Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sometimes we all need a little inspiration...

It is difficult when you work part time, like to travel and eat great food.  You have to be frugal.  There has to be a line drawn if you want to be able to eat, as well as pay the bills and squirrel a little money away each week to buy a plane ticket.  It's just that... I like to eat.  And eat well.  I like to buy the best ingredients I can afford and to have a bulging pantry that stimulates my senses and inspires me to cook whatever it is I feel like eating at the time.  So what to do when your bank account is looking a little lean and you yearn for something really decadent?

I often have this conundrum, but over time I have discovered that many times I don't have too have much in my fridge or pantry to work with - but I don't let this beat me.

There are some things I always have in my pantry - dried pasta, dried herbs, canned beans (cannelini, garbanzo, kidney), canned tomatoes.  In my refrigerator/freezer -  bacon/pancetta, cream, butter, yoghurt, chicken, meat for slow cooking, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, Parmesan cheese (sometimes I buy the stodgey pre-grated stuff - please don't judge me! Sometimes I just can't afford a $12 wedge of cheese to just sprinkle on the top of my pasta. It is not even gilding the lily).

From here you can look into the vast emptiness of your fridge, or with a little imagination, you have the building blocks of many a great dish.  Plus there is a sense of satisfaction you get when you make a whole meal with what you have on hand, without needing a trip to the shops. (It is perfectly okay to zip up to the shop for a nice bottle of wine to accompany it).

I guess it is okay for me to say 'bla bla bla and you will have a wonderful bouillabaisse with just a couple of  prawns, a bulb of fennel and a can of tomato paste in no time...' (even I don't have the ingredients on hand to make that!) but if you plan your shop and 'build' your pantry, so to speak, it does give you more scope in the types of dishes you are able to create.

For instance.  I don't just shop at the supermarket - not because I want to be all la-de-dah 'Little Miss Continental Shopper' - it is because I don't like what the supermarket calls 'Fresh Produce'.  Give me a break.  I am somewhat blessed to have a weekly Farmers Market every Sunday where I can buy my produce fresh from the grower.  I find that my market produce lasts up to 3-4 weeks longer than the limp, pitiful produce I get from my major retailer.  It is just a smarter option for me because the food lasts longer, which means I end up cooking and eating all of it without fear of spoilage.  I use the supermarket for non-perishables and toilet paper.  I can even get my meat and poultry from the Farmers Market.  Everything from roasting beef, and chicken, to spatchcock, duck and fois gras if I so desire!  It is a feast for the senses, it inspires me to go home and cook as well as having a delicious breakfast of kransky with sauerkraut or a decadent chocolate croissant. 

I am going to sound all pretentious now and tell you about one of my great foodie finds - the Farmers Market in Union Square, New York City.  I never knew what an heirloom tomato looked like, let alone how many varieties of tomato there were until I paid this market a visit.  The first time I went to the Farmers Market there was in September, so it must be the height of tomato season in the States.  There were red, purple, yellow, blue, green, even brown tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.  The smell was insatiable.  There is nothing like the aroma of a perfectly ripe tomato to get your senses reeling.

On another jaunt to New York, the following June, I purchased some fruit from a street vendor - let me tell you it is worth stopping for the summer peaches.  I had the sweetest, most delicious peach after a 'beautiful sandwich' from Blimpie, eaten on my pashmina/makeshift picnic rug in Central Park.  I have a zillion New York food memories that give me inspiration.

So with a little forward thinking and preparation, you can develop a pantry and a repertoire of recipes that are quite versatile.  All you have to do now is resist the urge to phone for take out or have toast for dinner!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Monday, May 24, 2010

Here Today, Scone Tomorrow...

I have never really been a great pastry cook.  It is only recently that I have really ventured into the realm of cooking sweet things.  I was never really good at baking, my cakes were more like door stops and Frisbee's rather than light, fluffy and spongey.  I still to this day have a sense of dread when it comes to baking.  I always give my cake batter a blessing and say a little 'kitchen prayer' when sliding it into the oven.  With practice and persistence I find I have had more success these days.  I never thought baking would become a much loved past time for me.

