I now pretty much only make bread in my breadmaker I use the fast action yeast which generally doesn't need to be fizzed up with sugar and warm water. However, I did follow this method using my breadmaker yeast and it still fizzed up, if not in the same way as the granules do, it was more haphazard looking rather than the even foam you get using the granules. It calls for 6 cups of flour and this makes 2 decent sized loaves, which is good value I think, I used 3 cups white flour, 2 cups wholemeal and 1 cup wheat bran. It was a lovely loaf, it has a kind of nuttiness that the molasses brings, I think that is what really makes this loaf so delicious. It takes no time either. I made it and set it to rise then started making the soup. It was ready at about the same time as the soup, about an hour or so later.
This really could not be easier. It keeps well, the kids love it for sandwiches and it was also nice toasted for breakfast. I have trouble leaving it alone and love it fresh with butter and honey!The recipe is from an old book called From Tauhara's Kitchen and is a collection of vegetarian recipes from the Tauhara Centre, a retreat/conference venue in Taupo. The book was published in 1989 but I have referred to it often and looking at it again the other day see there are plenty of yummy recipes I would still happily make and eat -including this bread!

Tauhara's Quick Rise Home Made Bread

6 cups flour (either wholemeal, ryemeal, white or combination)
2 tbsp dried yeast
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp salt
600 ml warm water

In a bowl dissolve honey and molasses in warm water. Sprinkle on yeast and stir gently. Leave in a warm place until warm and frothy. (10-15 mins)
In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Pour yeast mix and mix well, the mix should be fairly wet but not too sloppy.
Oil two loaf tins and warm slightly. Half fill with dough. Leave in a warm place to rise to almost the top of the tin (don't let it rise up over the top or it will make the bread difficult to get out once cooked).Bake in a hot oven 220C initially, reducing heat to 200C after 10 minutes. Cook for 35 minutes. Makes 2 loaves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Potato, Corn and Bacon Chowder

This is one of my favourite make in a hurry soups. It is thick and hearty and the whole family happily eats it. As I always have chicken stock ready made in my freezer this is what I use, but even plain old water is not a bad substitute in this case as the bacon adds flavour. Or you could use store bought chicken stock, but I have stopped buying it as it is packaged in tetra packs, which are not recyclable, and as for chicken stock powder, I have long since stopped using it as it is full of MSG and besides, it's flavour just doesn't do it for me! As usual, the 'guiding' method is at play here, you can muck around with this as you will! For about 8 serves I fry a large, chopped onion in some butter or olive oil, then add chopped bacon (about 200g) and fry until cooked. Add in about a litre of stock or water and about 5 large peeled and cubed potatoes, bring to the boil and simmer. After about 15 mins add in about a cup of corn kernels (I use frozen). Simmer it all for about another 15 mins. Take half the soup out and blend till smooth in a blender, adding it back to the pot when done. This gives a nice chunky soup with good flavour. Serve with parsley (and a swirl of cream if you like) and some nice home baked bread. I will post the recipe for the easy peasy no knead bread I served with this tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pretty farfalle with creamy minted pea and bacon sauce

My mum bought me some gorgeous multicoloured farfalle when she was last in Wellington. She is always kindly picking up unusual things for me like that, it is so much fun to receive those kinds of gifts. The different colours were 'flavoured' differently, so there was tumeric, beetroot, spinach, basil, squid ink....you get the message! I didn't want a sauce that was going to detract too much from the lovely pasta, so was looking for something fairly simple. George, a great 'go to' cook on Violet's Pantry (she can always be relied on for ideas in a hurry!) suggested something like pancetta and peas, so I ran with that, tweaking it a little to get this fantastic sauce. I love pea puree, especially teamed with mint. I decided to saute a little spring onion and garlic in some butter, about 2 cups of baby peas, added 1 c chicken stock, cooked them til tender and then added 1/4 c of cream. I whizzed this all up in my blender with 2 tbsp chopped mint. I poured the puree back into the pan, tossed the farfalle through it then served it up with a good quantity of crispy bacon (that I had grilled), big shavings of parmesan and some basil pesto.It was absolutely spectacular, a real winner of a combination and a perfect option for entertaining, as it looked so lovely yet was so quick and easy to make. We were just sad there wasn't more!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sushi

