06 March 2011

60th celebrations: Char-grilled chicken with corn salad and buttermilk dressing

In between my beloved and I searching for our first house and going through the marathon of getting finance - whoever said buying a house is one of the major stresses in life was spot on, dealing with bankers, brokers, lawyers and real estate agents all at once is not my idea of fun - we managed to hold a 60th celebration for my father.

It was a great evening with family and a few dear family friends. My dad hates fuss, especially when it comes to himself and his birthday. So my sister and I tried to make the evening as fuss free and relaxed as possible.

We started with simple canapes, sparkling wine for the girls and beer for the boys.

Watermelon and feta squares
Homemade walnut crisps with goat's cheese and pear
Artichoke tartlets
Main meal was simply char-grilled chicken - that my beloved kindly cooked on the barbecue for me - and the loveliest salad with char-grilled corn and a winning buttermilk dressing.

Char-grilled chicken
from Gourmet Traveller's Annual Cookbook
I used two whole chickens for 10 people

Char-grilled chicken marinated in lemon, cayenne
pepper, thyme, garlic and white peppercorns
1 chicken (about 1.8kg)
2 tbsp thyme
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tsp white peppercorns
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed

You need to spatchcock the chicken. To do this cut down each side of the chicken's backbone with kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (discard bone of reserve for stock). Turn chicken over and press firmly on the breastbone to open out and flatten. I have actually found it helpful to slightly cut the bone on the non-skin side to help you flatten the bird. It is really important to do this so you can cook the meat more evenly on the barbecue. Score the thickest part of the breasts and thighs.

You can process the marinade in a food processor, however, I find pounding it in a mortar and pestle not only helps me relieve the tension built up from frustrating real estate agents, but it also produces a far richer flavour. Place thyme, garlic, cayenne pepper, lemon rind in your mortar and pestle and pound to your heart is content…or until you have a coarse paste. Place peppercorns in a spice grinder and grind. Add the white pepper, lemon juice and olive oil to your paste, mix together.

Pour marinade over chicken, rub into every little crevasse as the lemon will start the cooking process and make your meat lovely and tender. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

When ready to cook, drain the chicken and char-grill, turning frequently and basting with the marinade until golden and cooked through. Add the spring onions to the hot plate at the end and char-grill for about 2 to 3 minutes until wilted. The spring onions are a fantastic edition to any barbecue.

The char-grilled chicken with spring
onions on top
Corn salad with buttermilk dressing
I doubled this recipe for 10 people

Corn salad with buttermilk dressing
3 corn cobs
olive oil
1 baby cos
1 cup mint, roughly chopped
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and blanched
1 punnet cherry tomatoes

Buttermilk dressing
100 ml buttermilk
2 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp mayonnaise
50 ml lemon juice
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 small garlic clove, crushed

Get your barbecue on so you can cook the corn and allow it to cool before you do anything else.

Once corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob and please in a bowl. Separate and coarsely tear cos leaves, add to corn along with cherry tomatoes, asparagus and mint.

To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients in a bowl until smooth, season to taste, refrigerate until required. Just before serving the meal, drizzle a little of the dressing over the salad, tossing to combine. Leave the rest in a dish for people to add more if they like.

The best part...we even got leftovers the next day.

Char-grilled chicken and salad leftovers

13 February 2011

Bigger IS better

Yes my friends, the old adage is true, bigger is better...when it comes to fridges.

What did you think I meant?

When my Beloved and I decided to make the leap to move in together, we tried to make do with each others meagre positions. That included using, for the last two VERY long years, my Beloved's 'bachelor' fridge.

My Beloved's bachelor fridge
As you can see, it is a little larger than a bar fridge, and, as you can imagine, this has made entertaining just a little more challenging for me. However, in support of my great efforts to fit all manor of food items for many varying number of guests into this pint size fridge, I have now received an adjunct professorship to the culinary school of 'how to fit a cow into a crisper'. Bravo me!

But from today, no longer do I have to sit on the floor while I rearrange the fridge for the fourth time that day so I can fit in the marinating chicken - which apparently prefers to remain cold for some silly reason called Salmonella - or to fit in the bubbles - which is essential for any dinner party, would you not agree? - or even just to fit my fruit in the fridge - which for some reason isn't appreciating our thirty degree days with eighty per cent humidity.

