Monday, 30 November 2009

Oregano Chicken on (bean and) olive salad

The version from Faking It to your right.  My problem with it? The beans - and that was the only problem. 

The marinade on the chicken is fantastic - the chicken was so flavourful, a really great balance on sharp lemon juice with a short kick of chilli (maybe a little more chilli next time for G's palate). 

I made the bean and olive salad with the recipe-required olives and potatoes, and I added tomatoes and mushrooms.  I made the dressing for the salad with the exact same ingredients I used for the chicken marinade, which really carried the flavours through. 

In true Maggie style I had to add something green - some fresh basil from the hydropantry we are minding for our neighbours (the same neighbours own the tomato plant). 

Also, I think all food looks best on plain white (where possible) so pretty much all my crockery is white (on the inside/presentation side at least!)

I did cheat a bit - I used tinned potatoes.  I also changed the olives from black to green, a function of what was available in the pantry.  Oh, and the 'chilli' was really a spice mix that was chilli, oregano and saffron - and totally worked.  Moral of the story - use what you have rather than buy more things that take up space in the fridge/pantry

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sushi rice bowl

This is a dish I knew of as 'chiraishi zushi' in Japan.  In Japan it's basically the rice then layered with ingredients you would normally find in the middle of a sushi roll.  In Faking It it is a rice base, topped with 'japanese' ingredients, like tofu, black sesame seeds and nori (with cucumber and snow pea sprouts), with a dressing of citrus, rice vinegar and soy sauce.  In Japan I typically ate chiraishi zushi that had sashimi tuna or salmon, shredded omelette, spring onion and salmon caviar.

My version? A rice base, the dressing from Faking It, carrot, corn, snow pea sprouts, avacado, pickled ginger and a fillet of salmon on top.  Delicious. Though it did make me miss Japan..

Cupcakes on Pitt St

I was lucky enough to be given a peanut butter cupcake from Cupcakes on Pitt St, given by a friend visiting from Sydney.

It was a delicious chocolate cake, topped with a squiggle of rich dark chocolate ganache, some peanut butter icing, and some honeyed peanuts.  The chocolate cake was fluffy and rich, the peanut butter icing tasted like slightly sweetened and softened smooth peanut butter and the ganache was decadent!

On their website there are 34 different flavours listed - and next time G goes up to Sydney I am going to order an Apricot one - one of my favourite fruits.

A complaint? They are on the small side (5cm in diameter) and that is simply not big enough for how delicious the cakes are!  Though the cupcakes are only $2 each, so you could easily buy more than one

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sesame Salmon Roulades (without the mango/papaya salad)

I just made a sesame salmon roulade for my dinner - with some greens (asparagus/broc) and some salad.  Those who know me, know that I love salad.  I think salad should be served with every meal.  I had to be talked out of serving salad, with curry, to G's 2 male cousins (aged 17 and 20 at the time).  I like big salads with lots of different ingredients that become the meal, not a side.  I use whatever is fresh in our fridge and supplement with tinned things as required (corn kernels, tuna chunks).  I like to take salad to work for lunch, and I serve at practically every dinner.  So although I didn't want to make the mango/papaya salad that is supposed to accompany this salmon I knew it had to have salad of some sort!

The hardest part was taking the skin off the fish - because none of my knives are really pointy enough, but I got through it.  Then I cut the fillet so it was long - key here is to buy a skinny, but tall, fillet.  Season, and roll up and just hold together with a skewer or two.

Then you cover each side of the roll with sesame seeds (just by laying the fillet on the seeds in a saucer) and drizzle with some EVO.  1 minute each side in a fry pan on med-high, no extra oil needed.  Then throw the pan into an oven, pre-heated to 170 degrees.  Just make sure your pan is oven proof.  If you don't have an oven proof pan you will have to transfer the salmon into some kind of baking dish, probably metal so it heats up as quickly as the pan would, and put that in the oven.

