Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Soup avec Troisieme Fromage Foldovers

Especially comforting on a cold, wintery night...

Ingredients: 2 tbsp olive oil, I onion chopped, 1.5 butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and chopped, ½ ginger paste, ½ tsp garlic paste, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 4 cups chicken stock, ¼ cup thin cream to serve

Method: Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for 5 mins, until soft and lightly golden. Add pumpkin, spices and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat slightly and cook soup, covered, for about 25 mins until the pumpkin is very soft. Cool slightly, then process with a hand blender until smooth. Return to the pan to reheat. Serve soup drizzled with cream.
Troisieme Fromage Foldovers

Ingredients: 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, half a brown onion chopped, 100 g Parmesan, 100 g Greek Feta, 50 g blue cheese, 100 g cream, salt and pepper to season, egg wash
Method: Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Allow the puff pastry sheet to lie on the kitchen bench for 10 - 15 mins, in the meanwhile caramelise onions in a saucepan then set aside in a medium sized bowl. Add the cheeses and cream to the bowl and fold over gently to combine. Cut the puff pastry in four squares, distribute the onion between the four squares then heap on on 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture on top, season with pepper and salt. Fold over the puff pastry in triangles and crimp the edges with a fork to hold it firmly in place. Place on a baking tray, brush generously with egg wash and pop into the oven for 20 mins or until golden brown.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pesto Double Lamb Cutlets with Smoked Pumpkin Risone

This is a recipe by food stylist, writer and chef Naomi Crisante who appears every now and again as a guest presenter on the Australian day time cooking show Alive and Cooking. The recipe caught my attention because while it seemed relatively straightforward, it also looked stunning!

With gorgeous Aussie lamb this dish is great to present as it scrumptious!

Preparation Time 15 minutes
Cooking Time 20 minutes

Ingredients: 500g butternut pumpkin, diced (1 cm wide), 1 small red capsicum; diced, 1 red Spanish onion; diced, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; to taste, extra virgin olive oil,
3 teaspoons smoked sweet paprika, 200g pesto, 12 double lamb cutlets*, 250g risone or orzo pasta**

Method: Combine pumpkin, capsicum, onion, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons oil and 1 teaspoon of paprika together, place on an oven tray. Rub 1/3 of the pesto into the cutlets, place on top of the vegetables and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon paprika and pepper. Roast at 200°C for 20 minutes for medium (or until done to your liking). Cook risone in a large saucepan of boiling water until ‘al dente’***. Drain and toss immediately with roasted vegetables, any pan juices from the lamb and season to taste. Arrange pumpkin risone on a large platter, place lamb cutlets on top, sprinkle with remaining smoked paprika and serve with remaining pesto.

*Ask the butcher for two-chop lamb cutlets, or simply cut a rack of lamb into double cutlets.
** Risone or orzo is rice-shaped pasta available in supermarkets and delis.
*** Since the risone pasta is in the shape of rice grains it doesn’t take as long as regular pasta to cook.

Note: I did a couple of things differently, one was I made my own pesto using the recipe that is mentioned on this blog. Seconsly, since I prefer red meat medium to rare and my veggies nice and smoky when roasting them the other thing I did was roast the pumpkin mixture for about fifteen minutes minus the lamb cutlets, adding the lamb on top later, and popping it back in the oven for another twelve to fifteen minutes.
Pesto from scratch

Ingredients: 1 bunch basil leaves, 1 handful flat leaf parsley, 100 g Parmesan, 85 g toasted pine nuts, 1 garlic clove, 170 g olive oil

Mehtods: Blend all the ingredients in a food processor, or use a mortar and pestle, adding the olive oil gradually in a steady stream until you have a spoonable consistency.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Easter at Hardwicke Bay

Jackie and her family have a beach shack at Hardwicke Bay which is located on South Australia's York Peninsula and I was lucky enough to be invited to tag along and spend Easter with them.

Explorer Mathew Flinders named the region in the early 19th century, and it remains as much of a discovery as it was 200 years ago with pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear ocean. York Peninsula is bordered by ocean on three sides, and is about a two and a half hour drive from top to bottom, travelling through waving fields of barley one moment, the next flicking squid into a turquoise sea. Isabella, Jackie's daughter told me that they have seen bottle nose dolphins from their deck believe it or not. Living in Australia is truly luxurious when you have the world at your doorstep waiting to be discovered! We stopped off for lunch on the drive down to Harwicke Bay at Jackie sister's Linda brand new beach shack, located close to Ardrossan, and feasted on a gorgeous lunch of pasta with duck ragu and sage - simply fantastic! Before we left her partner Chris racked up some blue swimmer crabs from the beach and it was cooked up in no time into a gorgeous crab curry that we feasted on that very night! The drive to Hardwick Bay from Ardrossan was a careful one, watching out for red-tailed Kangaroo's that are known to jump out of the middle of no-where and onto the road to cause fatal accidents - luckily we didn't encounter any on of the local wildlife on our way.

