Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Earth hour 2010 at the Zoo - Warning no photos of food to follow

For Earth Hour this year I was lucky enough to be given a couple of tickets to Earth Hour at the Melbourne Zoo thanks to Zoos Victoria.  The tickets included a behind the scenes tour of some of the reptiles where the lovely guide (pictured) brought out a Fijian crested iguana, Honduran milk snakes & biggest & best of all a Black Headed Python.  I hid behind my camera while Michael had a play.

After our tour, we had a wander around and saw the Lions who seem to sleep forever, get frisky for about a minute before resuming their laziness, the giraffes having a bit of a feed & a lonely meerkat or 2 wondering what all the upcoming noise was about.

We were then treated to a sit down barbecue dinner, a simple spread of veggie burgers, snags, potato salad, green salad, bread & lots of free booze - who can say no to that!  Too bad really as I brought along my own dinner not fully understanding that the offer of food to be proved meant an entire meal, thinking it would be more like a nibbly or 2 pre-show. Sadly my food had to be thrown out after being carted around & neglected all night.

Next was off to the vip seating area, where we snuggled up on the picnic rug with our one free rain poncho (I scored it), to brave the drizzle (which thankfully didnt last too long), to watch Wagons & Tim Rogers, missed the Blackchords entirely while eating, sorry.  Wagons were interesting, part comedy, some interesting language & a good strong voice, Tim Rogers I love from way back & was especially please to hear him sing Heavy Heart.  We also brought along our own booze so we were very merry by the end of festivities.

Despite the ignorance of the PR company who organised the event, in regards to a certain chocolate & the Zoos involvement i the 'Dont Palm us Off' campaign, you can read all about it here, we had a wonderful time, love the zoo & love their Twilight nights, as I say every year, I will have to get along more often!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rice 2 ways - The Cookbook Challenge - Week 19

The theme for this week was rice.  I really wanted to make both a savoury & a sweet dish this week so I chose 2 recipes from the same book, Bill Granger's Holiday & both had an Asian feel to them.  It's funny how I thought the pudding would be sensational & the rice just ok yet things turned out completely the other way around.  I loved the simplicity of the rice with chicken yet the pudding didnt do it for me at all though I was quite partial to the gorgeous caramelized pineapple on top.

The chicken dish was quite interesting for me in that it was cooked a bit differently to my normal method, the rice had ginger, onion, garlic & sesame oil through it, I love the aroma of anything cooking with sesame oil in it?  Once this was simmered for a while the chicken was poached on top.  When I tried this before adding the soy, spring onions & chilli I was a little disappointed as it was a bit bland (as well as looking way too white!), however the addition of the last minute extras lifted the dish to one I was very happy to eat, a great simple combination.

Ginger & Sesame Rice with Poached Chicken - from Bill Granger, Holiday

Serves 4

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbspn freshly grated ginger
400g jasmine rice
750ml chicken stock
500g chicken breast fillets, cut into thin escalopes

To Serve

Finely sliced spring onions
Chopped red chilli
Soy Sauce

Heat the oils in a large deep frying pan over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes until soft.  Add the garlic and ginger & cook, stirring for 2 minutes more.

Add the rice and stir to coat the grains of rice with the oil.  Add the stock and bring to the boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Place the chicken in a single layer on top of the rice.  Cover again and simmer for a further 8-10 minutes, or until the rice is just tender and the chicken is cooked through.

Remove from the heat and set aside with the lid on, for a further 5 minutes.  Serve sprinkled with spring onions, chilli & drizzled with soy sauce

My second rice dish was a coconut rice pudding with caramelised pineapple.  Now I love anything flavoured with coconut or coconut milk so I thought this was a definite winner.  Wrong, it was ok though my version turned out a little dry, didnt really brown all that well on top & the flavour just didnt taste quite right to me.  Funny as I made a classic rice pudding for Josh yesterday & served it to him with some blackcurrant jam stirred through & this one was sensational!  As mentioned the pineapple got a big thumbs up, I guess anything coated in sugar & cinnamon & fried has to taste good right?

Coconut Rice Pudding with Caramelised Pineapple - from Bill Granger, Holiday

Serves 4

400ml coconut milk
500ml milk
225g arborio rice
3 tblsons caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 170c and lightly grease a 1.5 litre capacity baking dish.  Put the coconut milk, milk, rice, sugar & vanilla in the dish & stir together well.  Cover with foil & bake for 1 1/4 hours, remove the foil & bake for a further 30-35 minutes until nicely browned on top.  Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving with pineapple.

Caramelised Pineapple

1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
2 tblspns brown sugar
3 thin slices fresh pineapple, cut into small triangles.