Except when it comes to baking scones - these cheeky little things are my nemesis.  There is something really nostalgic about lovely big, piping hot scones, straight from the oven, wrapped in a tea towel, awaiting a generous slathering of strawberry jam and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. 

As far as scones go though, the only thing I seem to get right is the jam and cream.  I guess I just don't have the deft touch of a homespun Granny when it comes to these things!

Until I get the secret (which I will share, don't worry) I will keep trying and at least if I don't eat them, the birds have something to peck at!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Friday, May 21, 2010

Who are you calling a Tart?

It seems that there is something about the tarty, puckery sourness of lemons that, when baked into a luscious silky smooth tart can make some people weak in the knees.  I have a friend who is quite the aficionado of citrus tarts.  On occasions when we have been out for lunch, we must at least look at having a sweet or dessert (one must always make room) and if there be a citrus tart on the menu, then "Wheel out the pastry cart and let us eat tart!"

The tart will be ordered and, upon its arrival, it will be analysed, tasted and scrutinized.  The pastry must be short and crisp, the lemon tart, but not too twangy, there must be the right amount of acidity as well as tartness, whilst maintaining a mellow, creamy sweetness.  When the tart is 'just right' there will be a hush over the table and communication from here on will consist of 'mmm's' and 'ahhh's' until savouring (more like devouring, but we are ladies) is complete.

I decided I wanted in on this tart action.  I wanted to replicate for myself the joy and pleasure of making a citrus tart, to share with others.  When looking for a recipe however, I was afraid of those which required making a lemon curd.  I am always worried about my eggs cooking and ending up with a lumpy, corn-floury tasteless saucepan of goop.  I found a recipe for a Lemon Lime Cream Tart, a no-curd kind, and just knew that I would have to make it, thus throwing my reputation as a self-styled pastry cook (yeah, in my own head I am!) upon the mercy of friends and family to see if my tart would indeed surpass others they have tasted. 

The recipe I use for the best Citrus Tart ever is by Jamie Oliver.  From his book 'The Naked Chef'.  This recipe is so good there is nothing I wish to do to alter it to make it my own - So bless you Jamie, and here is his recipe.
Lemon Lime Cream Tart
1 tart shell, baked blind
8 large free-range eggs
12 ounces caster sugar
12 ounces double cream
7 1/2 ounces lime juice
3 3/4 ounces lemon juice

With this particular tart, as it has a moist filling, it's important to egg-wash the uncooked tart shell before adding the filling. This adds a sort of waterproof layer and keeps the pastry crisp and short for longer.

Whisk together the sugar and eggs in a bowl. When they are well mixed, slowly stir in the cream and the juices. Put the cooked tart shell back into the oven and then pour the filling into it – I find this reduces spillage.

Bake for around 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees F or until the filling is set, but still semi-wobbly in the middle (obviously different ovens will cook at different rate so it is good for you to try this tart a couple of times to gauge exactly when you should take it out of the oven).

After cooling for an hour, the semi-wobbly filling will have firmed up to the perfect consistency; soft and smooth. If you cut it before it has had time to rest it will pour out or be extremely gooey.

You can dust it with a little icing sugar, if you wish. Serve with a huge pile of fresh raspberries or strawberries. Whatever you decide to serve it with should be quite simple so that you let the tart do the talking.

I think I am allowed to do a quiet little victory dance at my result. It is so good I have been asked to make this tart again... and again. I think it might become my new (if somewhat stolen) signature dish.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Great Sunday Pantry Clean-Out!

It is a dreary Autumn day in May.  The sun refuses to come out.  It is too much to think about being a weather forecaster to risk doing any laundry - and the cost of electricity these days makes me wince at using the dryer.  So what to do?...  Cook of course! 