So today was an extraordinarily exciting day as I got (okay, we got) delivered a BIG fridge.

Our new 519 litre Fisher & Paykel fridge
I love it!

I can even put my Beloved in it.

Our new fridge is big enough for my
Beloved to cool down in

12 February 2011

Sicilian orange cake

This week was book club week. I know, I'm such a nerd. Book club is really just an excuse for a group of us to get together, gossip, eat, drink, laugh...oh, and read books.

Book club was held at my place this month, so I treated the gang to a wonderful Sicilian orange cake by Rick Stein, with a few TSRK changes.

This recipe is perfect for summer; or for my overseas friends, this is the perfect cake to prepare you for the summer months you have coming up.

Sicilian orange cake
by Rick Stein from Mediterranean Escapes

Sicilian orange cake with cream cheese icing and
lemon, lime and orange zest on top
250g lightly salted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
250g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1.5 tsp finely grated orange zest
250g self-raising flour*
85ml freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 22 cm spring back round cake tin with non-stick baking paper.

Using an electric whisk cream the butter and sugar together for 4-5 minutes until very pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating very well between each one. Beat in the orange zest. Add the flour* all at once and mix in well, then slowly mix in the orange juice.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. It it starts to brown too quickly, which it always does in my oven, loosely cover the cake with a sheet of lightly buttered foil.

*Flour - I have found that making your own self raising flour works best for this cake. Simply use the same amount of plain flour and add 3 tsp of baking powder to it. It works a treat.

Rick Stein icing
This is a great simple icing and works perfectly.
125 g icing sugar
5 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Simply sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the orange juice until you have a spreadable consistency. Spread it over the top of the cake letting it drip down the sides. Delicious.

TSRK icing
To make your cake look a little more exotic for a birthday party - or book club - this is the one I used that isn't too sweet.

250g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g butter, at room temperature
1tsp orange zest
1/4 cup icing sugar, or to your liking of sweetness

With an electric whisk mix the cream cheese and butter. Add the zest and sugar to your liking. Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake. To decorate I simply finely grated orange, lemon and lime zest over the top for a little colour.

Digging in!

30 January 2011

You, me & Dupree - whitebait, fish curry and the queen of puddings

Have you ever wondered what is in a bachelor's kitchen...or more appropriately, what isn't in a bachelor's kitchen? (Of course that question is meant for those readers who are not bachelors.) Well recently The Self-Raising Kitchen went roving and provided a dinner party for a friend.

A dear friend of my Beloved's is self-named Dupree.

I haven't actually seen this movie, but our Dupree does have a job, does not live with us, but is a regular at our dinner table, which we love. Honestly, Dupree!

After much discussion and attempts at finding a mutually convenient date in the diary, we finally set up a dinner party with friends of Dupree's at Dupree's abode with the self-raising kitchen as the caterer. It was so much fun; and a challenge, experiencing exactly what I should have thought to bring with me...starting with kitchen scales.

I think what completely cracked me up (made me laugh) was when I asked Dupree if he had a wooden spoon. He said, "Yeah, second draw down." So I opened the second draw and was confronted with the sweetest, cutest, tiniest wooden spoon.

THE wooden spoon. Length approx. 20 cm
I know what you're getting for your birthday, Dupree.

Arty 'spoon' photo taken by Dupree
Wooden spoon aside, I think the biggest test for me was making a dessert with no kitchen scales. This also meant making my first ever jam - which went into the dessert - by guestimation.

