Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fajitas can be made from your pantry, not just a packet.

I used to really love a brand of 'make at home' Mexican food, available from the supermarket.  Without naming the brand directly, Marty Robbins sings about falling 'in love with a Mexican girl' in this 'Old' town... Get my drift?

Anyway because I have this weird aversion to preservatives and ingredients labelled with numbers I always try to find a way to make my own versions of the store-bought ones.  I usually find that the ones I make taste better.  The best part is that the ingredients are really simple - they use basic spices most people use often or have lurking in the back of their pantry anway.

I love Fajitas and these ones taste really light and are full of flavour.  I even lighten them up a little by using European yoghurt in place of sour cream.  They go really well with the corn salsa as well.  Enjoy!

Fajitas - Recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver - Jamie's Ministry of Food

1 tsp smoked paprika (or sweet paprika if you can't find smoked)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder (or more or less to taste)
pinch cayenne pepper (or more if you like it 'muy caliente!')
Olive oil
1 lime
1/2 red pepper, sliced into strips
1/2 green pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium red onion, cut into thin wedges
1 or 2 skinless boneless chicken fillets, sliced thinly
8 flour tortillas
small tub of European yoghurt

For the Corn Salsa
1 can corn kernels, drained and rinsed (or 1 cob fresh corn, nibblets cut off cob)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
pinch dried chili flakes
1 small Lebanese cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
1 avocado, peeled and diced
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 bunch chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

Mix paprika, cumin, chili and cayenne together in a bowl.  Add enough oil to make into a runny paste (about 2 tbs should loosen it up enough).  Put chicken fillet slices into a bowl and pour over spice paste.  Mix thoroughly to coat well.  Put your frypan on high heat *do not add oil to the pan* add your chicken and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Add peppers and onion and turn along with the chicken, until the vegetables soften slightly.  Turn the heat off and squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lime.  Mix well and season to taste.  (The lime juice gives the chicken a nice twang and mixes with the juices to make a nice thick gravy).

For the Corn Salsa - Heat a frypan with 1 tbs olive oil.  Add corn, onion and chili and cook until onion is softened (about 5 mins).  Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 5 mins.  Add the juice of half a lime, along with the cucumber, avocado and chopped coriander.  Mix to combine. *This salsa, mixed with grated cheese makes a great filling for Quesadillas too.

Warm tortillas in a microwave oven or a warm dry pan.  Serve Fajitas with yoghurt and salsa.


Until next time...

Kitty xx

I've never been to an Italian Wedding but I made one...

The weather is still cold and wintry, which means the soup pot is a permanent fixture on the hob until the weather warms up.  This also means that at the farmers market there are the most amazing winter vegetables available.  White turnips, purple turnips, parsnips, cauliflowers... all these wonderful veg for roasting and making thick and satisfying soups.  Oh so tempting!

Last week I bought some Kale and Cavolo Nero.  For those unfamiliar with these veg, they are related to the cabbage family.  Cavolo Nero is also known as 'Italian Cabbage', though it looks and feels more like a tougher, leathery form of silver beet.  Kale on the other hand looks more like a thick, plasticky lettuce.  (For any Americans, Kale is closely related to what you know of as 'Collard Greens').

Both are very high in vitamins and have a deliciously earthy flavour when cooked.  My mission was to use these two ingredients in soups.  I ended up making two soups, Italian Wedding, in which I used kale in place of escarole (endive) and a Minestrone, where I used the Cavolo Nero in place of spinach.

Out of the two soups I made, I have to say that the Italian Wedding was my favourite, I think because of the meat balls which, in a soup are a satisfying and surprising addition.  The Kale gave it a nice earthy flavour.  It made it taste 'healthy' if that makes any sense! 

Here is my version of Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup

400g minced beef or pork
1/4 tsp onion powder (or a little grated onion, I find onion powder just easier)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chili flakes
Pinch salt
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
8 cups chicken stock
1 carrot, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup risoni or orzo
Small bunch Kale/Cavolo Nero/Spinach/Endive, chopped
Olive Oil
Grated Parmesan

To the mince, add onion powder, oregano, chili, salt, breadcrumbs and egg.  With clean hands (or a wooden spoon) mix well together to combine.  Using wet hands, form into small meatballs and set aside in the refrigerator for about 30 mins. 

In a saucepan, heat 1 tbs olive oil and add carrot, celery, garlic and onion and fry for about 3-5 mins or until onion is translucent.  Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Add risoni or orzo.  Heat a frypan and add 1tbs olive oil.  Add meatballs and fry until golden all over.  Add browned meatballs to the stock mixture.  Bring to a simmer and add your chosen greens.  Simmer until greens wilt slightly.  Season to taste and sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese over the top.

