Monday, March 29, 2010

The Kitchen Blackboard & Hot-Smoked Salmon Cakes Recipe

"What would you like for your birthday?" my partner asked me a couple of months ago.  After a little bit of thought, "a kitchen blackboard" was my reply.  As I have always dreamed of having a kitchen blackboard, and since making blackboards is one of the many things that my partner does, I don't know why it had never occurred to me to ask for one before.  In actual fact the blackboard of my dreams is about 3 metres long and takes up one whole wall of my kitchen - but then I would also need the kitchen of my dreams to fit it into.  Our present kitchen is tiny, and just about every square inch of space is maximised, but "I would like one to fit there", I said, pointing to the last vestige of empty wall space behind the door and beside the fridge.  So I was overjoyed when my birthday came around and this is what I got ...

It fits perfectly in the space, and now I use it so much I don't know how I ever got by without it.  Because I teach in the evenings, I have to be quite organised with meals - planning things that can be partly prepared during the day in between classes, and then quickly completed after I finish classes in the evening.  The board has turned out to be absolutely indispensable in my planning process, which goes something like this ...

I usually think of Friday as one of my leisure kind of days - no classes until the evening and all the chores done earlier in the week.  So Friday is the day I like to get several cookbooks down off the shelves and think about a "draft" menu plan for the week ahead - in that planning I think about what is likely to be seasonally available and also what commitments (classes, private lessons, other appointments, etc)  I have during the week, and what I can fit in and prep around those commitments.  Saturday mornings I then head off to the market to pick up my vegetables, and then Saturday afternoon the menu plan gets a bit of a "tweek" depending on what I was able to get at the market.  Sometimes the plan gets a major transformation if I've come home with some totally unexpected finds at the market, or couldn't get a lot of what I had in mind.

So then the menu plan goes up on the board, and then .... I know this is going to sound really scary to some of you .... using a very clever little application that I have on my iPhone called "Mise en Place", I schedule in what I can prepare ahead and when.  I know that might seem almost nauseatingly well organised (and those who know me will be surprised by this, because being organised is not really my strong suit - my motto has always been "why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?"), but for me there is nothing worse than getting home at 8pm with no idea what's for dinner.  I pretty much never have anything in the way of ready-made food in the house - if you want something to eat in my house, you have to make it.  And I'm afraid I'm not one of those cooks who can dive into the fridge, come out with several ingredients, and half an hour later something stunning and delicious is on the table - oh, how I envy those people.  I, on the other hand, need to have a plan.  I wouldn't survive the first round on Master Chef!

As the week goes along, and I run out of anything in the pantry, I jot that up on the board so that then goes on the shopping list for the next week.  Also if I find things in the cupboard or fridge that need to get used up - for example some yoghurt to be used up, or dressing or sauce leftover from something I made earlier in the week - then I also note that on the board, so then when I'm planning the next week's menu I think of things that could use those leftovers.  Or maybe someone will bring me some goodies from their garden, so then those treats will be the springboard for the forthcoming plan.

So it was last week - a very kind student brought me the biggest, most beautiful bunch of mixed fresh herbs from her garden.  In the bunch there was rosemary, bay, Vietnamese mint, dill, tarragon, and sage, so I had great fun planning this week's menu to make the most of these gorgeous herbs, and I thought I would share with you what's coming out of my kitchen this week:

Saturday night I made an adaptation of this Fried Fish with Noodles & Asian Herbs recipe by Ray McVinnie.  I used fresh chillies in my dressing instead of dried, and in the absence of limes I used lemon juice.  I also substituted monkfish for the John Dory.  I used a mixture of basil, dill, mint and Vietnamese mint leaves, and lime-pepper macadamia nuts instead of peanuts.

Last night I made Pork Schnitzels, from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros.  The schnitzels are marinated for a while in a mix of egg yolks, garlic, chopped rosemary and garlic, before crumbing and frying.  I made a lemon tarragon mayonnaise to go with them (which incidentally was so good, it has now become my favourite new thing), along with some crunchy potatoes roasted with rosemary and bay leaves.  The meat lover in the house declared these to be delicious, and told me that I could make them again!

Yesterday afternoon I also made Spinach Gnocchi (preparation for dinner tonight, as well as some to go in the freezer for another night) from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.  This is also a Cooking Italy assignment, and we are supposed to serve it with a tomato cream sauce, but I'm going to use up some of that sage in a Sage Butter Sauce.

