Sunday 31 July 2011

Quesadillas - everything tastes better with cheese

I go through phases where I suddenly "remember" a dish, and then binge on it for a period of weeks or months. It seems as though that dish is often the quesadilla - the Mexican fried cheese sandwich.

As I said recently, I've "been craving spicy flavours. I've been wanting the prickle of chilli, cut back with cool lime and green herbs, underscored with salty fishsauce. I've been wanting rice." but in the last couple of weeks I have been slaking this thirst with Mexican, rather than South East Asian flavours.

I think Mexican food is right up there with Thai and Vietnamese for balancing hot, sweet, salt, sharp and fresh flavours, creating these very satisfying dishes. Or it should be, when it is done well.

My most recent quesadilla kick was instigated by Arlene, at the Food of Love with her black bean and goats cheese ones. I didn't mince my jalapenos, I used big slices of pickled ones, but the flavours were gorgeous.

Then Thomasina Miers' new series Mexican Food Made Simple hit channel 5 and my journey to the cheesy side was complete.

You can put pretty much anything in a quesadilla, as long as it isn't too runny and only needs warming through. An egg, beaten with grated cheese and mixed with sliced pickled jalapenos is ridiculously delicious. Mashed potato flecked with chorizo and thyme is one of the fillings they serve at Thomasina's restaurant Wahaca - my version used baby new potatoes and home made Mexican chorizo. Plain cheese is also good. Cheese and a sprinkle of hot sauce. Cheese and tomato. Cheese and mushroom. Cheese and leftover roast chicken.

It just occured to me that quattro formaggi would make a cross-cultural quesadilla of extraordinary beauty. I must try it.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Country Life Great British Picnics

Country Life (the butter, not the magazine with girls in pearls) have launched a new website to encourage picnics. The Country Life Great British Picnic has a picnic-spot locator (and an iphone app, if you do that sort of thing), a section on planning the perfect picnic, and a section of recipes.

Obviously, it's the recipes that were most interesting to me at the moment.

It really is cruddy timing for them. We've had SO much rain that all our picnics have taken place in the kitchen. But no one ever said picnic food has to be eaten outdoors.

This homemade lemonade was really delicious, although I found that the quantity of syrup only made 4 servings, if, like us, you like your servings large and lemony. I think if I make it again I will put the zest of a couple of the lemons into the syrup, to give a bit more kick. This time I added the tiniest hint of orange flower water, which gave a lovely floral fragrance.

The fluffy sausage rolls were such a revelation! So simple, so delicious. So much better than the sausage rolls you buy at the supermarket. These are going to be on very high rotation at our house!

After I glazed them with the egg, I sprinkled them with a little cracked pepper, for extra flavour and a bit of prettiness. They definitely looked appetising.

As a little sweet treat, I made the chocolate fridge cake. I'd been wanting another go at one since the not-very-successful one I made after the Royal Wedding.

I had a bit of trouble with this recipe. "Half a small pack" of biscuits doesn't mean a lot to someone who doesn't buy a lot of biscuits! I would have preferred a more prescriptive recipe. I think I got it about right though - there was enough chocolate and butter to glue the bits together, and enough bits per bite. So I am counting it a success. Strangely though, this is an example of when not to use really good chocolate. I used a bar of 70% cocoa and 1/2 a bar of 70% with raspberries, and it was honestly too chocolatey. A more basic plain chocolate, which has around 54% cocoa would have been a better fit, I think. It was just killingly rich as it was. I actually witnessed one of my colleagues having half a piece because it was too much for him.

Monday 25 July 2011

Meat Free Monday: Mushrooms, shallots and ricotta

This utterly divine savoury stew is another Yotam Ottolenghi recipe. I used white wine instead of Pernod, but I think vermouth would be a good option too. And I used a vegetable stock cube, without adding more liquid - the vegetables throw off plenty to make a good rich broth. Paul though it would have benefited from bacon, but I disagree, I thought it was perfection as it was.

We had it with rice. It's extraordinary how well tarragon goes with mushrooms!

Also - happy birthday to Jude, and happy birthday for tomorrow to my mother.

And in a final public service announcement, I have finally joined Facebook and made a page for - I have no idea what benefit there is to either me or you, loyal band of readers. But I was told it was a Good Thing and it is there.

Friday 22 July 2011

Fish Fight Update: Kitchen Clambake

Last week, the European Commission published its proposal for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Now come 18 months of debate and revision before any new law comes into effect.

I like this bit "The reform will introduce a decentralised approach to science-based fisheries management by region and sea basin, and introduce better governance standards in the EU and on the international level through sustainable fisheries agreements." but what the final legislation will look like is anyone's guess.

And we... continue to eat delicious sustainable seafood. My friend Sharon pointed me in the direction of this excellent graphic, pooling the advice from a variety of sources on what fish are sustainable and which are vulnerable. Very handy!

