Sunday, March 11, 2018

597/1038 - Prawns with ginger, spring onion and tomato

Look who found another prawn recipe hiding in the ginger chapter! 

We love seafood in our house and we especially love it fresh from the market. My youngest and I have swapped our weekly market day to Saturdays and so yesterday we happily brought home a kilo of prawns to enjoy. 

This is an interesting recipe in that the prawns, apart from the head & intestinal tract, are left intact. What I didn't expect is how fabulous they would taste, shell, legs, tail and all! The frying process (shallow, not deep-fried) makes the whole prawn edible which of course has the added bonus of reducing the smell in our bin the next day. Less shells, less smell...

The only change I made to the recipe was to fry in sesame rather than vegetable oil and also to use more prawns than was recommended. In hindsight I should probably also have increased the amount of topping, but the prawns were still flavourful so no harm done. We ate them with rocket and plain rice which meant minimal preparation and clean up. Perfect for a Saturday night! 

The motivation for our purchase was actually the prawn heads, which I will be turning into prawn oil today. I do love the smell of prawns cooking in the morning... 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

596/1038 - Chocolate macarons

The reason for making this lovely dessert was twofold; they will serve as a thank you present for the beautiful people who have been looking after my bonsai since December and will also be one of the dishes I am sharing with friends at a long overdue get together tomorrow.

I am not a huge chocolate fan myself (although I will clarify this unusual stance in a moment) so I would not have thought to make this flavour for myself. Give me a good salted caramel macaron any day or anything fruity (raspberry, lemon, strawberry...)

My dislike of chocolate desserts is a weird one. I adore chocolate but don't love it when it is served in other forms. Chocolate cake - bleugh. French pastries or churros dipped in chocolate - double bleugh. Death by chocolate desserts - kill me now. It is a heaviness issue that I have. If a chocolate dessert is paired with a fruity parfait or sauce I am good to go. I also quite like chocolate with something crunchy such as cannoli or lightened with lemon zest. Fussy I know. But it's OK because I am generally the maker of the dessert, so I can afford to be fussy!

I love making macarons but have generally opted to use the Italian meringue method. After cooking Stephanie's version, I am a convert! These were really easy to put together and came out beautifully smooth. The trick to the smoother mixture was to blitz the sugars and almond meal in the Thermomix which made them insanely easy to sift. Quite frankly, I can't believe I hadn't done that before. 

I haven't actually eaten one yet (partly self control and partly because they are chocolate) but I am told they are fabulous by my little family who couldn't wait. I personally think they are better the next day (or even two days after being put together) and straight out of the fridge so I will relent and test one out tomorrow.

Stephanie's macarons for the win! x

Friday, February 23, 2018

595/1038 - Crème caramel

Another year, another wedding anniversary...

I am sure I have said this before, but celebrating on prescribed dates and present giving could be banned tomorrow and I would not give it a second thought. Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day and the ever-divisive Australia Day could all disappear and I would be one happy camper. I do realise I am on my own with this one, but I am not ashamed to admit that most celebrations are completely lost on me. I am not religious, and in many ways not sentimental, so my feelings on this matter are not much of a surprise to those around me. 

I think I would like to keep birthdays and definitely the verbal recognition of anniversaries, but if presents are given I would prefer that they be home-made and usable. The fact that people already have more stuff than they need, coupled with the angst of reciprocal present giving, is the stuff of  my nightmares. 

So even though we don't always bother to celebrate another year of wedlock, today I decided to do a bit of cooking to commemorate the occasion. If I am honest, the date simply coincided with a desire  of mine to cook and hang out in the kitchen. But I am calling it romantic anyway... 

I have been DREADING this recipe for the most ridiculous reason. I have another crème caramel recipe which works perfectly every time and I just hated the thought of trying one that might not be as good. To add to the pressure, Stephanie's version is cooked in one dish and I have always divided the recipe into individual serves. My main thought today as this dish chilled in the fridge was, "Please come out in one piece!" 