Tuesday night will be one of my regular favourites - pasta with aubergine, currants, capers and pine nuts from Epicurious.  I love this - the sauce can easily be made in advance, in fact I usually make a big batch and then freeze it in portions big enough for just me.  Then on a night when I need to appease my meat lover with a piece of ... well, meat ...  I can boil some pasta and reheat some of this sauce for myself in less time than it takes to say "pork chop", well almost!  Mmmm, just thinking that some of those beautiful Purple Cherokee tomatoes I got at the market on Saturday could also find their way into this batch of the sauce.

Wednesday I'm making Soy Chicken from the new Donna Hay book - "Seasons". This involves marinating the chicken in advance and then partly cooking the chicken by poaching in the marinade, which I can do earlier in the day.  The final part of the cooking process is 20 minutes in a hot oven to finish cooking and crisp up the skin, which can easily be done after work, and during which time I can cook some rice and steam some green vegetables.

Thursday I'm planning Grilled Mackerel with green olive, celery and raisin salsa from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook.  I have been itching to try this recipe ever since I got this book, and as we have two huge bunches of celery to use up (long story), this seems like the perfect time to put this one on the menu.

Friday is going to be Hot-Smoked Salmon Cakes with Green Salad.  I always have a few packets of hot-smoked salmon from Holy Smoke in the fridge, so these are a great stand-by.  They have been a favourite since I saw Julie Biuso make them at the Savour New Zealand Master Class back in 2001.  I've adapted the recipe a little - leaving out the onion, and coating the formed cakes in polenta before frying - but the real secret to these delicately light fishcakes is in the way that Julie recommends treating the potatoes.  These would also be beautiful eaten cold the next day if you had any leftovers, but I can pretty much guarantee there won't be any.

Hot-Smoked Salmon Cakes Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Julie Biuso
Makes 6
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

300-350g hot-smoked salmon
350g waxy potatoes, whole, skins on
1 egg
salt & pepper
olive oil for frying

Flake the salmon into pieces.

Keep the potatoes whole, and leave the skins on.  Boil in well salted water until just barely fork tender.  Now this is what makes these light as air, so don't try to take any shortcuts here -  drain the potatoes and leave until completely cold, even better if you can put them in the fridge for a couple of hours.  Then peel the skins off (they will come off very easily), and grate the potatoes using the cheese shredding side of a box grater.  If you try to do this while the potatoes are still warm they go all "gluey" and horrible, instead of light and fluffy.

In a bowl mix the flaked salmon, grated potato, the egg, salt and pepper together well.  Shape into "cakes", coat lightly all over with polenta, place on a plate lined with non-stick baking paper, and set aside until ready to cook.  They are very soft and tender, so I find that chilling them for a couple of hours at this stage makes them easier to handle.

Heat a pan with a bit of olive oil and fry the cakes until browned all over - remember that you are not really trying to cook anything, but you want them to warm through to the centre (which will be enough to cook the little bit of egg), and to be golden and crispy on the outside.

I like to serve these with a green salad - the thing about green salad, is that it can contain any combination of ingredients that you like, but they must be green.  The only exception is perhaps some croutons or nuts or cheese - which I think of as being colour "neutral", but no red, yellow, orange, purple - you get the picture - no tomato, peppers, carrots, corn, etc.  There is a time for all that, but this is not it.  Try to restrain yourself.  Just greens and a lemony vinaigrette.  You can see that in this one I used broccoli, green beans, broad beans, avocado and hazelnuts, but just use your imagination and whatever is in season.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara - Cooking Italy 4

This was another assignment for the Cooking Italy group (a group dedicated to learning to cook Italian food through the recipes of Marcella Hazan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking), and one I was very eager to complete.  After all, spaghetti is one of my favourite foods (surely it should be a food group in its own right), and so is bacon - I may not be much of a meat eater, but I go completely weak for bacon.  Put the two of them together and ... what can I say ... normally anything that good is illegal!

The story goes that towards the end of World War II, American soldiers stationed in Rome would take eggs and bacon to the local families, with whom they had made friends, and ask them to make pasta sauce from the produce.  Whether or not that is true, this dish is considered to be a Roman classic.

I've made a few Carbonara sauces over the years, from a variety of sources, many of which have probably been somewhat dubious in their authenticity.  Most of the recipes I've used in the past have included cream, which does not appear in this recipe, and none have included wine which Marcella does include in hers.  I really liked both of these variations - the absence of cream definitely produced a much lighter version than I have been used to, and the inclusion of the wine (I did tweak that a little mind you - read on) added some depth and complexity (and a certain brightness) to the flavour that I found really pleasing;  it also cuts through the richness of the eggs.  I actually didn't have a bottle of wine open, so I substituted 1/4 cup of vermouth to which I added about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice - I often do this when I'm making risotto if I don't have a suitable bottle of wine open.