Easter morning I awoke to a glorious day, sun up, clear blue skies reflecting onto the water, glistening under the rays of the sun - it looked so inviting. Unfortunately, in Australia you really do need for the heat to get blisteringly hot before you want to get in and splash about since the waters that lap the shore are brought in from the currents at the poles, which makes it always a good 10 - 15 degrees C difference between the temperature in the air and the water!

I was however more than happy to stare in the blue of the ocean and feel the warmth of the sun on my back as I enjoyed Jackie's husbands barbecued eggs, bacon and toast - the perfect kick start to Easter Sunday.

For lunch Jackie's best friend Kate Honner invited us over to her paddock that stretches for miles and miles. This gorgeous setup of hay bales lined up made a rustic looking long table and set the scene for a ruggedly, Aussie barbecue that was absolutely splendid - except for the flies that attacked us non-stop trying to enter every possible orifice!
Rustic barbecuing - the charcoal smoke billowing out added a unique robust flavour to the meat and I was just glad to add yet another Aussie experience to the collection!

Sausages, skewers, lamb cutlets and T-bone steaks

T-bone steak and rissoni tossed with feta cheese and mint

Lamb cutlets marinated with plum, sweet chili and mint served with garden green salad, beef skewers and more of that delicious feta and mint rissoni

The star of the show - Jackie's sister Linda's Easter Lemon Cake

Chocolate squares with chocolate frosting and sprinkles

More chocolate cake with cadburry chocolate Easter eggs to decorate for the kids

Kransakager - A traditional Norwegian celebration 'cake' featuring at weddings and sometimes birthdays.

A dough made of flour, milk, eggs, sugar and almonds meal is mixed and rolled out several times and then rolled into thin coils and baked in concentric circular pans specially designed for this purpose. After baking each ring is then assembled one atop the other. The texture is brittle and reminiscent of biscotti both in texture and flavour. Great with coffee and simply such a novel idea!

The perfect way to end Easter Sunday, a glass of Semillion-Savingnon Blanc and a stunning sunset to savour it with...

Friday, April 24, 2009


This recipe is fabulous – easy, breezy to follow - in know time you will be enjoying a lip smacking light yet luxurious lemon curd dessert that is simply too perfect for words. Try it yourself to see what the fuss is about …

Ingredients: 2 lemons, 70 g unsalted butter, 175 g caster sugar, 3 tbsp plain flour, 185 ml milk, 3 eggs – separated

Method: Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. butter a large oven proof dish (I used ramekins instead). Finely grate the zest of the lemons, then juice them. In a bowl beat the butter with the sugar and the grated lemon zest until pale and creamy. Add the yolks and whisk to combine. Whisk in the sifted flour and milk, adding alternatively to form a smooth batter. Add the lemon juice and stir to ensure it is well combines. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and lightly fold them through the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and put the dish into a water bath - large roasting tin filled with enough hot water to reach halfway up the side of the dish. Bake for an hour.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Australiana Super Sized

Australia is a nation best known for its love of sport and its success in its sporting endeavours. Both team sports like cricket and rugby come naturally to the Aussies, as well as individual events such as golf and swimming. The green and gold team have produced a long list of sporting heroes ranging from cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman to golfing great Greg Norman and more recently, swimming icon Ian Thorpe. Australia has been soaking up global adulation for its sporting glory for a couple of decades straight, and just as the Aussie athletes were being sent off to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an American study was published revealing that their place as gold medal winners in the world obese Olympics had already been secured!

At first glance Australia seems to strike a balance pairing the best traditions of its migrant cultures to create a balance mix. Old habits die hard and thus fish ‘n’ chips are alive and kicking, the deluge of deep-fried nastiness offset by gorgeous green Asian stir fries. I figured the Aussies had it all figured out – drinking themselves silly at the pub with a pint too many, simply reversing it all with a jog the next day and a yoga session to de-toxify the body. Turns out it just isn’t that simple.

Aussie suburbs are structured similarly: two opposing businesses vying to produce and sell at the cheapest price possible. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that cheap inevitably means a compromise on quality. Australian families are thus limited by choice, subjected to commercialized competing fast food giants like KFC and McDonalds as well as rival grocery/ supermarket retail chains that make finding fresh, quality produce almost impossible. While Australians tighten their purse-strings however, they surely have to be loosening their belts to accommodate all the extra calories that cheap, processed food is adding to their waistlines.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sleepover at Sellicks Beach

Recently I had the pleasure of dinning at the Hedonistic Hostesses' home, and what an experience it was. Never have I enjoyed such a spectacularly home cooked meal affording the impressive dining aesthetic expected from a contemporary fine dining restaurant. Perfectly plated presentation paired with the wholesome gratification that a sizable, substantial meal delivers is what was served up and every bite was truly relished!

Complete with puree's and garnishes, it was a spectacular dinner. An amuse bouche to tease the palate comprised of fresh figs draped in luxurious prosciutto and stuffed with French blue cheese , splashed with a tad of extra virgin olive oil, baked to oozing perfection. Fantastic. In house vino expert Tim's offered the perfect pairings for each course. The wines names and regions escape me now, perhaps because of the wineage overdose that evening! I do remember sipping a Riesling prior to dinner and then switching to a sparkling Shiraz before opting for a glass of Cab Sav to accompany the meaty main course.