Mix together the cinnamon & sugar on a plate.  Toss the pineapple in the cinnamon sugar until coated on all sides.

Heat a large non stick frying pan over medium high heat & cook the pineapple for 1 minute on each side until caramelised.  Serve with the pudding.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fantastic soup & another use for the rainbow chard in the garden

I know you probably wont think so when looking the the photo but this is one fantastic pot of Chick pea and chard soup.  In my opinion soup doesn't photograph well at the best of times so you have to take my word rather than go my fairly dubious looking photo above.  With the change of seasons and the weather supposedly cooling down I have moved into full 'make-a-pot-of-soup-a-week' mode.  Soup being one of my most loved foods, I love to make old favourites & am always on the lookout for new recipes.  This one caught my eye in my new ebay purchase of Skye Gyngell's My favourite ingredients.  It's a lovely book and I have tried a few of her recipes from Delicious so I was keen to start from the book, this recipe was perfect for me as I'm also on the lookout for recipes I can use my rainbow chard growing out the back in.

I cheated a bit when making the soup, I actually pretty much cooked it while playing out the back with both kids, just running inside every 10, 20 or 30 minutes to add the next ingredient, all of which I had lined up waiting to be thrown in, you cant get much easier than that.  So my cheats were, using tinned chickpeas instead of dried, ie no need to soak overnight or boil for 1 1/2 hours.  I just added the lemon juice when I threw them into the soup.  I also threw the chard straight into the soup rather than cooking it separately as suggested.  I wasnt expecting the soup to be so good, the ingredients are very simple yet all together they were amazing, one to add to my soup collection for sure.

Chickpea and chard soup - Skye Gyngell - My favourite ingredients

200g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (or sub with a tin of chickpeas - no need to soak)
3 tblspn extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
juice of half a lemon
2 dried red chillies
5 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed with the back of a knife
3 rosemary sprigs
2 x 340g tins of good quality peeled plum tomatoes
sea salt & freshly black pepper
1 litre good quality chicken stock
300g swiss chard
2 thick slices day old chewy bread, ie sourdough, crusts removed
75-90g Parmesan - freshly grated

Drain the chickpeas, rinse & place in a large heavy-based pan.  Cover generously with cold water , but do not season.  Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then turn the heat down.  Simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours or until the chick peas are soft, skimming away any scum from the surface every now and then.  Drain & dress with 1 tblspn extra virgin olive oil & the lemon juice.  (Note as mentioned you could skip this step & just add a can of chickpeas with the lemon juice at the adding stage).

In the meantime, warm 2 tblspns extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Crumble in the chillies and add the garlic and rosemary.  Cook for a minute or so to release the flavours, then add the tomatoes & stir well to break them up, adding a good pinch of salt.  Cover & cook for 20 minutes, then pour in the stock & cook for a further 10 minutes.  Finally add the chick peas & simmer for 40 minutes.

Towards the end of cooking time, prepare the chard.  Wash and pat dry, then strip the leaves from teh pale central stalk, using a small sharp knife, set aside.  Trim the stalks & cut into 1cm chunks.  Add these to a pan of well salted boiling water and cook for 2 minutes, then add the soft green outer leaves & cook for a further minute.  Drain.  (Note I skipped this stage & simply added the torn leaves to the soup directly a few minutes before the end of cooking time.

Break the bread into small pieces and stir into the soup with the Parmesan, turning the heat to low.  Add the chard and a drizzle of olive oil.  Taste & adjust the seasoning before serving.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 18 - BBQ

This weeks cookbook challenge is BBQ and what Aussie doesnt just love them?  As you can see in my photo I actually 'barbecued' my Salmon on the griddle pan over the stove as I was cooking for my parents & Michael is never home in enough time to even contemplate waiting for him to get the real thing out.   I'm actually having a 'real' bbq on Saturday night so if I remember I may get some photos to post of the real deal.

The recipe I chose was from Jamie Oliver's Jamie at home, I really like this book & enjoyed the series too & seemed to remember a bbq chapter with a delicious salmon recipe.  The Salmon was fantastic & everyone apart from my Dad who peeled it off & left it to the side, loved the crispy skin, even Chloe, anything with crunch tickles her tastebuds.  I have to say though that I quite often griddle salmon with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt & pepper & brushed with some olive oil & feel it doesnt need anymore.  This recipe had herbs & lemon zest stuffed into the flesh & even though it was fantastic I dont really think I could taste the difference the herbs made.  The cucumber yoghurt on the side however was a great extra to serve with the salmon this way.  I used fresh mint in mine.  So even though I would make the cucumber yoghurt again I probably would bother adding the herbs.