The menu
Each recipe came from the Australian Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook. 
I've made some adjustments
Crisp chilli whitebait and green mango salad
Burmese-style fish curry with noodles and mustard greens
Queen of Puddings

Crisp chilli whitebait and green mango salad
This recipe would also be perfect for a light dinner. Beware of the amount of chilli you put in, I nearly ruined the taste buds of Dupree's guests.
Serves 6

Crisp chilli whitebait and green mango salad (photo by Dupree)
vegetable oil for deep frying
50g plain flour
salt and white pepper
750g whitebait (500g would be plenty)
1 green mango, cut into julienne
1 cup (loosely packed) each Vietnamese mint, coriander and round mint (use normal mint if unable to find the other types)
30 gm fried shallots (you can make your own or buy from Asian supermarkets)
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 red capsicum, finely sliced
250g baby spinach leaves
lime wedges to serve

Mint dressing
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 small red chilli, coarsely chopped
35 gm white sugar
1 cup each (loosely packed) Vietnamese mint and round mint, coarsely chopped (or just normal mint)
60 ml (¼ cup) lime juice
60 ml (¼ cup) fish sauce
60 ml (¼ cup) rice vinegar

Whitebait frying (photo by Dupree)
For mint dressing - pound garlic, chilli and sugar in a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste, add mints and pound to combine and set aside. Just before serving, stir in lime juice, fish sauce and rice vinegar.

Preheat oil in a deep-sided saucepan or deep-fryer to 180C. Combine flour, salt and white pepper in a shallow bowl. Dust whitebait in flour mixture, in batches, and deep-fry until crisp and light golden (4-5 minutes), then drain on absorbent paper. Fry twice, in batches, to make them extra crispy.

Combine mango, spinach, capsicum, herbs, fried shallot and spring onion in a bowl, drizzle with a little mint dressing. Toss lightly to combine. Place on your serving plate and put whitebait on the top to ensure they stay crispy. Serve with extra mint dressing and lime wedges.

Burmese-style fish curry with noodles and mustard greens
serves 6

Burmese-style fish curry with noodles
and mustard greens (photo by Dupree)
80 ml (1/3 cup) peanut oil (olive oil will also suffice for those with nut allergies)
4 red shallots, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
800 gm thin fresh rice noodles
To serve: coriander sprigs, small green birdseye chillies, pickled mustard greens (available from Asian supermarkets and well worth getting. They are delicious), lime wedges and chilli powder (only include what you like)

Fish curry
1 tsp shrimp paste
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, scored
60 ml (¼ cup) sesame oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
30g (5cm piece) ginger, cut into julienne
2 lemongrass stalk, white part only, finely chopped
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 tsp finely chopped fresh turmeric (available from a good green grocer. Wear gloves when chopping or you will look like you like playing with yellow paint)
1.5 tsp each sweet paprika and ground chilli
750 ml coconut milk
3 fresh curry leaf sprigs
2.5 tbsp tamarind purée (most supermarkets now sell this, or try an asian supermarket), or to taste
2 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
2 tbsp caster sugar, or to taste
4 firm white fish fillets, such as coral trout or barramundi (about 225gm each), skin on. I used barramundi.
Juice of 1 lime, or to taste

Tomatoes blanching (photo by Dupree)

For fish curry, preheat oven to 180C. Wrap shrimp paste in foil and roast until fragrant (5-10 minutes), then set aside. Meanwhile, blanch tomatoes until skins split, then refresh, drain, peel, finely chop and set aside. 

Heat sesame oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass and sauté until softened (10 minutes), add fenugreek, turmeric, spices, shrimp paste and sauté until fragrant (1-2 minutes), then add coconut milk, curry leaves, tamarind, fish sauce, sugar and tomato and stir occasionally until flavours meld (20-30 minutes). Add fish and cook over low heat, breaking up slightly with a wooden spoon, until cooked through (4-6 minutes). Add lime juice, adjusting seasoning to suit your taste, keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat peanut oil in a saucepan over medium heat, fry shallot and garlic separately until golden (3-5 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on absorbent paper. Or, you can purchase these from Asian supermarkets.

Place noodles in a heatproof bowl, cover completely with boiling water and stand until heated through (1-2 minutes), then drain and serve with fish curry, fried garlic and shallot, coriander, chillies (if using), mustard greens, lime wedges and chilli powder (if using) to the side.