I have set myself a challenge - to try and cook from my fridge and pantry with as many ingredients on hand as possible to make as many dishes as possible.  Today, I made a pretty significant dent in my 'home' produce department, without having to go to the supermarket.  I made 3 dishes today without the need to buy anything other than 1 item, which was more out of want than need - a bottle of red wine!

To begin with I made roasted pumpkin soup.  This was so amazingly simple I hardly need to leave the recipe.  If you know how to roast vegetables and use a blender, you can make this soup.  Let me give you a quick run down.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup
1kg of pumpkin, peeled and chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
2 sticks celery, cut into chunks
1 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1tbs each of ground coriander and cumin
2-3 cloves of garlic, skin on (peel after roasting)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Water or stock (enough to thin out the puree)

Put all ingredients into a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 30-45 mins or until veg are nice and tender and have a nice caramelisation (I hate that word but this is what you are looking for).  When done, transfer to a blender and blitz, adding water or stock to thin the puree out to your desired consistency - and to help with the blending process.

Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.  If desired, you can thin the soup further with some cream.

The soup will be slightly sweet from the roasting of the vegetables and the cumin and coriander seed give it a kind of lemony echo.  Roasting the garlic also gives it a nice mellow sweetness.  This recipe will yield just under 2 litres, depending on how thick or thin you like it and will freeze well.

Next I made a beef and red wine stew to have with home made pasta (I am such a show off I know).  Here is my crude attempt at a recipe for this dish!

Beef and Red Wine Stew
500g beef chuck, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbs rosemary, chopped finely
1 bay leaf
1 can diced tomato
1 cup red wine (I like Shiraz or Cab Sav)
2 cups beef or veg stock
Olive oil

Cook the onion, garlic, carrot and celery, rosemary and bay leaf in a heavy bottomed pan with a lug of olive oil until translucent.  Add the beef and cook until browned (and make sure you get some nice brown jammy bits on the bottom of the pan).  Keep the heat up and add the wine, letting it boil off for about a minute to reduce a little.  Add tomatoes and cook for about a minute or two (this helps get rid of the raw taste of tomato.)  Add your stock and turn heat down to a low simmer and let cook for 2-3 hours, keeping an eye that the sauce doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan and burn.  The stew will be cooked when the meat is falling apart and the sauce has reduced.  Serve with mashed potato, polenta or your choice of pasta.

Next we bake!

I have had some dates in the freezer for a while which I had pretty much forgotten about (ants don't get inside of my freezer) and in the pantry I had a packet of Californian Walnuts.  To me that just screams Date and Walnut Loaf!

Date and Walnut Loaf
1 1/2 cups pitted dried dates, halved
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup, firmly packed brown sugar
80g butter
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100g walnuts chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Grease and line a loaf pan.  Place dates, water, brown sugar and butter in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large mixing bowl. Add the beaten eggs to the date mixture and stir well to combine. Pour the date mixture into the flour mixture and use a wooden spoon to bring the mixture together.  Add the walnuts and stir until combined.

Transfer the mixture into the pan and bake in for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.  Serve on its own or slathered with butter and a cup of tea!  (Which you will probably have earned once have done all the dishes!)

So all in all it was a very productive day.  I have soup for my lunch tomorrow and enough stew to freeze and keep for another time.  The loaf will be a wonderful snack before bedtime and also serves as my morning tea for work tomorrow.  I also have enough pasta dough to make 2 more serves of fettucine.  It feels so good to be thrifty and at the same time I am eating like a Queen!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Steamboats and my interpretation of them!

In my last post 'Fond Food Memories' I mentioned making a Cantonese Steamboat, also known as a 'Hotpot'.  The picture above is of my first ever attempt at a Steamboat.  Oh how I have evolved from here!  I have done a few more dinners since this and the more I do, the better they are.