Serves 4.

So there you have it.  I had an exciting weekend fossicking at the markets for some new veg (for me finding new greens is exciting!) and used them in a nice new hearty soup, which I am sure is going to become part of my Winter repertoire.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dulce Dulce Dulce!

Dulce = sweet in Italian.  Sweet things are not really what one should eat at lunchtime, but I like to make exceptions to the rule.  Plus, I didn't expect an experiment to turn into my lunch!

I think Winter is making me want all things naughty, nice and deep fried. 

I had some leftover ricotta cheese in my refrigerator, about half a tub.  Originally it was to make cannelloni or ravioli, but I used it to make the honeyed ricotta for my french toast. (See previous blog entry).  I was stumped as to what to do with this left over cheese...  

Ricotta Doughnuts sprung to mind.  I had never made them before and had no recipe so I did a little Internet searching.  There are many recipes out there for these doughnuts - but not so many for such a meagre amount of cheese.  I had to do much converting and a little experimenting - Here is the version I came up with.

Ricotta Doughnuts - Makes about a dozen small doughnuts 

125g ricotta cheese
30g castor sugar
2 small eggs (or 1 XL egg)
85g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Oil for deep frying
Few tsp castor sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Heat oil in a small saucepan (about 2 inches of oil in pan).  Mix cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla together.  Sift in flour and baking powder.  Fold to make a smooth batter. 

Drop teaspoons full of batter into the hot oil.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  The doughnuts will initially sink to the bottom, then puff up slightly and rise to the top.  Turn and cook until golden. 

Remove from oil and roll in cinnamon and sugar.  Eat while hot!

This recipe easily makes enough doughnuts to satisfy a sweet craving for two people.  If dining solo, you can keep any left over batter in the fridge to make more later.

With a little further experimentation, I am sure this recipe would respond well to tweaks - like adding orange zest to the batter, or a chocolate or caramel dipping sauce to accompany... You are only limited to your own taste and imagination!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Fried food is okay to eat at breakfast time - because it's the most important meal of the day!

I think Winter has made me cross over to the dark side.  You want to eat food that is comforting, that sticks to your ribs and warms your insides.  It is always okay to eat like a bear preparing for hibernation at Winter time!

I went to a cafe last week with the intention of just having a coffee and to sit and read the paper.  Until I heard the waitress tell the diners at the table next to me the breakfast special.  When she came back to my table to ask me if there was anything else I wanted, I said 'Umm... did I hear a little something about french toast and grilled banana?... and I better have another coffee, please!'  The special was French toast brioche, with grilled banana and honey ricotta.  It really hit the spot.

Of course I had to replicate this dish at home.  Here is my version.

French toast with grilled banana and honey ricotta - inspired by my brunch at Canteen, Noosa Junction.

3 slices bread (challah and brioche are ideal)
1-2 bananas, sliced length ways
1 egg
1/2 tsp sugar
splash milk
pinch cinnamon
2-3 tbs smooth ricotta
honey to taste
maple syrup

Mix egg, sugar, cinnamon and milk to make a custard.  Drop your bread into the mixture and coat well, allowing the custard to soak into the bread a little.  While bread is soaking, cook your bananas.  Heat a non-stick fry pan and add a knob of butter.  Place bananas into pan and cook until golden on both sides.  Set aside.  Place bread into the fry pan and cook cook each side until golden.  Mix ricotta and honey.  Transfer bread to serving plate and add a dollop of ricotta and top with banana.  Drizzle with maple syrup.

I don't think there is anything more to add, other than to eat, with joy in your heart! (and maybe run around the block a few times afterward!)

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Salt and Pepper Squid

This dish has been stalking me over the past week, I swear.  I have been out and about for lunches and brunches and breakfasts over my winter vacation and this entree has been popping up everywhere.  Even my cookbooks and food periodicals have been hinting at me to cook it.

Last night I gave in.  After purchasing a deliciously decadent 500g piece of rib-eye fillet (because I am a Cave Woman Carnivore), I went to the seafood section and purchased 2 squid tubes.

I am not much of a seafood eater, but I do enjoy calamari and cuttlefish.  I even like it 'sashimi style' - eaten raw.  It has a slight chewy cartilaginous texture which is lovely, and an almost 'nothing-whiff-of-the-sea' flavour.  But I digress.  I felt like a sinful little entree of deep fried squid before my meat and potatoes and that is exactly what I had.

The recipe is pretty simple.  Here is the MO for 2 squid tubes.