Queen of Puddings
This tradition British dessert can be made in separate ramekins or in a pie dish.
Serves 4

Queen of Puddings. I was shocked these actually turned
out considering everything was measured by feel
rather than weight (photo by Dupree)
140g fresh fine breadcrumbs, from white bread
Finely grated rind of 2 lemons
200g caster sugar
225ml each milk and pouring cream
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
4 eggs, separated
butter for greasing ramekins or pie dish

Berry jam
500g (2 punnets) strawberries, trimmed and quartered
300g caster sugar
100g (½ cup) frozen raspberries
Thinly peeled rind and juice of 1 lemon

Making the jam  (photo by Dupree)
For berry jam - combine ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil over medium-high heat and stir frequently until mixture reaches setting point (20-30 minutes; see note), then set aside to cool. You can also gently heat the sugar in a low oven before placing it in the saucepan. This will prevent scum forming on the surface. 

Preheat oven to 180C. Combine breadcrumbs, lemon rind and 40g sugar in a heatproof bowl, set aside. Bring milk, cream, vanilla bean and seeds just to the boil in a saucepan over medium heat, pour onto breadcrumb mixture and stir, then stand until breadcrumbs swell (3-5 minutes). Remove vanilla bean and discard, then stir in yolks until well combined. Spoon into 4 buttered 200ml ovenproof dishes and bake until custard just sets (12-15 minutes). Keep warm.

Meanwhile, whisk eggwhite in an electric mixer until soft peaks form (3-5 minutes). Gradually add remaining sugar in a steady stream, whisking continuously until stiff and glossy and sugar has dissolved (3-5 minutes). Spread a very thin layer of berry jam over puddings (remaining jam will keep for one month), top with meringue and bake until golden (5-10 minutes). Serve hot.

Note - to test setting point, place a few saucers in the freezer while jam is cooking. Remove jam from heat and spoon onto a cold saucer, return to freezer for 30 seconds, then push with your finger. If it wrinkles, it’s ready. If not, cook jam for another few minutes, test again, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

So, to my friends in the wider Brisbane area, who would next like to experience the roving self-raising kitchen? Remember, you will be my guinea pigs.

23 January 2011

An award and bits about me

I am totally blown away. I turn on my computer today, after having a very busy day yesterday in the self-raising kitchen 'on-tour' - stay tuned during the week for the blog post - to find out the wonderful Kitty from Kitty's Vintage and Kitsch has kindly awarded me with The Stylish Blogger award.

My very first blog award.
Thanks Kitty!
Now the deal with this award is I have to now share seven things about myself and then pass the award on. So, here goes seven tidbits about the person behind the self-raising kitchen.

1. I'm a messy cook. I try, and I have improved, to make the kitchen look less like hurricane Fiona just hit any kitchen I work in. But hey, isn't that a sign of creativeness?!?!?

2. Many moons ago I thought I was going to be the next best classical percussionist. After studying at the Queensland Conservatorium I now tutor in public relations to university students. Now, there's a change! BTW I love it and happy to not be on stage due to terrible stage fright.

3. My weakness is books. I love them and have far too many of them. Well, at least my beloved thinks so. I believe they all essential elements to forming my very own library.

4. What I crave is simplicity. I wonder if that is why I enjoy cooking so much. We have to eat, so I want to make it enjoyable for everyone. I get tired of always trying to consider all the 'what ifs' in life. I just want to live in the now and enjoy it.

5. Although I crave simplicity, I also fail in it because I can't live without my diary. I have a brain like a sieve and all my friends know if a dinner/event/catchup/meeting doesn't get put in the diary...I simply forget.

6. I LOVE the Big Bang Theory. Quite simply, it makes me laugh.

7. I love watching a sky full of stars on a clear evening. It reminds me of how large the universe is and to not sweat the small stuff.

I would now like to pass the baton on to two wonderful blogs:
To a local Brisbanite Anita from Fun and VJs, and to my new blogging buddy from Greece Katerina from Culinary Flavors. Check them out as they both rock!

Thanks, Kitty, for this award. I am really quite chuffed.

20 January 2011

The festival of 40 - marinated pork belly and strawberry cheesecake

As Queensland starts to slowly come back to some sort of semblance of normality...slowly...I have been working in the self-raising kitchen, but it has felt very wrong to write about it.

But, as a much wiser person than myself once stated, 'the show must go on'.

And this is exactly what me and six of my dearest friends decided when it came to making a decision about cancelling or continuing with a dinner party planned for my friend's, LL, 40th. The show - or the party in this case - must go on.