Beetroots freshly dug up from the backyard

About 2 kgs of premium lamb marinated in yoghurt and a combination of light Indian-Moroccan inspired spices including garam masala, saffron, ginger and garlic on a bed of chopped brown onion. Into the tagine an the oven for a good five hours.

Painstakingly prepared the figs were a tantalising dream!

Fish fillets lightly dusted with sumac and flour, seared crisp was served with a dollop of homemade version of remoulade on a bed of cauliflower puree and sliced boiled beetroot - seemingly heady contrasting flavours and textures left me gasping - simply divine - two thumbs up hedonistic hostess!

Fish fillets with remoulade on a bed of cauliflower puree and sliced boiled beetroot
A thick medallion of tender lamb served on a zesty rose-petal, sumac and coriander mograbiah with caramelised onions

Mograbiah is also known as Israeli couscous and is a larger version of regular couscous -simply deliciously chewy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Banana and Currant Muffins

Super easy muffins that are ready in no time and perfect for a quick tea-time snack or to grab first thing in the morning - brekkie on the go!

Prep Time 10 minutes, Cooking Time 20 minutes, Makes 12

Ingredients: ½ cup currants, 1 cup bran cereal, 1/3 cup caster sugar, ¼ cup vegetable oil, 1 egg, ¼ cup milk, 2 large very ripe bananas, 1 ½ cup self-raising flour, nuts to decorate.

Method: Combine bran, sugar, oil, egg and milk in a bowl. Stand for 5 minutes to soften. Fold in bananas, flour, currants until just combined. Spoon mixture into a well greased muffin pan. Decorate each muffin with nuts and bake for 20 minutes or so, check for firmness.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wish List

Pink kitchen-aid food processors to toasters!
Think Pink – brighten up your kitchen while donating to the Breast Cancer Foundation now thanks to Susan G Komen! I KNOW I WANT TO!!!! GIFTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME!

5.5-in. Ceramic Santoku Knife: Pink Handled, Susan G. Komen $ 65

- 3.5-in. Paring Knife
- 6-in. Serrated Utility/Tomato Knife
- 7-in. Granton Edge Santoku Knife
- 8-in. Bread Knife
- 8-in. Carving Knife
- 10-in. Sharpening Steel
- Kitchen Shears
- Hardwood Knife Storage Block
"She" Sports SKINS - Long Tights, Black with Purple stitching $ 125
The Skins compression tights are something that is fairly new to the market. There are many features that differentiate them from the rest. When I read that you can wear these tights in warm weather (80+), I was sceptical. It turns out I did not get hot at all which was a great surprise. Along with fairing great in warm weather, they also perform very well in cold weather. The Skins sport product line has a focus on recovery, in which they did just that. After doing a number of hard workouts, I would typically feel extremely sore days after. Wearing skins during the workouts and after made me feel like I could do it all over again the next day. These are not your typical running tights, they are aimed more at the serious athlete who is trying to maximize his or her workouts. I'll need these BAD after all the eating!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bread and water