The problem with posting about sushi is that my version is hardly authentic and I hardly ever follow a recipe. So sharing the whole 'how to' is a little difficult because then I have to retrace how I actually make it and go and think really hard about what kind of quantities I use for everything. Again, as I have said before, that kind of takes the joy out of cooking I am afraid! Exactness not being my strongest point I will try and cobble together the makings for sushi and put in a few photos to hopefully illustrate what I am trying to get across!
The first thing I have to say is DO NOT BE SCARED! I know it might look complicated, but actually it is such a doddle, that once you have got all the bits and pieces together and have practiced it a few times, you will be a whizz. And there are several combinations for fillings too, so you don't have to go and get all squeamish and think it is only about raw fish. I actually became adept at making this when my sister made a trip to Japan to run in an Ekiden relay there (don't ask me about the run, all I remember was all the yummy food and techniques she came home with!!!!) The two dishes she came home with were a kind of noodle broth that had nori in it and how to make sushi. The nori was the biggest revelation, something that sounds so flipping gross (its seaweed for goodness sake!) is really tasty! I had never tried sushi before my sister made it for me and I instantly loved it. Plus the whole demystification of learning how to make it really thrilled me! While it's all old hat now, and plenty of people make it, I have regularly made this for more than 10 years now and it still impresses!
I have adapted the flavours so this is more of a kiwi-fied nori roll than sushi. The basic components are,
Nori,
Rice (sushi rice, or short grain rice)
Rice vinegar
Sugar
Chicken
Prawn
Crabmeat
Tuna
Smoked salmon
Egg
Avocado
Cucumber
Spring Onion
Carrot
Celery
Red or Green Pepper
Mayonnaise
Wasabi
Pickled Ginger
Ham

Phew, that's quite a few variations. For my truly kiwified variation I have made ham and egg, with carrot and avocado, with some whole grain mustard and mayo. I know it sounds pretty out there, but really once you have your rice spread over your sheet or nori pretty much anything goes. And the whole fusion thing works just fine here too!
So, for your rice you want to boil it up (I make it in the microwave, 1 cup rice to 21/2 c water and microwave in large bowl on high for approx 18mins). Mix together some rice vinegar (about 1/4 to 1/2c) with a couple of tbsp of sugar- again this depends on how you like it. Pour this mix into the cooked rice so it is reasonable moist and workable and will spread easily. Take a decent handful and spread over the nori. You can set your nori up on a bamboo mat, but I usually set it up on gladwrap as that is what I usually wrap them up in before cutting and using.
Make sure you spread rice to sides but leave some space at the top and bottom so that when you roll it doesnt all squeeze out.Spread on a little mayo and a teensy bit of wasabi or horseradish (or mustard here if going with the ham) then put your desired meat on. Then on goes your other fixings, try to go with complementary veges etc eg
Smoked salmon, avocado, red pepper
Teriyaki chicken, carrot, egg omelete and spring onion
You get what I mean!
The teriyaki chicken is just breast meat, cut into strips and marinated in soy, garlic, ginger, mirin, brown sugar and panfried until cooked.
The egg omelete is just eggs beaten and cooked in a pancake style and then cut into strips.
So many combinations, so little time.
You could use tuna mixed up with finely chopped red onion and mayo.....the options are endless. And generally what you end up with is a pretty healthy snack, pre dinner drinks nibbles or lunch. What I really love about this is you can roll them up and wrap them up in gladwrap the day before and cut them the next day for your lunch or party, they are excellent prepare ahead 'cooking'. It can be a bit of a pain chopping up all the veges but I love chopping vege to be honest so I don't mind it. My son even had a go at this and was able to put together a couple of rolls for his lunches.
Really, once you have your bits on your nori and rice all you need to do is roll it away from you and it quite magically sits together.
Or you can also do like I did a few days later, I couldn't be bothered rolling it all up so served it 'deconstructed style"!