LL has been plagued by floods over the last three weeks after spending Christmas in Bundaberg (north of Brisbane) with her family to "relax" when the first flooding started in Queensland. Then, on her mission to get out of her birth town - which she did do - and get herself, her twins and husband safely back to Brisbane before the highway was cut off from flooding, Brisbane city started to flood. Is it you, LL???

Despite the flooding and trouble finding enough fresh food in the supermarkets, the evening began with much love, laughter and bubbles; with a slightly changed menu plan based on what food myself and my cooking partners, the great Mr & Mrs D, could buy; and...did I mention it had to be gluten free for the birthday girl! It was a wonderful start to LL's festival of forty weekend and a great way to spend with much loved friends.

The Menu
Homemade hummus, cheese and crackers
Chinese red roast pork belly with salad
Strawberry cheesecake with strawberries in ginger syrup

Chinese red roast pork belly
by Rick Stein, Far Eastern Odyssey

Chinese red roast pork belly
1kg pork belly
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1tsp finely grated fresh ginger
100ml dark soy sauce
2tbsp Chinese rice wine
1tbsp five-spice powder
2tsp natural red food colouring (I don't include this)

For the eight of us I used 1.5kg of pork belly and changed the recipe accordingly.
As the meal had to be gluten free I used a GF soy sauce (the brand was Spiral Foods). This isn't very dark so I added some pomegranate molasses I had in the cupboard to get that dark sweetness into the marinade.

Put the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, rice wine, five-spice powder and red food colouring (if you're using it) into a shallow dish and mix together. Place the pork belly in the marinade with the skin facing up. Ensure the marinade covers all the flesh but don't get it on the skin. The skin needs to be kept dry so you can get crispy, crunchy, yummy crackling. Set dish aside in the fridge to marinate for at least eight hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Pierce the skin with a skewer or small sharp knife at about 3 cm intervals, then rub with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. I roast the pork belly in the marinade, Rick suggests you place the pork on a rack over a roasting tin with water in it. You can choose your preferred method of cooking. Cook for about 2 hours depending on your oven.

I also turn the marinade into a sauce. Simply take the meat out, place your pan on the stove (or if it isn't stove top proof, place the marinade in fry pan) on a high heat. Add about a tablespoon of sugar and reduce to you have a thick sauce.

Now to get really good pork crackling - which for me is the BEST part of pork...I know I'm all about health - all you need to do is grill the skin once the meat is cooked. If it still isn't crackling, pierce the skin a few more times with a skewer or sharp knife. Perfect crackling is now yours.

Tasty pork belly with crispy, crunchy,
salty, delicious crackling....YUM!!!

Strawberry cheesecake with strawberry in ginger syrup
by Gourmet Traveller 2010 annual cookbook

Strawberry cheesecake with
strawberry in ginger syrup
I halve these ingredients as I find you have enough cheesecake mixture for two cakes
750g softened cream cheese
500g mascarpone
190g raw caster sugar
finely grated rind of 2 limes and juice of 1
4 eggs
300g sour cream
140g strawberries, coarsely chopped

Sweet ginger pastry
30g pure icing sugar, sieved
125g softened butter
125g plain flour - obviously being GF I used GF plain flour (the brand was White Wings)
2 tsp ground ginger

Strawberries in ginger syrup
300g raw caster sugar
2 tsp ginger, cut into julienne
juice of 2 limes
500g strawberries quartered

For the pastry, preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius. Beat icing sugar and butter in an electric mixer until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes), sieve over flour and ginger and stir to combine. Turn onto a work surface, bring together with the heel of your hand, roll out to 4mm thick and line the base of a 27cm-diameter, 5cm-deep fluted tart tin, trimming edges.
If you are using GF flour don't turn the mixture onto a work surface. Simply place it in the tin and work it around to cover the bottom.
Refrigerate to rest for 30 minutes, prick with a fork, blink bake until light golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. With the GF flour, don't put your cooking beads in, it doesn't need it, but it may need a little longer in the oven. Cool once cooked.

