Sunday, April 5, 2009

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.

1 comment:

manju said...

O.M.G.! What wonderful food! I love what you do with fish -- the baramndi and basa are new to me too, but we see the basa filets around here. I share your love of lamb, too -- it must be so wonderful to have it local to your area.

Thanks for stopping by our site and letting us know about your site. I'll be back to drool over (I mean, follow) your culinary journey through school. Happy cooking!