Crispy barbecued side of Salmon with cucumber yoghurt - from Jamie Oliver - Jamie at home

Serves 4-6. 

1 x 1.5kg side of salmon, scaled & pinboned (I only used about 950g & it fed 4 adults & 1 3 yr old fine)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
a bunch of fresh herby fennel tops or basil, leaves picked & finely chopped (I used basil as that's whats in my garden right now, maybe fennel would have had a stronger flavour)
olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 cucumber, peeled lengthwise at intervals
300ml natural yoghurt
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped (omitted from mine so it was Chloe safe)
a small bunch of fresh mint or oregano, leaves picked & chopped
extra virgin olive oil

Brush the bars of the bbq clean to prevent the fish sticking, then light it & get the coals glowing hot.  (Or turn on the stove or gas bbq like I did).

Place the salmon skin side down on a board and, using a sharp knife, slash it evenly all over on the fleshy side, making the incisions about 1cm deep.  Scatter the lemon zest & fennel tops or basil over the salmon, then push into the incisions.  Rub the fish lightly all over with olive oil then season with salt & pepper.

When the barbie is ready, lay the salmon on the bars, skin side down.  Cook for about 4 minutes until golden brown then flip over, cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  While it's cooking, gently ease the skin away & put it alongside the fish to crisp up (I also omitted this step as I get great crispy skin on the griddle without removing it).  When the salmon is cooked to your liking, lift it off the bbq onto a serving platter, then break the skin into pieces & place on top.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, remove the seeds, chop it up & mix in a bowl with the yoghurt.  Balance the flavours with the lemon juice, half the chopped chilli and half the mint or oregano.  Season carefully with salt & pepper.

Break the Salmon into 6 chunks & serve with the cucumber yoghurt, some crispy skin & the remaining chilli & herbs.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

If you have too many grapes...

Patrizia's Grape Fritters from Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion, sensational!  Having masses of grapes ripening on the vine out the back all at the same time I thought it was high time I started experimenting with cooking grapes as I dont have enough to start making home brew just yet.  I've never actually cooked with grapes before as they are so sweet & delicious all on their own that I haven't felt the need up until now.

As pancakes are one of my favourite foods, this recipe immediately caught my eye.  The recipe suggests seedless grapes, mine have seeds so as the batter was resting for its required half an hour, I plopped myself down at the bench while everyone else was sleeping & de pipped the 500g, not such a big deal when you have time to spare & for me these sorts of jobs are always a labour of love anyway so I find them quite relaxing.  As for the cooking, I found it a bit tricky to get the temperature just right, you might be able to see in the photo that the batter isnt quite cooked all of the way through, after the first few when I realised this was happening, I slowed things down a bit, squashed them after flipping & problem solved.  A really sweet Sunday morning brekkie treat without too much added sugar, they didnt even need any syrup or ice cream on the side.

Does anyone else have any great grape recipes for me?

 Patrizia's Grape Fritters

1 1/2 cups self raising flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
1/4 tspn salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
500g black grapes, preferably seedless, stems removed
grapeseed oil or vegetable oil, for frying

Sift flour, sugar & salt into a large mixing bowl.  Lightly whisk egg with milk.  Make a well in the flour & stir in the egg/milk mixture, then whisk to form a smooth, thickish batter.  Leave to stand for 30 minutes. 

Cut the grapes in half & de-seed if necessary.  Stir through the batter.

Pour oil into a medium sized non stick frypan to a depth of 1cm & heat over medium heat until hot.  test the heat by dropping in a small blob of batter.  It should sizzle as it hits the oil & start to brown at once.  Drop in heaped tablespoons of batter & fry for 1 minute, then turn with an egg lifter.  Press down lightly on each fritter with the egg lifter.  Fry until golden brown on both sides.  Remove & drain on greaseproof paper.  Dust with extra sugar & serve.  Makes about 10.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 17 - Vietnamese

This weeks theme is Vietnamese.  Not only do I not own any Vietnamese cookbooks, I also have not really eaten in many Vietnamese restaurants & I've never been to the country itself though I hope to visit one of these days as I hear it is very beautiful.  So for my recipe this week I once again turned to trusty Bill Granger's version of things, a lovely light & refreshing chicken salad from Bill's Open Kitchen.  Note that I am almost embarassed by how much I am using Bill Granger's cookbooks but what can I say, they suit me to a T at the moment & I am really trying to get out all of my other books too I promise.