I decided to listen to Stephanie's suggestion regarding orange zest, and steeped it in the milk for an hour before cooking, which was a really lovely addition to this simple dessert. I also threw some zest on top after it was turned out and served the dessert with slices of orange.

It feels good to have that monkey off my back! 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

594/1038 - Goat's cheese on salad leaves with an anchovy dressing

Fried goats cheese is my new best friend!

I used a jar of marinated goats cheese for this recipe, dabbing the oil from each piece of cheese with paper towel before the egging and crumbing stage. The great thing about goats cheese is that if it comes apart when sliced, it is easily squashed back into shape.  

This is not a super fast recipe but by George it's worth the effort! Admittedly I did make the breadstick from scratch so other (sane) people who simply head to the local baker for a store bought version will not spend anywhere near the time I spent in the kitchen yesterday.  

After a few nights without a substantial amount of red meat, I added some sliced and fried beef short ribs to the meal to appease the men in my house.  

This was SO much more than a salad. Very happy with this one.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

593/1038 - Panang gai - dry chicken curry

I am sure it is of no surprise that, at this stage of the challenge, I have exhausted many of the recipes which have ingredients that reside in my pantry. 

Nowadays there is more planning involved in the cooking, and today this involved a trip out to pick up a small tin of green peppercorns and some coconut milk. I have no idea if it is common or just in my house, but I am forever using a half tin of coconut milk and then tossing the other half after its obligatory three days of taking up space in the fridge. Imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered 165ml tins! 

I made 2/3 of this recipe tonight (I had only 500g chicken) and so this was the perfect sized tin for our dinner with not a drop of wastage. Colour me happy!   

It turns out this was a very simple recipe and a good mid-week meal. I served it with jasmine rice and a pile of fresh vegetables (capsicum, tomatoes, rocket) which made it insanely fast to get to the table. Of course, I left a mountain of dishes in my wake but when I cook I am not on dishes duty so I don't see this as a problem!  

Somehow I missed the fact that there was supposed to be fresh basil to scatter over the finished product and so I made do with finely sliced rocket; as it turns out, a more than satisfactory substitute. 

Anybody who watches my blog regularly will be quite surprised that after an incredibly slow patch, I have now written six posts in little more than a fortnight. There is a reason behind this and it is a good one! I plan on having an incredibly busy year in 2018 and am trying to knock out as many recipes as I can before the madness starts in March.  

More to come!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

592/1038 - Tung po pork

Tung po pork!

Honestly, we love pork belly...but Tung po pork! This dish was absolutely worth the hours it took to cook and was a tremendous way to use up yet another section of our enormous pork belly purchase. There is just so much belly; if you look hard enough you can see a piece of the roast pork I cooked at the same time. The crackling on that was FABULOUS...

The meat was so very tender it didn't require slicing but simply fell apart as it was handled. Amusingly, I forgot to add the sauce to the meal but have stored it in the fridge and plan to use it to enhance whatever veg combo I throw together tonight. It really didn't matter; the meat was full of flavour and an absolute delight to eat as it was. 

Oh and look at that...a recipe not based around cabbage!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

591/1038 - One-pot cabbage soup

There has been a lot of cabbage consumed in our house lately and I lay the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of my husband. Whilst planning the execution of the cabbage parcel recipe (previous post) I added the following to our electronic shopping list;

Green cabbage (whole)

Simple, right? Well my husband thought he was pretty clever buying me two cabbage halves...because two halves make a whole, right? Except that cabbage parcels are pretty hard to make with half-sized cabbage leaves. Fast forward and my fridge contained not one but two cabbages waiting to be turned into something fabulous.

So first came cabbage parcels and then a couple of nights ago I resurrected Stephanie's cabbage and anchovy salad (still wonderful). This soup was next on the list and even my boy who is not a huge soup fan was happy with the result.

