"I hate people who are not serious about their meals."

Oscar Wilde,
The Importance of Being Earnest

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

I know it seems like I only update this blog with baked goods lately, but I suppose I've just been in a baking mood.  The weather has begun to cool off, the trees have started to change their colours, and the prospect of having the oven on and the smell of something delicious wafting through the house is an enticing one.
  Plus, it was my mother-in-law's birthday last Friday, and I wasn't going to let the occasion pass without making some kind of birthday cake.  After trawling through numerous recipe sites, I happened across this recipe for 'Torta di Pere'. The combination of pears, dark chocolate and browned butter was immediately appealing to me, and despite not being the most attractive looking cake (it was a little sunken in the middle), the texture and flavours were absolutely scrumptious. The bitterness of the chocolate offsets the sweetness of the pears perfectly. And as someone who can't resist tasting the cake mix left on the sides of the bowl/beaters, the browned butter makes this some of the best tasting batter ever! Everyone here loved it the cake, and I would definitely make it again. I wouldn't attempt this if you don't have a hand or stand mixer though, there's a lot of beating involved!

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake
recipe from Al Di La Restaurant via Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (113g or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used bartlett, but use whichever variety you prefer)
3/4 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips (at least 35% cocoa solids)
Icing (Confectioner's) sugar, for dusting

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan and dust with flour, set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (About 9 or 10 minutes, think 'ribbons' not 'peaks' as full eggs won't beat up the same way egg whites do.)

Meanwhile, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan every few minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixer off. Using a spatula, gently fold through one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of the flour. Fold until just combined — do not over-mix the batter or it will lose volume.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean.

I served the cake at room tempterature with a little icing sugar dusted over. You could also add some whipped cream, or serve warm with vanilla ice-cream. This should keep for 2-3 days in an air tight container... if it lasts that long!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fresh Peach Upside-Down Cake

No other food makes me think summer like juicy, fresh peaches.  Well.. except perhaps equally juicy, fresh mangoes, but I've discovered the mangoes available in the United States are nothing like the mangoes I grew up with in Australia in looks or taste. They are small and red/green with a pale yellowy coloured flesh, not at all the big, fragrant golden mangoes I am used to. So despite my deep and abiding love for all things mango, I am now avoiding them to stave off further disappointment.  Anyway, back to the peaches. I was initially looking for a recipe to use up a rapidly browning bunch of bananas, and so I settled on a banana upside-down cake.  Unfortunately, when I went into the kitchen to begin baking I discovered that the bananas were rather more browned than I had first thought - that is, they were beginning to turn into complete mush. They would have been fine in the batter, but there was no way I could possibly cut them into presentable looking slices. Looking at the abundance of peaches in the fruit bowl, I decided to wing it and substitute the bananas for peaches. It turned out to be a great idea, resulting in a fabulous looking and wonderfully moist, but not heavy cake - a perfect summer dessert.

Fresh Peach Upside-Down Cake
adapted from David Leibovitz
makes 1 8-inch (20cm) square cake

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2-3 peaches


1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (30 g) melted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup peach puree (about 2 peaches, peeled and blended til smooth)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preaheat your oven to 350F/180C.
Place the brown sugar and the water into an 8-inch
(20cm) square cake pan. Place the pan directly on your stovetop over low heat, and stir until all of the sugar is moistened. Simmer for 1 minute, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  While the sugar mixture is cooling, peel the peaches and cut into 1/4 inch (1cm) thick wedges. Arrange in overlapping rows over the melted sugar.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix in the sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, peach puree, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extracts. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until just combined.  Carefully pour the batter into the pan over the peaches, and use a spatula to ensure it is spread evenly.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until the centre of the cake springs back when you touch it.

Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes. To remove from the pan, run a flat-bladed knife along the edges of the cake and invert on to a serving platter. Carefully lift the pan off to ensure no fruit gets stuck to the bottom - if it does you can always carefully reposition it.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream, if desired. 
To reheat the cake, place in a low oven and cover with foil.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Mum's Blueberry Muffins

My Mum makes great blueberry muffins. I remember visiting my parent's house one weekend and awaking to the smell of them baking. Is there anything better? I was out of bed and devouring one practically as soon as it was out of the oven. I first asked for her Blueberry muffin recipe about two months ago, and I haven't managed to have a go at making them until now, for several reasons. Firstly, the oven stopped working properly. Secondly, the weather has been so hot my desire to turn on the oven and do some baking was practically nil. Thirdly, I couldn't find any buttermilk at the supermarket. Crazy, right? Maybe I just wasn't looking in the right place - after more than 6 months in New York I am still getting used to the layout and size of the supermarkets. Some things just aren't where I would expect them to be if I were shopping in an Australian supermarket. So eventually the oven got repaired, and I decided to do some reading up on what I could use as a substitute for buttermilk. There are several different things you can do - yoghurt, etc, but the one I settled on involved adding lemon juice to milk.  This got me to thinking that lemon and blueberries make a wonderful combination, so I added some lemon zest to the recipe to give the muffins a little extra kick. They turned out wonderfully despite the lack of actual buttermilk, and they only have to bake for less than half an hour, so it wasn't so bad, even on a hot day. The house still smells of baking, and I've already eaten two of these beauties. Yum.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins
makes 6 large muffins or 12 small muffins

2 cups Self-Raising flour
3/4 cup demerara sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into your 3/4 cup measure and fill the rest up with milk, mix, and leave for a few minutes)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
finely grated zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Grease or line your muffin pan.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Put the oil, buttermilk and egg into a shaker or small bowl and whisk/shake lightly to combine.  Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the liquid ingredients into it, followed by the lemon zest and blueberries. Stir until just combined, taking care not to smash the blueberries.  Spoon into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. If you're feeling naughty, these are delicious served warm with a little butter. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My New Favourite Pepper: The Cubanelle

This was my first foray into the world of stuffed peppers (or any stuffed vegetable, for that matter). I have eaten and enjoyed them in the past, at restaurants and other people's houses, but I just never quite found the occasion to make them myself. However, after coming across this recipe during a recent Saturday morning channel-surfing session I decided I didn't need any kind of special occasion.  I'd never even heard of Cubanelle peppers in Australia, so naturally, I was curious to find out what they were all about.  Let me tell you, I am certainly glad I did!  The cubanelles have a great flavour - slightly sweeter than a bell pepper but with a slight spicy kick, they cooked up perfectly in the oven. And the colour! That fabulous fresh green of grass shoots and new leaves - very summery. These were really easy to make, and the Mexican inspired flavours in the stuffing mixture ensured that the kitchen smelled amazing while we were cooking. So if, like me, you were looking for an excuse to make stuffed peppers, you just found it!

Stuffed Cubanelles
barely adapted from Sunny Anderson
makes 6 peppers
(The original recipe is for 8 peppers, but unless yours are very small I don't think you'd get more than 6)

1 packet sazon seasoning
1/2 cup warm water

olive oil

1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper (capsicum), finely diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup long-grain rice
(I used basmati)
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, divided

1 pound/450g ground beef, (80/20 fat content)

6 cubanelle peppers, stalk and seeds removed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F /175 degrees celsius.
Dissolve the sazon in warm water in a small bowl and set aside.  Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add in the rice and garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the garlic begins to brown.  Stir in the sazon water, cumin, and season with salt and pepper. Saute for a further 3 minutes, then remove from the heat, add 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add the ground beef. Mix with a wooden spoon (or your hands) until completely incorporated.
Stuff the cubanelle peppers with the beef mixture, using a teaspoon or the end of a wooden spoon to ensure the the mixture is pushed right to the ends.
Pour the remaining tomato sauce into a baking dish and arrange the stuffed peppers on top. Brush the outside of the peppers with 1 tablepsoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the peppers are golden and a little browned on top. To serve, pour a little of the tomato sauce from the pan over the peppers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Hero By Any Other Name

Until I came to the United States, I never imagined that a simple sandwich could have so many different names.  What I would have previously referred to as a 'sub' was now a hoagie, a grinder, a po-boy or a hero, depending on where it was coming from.  A little internet research tells me there are still more names for this creation that I've yet to discover in person.  While the etymology of all these different names is kind of interesting, I'm not going to go through all of them here. I understand that the term 'hero' derived from the large size of the sandwiches, a food writer remarking that "one must be a hero to eat such a sandwich".  However, me being a passionate sandwich maker and eater, (and a bit of a cornball) I prefer to think of the term in reference to the fact that a great sandwich can really save the day.  These meatball heros are no exception.  Filled with probably the best meatballs I've ever made, topped with marinara sauce and yummy melted mozzarella, they are truly heroic sandwiches indeed.

