August 27, 2013
Poor littlej is sick in bed
The warmer weather seems to have stirred up any latent flu bugs and in a desperate effort to get as many victims as possible, they are jumping on anyone foolish enough to have run 3.5kms in sleet last week for school athletics before staying up to 1am to finish off a Science project.... Oh dear, at least she'll learn her lesson before college when pressure and performance really start to pile on
Eating really hasn't been fun between sniffles and sneezing, so to coax her to partake of some nourishment I put together one of the ultimate comfort foods out there- Congee
So warming, so soothing, not much chewing or digestive energy required, and did I mention delicious? Perfect invalid food, or for when you just want a big bowl of hugs instead
Congee has so many variations, but I stuck to a very basic one with chicken stock, ginger and spring onion being the main flavouring. The thickness of the soup or porridge is also open to interpretation, but I favour a fairly thick mix and use a 1:12 ratio of rice to stock to make mine juuuuust riiiight
Cosy Chicken Congee
1/2 cup Jasmine Rice
6 cups Chicken Stock
2 or three Spring Onions
thumb size piece of Ginger
1 teaspoon Sesame Oil
big pinch White Pepper
Toppings to taste- keep reading
Peel the ginger, then cut it into nice thin matchsticks. Give the spring onions a bit of a bash with your knife just to encourage them to give up their yumminess during cooking
Pop the rice and sesame oil in your rice cooker (or pot) and give it a good mix through, then add in everything else and stir once or twice
Pop the lid on, set and forget! I love using my rice cooker this way, it's such a gentle way of cooking and I don't have to fuss with it at all. If you are using the stove top instead, you need to very gently and slowly simmer your congee for at least an hour or until the rice really starts to break down and loose it's shape definition
My rice cooker takes three cooking cycles to get the congee the way I like it. As you can see it bubbles away getting quite thick and gluggy- but don't worry, that's the right consistency
This is the congee after cooking, each little rice grain is desperately trying to maintain it's structurally integrity, but you can see it's a losing battle
Now give the congee a good brisk stir and glorious gloopiness will result. See the lovey golden strands of ginger? They are nice and soft as well and add a lovely subtle sweetness when you bite into them
If you're not sick and have a decent appetite, one of the really fun things about congee is the toppings! You can jazz it up any way you want, but some of my favourites are: drizzling with gf soy sauce, a few drops of sesame oil, finely sliced spring onions, coriander, sliced boiled eggs, crispy fried onion and garlic. You can also include sliced chicken, pork or fish, fried tofu or just about anything that takes your fancy- Yummo!
So Dear Readers, would this tempt your appetite and what's your tried-and-true recipe for the flu?
August 20, 2013
Once upon a time.... a long, long while ago, there was warmth in the land
It was a time of rejoicing, of long days and weekend barbecues, stone fruit and salads...
It was known as Summer.
Today Summer seems very, very far away still with snow on our local hills and bitter, icy winds whipping around the windows and cutting through you to your very marrow when you're silly enough to go outside. I have been seeing subtle changes though, like shy blossoms starting to colour on the trees, and wattle wattling furiously along the roadsides, but it wasn't until I came across some imported Summer Peaches at the supermarket that I realised how much I was pining for warmer weather.
Now I grow a LOT of our own veggies, and I'm a great believer in eating locally and definitely supporting Australian farmers rather than overseas producers for fresh, tinned or frozen goodies - but I couldn't help it...they sat there glowing with red and gold, just like a sun kissed cheek and somehow a few of them ended up in my shopping trolley.
It would be wrong not to eat them now, wouldn't it?
Another great Summer love of mine is Basil. You can get it year round, but in the middle of Summer it grows prolifically in my herb garden and when I go outside the smell is so strong that it's glorious indeed. How about pairing the two ingredients for a taste of Summer? Something light as a change from heavy Winter comfort foods, something dreamy.... Basil and Peach Chiffon Cake
sounds just right!
Basil Chiffon Cake
180gm gf SR Flour
200gm Castor Sugar
125ml Basil Juice or Water
125ml Oil - or Basil flavoured oil
1 tsp gf Baking Powder
1 cup Castor Sugar
1 cup Water
1/2 bunch Basil
whipped with two tablespoons of basil juice or basil flavoured oil, and two teaspoons of castor sugar
Now my first challenge was to get the true flavour of Basil somehow. Just blitzing it up would work ok, but I wanted something a bit more refined than that so I decided to use my cold press juicer and managed to extract this much juice from a standard bunch of basil. There's also a great Basil oil available from Coles and Woolies that I thought of afterwards that I'll use next time as well. Care is key here, you don't want a cake that tastes like pesto!