I was going for salad as the weather has been so hot lately though that all changed with the storms, if I'd known how chilly it would get maybe I would have found a pho recipe!  A bonus for me with this dish was that I actually got to use some Thai basil & Vietnamese mint from my garden which is great, they are thriving & dont get used as often as some of my other herbs so always nice to find a use for them before they die off.  The dressing was quite tangy & zingy, the overall salad being quite light & satisfying.  I think the flavours leant a bit too much towards the sour though so next time I would just add raw carrot rather than going to the trouble of pickling my own, I think that would keep it fresher.  Overall a nice, simple (though you have to start the carrots a couple of hours ahead if pickling) weeknight dish, though not sure I personally will be rushing back to try this one again, it just didnt wow me enough even though I love recipes like this that I  can do in stages, that way I can have most stuff prepped while the kiddies sleep & its just an assembly & quick cooking job at the end to bring it all together.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad - Bill Granger - Bill's Open Kitchen

3 x 200g chicken breasts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
sea salt
pepper (Bill prefers white, I went with black)
90g (1 cup) bean sprouts
20g (1 cup) Vietnamese mint leaves
50g (1 cup) Asian basil leaves, or basil leaves
180g (4 cups) Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
Vietnamese dressing (below)
90g (1 cup) pickled carrots (below), or raw carrot, peeled & finely julienned

Preheat the oven to 220c.  heat a frying pan over high heat & while the pan is heating, brush the chicken with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  Place the chicken skin side down (if skin on) & sear for 2 minutes, turn and sear for another minute.  Put the chicken on a baking tray & cook in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes.  Leave to rest for 20 minutes.  Shred the chicken into thin strips with your hands & place in a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.  Serves 4.

Vietnamese dressing

60ml (1/4 cup) lime juice
60ml (1/4 cup) fish sauce
2 tblspns rice vinegar
1 tblspn caster sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 red asian shallots, or 1/2 red onion, finely sliced
2 small red chillies, very finely chopped (seeds removed if you dont like too much heat)

Place all the ingredients in a small bowl & stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Pickled Carrot

250g carrots, peeled & finely julienned
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tblspns rice vinegar
1 tblspn caster sugar

Place the carrots in a colander, sprinkle with salt & toss to combine.  Leave for 20 minutes.  While the carrot is resting, place 185ml (3/4 cup) water with the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over a medium het & bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Rinse the carrot, squeezing out any excess water, and place in a bowl.  Pour over the pickling liquid and stand for 1 hour.  Strain before serving.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Cookbook Challenge - Week 16 - Noodles

Week 16 & the challenge is flying by.  It has been busy, busy, busy around here lately so I have only managed the one recipe a week once more, soon I hope to challenge myself to do 2 or 3 again,  For this weeks theme, noodles, I thought it was about time to make something from Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking, a book I havent used in at least a year for no other reason than I forget it's there & am always reaching for old favorites.  The recipes all look delicious & what I have made so far relatively simple, even though the list of ingredients is long, most are all thrown in together & the cooking process is speedy.  I loved the Stir Fried Hokkien Noodles with Sweet Pork Fillets that I chose & will make sure I revisit this book again soon, maybe even for the challenge if the theme fits (I'm sure I can manage at least week 44 Chinese!).

The pork was tender, sweet as promised & the flavours were all well balanced to create a tasty & filling yet light enough not to weigh me down meal.


Stir-Fried Hokkien Noodles with Sweet Pork Fillets - From Kylie Kwong Simple Chinese Cooking
400g pork fillets, cut into 5mm slices
1/2 large red capsicum
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 small white onion, cut in half & then into thick wedges
4 spring onions, trimmed & cut into 10cm lengths
12 ginger slices
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 x 450g packet fresh hokkien noodles
2 tblspns shao hsing wine or dry sherry
1 tblspn light soy sauce
1 tblspn oyster sauce
1/2 tspn sesame oil


1 tblspn shao hsing wine or dry sherry
1 tblpsn hoisin sauce
1 tblspn malt vinegar
1 tblspn white sugar
2 tspns light soy sauce
1/2 tspn sesame oil

Combine pork & marinade ingredients in a bowl, cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Remove seeds and membranes from pepper, cut into slices and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a hot wok until surface seems to shimmer slightly.  Add pork and stir fry for 1 minute.  Remove from wok and set aside.

Add remaining oil to hot wok with pepper, onion, spring onions, ginger & garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute or until the onion is slightly browned.  Toss in noodles and reserved pork and stir-fry for 30 seconds.  Finally, add wine or sherry, soy, oyster sauce, sesame oil & stir fry for a further 1 1/2 minutes or until pork is cooked through and noodles are hot.