Meatball Heros
barely adapted from Guy Fieri

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced red onion
1 small red bell pepper (capsicum), minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (you can use any kind of milk you like, I used rice milk and it worked fine)
2 slices sourdough bread, crust removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces to equal 1 cup
1 pound/450g ground beef (80/20 fat content)
1 pound/450g ground pork
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 egg, beaten

4 submarine rolls
1 cup marinara sauce (I used some of my mother-in-law's awesome sauce, you could use store bought or make your own. The original recipe linked above has a sauce recipe included.)
Mozzarella, sliced

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir through salt and cook until tender. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Put the bread pieces into a bowl, pour milk over and let soak for 5 minutes. Remove the bread from the milk and squeeze out the excess liquid so the bread is moist but not soggy. Ok - time to get your hands dirty! In a large bowl, mix together beef, pork, soaked bread, cooled vegetable mixture, basil, oregano, parsley, pepper, chili flakes, grated Parmesan and egg. Roll into 2-inch balls.  I got 18 balls from my mixture. Add a tablespoon of oil to the same saute pan you used for the vegetables and heat over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs (I did them in 2 batches), until firm, brown and cooked through.

To assemble the sandwiches, split the rolls lengthways down the centre, but not all the way through. Scoop out some of the bread on the insides so the meatballs can fit in nice and snugly.  Place 3 or 4 meatballs into each, top with approximately 1/4 cup of marinara sauce per roll, and finish off with a few slices of mozzarella cheese. Place under broiler (that's under the grill for any Aussies reading!) until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Asparagus for Non-Asparagus Eaters

Love it, or hate it?  Asparagus seems to be one of those things that drives people to extremes of opinion. Many will scrunch up their noses at the mere mention of it, possibly recalling a past experience with canned asparagus, or some other form of the vegetable cooked beyond recognition.  Personally, I love the stuff. (Admittedly, I have been known to enjoy a canned asparagus and grilled cheese sandwich from time to time, but let's pretend I didn't tell you that.) Here's a way of serving asparagus that involves absolutely no risk of ending up with a squishy dull green mess.  It's raw asparagus!  Shaved into lovely curly slivers with a surprisingly subtle, fresh green flavour and just the right amount of crunch. Tossed with a simple dressing and some sharp pecorino cheese, it's refreshing and more-ish - sure to be a standout with any main meal.  Try it, you might just like it.

Shaved Asparagus Salad
1 bunch asparagus
3 tablespoons grated pecorino
1/2 a lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Wash the asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Shave into fine slices using a vegetable peeler, starting at the stem end and moving toward the tip. Alternatively you could use a mandolin to do this, but I wasn't confident in there only being a thin layer of asparagus between my fingers and the cutting blade, so I opted to use the peeler.  Combine the cheese, lemon juice and water.  Whisk in the oil to emulsify.  Toss through the asparagus and season with salt and pepper.  Feel free to play around with the proportions of ingredients in the dressing, according to your own taste - admittedly I added a little extra cheese to my serving... I can't resist pecorino!

Marshmallows and Tablespoons

Here's something I didn't know - a tablespoon is not always a tablespoon.  Or at least, not if you're using an Australian recipe in the US, or vice versa.  You see, Australia apparently decided to be different to the rest of the world, and make their tablespoons slightly larger.  According to Wikipedia, an Australian tablespoon is equal to 4 teaspoons, but for most of the rest of the world, it's only 3.  It seems like a small difference, but over 2 or 3 tablespoons this can add up quite quickly.  I had originally suspected something like this must be the case when experimenting with ANZAC biscuit recipes - which I have yet to master in my new country of residence - they always turned out a little too soft for my liking, and I suspect that the discrepancy in the tablespoon measure may have something to do with it. (At least, that's my excuse for now.) So, just thought I would give you all a heads up - in this age where a lot of people are just as likely to get their recipes online as from a cookbook, just keep an eye on where your recipe is coming from!