Separate your eggs, be really careful to keep them clean and not let any yolk get into the whites or the cake won't work
Beat the egg whites with 100gms of the sugar until stiff peaks form
In another bowl, whip the egg yolks with the other 100gm of sugar until nice and fluffy and ribbons remain on the surface when you dribble the mixture
Now beat in the water/juice and oil into the yolk mix until well combined
Mix in the sifted flour and baking powder, and stir into a lovely green tinted batter
Beat in a good spoonful of the eggwhites to lighten up the batter and loosen it up a little, then carefully fold through the rest of the whites. You want to keep in as much of the air bubbles as possible for a lovely light-as-a-dream finished cake
I wanted to make two small cakes instead of one regular sized one, so I split my mixture into two 18cm cake tins, but one larger one would be lovely,
DON'T grease the cake pans though. Even a using Non non-stick ones are better as Chiffon cake batter is similar to an Angel cake mix and uses the sides of the pan to cling to as it rises. If you only have coated pans like me, just make sure they are really clean with no greasy residue inside and you should be OK
Bake the cakes at 170*C for about 50-60 minutes until they spring back slightly when touched on top, don't prick these ones with a skewer to check as they can be a bit touchy
Now while your little cakies are in the oven, let's crack on with the Basil Syrup
Mix the sugar and water together in a pan, add in the basil, then simmer until the mix is slightly reduced and syrupy- easy peasy. Let it cool
Peach fuzz isn't the best texture in a cake, so peel them by blanching them in boiling water for a minute than peeling off the skin slowly, or just use a regular veggie peeler. I wanted to keep the blush on the flesh so I used the water method and went nice and slow.
Pop the sliced peaches into the basil syrup and let them mingle their yummy flavours while you bake and cook the cakes. You can do this step a day before if you like for a taste that's a bit more intense
Once the cake is cooked, cool it on a raised rack with the tin upside down. Chiffon cake is really like a cross between an Angel cake and a Sponge, but treat it more like Angel cake for the best results
Once cooled completely, split the cake into layers and give them a brush with some of the basil syrup for a sweet hit
On the bottom layer, plop on some cream, then top with some peach slices. I don't like to take my cream layer to the edge of the cake as it will squish out when cutting and look messy
On the top layer, take a very small amount of cream and spread a thin layer over the entire split surface. This ensures it doesn't dry out, and helps the top layer stick to the peaches underneath without slipping around
Put the layers together then decorate the top of the cake with more cream and those sunny slices of peach
I really was so happy with this cake, and it certainly delivered my Summer Dream. The basil flavour was subtle and spicy, and didn't come across as savoury at all, the peaches were plump and juicy and despite their long journey hadn't forgotten their sweetness, and the cake was soft and fluffy....just like a dream indeed.....
So Dearest Readers, what is your Summer Dream and your favourite taste of Summer?
August 12, 2013
This is a Beef Cheek
It's not the prettiest cut of meat, but it sure is one of the tastiest and usually great value too- this one cost me about $4, and it will feed my whole family cooked like this with some rice
As you might have guessed, it comes from the cheek of a cow. Being working muscles, they need lots of long, slow cooking to break down all the connective tissue and it also means that they become meltingly tender and delicious when cooked juuuust right.
The best way to cook them is to braise the cheeks with plenty of liquid like red wine or stock, or even my way with coconut milk. I don't know if Beef Cheeks are really a Balinese speciality, but I used all the same flavour profiles that I usually do and I think I definitely came up with a winner here indeed!
Balinese Braised Beef Cheeks
this should make about 8 big serves
2 nice big Beef Cheeks
2 stalks of Lemongrass
4 Garlic cloves
3 long red Chilli
5cm piece of Ginger
2 tab Sugar
1 piece/tab Belachan (Shrimp Paste)
6 Kaffir Lime Leaves
half bunch of Coriander
2 cans Coconut Milk or Cream
Mix all the lovely fresh herbs up together, except the lime leaves- doesn't that smell amazing!