Salt and Pepper Squid - recipe adapted from 'Instant Entertaining' - Donna Hay

2 squid tubes, cleaned, scored and cut into 1 inch slices
1 tsp black peppercorns (or Szechuan peppercorns if you like the anaesthetic like buzz they give your tongue - if using these you will need to toast before grinding)
1 tsp sea salt (I use Kosher salt because I like the texture)
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
1/4 tsp Chinese five spice
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup rice flour
Oil for frying

Heat oil in your frying pan. (about an inch should be enough) You will know it is hot enough when bubbles form around the end of a wooden spoon when submerged.

Put peppercorns, salt, chili flakes and five spice into a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and grind to a powder.  Set aside.  In a bowl, place rice flour and 3/4 of your spice powder and mix to combine.  In a separate bowl, lightly beat your egg white.

Add squid to egg white and toss to coat.  Transfer to rice flour and spice mixture and make sure you get good adhesion of the flour to the squid.  Shake off excess flour.

Gently drop squid pieces into the hot oil to fry.  Do not over crowd the pan, rather, cook in batches so the oil doesn't lose temperature.

Cooking time should only take about 30 seconds.  The squid pieces will curl up and go from slightly translucent to white.  Be sure not to overcook, as your squid will become rubbery and tough and no one likes that! 

Drain on paper towels and sprinkle over reserved spice powder and extra salt if desired.

A squeeze of fresh lemon juice really makes the flavour pop!

With my two squid tubes costing me a King's ransom of $2, a cafe/restaurant quality entree is never too far out of my reach.

Buon appetito!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Stress Relief Handy Hint #1

When stress gets the better of you and you develop the insatiable urge to shake someone - shake the crumbs out of your toaster.  It is just as satisfying, without detriment and is one of those kitchen duties we often neglect.

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Friday, July 9, 2010

Soup du jour

I love Winter cooking.  The temperature only has to drop but only half a degree and I have the soup pot on. 

Some of my favourite soups end up migrating into stews, with the addition of things like beef bones, lamb shanks and ham hocks to make deliciously thick and satisfying meals to fight off the cold.

Cauliflowers are great at this time of year and I bought a gigantic whole one at the fruit market yesterday for $3 to make cauliflower soup.  Here is the recipe from this month's Donna Hay Magazine (June/July 2010).  I have included my own little twist - Garlic Sourdough Croutons.  I felt the soup needed a little something extra - in addition to the added texture of the cauliflower crumbs, the croutons add a nice satisfying crunch.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

25g butter
1 medium brown onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
1 bay leaf
1.5kg cauliflower, chopped
500g starchy potato, chopped
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk
1/2 cup single cream
salt and pepper

Parmesan Cauliflower Crumbs
1 cup chopped cauliflower
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Garlic Sourdough Croutons
1 cup stale sourdough bread, chopped into small cubes
Olive oil
1/2 clove garlic, grated
salt and pepper

Over low heat, melt butter and cook onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf until onion is soft and translucent.  Add cauliflower, potato, stock and milk and cook until tender (about 30 mins on medium heat).  Take off the heat and with a stick blender, blend until smooth.  (Alternatively use a blender).  Add cream, stir through and season to taste.

Parmesan Cauliflower Crumbs
In a bowl, place cauliflower, oil and Parmesan (I added 2 sprigs of thyme, stripped of leaves as well) and toss to coat.  Transfer to a non-stick frying pan and cook over high heat until golden and crisp.

Garlic Sourdough Croutons
In a bowl, place bread cubes, garlic, and drizzle enough oil to coat (about 2 tbs).  Toss to coat well.  Transfer to a non-stick frying pan and cook over high heat until golden and crisp.  Season with salt and pepper.  These croutons will dry out and crispen on cooling and will keep in an airtight container.

This will yield enough for 4 generous serves.

The soup has a nice creaminess and the flavour of the cauliflower is lovely and mellow, which comes from cooking it in milk.  It was also nice to use my home made chicken stock! 

I made extra croutons as the weather now is rather cool and I am anticipating more delicious 'Stay-in' evenings, of snuggling up on the couch with a warming bowl of soup.  Who am I kidding?  They are just nice to snaffle up as a cheeky savoury snack!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Monday, July 5, 2010

Feeling Homespun - Sunday's Chicken Stock

Sundays for me are a cooking day.  Especially now that it is Winter.  My house does not have heating, so it is nice to spend the afternoon baking sweet treats, or to have something hearty bubbling away merrily on the stove.  It seems to create instant warmth. 

Sunday too, is my Market day.  I always come home feeling inspired and wanting to cook after going to the Farmers Market.  Having a kitchen full of beautiful fresh produce, why wouldn't I?