Alright, that's business aside. Let's get down to pleasure.  Down to marshmallows. Those balls of springy, fluffy, melt in your mouth sweetness.  They were always a favourite for me growing up; my mother and I would inevitably fight over who would get the last pink marshmallow in the bag. (The white/vanilla ones were always inferior to the raspberry as far as we were concerned).  Yet until today I had never attempted to make them.  I was inspired along the way by one of my favourite food blogs, Technicolor Kitchen, who has posted a flurry of different marshmallow recipes over the past year or so.  The recipe I used originally called for raspberries, but I had a punnet of blackberries so I decided to use those instead.  They turned out brilliantly. (Needless to say, better than any store-bought kind.. sorry Pascall's!). I was expecting all kinds of sticky mess, but really these really were a cinch to make.  I'm already imagining how tasty they'd be in Rocky Road, and if it weren't so hot here, I'd be dropping a couple into a hot chocolate right this minute.

Blackberry Marshmallows
adapted from Masterchef

440g/15.5 oz caster (superfine) sugar
1 tablespoon (+ 1 teaspoon if you're using US tablespoons!) lemon juice
125g/4.4oz blackberries
5 teaspoons powdered gelatine
3 egg whites
1 tablespoon (+ 1 teaspoon, as above) cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon (+ 1 teaspoon, as above) icing (confectioner's) sugar
Oil, for greasing

Stir 400g/14oz of the sugar, lemon juice and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil rapidly for 10 minutes or until at the 'hard ball' stage.  This should take around 10 minutes. Now, if you don't have a candy thermometer, don't panic!  You can check by dropping a spoonful of syrup into a glass of iced water. If it forms a hard ball, you're good to go.

Meanwhile, place the blackberries and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat for 5 minutes, crushing blackberries with the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and press the blackberries through a fine sieve to get rid of the seeds. I just did this back into the same saucepan they were cooked in.  Sprinkle gelatine over the blackberry mixture and stir until dissolved.

Using an electric hand or stand mixer, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Now gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until smooth and glossy stiff peaks form. With the beaters running, pour the hot syrup in a thin, steady stream into the bowl, then add the blackberry mixture. Whisk for a further 5-7 minutes, or until mixture thickens enough to hold its shape.
Combine cornflour and icing sugar and use to dust a greased 20cm x 30cm slice pan (I actually used a 9-inch square pan). Spoon the marshmallow mixture into pan, smooth to level using a metal spatula, and refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.  Dust a little icing sugar over the top before removing from the pan.  To turn your marshmallows out of the pan, run a butter knife around the edges, and use it or the round tip of a metal spatula to gently lift one corner.  Turn upside down and peel the marshmallow away from the pan - it will be more solid and pliable than you think,  just be firm, but gentle, and it will come out quite easily.  Turn on to a cutting board dusted with icing sugar and cut into squares.  Roll the finished marshmallows in a little extra icing sugar so all the edges are covered.  These can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. (If they last that long!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Layer Cake (or How I Spent My Saturday Afternoon)

The strawberries in this part of the world have been especially delicious lately.  Big, red, shiny and amazingly fragrant.  Knowing that we had a family gathering coming up on Sunday, I made it my
mission toward the end of the week to find a dessert recipe that would allow me to incorporate some
of the many punnets of strawberries currently residing in our refridgerator.  I knew I didn't want to
cook them, and any kind of a fruit salad seemed like a cop out.  I was considering fresh strawberry jelly when I came across this cake recipe and knew I had hit the jackpot.  Layers of almond sponge, citrus
cream and thinly sliced fresh strawberries - the flavour combinations sounded mouthwatering, and it
wasn't going to be too heavy an end to a meal, on what was probably going to be a pretty warm evening. 
I had the house to myself on Saturday afternoon, so I got all my ingredients ready and got to work
with the electric beaters. There is quite a lot of preparation time involved in this recipe; though none
of it is particularly difficult, just time consuming - but oh so very worth it!  Considering I had to do a fair
bit of converting of measurements to be able to recreate this recipe without the aid of a kitchen scale
(note to self: must invest in kitchen scale!), it was an astounding success. 
So without further ado, i present to you...