"Man does not live by bread alone" Bible: Luke, Chapter 10

Bread and water are considered to be the simplest of foods known to man. This week I have pondered over the basic nature of the two and realised that perhaps there is more than meets the eye. Wandering around Adelaide’s Central Market I stumbled upon Claude, an enthusiastic yogic-water expert that owns a store specialising in every conceivable kind of water available. From waters that have been energized, activated and ionised to those with Chinese herbal properties or indigenous remedial additives to waters that claim to cure hangovers and waters that lull you into a deep, peaceful sleep, while I have my personal reservations and sneaking feeling that sales gimmicks play a large part, this store made me re-think the drink we so often take for granted.
The second thing that rattled my brain: starch. Starch in some form or shape is ever present in every culinary culture. The Irish and Scandinavians love their tatters, Italians and Chinese simply can’t slurp enough noodles, Indians and the Arabs interchange rice and flatbreads, Africans and Mediterranean folk enjoy couscous and polenta and most of the white Anglo-Saxon part of the world, Americans and English specifically are patriotic about bread. With globalisation, it can be said that white dominance where bread is concerned has been achieved, resulting in a world that by and large have become bread consumers, relying on the fuss free slice of toast and quick and convenient sandwich to stave away hunger.
While even Jesus proffered that man does not live on bread alone, if one stops to think about the diversity of bread, the endless kinds, types and varieties, it seems far from impossible. In the ever growing globalised consumer climate, we are constantly confronted with choices. ‘Would you like that on rye, whole-wheat, pumpernickel or sour-dough?’ This is perhaps the most common dilemma, involving obviously the type of grain, blend and baking process of the bread. But the conundrum doesn’t stop there; in fact that is just the first of many choices. Do you opt for a baguette, croissant, ciabatta, bagel, panini or foccacio – shape, taste and texture come into play next. Today bread options leave us spoilt for choice wondering whether to opt for something subtle, simple, special, familiar, exotic, rustic or artisanal, picking up bread has never been so complicated as it is today.
Then there’s the bread that you use on a daily basis, the loaf that is always lying around in the pantry, usually sliced white bread if you live in the States and un-leavened whole kernel multi-grain if your Danish, but today cultural identities are not the only markers for choice, kids, men and women often have different preferences, every consumer picks a bread according to preference and lifestyle these days! Then there’s pairing the bread to match your meal – smooth pate or tapenade would require a bread offering a crisp contrast, perhaps with a touch of honey and embedded sliced olives or cracked pepper baked into it, while a slow simmered stew would go perfectly with rustic, crusty, chunky bread torn apart and dipped in to absorb the delicious broth.
I say bread is making a comeback. Or maybe it never went out of style. Perhaps it has been underrated all along. On the other hand it could be my long distance relationship to starch that has made me disregard the importance of bread as a vital food source. This probably stems from the proactive meat regiment that I grew up under – not that I am complaining don’t get me wrong, I love red meat and thank God and my mother everyday for having introduced me to its brilliance, especially given the excruciating circumstances – forty days and nights of being parted from my first, true love – there have been no moo’s, puck-puck’s, oink’s or baa’s lately, (no meat) and this makes me appreciate how lucky we as humans are sitting pretty at the top of the food chain!
While most South Indians devour heaped mountains of rice at lunch and dinner, this practice was absent at home growing up. Although my Keralite father relished raw, red rice typical to his hometown village Kottayam, he would eat very little rice prioritising stomach space for the fish curry, fried masala fish fillets, beef fry with curry leaves, and prepared vegetable side dishes. Yes all these various meats and at least three kinds of veggies made a daily appearance and became the stars of the show for my dad, no doubt the rice probably felt rather undervalued. My mother matched dad’s carnivorous habits, cooking dishes of chunky meat casseroles, rich meat sauce and pasta with a ratio of 3:1, thick juicy steaks and fried liver and kidney with onions for dinner, rarely did bread feature on the table. When we would eat out, the meal would be devoured in gusto to begin with, as kids do until I, like every other little kid with eyes bigger then their stomachs realise oh-oh … (this was pre-teenage two portion meal stage) At this point my mother’s words, and I can almost envision her in slow motion, head turning shouting, ‘leave the bread and veggies, eat the important stuff – don’t waste the meat, leave the rest.’ Nothing short of dramatic trust me, her words ring out as loudly as she pronounced them then. In fact her lesson about the importance of meat has become my Holy Grail.
Food being my ultimate weakness on the flip side fitness and the gym are way of life for me. This translates into religiously working hard two hours a day, six days a week and I have been going at it non-stop since 2000. I can only imagine the walking, talking super-sized version I’d be if I didn’t sweat it out everyday eating the way I do. Part of trying to balance eating to my heart’s content and being able to fit into snug low waist jeans and bustier summer dresses have meant that I cut out the unnecessary. To me that was obvious – cut out the carbs (carbohydrates), since one, I’ve never been a big fan of starch and two, who isn’t ranting and raving about how carbs make you fat.
While most normal bread eating folk desist from pawing the bread offered at fancy restaurants pre-meal that fill you up, I always indulge in a fair share of bread pre-dinner. Ok I’ll admit I hog it all. But I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction, I simply don’t have control, since I starve myself of carbs, when it’s laid in front of me, my body goes right in for the kill. Lately, the restaurant bread binging has escalated, spilling into my very own home. The reason or rather the culprit is my new kitchen, specifically the damned oven. Restaurant fine food calls for bread, because simply put the food is so good you want to soak up every bit of gravy/ sauce and bread is your best friend where that’s concerned. Trying to hone my culinary prowess has meant trying new adventurous recipes, bringing fancy food into the home, calling for bread to mop up every bit of goodness, and probably quietly adding kilos to my bodyweight and inches to my waist. Sigh, guess I will have to add on an extra half hour at the gym, I don’t think I’m ready to bid bread farewell just yet.

Strawberry Cheesecake

Working with an oven that lacks fan-force apparently makes a big difference. I learned this the last weekend, the hard way. Baking this strawberry cheesecake was tricky, I had to shift the tray up and down, checking on it constantly and still could not avoid a charred bottom from forming. I must say however the fact that the cheesecake was edible and still somewhat presentable was so fulfilling. I can say with confidence that this will be the first cheesecakes of many more to come, after all the adage goes 'practice makes perfect'!

Ingredients: 1 punnet strawberries, washed and sliced; 200g low-fat cottage cheese; 250 g light cream cheese; 2 tsp vanilla essence, ¾ cup caster sugar; 2 eggs; 1/3 cup semolina; ¼ cup self-raising flour; ¼ cup buttermilk

Method: Places strawberries on a single layer of absorbent paper. Preheat oven to moderately slow. Grease 21 cm spring form tin, line base with baking paper. Beat cheeses, essence and sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Stir in semolina and sifted flour, then buttermilk. Lightly fold in strawberry slices. Place tin on oven tray. Pour cheesecake mixture into prepared tin. Bake in moderately slow oven for about 45 minutes or until just firm. Cool in tin, and serve with dusted sifted icing sugar for a special touch.