Marcella's original recipe claims to serve 6.  I used the same quantity of sauce ingredients to feed two people, with 1/3rd of the pasta.  That said, bear in mind, that Italian people generally (as I understand it) would not use as much sauce with their pasta as I usually tend to do - the idea I believe is that the sauce should just coat the pasta, rather like a dressing on a salad.  I think also that at the Italian table a pasta dish would generally be served as an appetiser, or part of a multi-course meal, whereas in our house the pasta dish is usually the main meal itself, so I like to serve rather more sauce than might be traditional.  In summary, I think the quantities I've given here could probably stretch to serve 4 (I'm really not sure that it would serve 6, unless it really was an appetiser), and you should allow about 125g pasta per person.

Without a doubt, this will become a regular stand-by in our house.

Spaghetti with Carbonara Sauce Recipe
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's
Serves 2-4
Click here for a printable copy

250g pancetta or bacon, in one piece
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large free-range eggs
1/4 cup pecorino romano, freshly grated
1/4 cup parmesan, freshly grated
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
125g spaghetti for each person

Cook spaghetti in plenty of rapidly boiling salty water.

While spaghetti is cooking, cut the pancetta or bacon into strips.

Remove skin from garlic, and then crush slightly - just enough to "open" the garlic clove up a bit, without completely disintegrating it.  Put the garlic, together with the olive oil, into a cold skillet over a medium high heat.  Once the garlic becomes a deep golden colour remove it and discard it.

Add the strips of pancetta or bacon to the pan.  Once it has become crisp and browned, add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away for a couple of minutes, then remove pan from the heat.

Break the eggs into the bowl in which you plan to serve your completed pasta dish.  Whisk them lightly, add the pecorino and parmesan cheeses, the chopped parsley, and lots of freshly ground black pepper,  Combine everything well.

Drain the spaghetti, and add to the egg mixture in the bowl, and toss rapidly until all the spaghetti is coated well with the mixture.

Briefly return the pancetta to a high heat to warm through, and then empty the pancetta (together with any oil and rendered bacon fat in the pan) into the pasta bowl, toss well, and serve immediately.

We enjoyed this with nothing more than a simple green salad and some crusty bread.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

La Fiorentina - Grilled T-Bone Steak, Florentine Style - Cooking Italy 3

As I may have mentioned here before, I am not much of a meat eater, especially red meat.  It's not that I am particularly opposed to eating meat - I think the whole issue of eating ethically, responsibly and healthily is so much bigger than just whether we should eat animals or not - it is just that there are a whole lot of other things (especially vegetables) that I like more.  The last time I ate a steak I think was probably close to a couple of years ago;  however this was an assignment for the Cooking Italy group (a group dedicated to learning to cook Italian food through the recipes of Marcella Hazan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking), so in the interests of group participation I thought I would give it a go.

Now, were I preparing this in "true" Florentine style the T-bone steaks would come from Chianina cattle - the largest, and one of the oldest breeds of cattle existing today.

Of course, here in New Zealand, Chianina cattle are fairly thin on the ground, but I still managed to pick up some passable looking T-bones - a bit thinner than the 1.5 inches thick that Marcella's instructions called for, so I knew I would have to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Now I have to say that I was a little nervous about Marcella's method, as the meat is cooked completely without oil - no oil either on the meat or cooking surface, but then a little olive oil is drizzled over the meat after it is cooked.  I would normally rub some olive oil into the meat before then applying it to a dry pan.  However, Marcella recommends against this - suggesting that in doing so the oil can scorch and impart an unpleasant taste to the meat.  So, as I said, I was somewhat nervous about that - intuition suggested to me that dry meat and dry pan, I was going to end up with a dry finished steak!  I worried for nothing - the end result was a juicy, succulent steak, with absolutely no splattering or smoke.  I would definitely cook a steak this way again - it might be another two years before that happens mind you!

For two people you will need 1 to 2 T-bone steaks (depending on size).  If the ones you come across are like mine, you will definitely need one per person;  on the other hand if you can get a genuine Chianina T-bone one steak between two people will be plenty.  You will also need coarsely ground black peppercorns, flaky sea salt, a clove of garlic (lightly crushed), and some extra virgin oil.

Heat a cast iron grill pan till very hot ( I let mine heat for at least 10 minutes).  Meanwhile, rub the coarsely ground black peppercorns into the meat on both sides.