We made a successful return to the Queen Victoria Market in the early hours of the morning (our first for 2018) and one of my big scores was a half kilo of meaty off-cuts which was largely bacon pieces with some of this and some of that mixed in. I used it in place of the slab of bacon listed in this recipe and it worked beautifully. It was of course a bonus that it cost only $3.50. Proof that a wonderful meal does not need to cost the earth.

LOVED this one x

Thursday, February 8, 2018

590/1038 - Cabbage leaves stuffed with pork, sausage and rice

Whilst creating time consuming little parcels of food is not one of my favourite things, I do love an excuse to use my beautiful Mauviel copper rondeau. It is such a thing of beauty and one of only a handful of kitchen purchases I have made in the last couple of years. 

This recipe was not especially difficult but I do think if I made it again I would take the lazy path and simply cook the stuffing ingredients with a pile of shredded cabbage. It wouldn't look anywhere as pretty, but the flavour would still be there and surely that's the main thing!

As expected, this recipe fed my family of four twice; the first night on a bed of mashed potato and the second with a load of extra cabbage and diced pumpkin added to the stock/tomato mixture in which my parcels were cooked.

I bought an ENORMOUS piece of pork belly while shopping for this recipe and so if the weather cools on Sunday as predicted, Tung Po Pork should be next up on our challenge menu.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mexican flour tortillas (Not a challenge recipe!)

We recently visited Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico; a very secluded little town located by the Rio Grande, just across the river from Texas. 

Boquillas survives on the income derived from a river crossing which is accessed via Big Bend National Park. The crossing of the river is undertaken in a small rowboat, which is followed by a trip to town in the form of a walk, a drive or a gentle ride on a burro (donkey). Of course we rode burros! 

We were looked after by a lovely young man by the name of Abraham, who walked us around the town and told us a bit about its people and its history. Allowing a guide to look after you while visiting is one of the ways the town is supported, with guides earning tips from the "tour" they provide. Spending some time with Abraham was a wonderful aspect of our day and we were thrilled that he joined us for lunch at the wonderful Boquillas restaurant. 

We ate many tortillas whilst in America, but none were a patch on the ones served to us at Boquillas Restaurant. Their version had the most unbelievably flaky texture and almost melted in your mouth. Not a simple feat for a dough based item! I have simply never eaten anything like them and while I would like to say that the ones I made were as good, I am afraid they were not. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled with how these came out but I am ranking them firmly behind the only truly Mexican tortillas I am ever likely to experience. 

Of course I lugged my new tortilla press home from Boquillas (because is there anything better than a tortilla press all the way from Mexico?) and it was instrumental in helping me to make my very first quesadillas for dinner last night. 

I found multiple "authentic" recipes on the internet and of course I slightly tweaked what I found and came up with the following. I also saw many a blog post on the useless nature of a tortilla press (compared to using a rolling pin) and I couldn't disagree more with their assertion. I have made somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 flatbreads in my time (possibly a slight exaggeration) and have always flattened them using a rolling pin. After making this batch of tortillas, my view is that not only does the press create beautiful round and elegantly thin tortillas (important for quesadillas!), it is also incredibly fast to use and meant that I was not running between the stove and the table (where I usually roll) as I cooked. For somebody who usually despises useless kitchen gadgets, I am 100% convinced that this purchase was sound.  

For anybody looking to make their own tortillas, here is my version. I do, however, reserve the right to make amendments to this as time goes on! 

Tortilla recipe (makes 16)
2.5 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp bi-carb
1/4 cup lard
1.3 tsp lemon juice
1 cup very warm water

1. Combine flour, salt & bi-carb in a bowl. Stir well. 

2. Add lard (I used duck fat saved from a roast duck dinner) and rub through with your fingers until it has disappeared into the flour.

3. Add lemon juice and the water (slowly) all the time mixing with a butter knife. There may not be a need to add all of the water - you just need enough until the dough has come together but is not sticky. 