Mussels Provencal avec Rouille

This recipe does not take much time at all, and tastes simply fabulous. Rouille is a flavoursome version of mayonnaise customarily served with seafood dishes like Bouillabaisse and goes great with the mussels. The roasted pepper, saffron and paprika blended into the sauce give it the gorgeous rich colour and robust flavour. Leftover rouille can very well be used in crab croissants instead of regular mayo, since the roasted flavours pair well with seafood. Preparing the rouille will take you longer than the actual mussels, so I suggest preparing that one first.

Mussels Provencal

Ingredients: 2 kg mussels, 2 tbs olive oil, 1 white onion, finely chopped, 2 garlic cloves, crushed, 3 large ripe tomatoes, diced, 1 bay leaf, 1 fennel bulb, finely sliced, pinch of saffron threads, 1 tsp sea salt, 250 ml white wine, 1 handful flat leaf (Italian) parsley

Method: Clean the mussels in cold water remove beards and barnacles; throw any away that do not close when you tap them.

Put the oil, onion and garlic into a large lidded saucepan and cook them over low heat until onion is transparent. Add the tomato, bay leaf, fennel and saffron, season with sea salt and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour in the white wine, bring the sauce to the boil and add the mussels. Cover with the lid and cook a few minutes, shaking the pan once or twice. Check all the mussels have opened. Throw away any that remain closed.

Divide the mussels into four big bowls, sprinkle with parsley and serve with rouille and crusty French baguette.


Ingredients: 1 thick slice sour-dough bread, pinch of saffron threads, 3 tbsp water, 1 roasted red pepper, ¼ tsp paprika, 2 garlic cloves, 125 ml olive oil, 2 eggs, sea salt to taste

Method: Simply tear the sour dough bread into pieces and put in a bowl. Put a pinch of saffron threads in 3 tbsp of water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer for 1 minute. Pour the hot saffron water over the bread in the bowl. Allow to sit for 1 minute before putting in a food processor or blender. Add the flesh of 1 roasted bell pepper, ¼ tsp paprika and 2 garlic cloves and blend to form a smooth paste. Add in the eggs and blend and then add the olive oil in a stream, mixing all the while to ensure it emulsifies. Season with salt.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Tartlet with Asparagus and Pine Nuts

This is a recipe that I invented on a Saturday afternoon, looking at the ingredients in my fridge and using my creativity. If I may say so myself, it turned out very well indeed!

Ingredients: 2 sheets puff pastry cut to fit your tart pan accordingly or 1 pre-prepared tart case and one sheet puff pastry for the top; 250 g asparagus spears, blanched; 200 g mushrooms sliced; 1 white onion, sliced finely; 4 pods garlic, minced; 250 g spinach, wilted and chopped; 100 g pine nuts, toasted; 100 g cream; 1 egg; salt and pepper to season; Parmesan cheese; olive oil

Method: If using the puff pastry, spread so it lines the tart pan’s base evenly, pressing the edges with your fingers to ensure there are no air bubbles. The pastry must be long enough to reach up the sides of the tart pan. Fork holes all over and blind bake at 200 degrees C for 10 minutes. If using a pre-prepared tart case keep it out and ready for filling.
Sautee the onions and garlic until translucent, add the mushrooms until softened, but do not allow them to sweat. Remove from heat, set aside in a mixing bowl. In a food processor blend spinach, cream, toasted pine nuts, egg (leave a third of the egg in a bowl to brush the top of the pastry) pepper and salt into a smooth paste and add to mushroom mixture in bowl, fold well to ensure and even mixture. Remove the puff pastry tart from oven or take the pre-baked tart if using, spoon the spinach and mushroom cream mixture into the case, spreading it out evenly then lay the asparagus, spears facing outward and stalks at the centre of the tart over the spinach and mushroom mixture in a concentric circle. Top with a good grating of Parmesan cheese. Take the other sheet of puff pastry that has been cut into a circle to fit as a lid and carefully place it on top of the filling, stretching it at the edges to meet the pastry from the base of the tart. With a fork press the edges together. Use the remaining egg that has been set aside to brush the top of the pastry to ensure it bakes to a golden, brown crisp. Bake in oven at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes.
Serve with a nice big leafy salad. I like to use a honey-mustard dressing with this recipe to dress my salad as the flavours are contrastingly complimentary.

Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Tartlet with Asparagus and Pine Nuts

Honey- Dijon Dressing

A quick, delicious dressing perfect for summer salads, absolutely light and refreshing

Ingredients: 1 tbsp Dijon Mustard, 3 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 tsp Honey, a dash of balsamic vinegar or verjuice, ½ tsp Italian dried herbs, 6 pickles or gherkins sliced finely, Salt and Pepper to season, dash of Lemon juice.