5 minutes in the oven, a couple of minutes resting and then you're done.

Simple but with super effective presentation.  The rolling/skewer combination with the golden crust of sesame seeds makes this dish look pretty impressive - and looks like it took far more time than it really did.  Although this works best cooked and served immediately I think that this would be excellent for a dinner party, just because it looks so good!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Porcini-dusted lamb with cheat's mushroom "risotto"

The first recipe I cooked from 'Faking It' was the porcini-dusted lamb with cheat's mushroom "risotto".  Firstly, the substitutions: I cooked kangaroo steaks, not lamb, as that's what we had, I used a variety of mushrooms, not just swiss brown, I used all stock, no white wine and I used parsley and chives (to serve) rather than rocket.

This is the layout in the book - and definitely supports my earlier comments about the fantastic photos of the final dishes in this book.

The lamb/roo is simple - brush with oil, dust with porcini powder and cook as you like it.  With lamb I would cook it medium to medium-well, but with roo it is better to stay on the medium side, so that's what I did (which meant the thicker steak ended up medium-rare, which G prefers).

The 'cheat' in the title is that the risotto is actually risoni cooked in the absorption method that is usually reserved for rice.  Start by cooking the mushrooms, some garlic and some herbs in the olive oil.  After a few mins add the risoni and liquid (stock in my case) and cook by the absorption method.

After resting the meat for a few minutes I sliced it, and served it on top of the risoni.

I should have sliced the meat more thickly - and then it would have looked more like the picture in the book!

The tomato on the side is home-grown. We are currently minding a neighbour's tomato and herb plants and were told to help ourselves.  Luckily for us a tomato ripened and was absolutely delicious.  I never realised how good home-grown tomatoes could taste, even compared to the decent tomatoes we normally buy at the green grocer.  I just dripped on a little EVO and scattered some chopped chives and parsley.

Verdict on the dish: the risoni was really tasty, though could have done with some more pepper.  The porcini powder on the roo really tied in a deep mushroom flavour and held the 2 parts together.  Definitely would make this again - and the leftover risoni (deliberately cooked too much) was delicious at lunch the next day!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

An ode to KitchenAid

I recently became engaged, and had 2 engagement parties - one in my home town, one where I live now. My fiance and I were lucky enough to be given 2 amazing KitchenAid appliances as engagement gifts - a food processor and a stand mixer.

The food processor weighs 9kg and comes with so many attachments that you may never need to pick up a knife again. Firstly, there are 3 work bowls of differing sizes. Unless I want to do something really small I think I will stick with the main bowl (the biggest). There is a ultra wide food chute on the lid, and of course something to push the food in with. Then there are blades and plates that will chop into many different shapes and sizes. There is also a dough blade, and an attachment that can be used to whisk eggs. Most of the plates and blades fit into the 2 bigger bowls, and there is a separate blade to use with the small bowl. All the attachments come in a case, so they won't rattle around in your drawers. There are some other attachments you can buy - to cut into different sizes, but the selection that comes with the food processor seems sufficient for a home cook. The warranty is good (10 years) and there are plenty of good reviews of it on the internet.
I have made a chicken salad (for sandwiches), dressing and crushed nuts in it - all so quick, and so easy.

The stand mixer weighs 12kg. I am giving the weights as an indication of just how good the motors on these appliances are. Most of the weight is in the motor in each, and is a significant reason why the appliances are so good.

The stand mixer comes with 1 bowl (4.8 litre capacity) and 3 attachments: a whisk, a dough hook and a paddle. There is no attachment case, but no real need for one as the idea is to keep one attachment on the mixer (I chose the whisk as it takes up the most room) and have put the other 2 with the food processor attachments. There are a lot of other attachments you can buy - an ice cream churner, a sausage maker, a meat grinder, a pasta roller. All of which are unnecessary for now. I think I would buy the ice cream churn if I had a big enough freezer to keep it in. The warranty is, again, generous and many positive reviews abound.