4. Gently knead into a ball and then shape into 16 smaller balls, each one a little bigger than a golf ball.

5. Leave to rest under a tea towel for one hour. 

6. Set yourself up with a small frypan. The small pan will allow the heat to be trapped in a "bubble" to cook within, whereas a larger pan will make the edges of the tortilla too cold and the lovely puffy bubbles you will be seeking will not appear. Heat the pan to a little over medium and allow the pan to become very warm before inserting your first tortilla.

7. Set the tortilla press up on the bench, very close to the frying pan. Place a ball in the very centre of your press (I covered mine with baking paper top and bottom) and press down very hard. Hold for a few seconds and then gently remove the raw tortilla and place it straight into the pan. If you have rested your dough for long enough it should hold its size and not spring back on itself. 

8. As the first tortilla is cooking, flatten a second tortilla in the press, holding it flat for at least a good few seconds. 

9. Cook the first tortilla until puffy bubbles have formed and when you take a peek underneath, none of the dough looks raw. Flip it over and fry until just cooked. 

10. Remove tortilla and keep warm inside a clean tea towel or a cloth bag designed to store ham (my preference!)

11. Repeat and enjoy.

My first batch of tortillas were made into mouth watering chicken, cheese, capsicum and onion quesadillas, but of course the tortilla options are endless.

On the Texan side of the river, looking over to Mexico

Monday, January 29, 2018

589/1038 - Glaze for a baked ham

We are now in month seventy nine of this challenge (yes, really!) and of course I am keen to continue my unblemished record of posting at least one recipe in each calendar month. 

I knew I would be overseas for two thirds of January (and then jet lagged for the remainder) and so please forgive me for posting a recipe I prepared before we headed offshore. 

This beautiful ham was actually cooked for a client, but thankfully they only ordered half a leg and so there was plenty left over for my family to enjoy. Smoked and wonderfully flavoured before I did anything, this mustard and honey glaze simply enhanced an already fabulous product. We ate it with home made baked beans which again, was a client order that I simply doubled as I put it together. My family are very used to eating meals which are based on client orders of the day.  

As evidence that I WAS away and have not completely lost focus for this challenge, I am sharing below what was my synopsis of our road trip in the south west of America.


10 things I learned while road tripping in the US

1) America is probably the only place I will be told I have a cool accent. I was also asked repeatedly if I was from England, which I can only assume is because Americans think we all sound like Steve Irwin. Crikey.

2) The interpretation of speed limits depends on your location. If you are driving in Texas, feel free to drive 5 miles over the speed limit and the police won’t bother you. I like Texas. I especially liked Texas when I was hooning down the highway doing 85 (136km) in our Canyonero.* 

Conversely, according to the California road rules, not only can you be pulled over for exceeding the speed limit, but you can actually be charged for driving at ANY speed if the officer deems your speed to be inappropriate for the weather, the traffic conditions or his/her current mood. You read these rules, observe the limits religiously, and then realise everybody is actually driving at least 10 over and decide it would just be plain rude not to keep up with the locals.

Phoenix drivers do not appear to follow any speed limits. More on scary Phoenix drivers in the next section. 

3) Driving styles vary across the country. Wildly. 
Texas – Fast but friendly. Indicate and you shall be let in. 
LA - Fast. Not friendly. Change lanes if you are brave (or if you have a Canyonero). Pretty much the same as Melbourne but with bigger roads and more cars. 
Palm Springs – Slow speed limits and everybody complies. If you drive a canyonero you will be stared at and occasionally pointed at. Texas trucks stand out in this world of more tastefully sized cars. 
San Francisco – Frantic. Not friendly. Plenty of honking. Just like Melbourne but with REALLY steep roads. 
El Paso - Fast, no matter how packed the roads are. Drive well, stay in your lane and you will survive. 
Arizona – Like driving with a zillion P-platers all late for the same party. Apparently driving ten over while crossing four lanes to exit a highway is a thing here. Saw four accidents in less than an hour. Slightly terrifying. 