Now you have some choice here, you could pound them in a mortar and pestle, mince them or blitz them all up in a food processor. Pounding really breaks down the fibres well and lets all the flavours mingle properly with each other. Mincing is pretty good too as it crushes everything up, but the fibres are coarser. Blitzing is really the last choice because each component is chopped up and really remains in tiny little separate bits instead of cosying up to everything else all nice and neighbourly. Blitzing is fine if you're in a hurry, but it's best if you can leave the meat in the paste for a while so the flavours really get in there
Now this is stinky stuff indeed!
Salted, dried, pounded then fermented, the shrimp paste is essential in so many SE Asian dishes, and gives a real depth of flavour that can't be matched
It needs to be toasted before using though- so turn on the fan, open the windows, and hold your breath!
I just cook off the raw taste by toasting it off in a pan for a few minutes until it dries out and goes crumbly, but you can wrap it in foil and bake it for about 10 minutes instead if you like
Mix the shrimp paste and sugar with the minced herbs and mix it all together well
Pat the mixture all over the beef cheeks, coating both sides nice and thickly. You can leave them to marinate for a couple of hours now if you like, but it's fine to start cooking it straight away if you just can't wait
Pour one can of coconut cream into the base of the pan. Then pop the cheeks in too. You want one with a lid and that holds the cheeks nice and snugly so all the juices and moisture can't escape, I stacked the meat on top of each other with plenty of paste in between them. Place the kaffir lime leaves around them for extra flavour
Carefully pour the extra cream over the top, but don't wash off the wet paste
Bake in a slow oven at 160*C for about 4 hours, or until the meat is so soft you can cut it with a spoon. The connective tissue has broken down totally now and there won't be any resistance
There's no point trying to carve the meat as it will just fall apart, so you can either pull off big chunks, or just pull it apart with a fork and spoon like I did into little pieces
Mix the meat back through the sauces so you don't miss a drop of deliciousness
Serve simply with some rice and a splash of lime juice just to wake up all the flavours and freshen it up a little
Warm, spicy, fragrant, rich and delicious. A little of this meal really goes a long way and I promise the flavours develop and get even nicer if you leave it a day or two- but that's rare indeed at my house!
So Dear Readers, have you tried Beef Cheeks and do you often cook with secondary cuts of meat?
August 5, 2013
August, Winter's last fling
And today Winter is flinging furiously with damp drizzle and wind straight off the snow fields! After a sneaky taste of Spring last week we are back to doonas and down filled parkas for at least the foreseeable future.
The best way of cheering up on such a dreary day is to go visiting some Bloggy Besties around the globe with Gorgeous Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and her monthly In My Kitchen roundup. A nice cup of tea and I'm ready to see what's cooking- want to come along?
This month, In My Kitchen are......
Some lovely cookie moulds from a little Middle Eastern shop that's opened up locally. They have a little bit of everything and it's great to know I can grab my stocks of tahini and carob molasses just around the corner
Some amazing spice blends and some beetroot powder from Herbies. I've been really looking forward to trying his Super Ras El Hanout with over thirty ingredients, including lavender and rose petals, and even a very Australian Lemon Myrtle too
This is mouth-burningly-brilliant indeed! You really have to like it warm though to appreciate the true beauty of this product. I like to add SMALL spoonfuls into sauces, and it goes so well in white sauce for corned beef or lamb too
Some lovely Black Sesame Oil, still toasty and nutty, but slightly milder than the usual variety
My Daily Juice- today it contains beetroot, purple carrot, fennel, mint, pineapple, green apple, ginger, lemon, celery and broccoli stem. Great for my liver and imunne system and luckily also delicious!
A few exotic spices from Herbies as well- I've been trying to track these ones down for ages, and I can hardly wait to try them out
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous Truffled Sheep Cheese. So delcious and speckled full of truffley treasure. I'm thinking of making a Truffled MacNCheese...what do you think?
MiddleC cooks dinner one night a week, and this week she made a yummy gluten and lactose free Lasagne. Meaty and melty, rich and wonderful for this InTolerant Chef indeed!
This is littlej's contribution to the family- Rainbow Layer Cake. No help given at all, but talk about a sugar rush overload!!
So Dear Readers, what's your favourite spice blend and what's cooking in your kitchen this month?