January 27, 2012
Have you seen the kids movie Ratatouille?
Its one of my favourites, it's about love of family, friends, food, and belief in self. What's not to love, right?
Whoever wrote this movie must have spent some time researching a commercial kitchen, the way the chefs work together, the way they move, the setup, and if you look closely you'll even see burns and nicks on the hands and wrists of the chefs as well. Very convincing- even if the idea of a cooking rat isn't!
As a matter of fact, the only food I will give a rat would be some baits chucked in the ceiling! Our neighbour has bird aviaries and we have had a few issues with scrabbling sounds in the ceiling lately... I hope it's a possum!
Ratatouille is also a very delicious vegetable dish, traditionally from France where it's served as a lovely vegetable stew of eggplant (aubergine), capsicum (bell pepper), zucchini (courgette), onions in a herbed tomato (to-may-to) base.
There are a couple of versions around, with some people stewing it all together at once, some sauteing some of the vegetables separately, and some layering the vegetables in a pretty design then baking them.
That's all very well, but I don't like veggies all squished together, or all stewed together where the flavour just amalgamates into one homogeneous taste. I like my veggies to stand alone, bound together lightly with a combining sauce while they still retain their stuctual integrity.
Not too fussy, am I?
I came up with this version of a classic when I was working in a huge commercial kitchen. I needed to make vast quantities quickly and easily while striving to keep flavour and freshness for a day or two before serving, then keeping the dish attractive in a chafing-dish for an hour while serving.
Not to fussy either, hey?
Of course by far the easiest way would be to chuck everything in a big pan and cook it. But that just wasn't right. All the veggies cook at their own pace, and by the time one was cooked others would be mush. There had to be a better way.
Thus I came up with my Oven Roasted Ratatouille. I think it looks better, holds better, and even tastes better too! But don't tell Remy or Linguine on me, promise?
Oven Roasted Ratatouille
Tomato- canned, paste or pasatta
Red Wine Vinegar
Splash of Wine
Cut all the fresh veggies into similar sized chunks. The size should depend on how long you wish to bake them, and how big a piece you can fit comfortably into your mouth! I took the opportunity to use up a heap of my threatening-to-take-over-the-yard cherry tomatoes, so I cut the veggies to match. Don't forget the cubes will shrink down while roasting so don't get too carried away!
Drizzle with olive oil and liberally dust with Tuscan Seasoning. Of course feel free to use beautiful fresh herbs, but this is one of my secret shortcuts that I learnt in a not-too-fancy commercial kitchen that works out fine in this recipe.
Bake the little veggies at about 180* until tender, timing depends on the size of your veggies. The eggplant cooks fastest, the onion takes the longest- you don't want it raw. The tomatoes will collapse beautifully becoming rich and condensed, yumm..
While the veggies are cooking, make the sauce.
You don't want a lot of sauce. The veggies- especially the tomatoes, will bring a lot of juice of their own, and you don't want them to drown.
Pop the tinned tomatoes/ pasassata, or some tomato paste in a pan big enough for all the veggies, with a good splash of wine (any colour- I had a pink open so it's what I chose) and a smaller splash of red wine vinegar. You want a sweet but tangy flavour going on.
Bring it to the boil to pull the flavours together.
One of the good things with this dish is that you can pre-make the veggies and sauce to this point, them let them sit in the fridge for a day or two until needed.
Pop the veggies into the sauce and stir through to combine and heat evenly.
Taste for seasoning, the Tuscan Seasoning mix has salt and sugar in it plus the herbs, so it's definitely a case of taste-as-you-go.
Serve as a side dish, wrapped in a crepe, or as a lovely vegetarian meal.
So Dear Readers, what's your favourite children's movie?
January 20, 2012
I've been meaning to make these for a while now.
The idea of crisp, crunchy eggs paired with a sticky caramel sauce called to me and excited my imagination. I get like that sometimes, and when it happens it is very hard to resist the urge to create it straight away, regardless of ingredients or ability.
Lucky for me these ingredients are pantry staples in our home, and its a very easy recipe to make-despite the fact peeling eggs with one hand is nigh impossible and took a couple of hours!
There's a bit of a mystery surrounding the origin of this recipe. I certainly don't know which, if any, is correct. I'll leave it up to you to decide Dear Reader.
One version claims that Mother-In-Law came to visit unexpectedly, and wife being out, the burden of cooking dinner fell upon unhappy Son-In-Law. Panicing and throwing whatever was available into a pot, he busied himself with the rice, catching the sauce ingredients just on the verge of ruin. With courage born of despair, he served the rice and burnt sauce over the eggs, and thus a legend was created.
The other version paints a very different picture.