4) American road rules make sense. Being allowed to turn right on red (equivalent of left on red here) is hands down the best thing about driving in America. No more light going green and then stuck waiting for pedestrians. We NEED this rule here! 

Four way intersections (and roundabouts) which work on a first come, first served basis are the bomb. Even at the busy ones, the traffic flowed beautifully - North and South go, then East and West. Repeat. The only strange thing about this method is the weirdo Australian who felt the need to grin and wave every time she had her turn. Even though it’s the law, it still feels as if people are letting you through because they are lovely. 

5) Travel guides don’t speak for me. As a family, we definitely enjoy the road less travelled. While we loved San Francisco (the only place on our trip which is consistently rated as a top destination in the US), the highlights of our holiday occurred in the smaller towns and of course in our Mexico crossing. We loved the friendliness and hospitality of the smaller towns as well as the discovery of people, places and landmarks we had not already seen or heard of a million times before. 

6) Southern hospitality really is a thing. From opening doors to drivers actually moving out of the way when other cars indicated or merged, we just loved Southern hospitality. The people of Fort Stockton were perfect examples of this. We caught a couple of nasty rocks on our windscreen and the lovely men in the windscreen repair place fixed the two, rather significant, cracks for free. Also, there are Starbucks EVERYWHERE in the states and the staff do not work for tips (because you don’t tip for take-away) but only in the South will Starbucks employees say hello to everybody as they walk through the door. Just so lovely. 

7) No matter where you are in America, there are many people who agree that Trump is a twit. While in the US, we tried very hard not to offend those around us. We didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, refrained from saying the word “toilet” in public and largely kept our political commentary to ourselves. Even so, it was not difficult to find others snickering about the possibility of building a wall through a national park or laughing at his incorrect singing of the national anthem. Restored our faith in human nature. 

8) Coffee can be obtained and enjoyed. It is actually not too hard to find a decent coffee, with lattes being offered quite regularly at cafes and even stores which specialised in other things such as ice-cream or pie (although Starbucks is an adequate fallback if your search for a latte fails). The coffee we had at Cedar Coffee Supply in Alpine was better than most you can find in Melbourne. Thanks be to Yelp (and Sue, our Yelper) for finding this one. If you do get stuck with regular brewed coffee, beware the creamer! Half and half is not too bad but the French vanilla variety is blow your head off sweet. I made the mistake of adding two to my first coffee and thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of my head. Also, one brewed coffee is not enough to knock out the inevitable coffee headache so be sure to double up. 

9) My propensity for being accident prone knows no geography. A trip and fall in a carpark, headbutted by my youngest as we slid into our seats at lunch and that special moment when I dropped my keys just as my eldest swung our heaviest suitcase from the Canyonero. Somehow I did not need to utilise our travel insurance but we wouldn’t have dared leave the country without it. 

10) Don’t judge a book by its cover. Of course this is something I already knew, but a particular incident made me realise I am not as good at practising this as I thought! Completing my transaction at the lovely XOX truffles, I glanced up as an ultra cool young man walked into the store. I chatted to SO many strangers on this trip (asking for directions etc) but this was definitely not somebody I would have approached for assistance; he simply looked way too cool to engage. As the truffle man handed me my receipt, he informed me that a receipt had also been e-mailed to me. He saw my shocked expression and explained that my e-mail address was already in the system (I had provided it to a BBQ place in Austin). My response was something like, “Oh that is very efficient…and just a little creepy!” I heard some giggling behind me and turned to find the cool guy giggling and repeating, “Just a little creepy!” Judgement busted. I still smile every time this runs through my mind. I am sure there is more but this will do. 

I loved America, its people and its road rules (and my Canyonero) Will be back for sure x

*Oversized Texan SUV, designed to lug around one month's worth of clothes for a family of four plus many, many purchases.