Method: Whisk all the ingredients together in the serving bowl itself, to avoid having to lose any when transferring later. A combination of lettuce greens works well here: Oak and butter lettuce with rocket for a peppery kick and sliced tomatoes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A twist on the classic Eggplant Parmigiana

Ever been enticed while sweating it out at the gym? Well picture me on my spin bike drooling for Eggplant Parmigiana. Its ironic how many televised recipes make their way into my kitchen, especially since they are being watched hungrily, while burning calories. ABC's day time cooking show the Cook and the Chef featuring local South Australian food icons Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant is responsible for this twist on the classic version of Eggplant Parmigiana. It turned out really well and I recommend you try it in your own kitchen! Very simple and barely any cleaning up to do after. I suggest serving some crusty bread or baguette alongside to mop up all the goodness of the sauce: the fresh cherry tomatoes burst with brilliant flavour infused with olive oil, basil and melted buffalo mozzarella is just too good to waste.

Eggplant Parmigiana Parcels
Ingredients: 4 shallots, diced; 10 cloves garlic, crushed 4, set 6 aside with skin on; 6 tablespoons olive oil; 1 punnet cherry tomato, stems removed; 2 small eggplant; 60mls sweet aged Red wine vinegar; 2 lemons; Sea Salt and lots of cracked black pepper; 240g mozzarella; sliced120g Parmesan, shaved; 1 big handful of fresh basil leaves; Rocket leaves to serve

Method: Preheat oven to 200C. Saute shallots and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until just sweated. Add cherry tomatoes and heat, add the red wine vinegar, and heat until skins just burst. Set aside. Make slits in the eggplants about a centimetre apart along the length of the eggplants but don’t cut all the way through, leave a cm or so at the base so the eggplant does'nt fall apart. (Use a skewer so that you can’t cut all the way through). Dowse the slits of the eggplants flesh with the juice of 2 lemons. Place eggplants on well greased foil. Season well with salt and pepper and stuff cheeses, basil & tomato mix in the slits, pour remaining oil, and a splash of lemon juice or vinegar, over the eggplants. Throw in 3 heads of unpeeled garlic & wrap up in airtight parcel & bake 220C for 40 minutes. Place the package on the serving plate and remove the foil, keeping all the juices and tasty bits which stay on the foil. Serve with Rocket leaves around the edge, grated cheese on top and some fresh torn basil leaves.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Food, the language of love

“Food is a currency of love and desire, a medium of expression and communication.”[1]

Try telling my boyfriend that. Being an adventurous eater, every time I’m out at a restaurant I skim the menu for exotic offerings. He on the other hand, Mr. Bodybuilder with fat percentage seven per cent prefers lean meat. Trying a new Chinese restaurant in Bangalore, I spotted pork belly on the menu and went mad, since it is a dish not usually seen on Indian menus. Short of frothing at the mouth, I quickly decide the rest of our order. Out came the gorgeous pork belly, fat glistening, wobbling slightly on a bed of sprouts and greens. I grab my chopsticks, dig in, ecstatic in anticipation, and it hits the spot – melt in the mouth and absolutely succulent. After spending a full five minutes rolling my eyes and moaning perhaps rather inappropriately I cut a piece of pork belly in half, carefully clasp my chopsticks around the slippery sucker and swoop into boyfriend dearest’s face, shouting “open up, open up, it’s going to drop”, his reply – absolute non compliance!
This sort of situation is simply something I cannot fathom, why and how a person can be so strange to not want to try a piece of something so obviously wonderful based on the pretext of health and fitness is just absurd to me. One tiny piece, come on – would it really kill you?

Whether its cheesy scrambled eggs and generously lathered buttered warm toast for a relaxing Sunday breakfast, or classic, rich, old school Sheppard’s Pie with a side of vegetables au gratin for a special dinner, indulgent meals have always flicked on a thousand twinkling lights, and got my juices flowing, ever since I was a little girl.

I started out as a horribly slow eater, the teacher constantly sending notes home to my mother about what a nuisance I was. It wasn’t that I was fussy – I just tended to day-dream a lot. That problem vanished when I hit my early teenage years, in fact it went into overdrive, with an upsized appetite going out to dinner with my parents meant a constant inner struggle trying to pace myself through the meal. My mother would caution me several times in the car over to the restaurant, to chew slowly and allow the food to digest. But as soon as the meal would be laid out in front of me, the pre-dinner spiel went out the window and within ten minutes flat the plate would have been licked clean. It wasn’t that I was a messy eater, or bad mannered, that was far from the case, in fact it was quite the opposite people would compliment my parents on my fine dining skills ever since I was about three. It was just that food drove me mental, the thought my favourite dishes would and still does literally make my mouth water – and one main course was not enough to satiate me. Today, luckily for the most part I have mastered the art of self-control when careful about portion size, a balanced diet, binging and pick my indulgent days with care. Inevitably from about age twelve to fourteen I would order two mains, my parents giving in to my incessant eyeballing that would ensue upon demolition on the first main meal. Two mains became the norm - all I can say is thank God I grew out my voracious appetite. I can proudly say I that with my 'healthy appetite' I have always been able to match every guy I have dated bite for bite, and sometimes even eaten him under the table and out of wallet!