Strawberry Layer Cake
adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

3 punnets strawberries (or 1.5 large punnets)

Almond Sponge
120g/4.2oz blanched almonds
3 eggs
100g/3.5oz icing sugar, sifted
3 eggwhites
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
30g/1oz plain flour, sifted
25g/1 quarter stick of butter, melted

Citrus Creme
100g/3.5oz thickened (heavy) cream, at room temperature
250g/8.8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon each of finely grated lemon and lime rind
120g/4.2oz caster sugar
3 tablespoons each of lemon and lime juice
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine soaked in 2 Tablespoons cold water
(or 2 leaves gelatine soaked in cold water)

For the sponge: Preheat oven to 250C/480F.  Line a 26 x 38cm (10 x 15 in) oven tray with baking paper. Place almonds into the bowl of a food processor and pulse til finely ground.  Using an electric mixer or beaters, whisk together whole eggs and icing sugar until pale and thick.  Add ground almonds and stir to combine.  Sift flour into this mixture and fold through, then add melted butter and fold through carefully.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggwhites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form, then add caster sugar and continue to beat until smooth and glossy.  Add half of the eggwhite mixture to the whole-egg mixture and fold through, then fold through the remaining half, be careful not to overwork as this will take all the air out of your mix.  Evenly spread the better into your prepared tray and bake for 5-7 minutes or until golden.  Do not freak out if your sponge looks a bit wrinkled when it comes out of the oven, it will relax and flatten as it cools.  Cool on tray on a wire rack, then invert on to baking paper and peel the backing paper from the base.  Divide into 4 equal sized rectangles (make the cuts along the long side of the sponge, your pieces should be roughly 23 x 9cm/ 9 x 3.5in) and set aside.

Wash and hull the strawberries, and then slice lengthways into 2mm thick slices.

For the citrus cream: Whisk cream to soft peaks and set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, citrus rinds, and 50g/1.7oz of caster sugar until smooth and well combined.  Meanwhile, combine the remaning sugar along with the lemon and lime juices in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat.  Squeeze any excess water from your gelatine and add to syrup.  Remove pan from heat and stir until gelatine dissolves.  Let cool slightly and then pour into cream cheese mixture with your beaters or mixer running.  Beat until smooth, about 1 minute, then gently fold in whipped cream until just combined.

To assemble the cake: line a 10 x 23cm (4 x 9 in) loaf pan with plastic wrap.  Place one piece of the sponge into the base of the pan and spread with one third of the citrus cream, followed by one third of the strawberries.  Repeat the process two more times, and finish with your final layer of sponge.  Cover with plastic wrap and place some canned food on the top to weight it down a little. Refrigerate until set - at least 3 hours or overnight.  To serve, dip the cake pan into warm water, invert on to a plate or platter and remove the plastic wrap.  Dust with icing sugar or snow sugar to serve.  Enjoy!
NB: If you're going to present this cake as a whole to a table full of guests, you might want to trim the sides once you take it out of the tin, just to neaten it up a little.  Some of the cream can squeeze down the sides.  Look at the photo above and you'll see what I'm talking about.  Doesn't taste any different, but some of us are sticklers for presentation.  I mean, really, when you've spent this much time on a cake, you want it to look it's best!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


These fish cakes make for a nice light meal - lunch or dinner.  The subtle fish flavour blends perfectly with the coriander, lime and sweet chili sauce.  Mine got a little dark on the outside, due to the oil overheating a little, but inside they were perfect.  Though personally, I think I will kick up the chili content a little next time!