I spotted this recipe on The Glamorous Gourmet's blog, and knew I had to try it. I've always read about clambakes - digging the hole in the sand, lining it with seaweed and layer upon layer of corn, lobsters and clams, taking time out for a little teenage romance or murder (depending on what I was reading) and coming back hours later to a feast - but never thought it was achievable in an average suburban home. It may not have quite the charm of the original, but it is a very tasty way to make dinner!

This was the midweek on a budget version - no prawns and no lobsters. But mussels, clams, potatoes, corn and chunks of Polish sausage, cooked gently in white wine and annointed with a little butter, made a very hearty, delicious one-pot meal.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Forging Fromage - Cherry Conserve & Dutch Baby

This month's Forging Fromage challenge isn't forging a fromage at all. As part of the wider brief of exploring preserving, this month there are a couple of conserves to try.

Apparently a conserve is a jam that involves both fresh and dried fruit. And sometimes booze and spice. You learn something new every day.

I thought prune and cardamom conserve sounded good, but as fresh, beautiful English cherries had just hit the stores, I had to give the Brandied Red Cherry Conserve a try.

I made a half quantity (because those beautiful English cherries are bloody expensive, and we just don't eat that much jam), and I omitted the currants. I wanted to be able to taste the cherries, which I thought was already at risk with 1/4lb chopped candied peel involved, and I didn't want to buy a package of currants for just 1oz of them. And I used kirch instead of slivovitz because that's what we keep on hand.

I really liked the technique of making a puree of half of the fruit, and then adding the rest in.

Because I was making a smaller quantity, it didn't take anything like 20 minutes of cooking before it reached set point, but I was expecting that so it didn't candy or burn.

My final variation to the written recipe was not to bother canning/heat processing it any further after I bottled it. American recipe writers to seem to be very paranoid about jam. I poured the hot jam into a hot, sterilised glass jar, topped it with a drop more of the kirsch and put on the lid. As it cooled the "pop up" button bit depressed, as a vacuum was formed, so I feel pretty OK about eating it.

To sample the conserve, I made Heather's Dutch Baby. Which is basically a Yorkshire pudding.

The Dutch Baby itself was delicious - light, puffy and eggy. The conserve... was a disappointment. Tooth-achingly sweet, no discernible clove flavour, little discernible cherry flavour.

I think it will be nice served with sharp cheese, or in a sauce for duck or game, but as a jam it really isn't to my taste at all. I am very glad I only made half the quantity!

Saturday 16 July 2011

Foodycat's Far Eastern Odyssey

I don't have any travel plans at the moment. Well, I always have plans, but nothing that is actually imminent, or booked, or likely to take place within the next six months or so. My travel at the moment is all taking place on my bookshelf and in my kitchen.

Recently, I have been craving spicy flavours. I've been wanting the prickle of chilli, cut back with cool lime and green herbs, underscored with salty fishsauce. I've been wanting rice. I've been wanting noodles. I've been wanting to sit in night markets watching flames leap around wok burners. In short, I have been wanting South East Asian food.

This craving has taken me back to one of my favourite food programs, the series Rick Stein did in 2009 Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey. I've been watching episodes (they are available on youtube) and wallowing, reading all of my South East Asian cookbooks and then heading into the kitchen to cook.

I've been wanting to try an oxcheek rendang for ages. Kavey mentioned it in passing in a review she did of some restaurant, I can't even remember which one! But I could just imagine how well the luscious, melting meat would work in that spicy sauce, so I noted it in my "recipes to try" spreadsheet (oh yeah, I have a spreadsheet for that).

I used Rick Stein's recipe, although I concluded that he was delusional including 10 dried red chillies. I used 4 dried hot red chillies and a couple of large, mild Mexican dried chillies just to give the sauce the right body and colour.

I'd managed to get hold of a couple of green mangoes, so I served the rendang (didn't bring the sauce down as much as I should have, because I was hungry and couldn't wait another hour) with green mango salad and rice cooked with a little crushed lime leaf.

It was wonderful. The thick, coconutty sauce was very spicy but not unbearably so, the meat fell to gelatinous shreds and the mango salad provided a sharp, fresh counterpoint. Utterly delicious.

I don't usually think of slow-cooked dishes like rendang when I think about South East Asian food: my mental image is of stirfries and quickly grilled satays, phos with sliced beef lightly cooking in boiling broth. Yet one of my favourite Thai dishes is a very slow-cooked braise.

Many years ago I used to get takeaways from a place in Erskineville called Maggie's Thai. Sometimes on the special's board they had an oxtail tom yum soup. It was the most amazing thing. Oxtail, on the bone, cooked until it was rich and fatty and sweet, in the familiar sharp, clear tom yum broth given an extra little zing of acidity with wedges of fresh tomato.