Lightly brush sides of tart tin with butter. Process cream cheese, mascarpone, 165g raw caster sugar, lime rind and lime juice in a food processor until smooth, scrape down sides of bowl then add 3 eggs, one at a time, processing to combine. Pour over pastry, bake until just set (40-45 minutes) and remove from oven.

Meanwhile, process sour cream, strawberries and remaining raw caster sugar in a food processor until smooth, add remaining egg and process to combine. Ladle over cheesecake and bake until just set (8-10 minutes). Cool, then refrigerate until completely chilled (4-5 hours)

For strawberries in ginger syrup, combine sugar and 250ml water in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to the simmer, add ginger, cook until ginger is translucent and liquid is reduced to a light syrup (5-6 minutes). Remove from heat, add lime juice and half the strawberries, refrigerate until chilled. Add remaining strawberries and serve spooned over cheesecake.

The strawberry and ginger syrup adds an incredible level of tastiness to this dessert, so don't miss it.

Happy birthday, LL!!

12 January 2011

Water, water and more water; plus a calamari and chorizo salad

Many of you may be aware I live in Brisbane, Queensland, and today the city braces itself for some of our worst ever river floods. Since yesterday I have not been able to take my eyes off the television or from my laptop looking for news from loved ones saying that they are safe. Check out Travelling with Ana's incredible photos of the city as the river rises...and is no where near its peak yet.

While the skies continued to precipitate upon us yesterday I wanted my beloved and I to share in an easy but nice meal to remind us of the importance of being with your loved ones during these scary times. I went to the shops, stocked up on food and bought a couple of tasty treats, including some calamari (although it wasn't fresh...but I wasn't about to complain about that) and yummy spanish chorizo sausage. After some cutting and quick cooking, the TSRK calamari and chorizo salad was born.

TSRK calamari and chorizo salad
by The Self-Raising Kitchen

TSRK calamari and chorizo salad
(photo by My Beloved)
1 calamari tube, sliced
1 spanish chorizo sausage
200g baby spinach leaves
1/2 capsicum
1 tomato
1/2 cucumber
1/4 cup basil
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
250g chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Splash of white wine
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

The best thing about this salad is you can add are delete any of the above that you may or may not like.

Slice and fry chorizo sausage. Leave on a paper towel to sop up any oil or fat.
Chop up your salad items - tomato, cucumber, capsicum and place in a large bowl along with your chickpeas, torn basil and chopped parsley.
Slice your calamari and place in a bowl with salt and pepper and half the lemon juice. Reheat the same pan you cooked the chorizo in and cook garlic and chilli for 1 minute. Add wine, cook for a further 30 seconds, then add the calamari and cook for about 2 minutes or until they turn white. Turn off your element, add spinach and mix around until it is just wilting.  Place calamari and chorizo in the bowl with your salad and mix around.  Add the rest of the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. It is ready to serve.

My heart goes out to all those people across Queensland who have lost their homes, possessions, or worse, loved ones. If you would like to help support these people rebuild their lives once flood levels start to recede please visit the Queensland Premier's Flood Appeal. Every little bit helps!

10 January 2011

New, but old, cookbooks

It's like Christmas has been extended for me.

A dear friend of mine, KB, has just moved house. You know what it is like when you move!?! You start packing up your belongings with great care and even a little nostalgia at some of the memories you find in cupboards and drawers. Precious trinkets are wrapped with care and gently placed in labelled boxes ready for their next abode. Then after several hours, or days, the care of how you are packing dissipates along with those warm felt memories and are replaced by the screaming thoughts of, 'why the hell have I kept all this [add suitable noun here]', pounding in your head.

I digress. So KB has moved to the other side of Brisbane and wanted to clean out her kitchen cupboards. After a number of texts asking what I might need in my kitchen, she turned up with two boxes FULL of books and kitchenware items. I was in heaven. I do have a penchant for collecting books of all types. I aim to have my own library in my house one day - when I own a house - and these new cookbooks will offer a wonderful addition to it.

My new, but old, cookbook collection
(Photo by Mel)
There were some real little treasures in the collection. For those not familiar with Margaret Fulton, she's considered the matriarch of Australian cooking. Her book (you can see in the photo), My Very Special Cookbook was published in 1980, this one is a 1991 reprint and I love it. She goes into such great detail about ingredients and how to use varying techniques to get the most out of them. I can't wait to cook from this.