The first item I made using the stand mixer was a batch of cupcakes. I used my tried and true Australian Women's Weekly vanilla cupcake recipe and they were so moist and light. I made a cream cheese icing which was the smoothest I have ever made. I am very much looking forward to making meringues (so much easier than beating the egg whites by hand)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Book of the moment: Faking It by Valli Little

The book I've chosen to cook from for the time being is Faking It by Valli Little. Valli is the food director of the ABC magazine Delicious and has been since 2001.

The subtitle of this book is how to cook delicious food without really trying and right from the welcome page she pushes this point. She is a cook that believes in taking quality shortcuts - buy a decent curry paste or chargrilled eggplants rather than make that yourself.

There are 249 pages + a glossary and an index at the back, as well as the welcome and contents at the front. The book is helpfully, and unhelpfully, broken up into sections. The sections like 'breakfast', 'soups', 'chicken' and 'beef' make total sense. But I don't really understand why 'eggs' is separate from 'breakfast' or why there are 3 fishy sections: 'salmon', 'fish' and 'seafood'. It's a little confusing!

My favourite thing about this book? The pictures of the final presentation of all the dishes (I think all the dishes are photographed). I don't love all the pictures, but I love that they are there. For example, I would never serve a hardboiled egg with only half the shell peeled off as is done in the 'quail eggs with walnut hummus and dukkah'.

I like photographs of how the end product is meant to look because then I have something to aim for. The next best thing is when there are photographs of some of the more complicated steps along the way.

The photographs make me want to cook/make most of these dishes. I say 'make' because this book is both a cook book and a 'how to put store bought ingredients together' book. Many of the recipes, particularly the appetiser ones, suggest you buy an ingredient another cookbook might explain how to make. In the recipe for roasted cherry tomate tarte tatins the ingredients include jars of roasted cherry tomatoes and sheets of frozen puff pastry.

There are a few 'cheffy' things in the book, like the chicken skewered onto sprigs of rosemary or serving a burger deconstructed to capture an image of the delicious looking mayonnaise.

Overall, it's a beautifully presented book. The images are big, and the food looks luscious and plentiful and I can't wait to cook from it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

What's the plan?

I own a billion cookbooks - well not a billion, but enough. Actually, I own 42. That includes some specialty ones about cake decorating, and a couple dedicated dedicated to chocolate. Aside from these specialty ones I have a wide variety - from Stephanie's tome, to most of the Bill Granger's, a couple of Jamie's and a few of those $3.95 family circle A5 books. I also love watching cooking shows, but as I work full time I watch the ones I can download on iTunes - my favourite is Mark Bittman (NY Times).

I've tried different techniques 'over the years' (I'm in my mid-20s) to keep track of what recipes I have - at the moment I am using an A4 visual art diary where I write in the tried & true things that you don't necessarily need a recipe for, but appreciate the reminders, for example - my vanilla cupcake recipe (which originally comes from Australian Womens Weekly), or my favourite herb combinations to roast with chickpeas. If I rip a recipe out of a magazine, make it and like it - then it goes in the book!

So, the plan: cook regularly from a cookbook/cooking show/magazine tear out. Regularly means at least twice a week. It means try new recipes. It also means cull the cookbooks I own (I should be able to figure out if there enough recipes in a book to keep me interested) and could be a good excuse to buy some more.

I'm going to start out doing some recipes from one book per week - I don't want to buy a million new ingredients every week so I will look for recipes that enable me to use up all of what I buy without it languishing in the back of the pantry for months.

I will determine how many weeks I 'do' of one book depending on the number of recipes from that book that I find interesting.

Of course, that doesn't mean I can't cook some of my 'regular' dishes that actually come from other books that I own (I can't imagine having to wait for my week focussing on Harumi's Japanese Cooking to eat somen salad). And I can still cook dishes that don't even have a recipe - a lot of pasta dishes, or basic stirfries!