I've never seen oxtail tom yum anywhere else, and I moved out of Erskineville probably ten years ago, so I had to learn to make something similar myself. I red braise my oxtail for hours, then as soon as it is cool enough to handle I strip the meat from the bones and set it aside. I make a basic tom yum soup (bought tom yum paste, water, lime leaves and juice) and when it comes to a good simmer I add the reserved meat, some sliced tomatoes and correct the seasoning with fish sauce and more lime juice.

This one was a bit more elaborate than usual. I added mushrooms, basil and coriander. I like tom yum with rice, but Paul wanted noodles, so I added some sweet potato noodles to the broth as well, making it a very hearty main course soup, but still with the lovely light, fresh flavour.

Recently we've been getting seafood along with our vegetable box. Having access to inexpensive, sustainable shellfish has opened up quite a few dining opportunities for us! I've been dragging Paul away from his beloved linguine vongole, and using the clams for other things. This Rick Stein dish of clams with black beans, ginger and beer was really delicious and very quick to make. The broth - which begs for some bread to dunk in it - doesn't taste particularly beery, the ginger, chilli and black beans come through more strongly.

My mother sent me the link to this recipe, for Luke Nguyen's lemongrass chilli chicken. I've only eaten at his restaurant, Red Lantern in Surry Hills, once, but that was enough to know that any recipe of his was going to be a good 'un. It's a very interesting recipe, as it uses the young coconut juice, rather than coconut milk or cream as the liquid. Apparently a lot of celebrities are using coconut water as a weightloss aid, so it's fairly easy to come by at health food shops now.

I don't think I am particularly likely to lose weight eating this delicious chicken, but it is nice to feel virtuous!

Another more virtuous dish is this Cambodian marinated beef with black pepper dipping sauce. I hadn't really understood from the episode of Far Eastern Odyssey that it is served as a lettuce wrap: little pieces of the marinated beef, wrapped with peanuts, herbs and onions and dipped in the peppery sauce. It makes quite a fun meal, but for a less fiddly presentation I would make a salad of the lettuce, and herbs and top it with the hot beef, dressing it with the dipping sauce and garnishing it with the nuts. Very delicious and very healthy!

The problem, of course, with indulging this craving for South East Asian food is that I haven't sated the craving. I have made it worse. I am becoming a ravenous chilli monster.

So be prepared that you are likely to see pho bo, banh mi, red duck curry and god knows what else over the next while. So much more to cook, so much more to explore.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Breakfast Breads

It's hard to beat a slice of freshly baked sweet bread for breakfast. Except, possibly, that bread a day or two later, toasted and smeared lavishly with butter.
This cinnamon pullapart loaf has been very popular in the blogosphere of late. I first spotted it on Heather's blog, and Natashya has also made it, but it went through a couple of pairs of hands before it got to them, originally it was from Joy the Baker. The one I made was Heather's version, with the ricotta. I think my stacking in the tin could
have been a little tidier!
Gorgeous flavour though. I think next time I make it I will prepare it the night before, keep it in the fridge and then bring it back to room temperature for baking fresh in the morning.

Which is what I did for this lovely coconut bubble bread from Mary at One Perfect Bite.

I made a double quantity of the coconut crumble and rolled each ball of dough in it, before packing them into the tin (my loaf tin is quite large, so this quantity made one loaf). Mary said that it made marvellous toast and she wasn't wrong - I actually think it was better toasted than eaten fresh. Although I did have to watch it like a hawk to make sure the coconut didn't burn.

Nigella's banana bread is another lovely breakfast treat. I used apricots soaked in sherry rather than sultanas in rum, and they gave a lovely little tangy punctuation to the sweet moist bread.

This bread keeps very well. It stayed moist and delicious for the week it took to eat it, so I never got to find out if it toasted well. I bet it would.

Monday 11 July 2011

Meat-Free Monday: Beetroot and Carrot Dips

This carrot dip, with another dip made from roasted beetroot, garlic and yoghurt. So pretty in one bowl and the sweet, earthy flavours really compliment each other. Lovely spread on some ryvita!

Saturday 9 July 2011

Sweet Treats

Two dessert posts in a week! What is the world coming to?

As it happens, this is a round up of stuff that I have made over the last 3 months, so it isn't that bad! And it's mostly stuff I took to work, so you needn't worry that Paul has developed a sweet tooth in some sort of midlife crisis.