Grill the steak according to your preferred degree of doneness, which of course will also depend on the thickness of your steaks.  I like mine rare, and my steaks were about 1.5-2cm thick, so I grilled mine for about 3 minutes on each side.

After cooking the first side, turn it over and sprinkle salt on the side you have just cooked.  Then when the other side is cooked, turn it over and sprinkle salt on that side.  Then while it is still on the grill, rub the slightly crushed clove of garlic over the bone, drizzle with a hint of olive oil, flip it over and quickly do the same on the other side.  Then remove to a serving plate and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

I served this with some oven baked potato wedges, simply drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with flaky sea salt and dried oregano (fresh rosemary would be even better, but use what you have), then baked at about 200 degrees C until brown and crispy (about 45 minutes).

I also served a crisp salad of iceburg lettuce (not normally my lettuce of choice, but seemed like just the thing to go with a steak), pears, blue cheese and toasted hazelnuts with a lemon vinaigrette.

So, despite my reticence about eating a steak, and about the cooking of it, all things considered, I thoroughly enjoyed this meal and would certainly make it again - sometime.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baked Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt Sauce & Pomegranate

Baked Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt Sauce & Pomegranate 

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to tell you a bit more about one of my new cookbooks "Ottolenghi, The Cookbook". This book totally has the "drool factor", and if you only buy one new cookbook this year then my suggestion is that you make it this one, unless of course you plan to hang out until May when Yotam Ottolenghi releases his new book "Plenty" - yet another one to add to my wish list.

In July 2002 Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi opened Ottolenghi in small premises in Notting Hill, London.  To quote from the book ... "food shop, patisserie, deli, restaurant, bakery.  A place with no single description but at the same time a crystal-clear reflection of our obsessive relationship with food."  There are now a total of four outlets in London, and the book came into being by popular demand from regular customers.

This book is an absolute celebration of food, with an emphasis on using outstanding, fresh ingredients and preparing them in the most natural way possible, avoiding complicated techniques and fussiness.  The magic lies in bringing ingredients together in ways which are at times unexpected, but which enable each individual ingredient to shine - marriages made in heaven that don't need any tricky preparation. Vegetarians and meat lovers alike will find plenty in this book to suit their table, while a large section on baking and patisserie will appeal to those who like to bake.

I found this book both inspiring and innovative, and I find that I am turning to it several times a week.  Offerings from this book include:  "roasted butternut squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses", "cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt", "portobello mushrooms with pearl barley and preserved lemon", "Camargue red rice and quinoa with orange and pistachios", "marinated rack of lamb with coriander and honey", "roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey", "seared duck breasts with blood orange and star anise", "grilled mackerel with green olive, celery and raisin salsa", "apple and olive oil cake with maple icing", "plum, marzipan and cinnamon muffins", "salty peanut and caramel macaroons", "white chocolate and raspberry tartlets".

Today's recipe - a salad of aubergine, pine nuts and pomegranate with a tangy saffron yoghurt dressing is typical of many in the book - easy to prepare, robust, bright and bold flavour and colour, and great texture.  This is one I will keep coming back to.

Roasted Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt Sauce
& Pomegranate Recipe
Adapted from "Ottolenghi, The Cookbook"
Serves 2 as main meal, or 4 as a starter
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

3 medium sized aubergines
juice & seeds from 1/2 a pomegranate
2 tablespoons pine nuts. toasted
large handful of basil leaves, torn
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons of hot water
pinch of saffron strands
3/4 cup thick Greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
sea salt

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C.

Cut aubergine into thick slices or wedges.

Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with plenty of olive oil, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast the aubergine for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven, and cool to room temperature.  At this stage the aubergine could be refrigerated for up to three days, and then brought back to room temperature before assembling salad and serving.

While the aubergine is cooking make the sauce.  Allow the saffron to infuse in the hot water for about 5 minutes.  Then combine with the yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of flaky sea salt.

Whisk everything together well until you have a pale creamy yellow, smooth sauce, flecked with the saffron threads.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Chill until ready to serve.

Sauce will keep refrigerated for several days.

To assemble, arrange the aubergine on a large platter and drizzle with the saffron yoghurt sauce.  Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and pine nuts over the top, and lastly strew with the torn basil leaves.

Baked Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt Sauce & Pomegranate

This would serve four people as a starter or side dish, or two people as a meal on its own.  I found that I did have sauce leftover, which I subsequently used to dress a salad of roasted beetroot, puy lentils, goats cheese and walnuts.

cookbook sundays

I've just discovered the Cookbook Sundays Group, where other people like me have shelves lined with cookbooks that just don't seem to get used so much.  The idea is to dust off the shelves, cook something from one of the books, and link it up with the book.  Since, the Ottolenghi Cookbook is probably my favourite cookbook, I thought I would revisit this recipe and share it with the group.  Please go and have a look at what everyone else is cooking up.