The Steamboat is a wok with prepared broth, which you use to 'cook' a selection of meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables.  (You are only limited to your own imagination).  The one thing I have found is that you might need to prepare your guests beforehand that they will be sitting down to a table of 'raw' ingredients which they will select and cook themselves - Once they get the hang of it, they will relax!

Steamboats are wonderfully social and interactive. They are more an experience than just a meal. If you can set aside the time for the preparation - for which there is quite a bit, I can assure you, it is so worth it!  It is also a great excuse for me to dig out all my cute little bowls and dishes and decorate the table with my own little bit of quirky flair.

The central piece of equipment I use for my Steamboat is an electric wok. There are special pots that you can buy from Chinese grocers that are more authentic, but I find the wok works great because you have control over temperature.  Start your broth and set the wok to boil about an hour before you plan to start eating. Once brought to a boil, bring the heat down to a simmer for 5 mins and then turn off. This will give the broth a head start and help the flavours to develop.

Now for the food!  I like to use three different meats or proteins - chicken, beef and seafood (usually prawns or calamari.)  I do different marinades for each.  I choose a selection of Asian style greens and other vegetables (think typical of a stir fry) as well as tofu and noodles.  Home made pork and water chestnut dumplings are also another little delicious addition I like to offer. 

Each guest is given a small wire basket, which they fill with their chosen edibles and then  place in the boiling broth of the wok to cook.  The food is cooked quickly and takes on the flavours of the broth.    

When your guests are about to arrive, set your table with your meats and vegetables, as well as any condiments like soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese pickles etc. (Keep everything in the fridge for as long as possible and use separate utensils (I use disposable chopsticks) for each different meat/seafood to avoid cross contamination - The last thing you want is for any of your guests to get food poisoning!

Bring your wok to an almost rolling boil, seat your guests and let the fun begin!

Towards the end of the meal, if you have any room left, take a big handful of noodles and bean shoots and pour a ladle of the deliciously flavoursome broth over them.  The broth takes on all the yummy flavours of all of the things you have cooked in it throughout the meal.  I look forward to this part, but usually after about 3 hours of eating and grazing, I can never fit it in!

So if you have an afternoon to spare, invite some people over, dust off your old electric wok and throw a Steamboat dinner.  I guarantee you a wonderful and memorable experience!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fond Food Memories...

It is nice when you cook something, and the smell gives off a waft of nostalgia that forces you to stop and cast your mind back to years past...  What you were doing?... Were you a young kid playing out in the backyard with your Mum calling you inside for some Ox tail Soup?  Or Corned Beef with white sauce, mashed potato and cabbage?  Steak and Kidney Pie?  Do you eat foods today to re-capture food memories of the past?

My Dad makes the most wonderful Apple Pie.  The apples are so tender, juicy and plentiful, and I love the top of the pastry and how it is crunchy and sprinkled with sugar.  I also love eating stewed rhubarb and apples because the stringy texture and sour twang of the rhubarb reminds me of when I was a kid and how Dad used to grow it in a tub in the backyard.  (What I remember most is my parents telling me to never feed the leaves to rabbits.)  Now and then I might get a slice of my Dad's wonderful pie, and I can't help but feel like a kid again.

Mum makes the best Lemon Chicken.  It has been years since she has made it, but I remember as a kid, whenever she would get her Elizabeth Chong "First Happiness" cook book out, we knew we were in for a feast, and that meant, part of the banquet would be Lemon Chicken. 

My brother is a wonderful cook.  He would be an even bigger food aficionado than I even claim to be.  He has the Midas touch when it comes to food.  He has cooked so many wonderful things for me and my family it is hard to decide what I have enjoyed the most.  He does the most spectacular Christmas dinner (I joke and say we eat every animal that came off the Ark on Christmas Day).  His partner makes a wicked plum pudding as well.  If I had to choose one of my brother's dishes though, it would have to be his French Onion Soup.  It is just so good... and that cheesy crouton... Oh... my... goodness!