Thai-style Fish Cakes
adapted from Good Taste
Makes 8-10

500g/1.1 pounds cod fillets, coarsley chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
1/4 cup cornflour
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
1 egg, lightly whisked
3 shallots (scallions), finely chopped
1 large handful of green beans, finely chopped
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Lime wedges, and extra sweet chili sauce, to serve

Place the fish into a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the cornflour, coriander, egg, fish and sweet chilis sauces, and process until well combined.  Transfer to a large bowl, add the shallot and beans and stir to combine.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Divide the fish mixture into 8 portions.  If you have egg rings, place 4 of them into the pan and press 1 portion into each ring.  Alternatively, I formed my patties using a large, deep jar lid covered in plastic wrap.  Push the mixture into the lid to form the patty, and use the edges of the plastic wrap to lift it out.  This is a little messy, as the mixture is a bit sticky, but it works just fine.  Cook the fish cakes for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel and repeat process with the remaining fish mixture. 

I served the patties with atop egg noodles and sliced bok choy cooked in soy and oyster sauce, topped off with some peanuts.  You could also serve it with a salad of asian greens, as in the original recipe.  If you made bite-sized patties, these would make a great appetizer, serve with sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Tonight's meal was supposed to be a stir-fry, but when we discovered that our egg noodles were past their use by date, and our bean sprouts had turned to liquid in their bag, we had to go back to the drawing board.  A quick survey of the refridgerator turned up a few prawns, some chicken breasts, and a little chorizo.  Sounded like the beginnings of a paella to me, and so this is what I came up with.  I also had a yellow bell pepper that I was going to use in the stir fry, so rather than let that go the way of the bean sprouts I threw it in too.  If I'd thought about it more beforehand I think I would have roasted the pepper first to further enhance the flavour (and let's face it, red would definitely have been better on the colour front).  I am hesitant to call this dish 'Paella' as it isn't one in the traditional sense, and I don't want to offend any Spaniards out there.  I don't have a Paella pan, so it didn't quite develop that crusty, toasty layer of rice on the bottom that is so integral to the tastiness of Paella.  The flavours and cooking process are definitely inspired by the eponymous dish, but I think this is really somewhere between a risotto and a pilaf.  Not quite as creamy as the former, nor as fluffy as the latter.  Well, whatever you'd like to call it, it was certainly tasty!

Nearly Paella
adapted from Jamie Oliver
serves 4-6

4 chicken breasts, quartered
salt and pepper
plain flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
150g/5oz chorizo, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 litres/68 fl.oz of chicken stock, heated and kept warm
1 teaspoon saffron
1.5 teaspoons smoked paprika
500g/17.6oz rice (calasparra or bomba is traditional, I only had arborio and it turned out fine)
1.5 cups frozen peas
1 small bell pepper, cut into thin strips (roast beforehand if you prefer)
10 prawns

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then dust with flour.  Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan (or paella pan) and fry the chicken until golden brown.  Place the chicken pieces on a baking tray and pop into the oven for 20 minutes.

Divide your stock in half, and place the saffron threads in one quantity to infuse.  Return the pan to the heat, add the sliced chorizo and fry until browned and crisp.  Next, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft.  Add the paprika, rice and infused stock and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes of until most of the liquid is absorbed.  (Don't over stir, you don't want to massage the starch out of the rice like you do with risotto. Paella isn't supposed to be creamy.) Add the peas, prawns and pepper to the pan, followed by the remaining half of the stock.  Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the cooked chicken pieces and stir to combine.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chicken Katsu Curry

I love Japanese food.  There are some dishes that I would much prefer to leave to the experts - like sushi, sashimi and anything involving the cooking of eel -  but other dishes are quite easily made in your own kitchen, like Tempura and Yakitori.  Japanese curry is a favourite of both my husband and myself, so we decided that we should try cooking it ourselves.  After much scouring of online recipe sites and blogs, we ended up on YouTube.  Not the most conventional of sources, but the step by step was helpful, and the dog was adorable. (Watch the video linked below and you'll see what I'm talking about!)  Now, this dish does involve a little bit of preparation time, but once you're organised it will all come together pretty quickly.  There's work enough for two with all the chopping and grating, so if you have a willing and able significant other/roommate/child, the two of you can make a pretty quick job of it.  If not, I would advise having as much as you can ready before you start cooking the sauce.  Katsu curry is typically served with pork rather than chicken. We regularly make both varieties, so feel free to substitute the chicken in this recipe for thin-cut pork loin.  My favourite part about this dish is the way the eggplant soaks up all the yummy curry flavours.  The best version of this we've made was using white eggplant, but I've never seen them at the market since.  If you're lucky enough to see them, grab them! 