Today I decided to make some home made chicken stock.  I have no aversion to stock powders, but it is just so satisfying when you take the time and effort to make your own home made stock.  Lucky for me time is a luxury and I have all day to do as I please while my stock does its thing.

Another reason I like to make my own stocks is that it is a good way to use up some of the vegetables in your crisper that might be just past their prime.  Do you ever cut the ends of a bunch of celery and think 'That would be great to put into a stock'?  This is a great time to cut them up, put into a Ziploc bag and freeze them for when you have time to make stock.  Fresh chicken bones and carcasses are wonderfully cheap and can be frozen ahead also.  Just by being thrifty you can have a 'stock pile' (pun intended) of ingredients ready to go.

Chicken Stock

2 or 3 chicken carcasses
2-3 stalks of celery (or the heart and its leaves)
2 carrots, skin on roughly chopped
2 small brown onions, skin on, halved
2 bay leaves
2-3 stalks flat leaf parsley
1 stalk rosemary
a few sage leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp salt (I use Kosher salt)
a few black peppercorns
cold water

Put all ingredients into a stock pot and cover with water.  Bring to the boil.  Turn heat down and simmer for 3-4 hours, skimming the stock as it cooks.

Allow to cool, strain and portion out into containers.  Freeze until required. 

This will yield about 4-6 litres of stock, depending on the size of your stock pot.

I find leaving the skins on the onion gives the stock a nice earthy colour and flavour.  As for the herbs, I am fortunate to be able to use herbs from my own garden.  If using dried herbs, just tweak the quantities (about 1/4 dried to my quantity of fresh).  You can also adjust to suit your own taste.  Don't let me be the rule maker here!  Just use me as a guide.

If this all just seems too much, there is always Massell and Vegeta.  They are always good as a standby, but they don't give you the sense of satisfaction and smugness that comes from making your own stock!

Until next time...

Kitty xx

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Say 'No!' to Truffle Oil

How big is food in popular culture these days?  It is a large part of the 'Reality Television' phenomenon, with series upon series of contestants, who 'cook for their lives' (not literally, thank goodness!) with the hopes of winning money, notoriety and a cookbook deal.  I am a sucker for these shows, but I must admit, I am getting a little miffed by it all.

I mean, Tuesday night cooking for me is all about the sea urchin roe.

This is fine if you are cooking in a fully equipped state-of-the-art kitchen with a pantry stocked with the finest and most exotic ingredients, but this doesn't really apply to the average home kitchen, or play to my strengths.  It makes me feel a little 'inadequate'.

As you would know by now, I am a rather thrifty cook.  I buy simple ingredients and keep a well-stocked basic pantry.  I cook with love and my heart, and the meals I create are uncomplicated, healthy, generous and very satisfying.  Sometimes if I can afford it, I will buy more flashy ingredients if I want to spoil myself. (Or go on an ego trip rather than a shopping trip).

There are certain ingredients that have never crossed the threshold of my shopping cart.  Unless I really research their use, or need them for a particular recipe I doubt they ever will, but I have seen them pop up on reality cooking shows. How often do you use these ingredients?...

Black (or white) Truffle - (For my Friday's Truffle Pizza Night? Tres magnifique!) 
Chanterelle & Porcini Mushrooms - (It would be an upgrade from button mushies, sure)
Aged Beef - (Mmmm... Meat hanging for over a month really gets my juices flowing, no matter how much it costs per kilo)
Jerusalem Artichokes - (Ummmm?... Boil/pass through drum seive/smear small spoonful on plate for presentation)
Couveture Chocolate - (Because my chocolate tart is only good if I buy $20 worth of chocolate to fill it with)

"I said 'Don't forget the French Letters', Darling..."

I could go on.  It is funny, because as I look at the above ingredients, I think, 'Hmm... I could probably create a wonderful menu if this were all in a mystery box'... 

I don't mean to knock these ingredients.  I know that they have their place in certain cuisines and recipes.  I just find the hype over some a little pretentious.  I think I am more about what is 'in season', rather than 'in vogue'.

My food philosophy (yes, even though I am just a lowly home cook I have one) is to just buy what you can afford, to cook what you like to eat.  I don't want to be sucked into foodie peer pressure!  But when Ina Garten tells me to use good vanilla, I get a little verklempt!

I can just picture myself on a food challenge TV show, with a box of unfamiliar ingredients and a 30 minute time limit to create a dish, I most certainly would have a nervous breakdown.  Yes, you would see me crying into my fois gras and white anchovies and I would probably be the first person eliminated. 

Leave the fantasy cooking to television.  We can all eat the real food, while they do the experimenting for us.

Until next time...

Kitty xx