I enjoy cooking Chinese Steamboats.  I invite friends over and we talk and laugh and eat for hours.  It is a lot of preparation, but I find that is part of the fun.  I get to express myself with all my cute little bowls, plates and baskets to present my ingredients.  I feel so flattered when my friends talk about what a great time they have when we have steamboat nights, and how they keep asking me to do more.  That tells me that I have created fond food memories for them, and it means the world.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Thursday, May 6, 2010

You don't have to be Italian to make fresh pasta.

I am going to tell you that you can make your own pasta.

1. I am not Italian (Though I would love to be and if any Italians out there would like to adopt me, please email me @

2. You can make your own fresh pasta - today, right now, and have it with your dinner tonight.

I have tweaked a few pasta recipes and have found this one works best for me - it will easily serve 4 people or you can split it to feed 2 for 2 nights. (Just cut the dough in half after resting and be sure to use your left over dough the next day.)

Here are the ingredients:

250g of Strong Italian Flour (regular all-purpose flour will work but I have found the Italian 00 flour to be exceptionally good - it is a little more expensive, but you will thank me for forking out the extra dollar.)

2 whole eggs (size medium/large - if your mixture becomes too gluggy, add more flour to get the right texture - if it is too dry and crumbly you may need to add another egg and a little more flour.)

A decent pinch of salt.

Elbow Grease - Pasta making is a wonderful upper body workout!

Pasta Machine or Rolling pin.


Measure out your flour and add a good pinch of salt.  Tip onto a clean (stressing CLEAN here) bench top and kind of make a well in the centre. Make it look like a flour version of a mini volcano. 

Crack your eggs into the well and kind of swirl your hand around to break the eggs up and as you do, work the flour into your mix.  This can get a little tricky if your flour wall gives way and your eggs escape, but because you have meticulously cleaned your bench top, there is no chance of nasties getting into your dough.

Work the flour and eggs until they become a nice ball of dough. Work the dough like you mean it. Be sure to add a light dusting of flour if the mixture is too sticky. You want to be able to roll it without it sticking all over your fingers. Give the dough all of your frustrations, your anger, your lust, whatever it takes to make it nice and smooth and silky and elastic.

Wrap dough in cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 mins to rest. This is an important step because you have given the gluten in the flour a great work out - you want it to relax for a bit before you roll it out. This will prevent the dough from shrinking back.

Now the fun part...

Rolling Pasta Dough

You can use a rolling pin if you don't have a pasta machine. Some of us are lucky to have a pasta machine lurking in the back of our kitchen cupboards. If you do, now is the time to get it out. If you don't - now is the time to get one (just kidding). A rolling pin works just fine - you just need to be diligent with flouring your workspace and rolling your dough to the point where it is not too thick, not too thin.

When using my pasta machine, I like to roll my dough to the thickness of the number 3 setting. I find it is just right for fettuccine and pappardelle. For ravioli, I will run it down to setting 2. Be sure to keep the pasta lightly floured and separate to prevent sticking. If you wish, you can hang your pasta to dry and it will keep for a couple of weeks. A wooden spoon between 2 kitchen chairs in a warm sunny spot of the kitchen works well for me. 

I love home made pappardelle - pasta cut by hand into 3/4 inch strips. It is great to have with a rich, hearty ragu. It is even nice just hot and buttered.

Cooking your pasta

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.(About 6-10 litres - depending on the amount of pasta you wish to cook - a small pot will not do.) Add a good teaspoon of salt - as Nigella Lawson says, the water needs to be 'As salty as the Aegean'.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, add your pasta. I kind of gently shake it in to separate the strands. Be sure to keep an eye on your pasta as it cooks - it will only take a couple of minutes. Be sure to test regularly to make sure it is 'al dente'. It should be nice and soft but firm with a slight bite. Have your colander handy and be sure to drain well.

Enjoy with your favourite sauce.

Buon Appetito!

Until next time...

Kitty x

What would you like to eat?