Food as far as my memory stretches has always held a significant place in my heart. The affinity for good food has to be credited to my parents that took the initiative to introduce and allow me to eat real, grown up food, never making those separate awful ‘kids’ meals comprising chicken nuggets or fish sticks with ketchup, which doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it just can’t be too healthy for the kids in the first place!

By age four, I had developed a palate for blue cheese, smoked salmon and oysters. However beyond loving adventurous food that most kids my age would never have touched, I adored going out to restaurants. The restaurant experience is one that I looked forward to with great anticipation and lucky for me this was a twice weekly affair growing up. The flip side of this was that my mother had a tempting bone to dangle in front of me every time she wanted to make sure I did my chores or my homework. Being banned from a dinner outing would have shattered my world. On second thoughts, I guess not much has changed since then!

My upbringing has memories of food interwoven so intricately that food and love blur and have come to mean one and the same thing. Part of this ‘food is love’ way of life has to do with Indian culture. Coming over to our house for dinner means being dotted on at the dinner table, being offered lots and lots of food, and when I say offer, I mean forced. ‘What was that, you said you don’t like lentils, oh I didn’t hear that, too late, now you have a big spoonful on your plate, so eat it all up.’ Seconds and thirds are not optional at the Indian dinner table, rather they are mandatory, and it is usually thrust upon you by the woman of the house. And another thing Indian culture is averse to – wasting, the biggest blasphemy you could ever commit, so come prepared with pants with an adjustable waist, and skip lunch altogether.

Growing up in India, women are key figures in the home. My paternal grandparents took rotational shifts, swapping between their two sons and daughter, which meant a period of roughly three months every year would be spent at our home in Bangalore. Those three months would be a chaotic period in our kitchen, my grandmother and my mother battling for refrigerator space, access to maids to help them chop, soak, dice, prepare spice blends, clean fish, slice meat and vegetables etc and then of course who would serve which meal and when. To avoid daily confrontations it became the norm that my grandmother would prepare her full Kerala South Indian buffet style meal, replete with three kinds of rice, fish curry, meat fry, two to three dry vegetables, seasoned yoghurt, a vegetable sambar (gravy), pickles and papads for lunch every afternoon. Dinner was my mother’s responsibility and always had a global edge, which meant it could range from anything from mousakka to muligatany.

The respective chef always served and presented the meal, the wives proceeded in traditional manner to serve their husbands, smiling proudly and watching closely for their affirmative nod once the first bite was sampled. The female servitude around mealtime percolated into my being without my realising and reared its ugly head when my first boyfriend came along. Without thinking I would serve, coo and most importantly watch for the expression that acknowledged the first bite before sitting down to eat myself! Perhaps the ‘food is love’ analogy runs deep, deeper than I even thought possible. Today I don’t think, I just shovel food into my boyfriends plate, mouth whatever I can reach, I am a firm believer that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, hell that’s the quickest way to mine. So as I smile coming at him with a heaped serving of lasagne, I am positive that food is the best way of expressing love. A hearty, home cooked meal beats those three over rated words any day!

[1] Sarah Sceats. “The Food of Love: Mothering, Feeding, Eating and Desire,” in Food, Consumption and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 11-32.

Starting from scratch

My very own little kitchen, its basic but so are my skills at this point!

Cheap Chardonnay, oysters and fish cakes

In the last one month a lot has happened. I moved home and finally have a kitchen of my own in a tiny bed-sit rental unit in Glenunga, a suburb on the way up to Mount Barker (towards the Adelaide Hills to the west of the city). I have been excited about the move and as soon as my brand new oven and stove-top were installed I celebrated with a bottle of cheap chardonnay, oysters (odd choice thinking back, since I ate them natural and that served no purpose of christening my new white goods!) and made a batch of fish cakes since its bang in the middle of Lent, and I have been trying to observe forty painful days and nights of vegetarianism.

To expand my cooking repertoire, I have made one rule for the kitchen – to try as experimenting as much as possible and just takes chances, try to make things from scratch and go with my gut. Having never used puff pastry sheets from the frozen section I decided this would be a good starting point.

Puff pastry laid out with spinach and ricotta filling, before folding into parcels while the oven gets nice and hot
Spinach and Ricotta Parcels

Prep Time: 15 mins, Cooking time: 20 mins, Makes 8 plump parcels or 12 modest filled

Ingredients: 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 large white onion chopped, 1 bunch English spinach, 300 g ricotta cheese, 3 tsp pine nuts, 1/2 bunch mint leaves chopped, Salt and freshly ground pepper, 2 eggs beaten, 2 - 3 sheets puff pastry depending on filling.
Method: Roast pine nuts in dry pan for about two minutes until slightly browned and aromatic. Then bash in a mortar and pestle, or break down in a blender. Heat oil in fry pan, saute onion and garlic until softened, set aside. Wash spinach and steam until wilted, drain, and chop finely. Place ricotta in a bowl with onion, garlic, spinach, pine nuts and mint, season with salt and pepper, add half the beaten egg. Cut the puff pastry in four squares, spoon about two tablespoons of the spinach and ricotta mixture into the centre of each square, brush the edges of the pastry with water, bring the corners of the pastry to the centre to form a parcel. Set on baking tray lined with baking paper, brush each parcel with remaining beaten egg. Bake in a moderately hot oven, for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Wilted Spinach and Ricotta Parcels with roasted pine nuts, sauteed mushrooms, onions, garlic and Parmesan served with a salad of baby endive, sliced grape tomatoes and red capsicum

Lent has given me the opportunity to play with a variety of seafood and I must say there have been a couple of firsts in this department.