Another special edition to my cookbook collection
(Photo by Mel)
Another book I would like to highlight could easily double as a coffee table book, with stunning photos of Australia scattered throughout its pages of scrumptious recipes. It certainly screams 'eighties' but will add a wonderful addition to my growing collection.

Soup terrine (photo by Mel)
I also managed to score some more ramekins and a wonderful soup terrine with a matching set of six bowls. Now all I need to do is find room for all these treasures in my own kitchen.

Thank you, KB!!

06 January 2011

Spiced lentil & pumpkin tagine followed by spiced yoghurt & fruit

There is something very special about old friends. You know those friends who have known you since before 'things' started to change with your body and you were still considered cute and adorable by your parents. Those friends who stood by you while you fell in love for the first time with the cutest boy in your grade and they would go and ask him if he would go 'out' with you; and most importantly, they would tell him he was 'dropped' for you one week later. Those friends who have seen you laugh, fail, succeed, win, lose, cry, break-down, love, hate, and yet, they still remain your friend and love you.

I have one of those old, dear friends, who unfortunately lives in Germany - and has for the last 14 years - but who remains a true and loyal friend despite the distance. I am lucky she visits often and is here at the moment - haven't we put the weather on for her with flooding everywhere in Queensland - and what a treat it is to give her a real hug and not just one over the telephone or via the virtual world.

It would be remiss of me to not treat her to a hearty meal at my place during her stay given I've started a blog about my cooking experiments and adventures. So, the other night, I managed to drag her away from her twin sister and family to spend a night with me and my beloved. As she is a vegetarian I decided to visit Morocco, again - to follow on from the ras el hanout in the Christmas hampers - and cook her a spiced lentil and pumpkin tagine.

First, I must share that one of the most exciting things for me and therefore for, you, who has to deal with my special photographic skills, is Mel is studying photography in Deutschland. So for this blog, and for a few upcoming ones, you will be treated to her fine work. Thank you, Mel!

Spiced lentil and pumpkin tagine
From a little taste of morocco

Spiced lentil and pumpkin tagine with
home made flat bread (photo by Mel)

275 g brown lentils (or use a tin and you can miss the first step in the cooking directions)
2 tomatoes (you could substitute for a tin of diced tomatoes for a wetter dish)
600 g pumpkin (or butternut squash for our European friends)
3 tbls olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or 1 tsp harissa (I used the harissa as it has an incredible flavour to spice up this dish)
1 tsp paprika
3 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbls finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbls chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

Pick over the lentils and discard any damaged lentils and any stones. Put the lentils in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Tip into a saucepan and add 1 litre cold water. Bring to the boil, skim the surface if necessary, then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve the tomatoes crossways and squeeze out the seeds. Coarsely grate the tomatoes into a bowl down to the skin, discarding the skin. Set the grated tomato aside. Peel and seed the pumpkin and cut into 3 cm dice. Set aside.

Heath the oil in a large saucepan over low heat, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic, cook for a few seconds, then stir in the cumin turmeric and cayenne pepper or harissa. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the paprika, grated tomato, tomato paste, sugar, half of the parsley and coriander. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add lentils and the prepared pumpkin, stir well then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the pumkin and lentils are tender. Adjust the seasoning and transfer to serving bowls. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and coriander leave. I served this with fresh flat breads that I baked while making the tagine.

Spiced yoghurt with a middle eastern fruit salad
From the Marie Claire Zest cookbook.

I think this is a winning dessert, especially if you would like something a little lighter for your guests but still something to amaze them. I've also used fresh fruit instead of the middle easter fruit salad with the spiced yoghurt. Both work equally well.

Spiced Yoghurt
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 cloves
2 vanilla beans, split lengthways
2 cardamom pods, split lengthways (I added 4 because I love cardamom)
250 ml cream
1 tbls sugar
300 g Greek-style yoghurt

Put the cinnamon, star anise, cloves, vanilla beans, cardamom pods and cream into a small saucepan over a low heat. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain, then str in the sugar before allowing to cool. Fold the spiced cream through the yoghurt and serve over a fruit salad.