Nothing gets me more excited than food.  I love thinking about what I am going to make for my next meal.  I get endless inspiration from walking in the supermarket, by visiting Farmers Markets and specialty stores like continental delis and even those annoyingly snooty and pretentious up market 'Providores'.  Cookbooks outnumber novels in my book collection.  I have an international subscription to a food magazine.  I watch endless shows on television about food and cooking.  Whenever I travel, I love to try the native cuisine - even if it means eating a Deep Fried Oreo!

Food is a wonderful thing.  It warms the heart, nourishes the body and soul.  Sharing food is sharing a part of yourself.  I get great pleasure from cooking a meal that I have made with love for the people I love and care about.  That pleasure is doubled when you see the appreciation and enjoyment you have given to others.

I want to share with you some of my favourite things to eat.  Along with some of my favourite food memories.  I am a lover of many different cuisines.  My favourite is Italian (pretty much a given) - even though I am not remotely Italian - maybe my Botticelli-like curves could help me pass...  I love everything about the food and the Italian culture.  Especially that food is such a strong a part of the culture.  

As a kid, I would sometimes go with my Dad on some of his plumbing jobs.  I always loved it when he had to do a job for 'Leo', an Italian man who owned a restaurant.  Going to 'Leo's' always meant I got to eat ravioli bolognese and lemon gelato.  I remember my Dad would often bring home bowls of rigatoni with napoli sauce, or pickled peppers, or bread sticks - there was always a little something sent home from Leo for my little sister and I.  It was great, our family felt like part of his family - we even got invited to parties and passed as Italians!  (Even if the only Italian word my Dad knew was 'Bongiorno') 

Leo gave me lots of inspiration in my formative cooking years and showed me how to make one of the first dishes I learned to cook and still cook today - Spaghetti Boscaiola.

Spaghetti Boscaiola for 2 (or 1/2 now, 1/2 tomorrow)

1 tbs olive oil
125g short cut bacon sliced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1clove garlic, crushed
150g button mushrooms, sliced
Handful of baby spinach
150ml thickened cream
Chopped fresh parsley
1/2 packet of Spaghetti

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add pasta and cook until 'al dente'.  While the pasta is cooking (for dried pasta this should take between 8-10 minutes), heat oil in a large frying pan. Cook the bacon, onion and garlic, until onions are translucent and bacon is beginning to brown.  This should take about 5 minutes.

Add mushrooms and cook for further 5 minutes.  Add spinach. Turn heat down to low and add spinach.  This will wilt considerably.  Add cream, being careful not to keep the heat low (or even turn it off at this stage), or the sauce will split and the cream will turn into oil . Season well to taste. If the sauce is too thick, you might want to thin it down a little with some cooking water from the pasta.

Add your cooked and drained pasta to pan with sauce, add chopped parsley and toss until well combined.  Scatter over some shaved Parmesan and serve with a nice crusty bread.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ho l'acquolina in bocca

Translation - My mouth is watering.

The idea behind this blog is for me to share with you the things that get me excited about food.  The things that make me salivate and want to rush to the kitchen and create something special.

Food means so many things to me.  It is my way of sharing a part of me with the people I love and care about.  It is a way for me to express myself and my creativity. It is a comfort, it is nurturing and it is my relaxation.

My style of cooking is not fancy.  It can be anything from slow braising to a quick throw together.  Basically, I cook what I like to eat. 

I work part time so I try to be as economic and (depending on what side of pay day we are at) as frugal as I can.  I buy fresh, local produce wherever possible and try to make the best of what the seasons have to offer.

I love to cook especially to have leftovers.  These have been a salvation to me many a time, for work lunches, easy 'heat and eat' dinners and for those times when I just cannot face the kitchen.

I hope you enjoy reading my blog and I welcome any recipes or ideas you might have.  I am excited about sharing my love and passion of food with you, and I hope you might be inspired to share with me too.

Until next time...

Kitty x