Whole fresh Red Snapper, scaled

Take for instance buying a whole fish with head and tail intact and with no knowledge of filleting fish, let alone a decent knife! I love eating fish, especially the head which is full of flavour, but I have never dealt with an entire, whole fish. This was a first, and what with the image that fish has of being stinky and nasty I though this was a rather ambitious project. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome, my fillets turned out pretty neat, maybe I could be the fish mongers apprentice!

Baramundi fish cakes seasoned with basil, chopped olives and gherkin and my snapper fillets coated in turmeric, ginger, garlic and macadamia paste

Fried zesty basil and olive fish cakes served with dill aioli

Tumeric-Macademia Infused Red Snapper

Ingredients: 12 whole macadamia nuts, 1/4 white onion finely sliced, 4 garlic cloves, 2 red chillis, seeded and finely chopped, 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger, 1 tsp turmeric, 4 tsp tamarind water, 1 tsp soy sauce, 4 x 200 g snapper (or firm fleshed white fish), 125 ml coconut milk

Method: Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Put the nuts, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, tamarind water and soy sauce in a blender to make a paste. Rinse fish fillets with cold water, pat dry, rub half the paste on the fish, put on a baking tray and bake for 12 minutes. Put the remaining paste into a small saucepan and add coconut milk, stir over medium heat. When the fish is cooked serve with steamed greens and some of the coconut sauce.

Note: Personally, being Indian our know-how of spices goes beyond the average understanding of how to utilise spices to their maximum and draw out the best flavours. This dish delivered a hot punch in terms of the flavours, perhaps too full on for me liking. A good spice blend is one that is smooth, subtle and seductive, drawing you in gently, the spice hits you slowly, but it has already woven a spell and no matter how pungent on the palate or how dire the effects may be the next day you are mesmerised by flavour and serve more and enjoy the symphony of flavours. This dish did not deliver that sensory spice experience, instead was harsh and unforgiving on the palate. I would suggest dry roasting the dry spices, including the nuts for about 3 - 4 minutes to get the spices and aromas activated, and to allow the intensity to mature from intense and overbearing to a flavours with finesse and body.

Baked red snapper fillet with turmeric, ginger-garlic and macadamia marinade and a sauce of the same paste infused with coconut milk, served with pan-fried cabbage seasoned with mustard seed, buttered and browned baby corn spears and jasmine rice

The following week further fishy recipes were embarked upon. As you can tell I had an overwhelming supply of spinach and decided to whip up my own unique pesto, using spinach as the main ingredient and basil to infuse its powerful herbaciousness, olive oil of course, roasted pine nuts, minced garlic, salt and lots of freshly ground pepper and lemon juice. I used this on crusty bread toasted and doused with my olive oil and bococcini, as well as a light pasta sauce.

Spinach-basil pesto fettuccine with fried Baramundi fillets bread-crumbed with coriander and Mustard seeds

The basa fish, otherwise known as Pangasius bocourti, is a type of catfish in the family Pangasiidae family. This fish is particularly a new variety to me. Basa are native to the Mekong River Delta in and Chao Phraya basin in Thailand. An important food fish in the international market, its is often labeled basa or bocourti in Australia and the USA. The fish was described to me as requiring 'a lot of work' said the fish monger, but I found that it worked well in this simple dish with light ingredients.

Oven roasted Basil Basa flavoured fillets with Water Chestnuts served with Caramelised Carrots

After coating the basa fillet with a good rubbing of basil, lemon, salt and pepper, topped off with water chestnuts and wrapped in an aluminium parcel, I baked the entire parcel for about 20 minutes in a moderately hot oven.

Field Mushrooms with Herbed Goats Chevre and Char grilled Asparagus Spears on Puff Pastry

Field Mushrooms on Puff Pastry

Ingredients: 4 field mushroom, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 garlic clove, 1 sheet puff pastry. 150 g arugula, 70 g Parmesan Cheese, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 4 Pimento olives, 4 slices of goats chevre, 4 char-grilled spears asparagus

Method: Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Remove stern from mushrooms, add caps to a large bowl with olive oil, garlic, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss the mushrooms to coat them in the garlicy oil. Cut the pastry into four squares, lay them on a baking tray. Roll the edges of each square to form a raised edge, then put a mushroom into the centre of each square. Pop an olive into the centre of each mushroom, then cut a solid 1 cm round of goats chevre and add atop the olive to cover or fit into the cap of the mushroom. Cut each asparagus spear into two and line a pair on either side of the mushroom right on the fold-over ridge of the puff pastry. Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Tear the rocket in bite size pieces and toss in a bowl with Parmesan and vinegar, season to taste. Pile them on top of the tartlets before serving.