Get the book:

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spaghetti & Pesto with Potato & Green Beans Recipe - Cooking Italy 2


Let me begin by telling you, before you suddenly leave the page, that this tastes a whole lot better than it looks in this picture.  So here's the scenario:  dinner is piping hot and ready to serve, partner is starving and hanging out for dinner, but wait I need to photograph it first before we can eat - and, oh no, camera batteries are flat and so are the spares.  iPhone to the rescue thankfully to snap off a quick photo, but somehow it's just not the same.  Nevertheless, this tasted incredibly good (think comfort food that's still good enough to impress company) - so keep reading.

This was my second assignment for the Cooking Italy group (a group dedicated to learning to cook Italian food through the recipes of Marcella Hazan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking), and turned out to be another one of those "prepare everything ahead, assemble at the last minute" dishes that you know I love so much - the pesto and potatoes were prepared earlier in the day, then spaghetti and beans cooked, and dish assembled just before serving - as I just mentioned this dish is easily good enough for guests, and you won't be spending all your time in the kitchen instead of with your guests.  I think this would also be good even with the pasta cooked early (maybe some of your favourite shapes, rather than spaghetti), and then everything assembled and served at room temperature as a salad.

Marcella says of this dish:  "When serving pesto on spaghetti or noodles, the full Genoese treatment calls for the addition of boiled new potatoes and green beans.  When all its components are right, there is no single dish more delicious in the entire Italian pasta repertory."  I think she's right.

As far as the pesto goes, I wrote about it not so long ago in this post, so you know my feelings on the subject.  Now I am certainly not going to go all "pesto-police" on you and tell you that you must make your own.  However, it seems that the whole point of this dish is the pesto, so if you are only ever going to make pesto once in your life I would urge you to make it now. As to which method you should use, I recommend the mortar and pestle method (I really believe the texture and taste is superior), but if the thought of doing it by hand is the only thing that gets between you and making your own pesto then go right ahead and blitz it up in the food processor - instructions are given here for both methods. Regardless of whether you buy a ready-made pesto, or follow the recipe here, there is one unique ingredient to Marcella's pesto and that is the addition of some butter at the end.  Sounds a bit weird I know, and I have to admit I was skeptical, but it works - it gave a lovely, velvety creaminess to the pesto, the magic of which I think is more apparent once it is actually incorporated in the dish, and it seemed to me also that once the butter was added the pesto somehow increased substantially in volume.  So even if you use a store bought pesto in this dish, take the time to add the butter before tossing it through the pasta and vegetables.

A note about quantities - Marcella's original recipe states that it serves 6.  To serve two people, I used exactly her recipe, but just cut down the quantity pasta.  So my ratio of vegetables and "sauce" to pasta was probably considerably more than would be traditional, but I was pleased with the results and you should feel free to adjust quantities to suit your own tastes.

Spaghetti & Pesto with Potato & Green Beans Recipe
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's
Click here for printable copy

For the pesto:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt, large pinch
1/2 cup finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino romano
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature soft

Wash basil leaves in cold water, and gently pat dry with paper towels.

If making in a mortar and pestle:  Put basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt into the mortar, and using the pestle grind everything into a paste.  Add both cheeses and grind evenly into the mixture.  Add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream, beating into the mixture with a wooden spoon.  Once it has all been incorporated, beat in the butter until evenly distributed through the pesto.

If making in a food processor:  Put basil, olive oil, chopped garlic, pine nuts and salt  into the bowl of the processor, and process to a creamy consistency.  Remove from processor and transfer to a bowl, then mix the two cheeses in by hand.  Then mix in the softened butter and beat until everything is thoroughly amalgamated.

Set aside.

For the pasta (for 2 people):
3 small new potatoes
250g young green beans
pesto, as above
250g spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)

Boil the potatoes, skins on, until just tender.  Once cool enough to handle, peel and slice thinly.

Cut the ends off the beans and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt liberally.  Add spaghetti to the rapidly boiling water to cook.  Approximately 3 minutes before the spaghetti finishes cooking, add the beans into the pasta pot.  Spaghetti should be al dente and beans cooked through, but neither too soft nor too hard.

Before draining the cooked pasta and beans, remove 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and stir into the pesto to loosen.

Drain, and toss the cooked pasta, beans and potatoes together with the pesto.

Serve immediately.  I also sprinkled some extra grated parmesan over the top.