Oh, and the leftovers?  Amazing.  I think it's actually better the next day!

Katsu Curry
adapted from Cooking With Dog
Serves 4

For the curry
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 bell pepper, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces 
(I would recommend red/orange rather than green, it is a little bitter)
2 small (italian) eggplants, cut into small chunks
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 inch/3cm piece ginger, grated
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups water
1 dried bay leaf
1 Medium spicy curry block (I use this variety)
1/2 small red apple, peeled and soak in salt water

For the chicken
4 pieces of thin-cut chicken breast
Plain flour
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
Panko bread crumbs
Frying oil
Salt and pepper

Add the olive oil and onion to a medium sized saucepan and cook for 5 minutes at high heat. Reduce heat and cook, stirring continuously, for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Add the grated carrot and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, followed by the garlic and ginger. Stir until aromatic. Now reduce the heat to low, add the curry powder and fry for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the eggplant and stir until it is coated in the curry mixture. Add the canned tomato, water and bay leaf; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat.  Slice the curry block (nb: they usually come in a large block with 4 or 5 segments, for this recipe you need one segment only) and add to the pan, stirring to dissolve. Grate the apple into the saucepan and then add the pepper.  Turn the stove back on to low, and simmer for a few more minutes or until the pepper is soft.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat both sides with flour, dip into beaten egg mixture and then into the Panko.  Fry in hot oil for 2-3 minutes each side, rotating to brown uniformly.  Remove from pan and place on paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Cut into 1-inch slices.  Serve the chicken with steamed rice and curry sauce.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Broccoli, Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Garlic

Here's one of our favourite go-to midweek meals.  Now, I know what you're thinking - "Frozen vegetables!? Doesn't exactly sound gourmet".  But they're good to have around in case you run our of fresh produce, and trust me, if you tasted it you'd never know the difference.  Cooking the vegetables while they're still frozen means they crisp up perfectly as they absorb the garlic/chili/oil mixture.  
This is a speedy, (relatively) healthy and great tasting meal, and you probably have all of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry right now.  The original recipe was made using brocolli only, but we prefer to use a broccoli and cauliflower mix to add further texture, flavour and colour.  It says it serves four - well, that really depends on how hungry you are! My husband and I have polished off the whole lot on one occasion, but there's usually some left over for lunch the next day.  If you're not one for chili, you could easily omit it and lift the flavours with a good squeeze of lemon juice at the end.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Broccoli, Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Garlic 
adapted from Gourmet
serves 4

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried hot red chili flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 packages (approx 12oz/300g each) frozen chopped mixed broccoli and cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano

Heat the oil in a large pan over moderate heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook, stirring, for a few minutes or until golden. Add the broccoli, cauliflower and salt, making sure to break up any frozen clumps. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are thawed and tender-crisp, around 6 minutes.  Stir in the chickpeas and cook until heated through. 

Cook pasta according to packet directions, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta.  Add the pasta and reserved water to the pan with the broccoli and chickpea mixture. Tossing, cook over moderate heat until well combined.  Serve topped with grated parmesan, and drizzle with a little additional oil or a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Pizza Of The Non-Traditional Variety