At Easter I tried out my friend Alide's recipe for Caramel Easter Egg Brownies. They are a dryer-textured brownie elevated to great heights by caramel-filled Easter eggs being baked into them. Strangely, I couldn't get caramel-filled Easter eggs (AND I couldn't get a Lindt bunny anywhere, which I am still bitter about) so I used these Thornton caramel swirl jobbies, which looked like little exploding beach balls. They were very, very acceptable to the chocolate-eating hordes at work. Not my favourite brownie, but a good way of using up excess Easter eggs, if you have such a thing. You could also use mini creme eggs, if the thought of those fondant-filled snotballs doesn't appal you.

The brownies were still being digested when I made this chocolate biscuit cake. I don't know if you had seen the news that Prince William of Wales got married? There was so little coverage of it that you probably missed it. Anyway, Prince William requested a chocolate biscuit cake, apparently his favourite when he was a child. One of the volunteers at work told me she had never heard or tasted chocolate biscuit cake before, so I made one. Mine does not look like the one they had. Mine was not very successful, unfortunately. The flavours (I used ginger biscuits and added chopped apricots and extra crystallised ginger) were excellent, but there wasn't enough chocolate to biscuit to hold it all together. So that one needs revisiting. It certainly wasn't a patch on Mrs Stacey's refrigerator cake (old friend of my mother's) which I must make and blog about for posterity.

The next sweet treat came about because I had condensed milk leftover after making Dan Lepard's halva flapjacks.

My friend Jacki had hooked me up with this recipe - which she said was very reliable, egg-free and adaptable. I messed around with the recipe, of course, and produced a very delicious tender cookie with a wonderful flavour. If you do want to make these cookies please keep in mind that an Australian cup is 250ml, slightly larger than the American 8oz cup which can make a difference.

Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies

80g butter, softened
100g chunky peanut butter
1/3 cup caster sugar
125ml condensed milk
1 egg
1tsp vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste - doesn't matter, as long as it is genuine vanilla and not synthetic flavouring)
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
250g choc chips (I used 150g milk chocolate and 100g 85% dark chocolate and chopped it into chunks)

Cream the butter, peanut butter and caster sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add the condensed milk, egg and vanilla. Beat in the flour until thoroughly combined then fold in the chocolate.

Shape into balls with a pair of teaspoons and place, well spaced, on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 15 minutes until well risen and browned. Cool on the baking sheet before trying to move them. Makes 35-38.

Last but not least: vanilla milkshakes. I can't remember how the conversation started, but we were reminiscing about vanilla milkshakes and how neither of us had had one in years and years. So I made some. I suspect the last time I had one it wasn't made with organic milk, organic vanilla icecream and fair-trade vanilla.

They were very good. Very filling though - we had them for lunch. I can't believe I was ever able to have a milkshake as a drink alongside a burger or something.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Spaghetti con Fegatini di Pollo: Presto Pasta Nights

This is my first ever submission to the long-running Presto Pasta Nights. For 221 rounds Ruth at Once Upon A Feast and a bunch of guest hosts have been doing a summary of all that is great and good in the pasta blogosphere.

This week's is being hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, so I am sending my spaghetti con fegatini di pollo (chicken liver spaghetti) over to her for the round up tomorrow.

I used this Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe, although as it was a mid-week meal I didn't have time to make my own fettucini! And I don't know about serving 6-8 people - that quantity of sauce on 500g spaghetti (raw weight) served the two of us with two portions of leftovers for the following day. Anyway, it was thoroughly delicious. And a very easy way into offal if you are not sure about that sort of thing!

Sunday 3 July 2011

Eton Mess for Wimbledon

I'm not much of a tennis watcher, but I do like Wimbledon. It seems so civilised that there is still a tournament played on grass where the players have to wear white. I don't know how the connection between strawberries and cream and Wimbledon arose either, but as the strawberries are at their best right now it does seem fitting.

Eton Mess is strawberries and cream fancied up a bit. I took this one to a barbecue last weekend and I have to say it was magic - the perfect balance between cream, fruit and meringue - although when I put it together I was a bit anxious because it looked like an awful lot of fruit and meringue to a very little cream.

Very good English soft fruit was quite heavily discounted last week, so this was even moderately economical, which was nice just before payday!

Eton Mess (to serve 8 or more)

500g strawberries, halved or quartered
400g raspberries
1tsp rosewater
2tbs sugar
400ml double cream
1tbs sugar (extra)
1tsp vanilla bean paste
8 meringue nests
Crystallised rose petals (optional)

Put the strawberries and raspberries in a bowl, sprinkle with the rosewater and sugar and allow to macerate in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Drain the fruit, reserving the juices that have oozed from them, and place the fruit in a serving dish. Combine the reserved juices, vanilla bean paste and extra sugar with the cream and whip to soft peaks. Spread the cream over the fruit.

Crumble the meringue nests over the cream.

Just before serving, fold it all together and garnish with the crystallised rose petals (if using). At this point it isn't pretty but it really is delicious and much less anxiety-inducing than a pavlova.


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