The spices in the cream ready for cooking.
Mel said it smelt like Christmas. (Photo by Mel)

Middle Eastern fruit salad
70 g dried figs
70 g dried apricots
70 g pitted prunes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp rose-water
(I also added some dried cranberries I had left over in the cupboard)

Cut the dried fruit into bite-sized pieces and place in a small bowl. Place the sugar, 250 ml (1 cup) of water and the orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium hear, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove from the heat and stir in the rose-water. Pour the liquid over the dried fruit and allow to soak for several hours.

Place fruit salad in glasses, top with the spiced yogurt. I like to grate fresh nutmeg over the yoghurt to add another delightful fragrance and look to the mix.

Spiced yogurt with middle eastern fruit salad
(Photo by Mel)

The one thing I did learn during this cooking experience is I am pathetic at talking and cooking at the same time. I think we ended up eating by about 8.30pm. Prior to this I had to kick Mel out of the kitchen so I could finish the meal in order to prevent us from eating by the year 2012.

03 January 2011

Home made pizza

There is nothing like the smell of a pizza cooking in the oven to get those taste buds salivating. Thanks to a very generous Christmas gift given to my beloved, - therefore me ;-) - a pizza stone and a pizza cutter, we decided to bring out the Italian in us and make our own pizzas last night.

First the dough had to be made so I referred to a great little pizza book, Ben Riccio's Pizza from Naples, for his basic pizza dough recipe.

Pizza dough
The following recipe makes enough dough for six 30cm (22 inch) pizzas. I cut this recipe in half, but you can make the pizza base, wrap it in plastic and freeze it for up to two months.

30g yeast
2 teaspoons salt
600ml water
1kg flour (I used a specific pizza and bread making flour as it is stronger. However, normal plain flour will still work)

Place the water in a bowl with the yeast and salt. Mix this thoroughly (use a small whisk or fork to help) to ensure the yeast is fully dissolved.

Place the flour in a bowl, make a hole in the middle and pour in the mixture of water, salt and yeast. Mix all together to form and smooth dough. I have a dough hook on my Kenwood Mixer (which I LOVE), so I just used this to make a smooth dough.

Pizza dough after mixing all
ingredients together

Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for at least one hour or until it is about double the size.

Pizza dough after about one hour of resting

After the dough has risen, cut or break it into pieces to make six dough balls. The balls can be rolled in the palm of your hands or on the kitchen bench with plenty of flour spread over it. Leave the dough balls to rise again for at least one hour. The dough can now be stretched with your hands or, like me, with a rolling pin.

Now the fun part begins...placing whatever toppings you love on to the base. We included garlic, onions, prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, anchovies, fresh basil leaves and olives.

Our scrummy pizza being sliced with
the new, very cool pizza cutter

The pizza was delicious, the stone making the base perfect and crispy after only 15 minutes in the oven at the highest temperature of 250 degrees celsius. 

For our next pizza attempt, however, I do think my beloved and I need to learn how to transfer our pizza from our working surface to the pizza stone; which has to heat up in the oven to work. We had flour everywhere trying to get the pizza base to move, along with all the toppings, from the upside down tray we were working on to the stone. Apparently a 'pizza paddle' could help, but if anyone out there has any other handing hints...I'm all ears.

01 January 2011

2011 - year of the (new) saucepan

Happy New Year, everyone!

The rain managed to subside for the last two days here in Brisbane, Queensland, just enough to top up my slowly diminishing vitamin D levels, and say goodbye to 2010 and hello to 2011.

One of the great things about the festive season, for me, is going into the shops and seeing all those kitchen goodies come down in price by 40 or 50 per cent. And this year I enjoyed taking advantage of these sales - thanks to some very generous engagement gift vouchers my beloved and I still had in our possession - and bought a five piece stainless steel scanpan set. I've only cooked with cheap, but practical, saucepans and frypans ever since I left home (about 12 years ago), so I cannot express my excitement at this purchase.

My new scanpans.
Happy New Year!
Here I come, 2011. This is going to be a fantastic year experimenting with new recipes, a few old favourites, and sharing the fun with you all.