"Pumpkin? On a pizza?" were my now husbands' words when I proposed we order this particular pizza from my local delivery place in Sydney. I told him it was my favourite, and asked him to just trust me. Luckily he did. The lightest swirl of sauce on the base, topped with shavings of pumpkin, pecorino and ham and finished with a sprinkle of dried chili flakes was love at first bite for me. I suppose he must have thought that it was pretty good too, because he suggested that we should try and make it together some time. Upon returning to the USA he even purchased a mandolin for the express purpose of slicing pumpkin thinly enough to put it on said pizza. (I love this man!) So naturally once I arrived Stateside we began planning how we would go about recreating what we had eaten. After a few runs that weren't quite right: too much sauce, base too thick, sauce too thick; on the first bite of our fourth try, we knew we'd got the balance right. The trick seemed to be to water the sauce down so as to give just enough to coat the base without the tomato flavour overpowering the rest of the ingredients. The original used pecorino cheese, but our supermarket was out. We used romano and it worked just as well. One of the other keys to this mixture is to resist the temptation to add too much cheese. Remember, this isn't a traditional pizza. The cheese is there for flavour, not as a cover-all. Having a mandolin or some kind of slicing machine is pretty essential to this, unless you have a very sharp knives, and steady hands to match. Though in a pinch you could use a vegetable peeler.

Mantova Pizza
adapted from Arthur's Pizza 
I'm not going to give exact quantities here, so you can make whatever size pizza you like. 
Any extra ham and pumpkin slices are great for use on toasted sandwiches the next day.

Pizza dough - we were lazy and bought dough, but there's a great, easy recipe at Smitten Kitchen
Butternut pumpkin (Butternut squash), cut into wedges and then into 2-3mm slices
Ham - I would reccomend Honey Smoked, or Black Forest if you like it a little smokier
Pecorino or Romano cheese, shaved
Napolitana sauce - you want to use about 1 tablespoon of water to every 4 tablespoons sauce
Dried Chili Flakes

Preheat oven to 450F/230C
Grease your pizza pan and roll the dough out until it is about 6mm thick. Heat your sauce a little, this helps both to mix in the water and also enables it to spread more easily. Using the back of a spoon, thinly spread the sauce over the base. Don't overload it - you don't want your base to be soggy! Top with the ham first, followed by the pumpkin and cheese. Don't cover the top with cheese, just use enough to enhance the flavour. Finally, sprinkle with chili flakes to taste. Bake in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly blistered and the edges are crispy. Delicious.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Baked Frittata

We all have those evenings. 
You know, when you really can't be bothered to cook anything that involves more than 10 minutes of your time? In fact, you're not even really that hungry, but you would like something easy and tasty that doesn't involve a pizza delivery or baked beans on toast. Well, here is one dish that will solve all your problems - 5 minutes of prep time, and then you can pop it in the oven and forget about it for the next 45. The great aroma as it bakes will help develop your appetite, too. The only other thing you may want to do is toast some crusty bread for the perfect comfort-food accompaniment. It also makes for a great brunch.

The other great thing about this dish is that you can practically use whatever you have in the fridge. 
Bacon could easily be substituted for the ham, or you could leave the meat out altogether. You could use asparagus or grated zucchini or even leeks in place of the spinach. Fresh herbs or semi-dried tomatoes would add a great flavour, too. Then there's the cheese... the possibilities are endless!

Baked Frittata
Serves 4

7 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
8 oz frozen spinach (about 225g), defrosted
1 garlic clove, minced
4 shallots/scallions, finely sliced (I've also used half an onion, finely diced)
1/2 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
7 oz (200g) thick sliced ham
a large handful of grated cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.  Grease your baking pan - I use a 9" square pan, but I'm sure a rectangular pan of similar size would work just as well.

Squeeze excess liquid out of the spinach and spread in the bottom of the pan. Top with the shallots.  Dice the ham into small cubes and scatter on top of the spinach along with your tomato halves. You could also add some chopped fresh herbs at this point, if you so desired - dill, parsley, etc.

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk with the milk, salt and pepper.  Pour over the vegetables.
Sprinkle your cheese on top. You could really use whatever cheese you like here, cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, etc. The best results I've had was putting in some crumbled blue cheese first and then a light sprinkling of mozzarella over the top.  The mozzarella forms a nice top in the oven while blue cheese sinks into the mixture a little, so you get that lovely zingy blue cheese taste when you bite into the frittata.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the top is golden and the middle is completely set.