Hearing rumours of unpleasant and unacceptable behaviour in her Son-In-Law, Mother-In-Law came to visit. Offering to make dinner and give her long suffering daughter a break, she created a dish with hidden meaning. Excited by the smells of a delicious dinner, cranky Son-In-Law sat down for once in a good mood, only to be confronted by what looked like a very personal part of the male anatomy staring up at him from his plate.
With a wicked grin, she suggested that he treat his wife- her daughter, with a bit more consideration, or next time she visited, she would be frying and slicing very different ingredients...
Son In Law Eggs
2 Eggs Each
Deep Fried Shallots
Chopped Fresh Coriander and Mint
Wedge of Lime
Chili Caramel Sauce
1/2 cup Water
1/4 cup Palm Sugar
1 tablespoon Tamarind Paste
1 Long Red Chili
Boil eggs to medium. I tried to have soft boiled, but they were just impossible to peel. Ultimitely you want lovely molten centres, but do what you have to do. By the way, older eggs are much easier to peel than fresh.
For the Chilli Caramel Sauce, place the water and sugar in a small saucepan, along with the finely sliced chilli and tamarind.
Boil until the sugar is dissolved and the sauce has thickened and caramelised gently.
Pull off the heat and stir in the lime juice and fish sauce.
While the sauce is cooking, get started on the eggs.
Once they are peeled, make sure they are quite dry then roll them carefully into an inch or so of hot vegetable oil and fry until golden brown and with a crispy skin.
I have seen these made by sliding a raw egg directly into a wok of hot oil, allowing the whites to instantly bubble and crisp, but leaving the yolk lovely and runny. I look forward to trying them this way when I've recovered a bit more dexterity and mobility, but considered in the case of hot oil that discretion is the better part of valour :)
Cut the now crispy eggs into halves so as to to alarm your diners, or Son-In-Law, and arrange on a bed of steamed rice then drizzle heavily with delicious sauce and pile on fried shallots.
Served with a wedge of lime and a generous side of mixed corriander and mint to tone down the buzz of the chilli, this is an amazing dish with all the crunch, heat, sweet, sour, salty, fresh zing you should expect from Thai cuisine.
I loved every bite.
It's one of my new favourites and would be perfect for lunch, brunch, dinner, supper, or just a snack. I hope you give it a try and love it as much as I do.
So Dear Readers, which version of the story do you think is the true one, and who is the Real Hero?
January 13, 2012
My local supermarket trialled a few gourmet items over Christmas.
An influx of hams and smoked chicken was only to be expected, as was a million types of cheese, but the one item I wasn't expecting at our little shop was fresh duck.
Lucky for me, no one else was expecting duck there either, so I was able to buy my little friend here for only $10 instead of about $25. Lucky duck me, and lucky ducky as I decided to give it an Indonesian spice paste treatment and turn it into Bebek Betutu, a yummy Balinese recipe that combines the very best tropical flavours with the savory delicacy of the meat into a rare treat indeed.
Regular Readers may know that I love South East Asian flavours. Fire and heat, fresh and zingy, light and sweet all at once! Thai food is my favorite, and Vietnamese, but Indonesian is catching up fast. I actually have quite a few Indonesian/ Balinese cookbooks and checked them all for this recipe, but ultimately I'm going with the recipe from the Food Safari cookbook, companion to the TV show of the same name on SBS, as it straddled the fine line between totally traditional and doable at home with a good market nearby.
This dish can be cooked in a covered BBQ, or in the oven as I did.
There is a long list of ingredients here, but don't be put off, none of them are terribly expensive, most are available in small quantities, and any not used are able to be frozen. I have quite a stash of frozen bits and pieces in my freezer all in little zippy bags, they last well, grate from fozen and still taste good a couple of months later too.
Bebek Betutu/Balinese Spiced Duck
1 cm sliced tumeric
200 grm blanched shredded spinach
1 cinnamon stick
Banana leaves if possible, or baking paper instead
10 shallots or 2 medium onions
1 head of garlic
4 candle nuts (yes, I have those in the freezer too)
Or macadamia nuts will do
1 cm piece galangal
1 cm piece ginger
1 cm piece tumeric
3 red chillies
1 stem lemongrass(I used 4)
1 tab palm sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp coriander seeds
3 tab lime juice
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tab peanut oil
2 tab water, if needed
3 tsp salt
Preheat BBQ or oven to 160*
For the spice paste, peel and chop where necessary, then place all ingredients for the seasoning paste into a strong blender and blend to a chunky paste.
Mix half the paste with the spinach. For recipes like this I use frozen spinach. Its already washed and chopped, just defrost and squeeze out any excess liquid.
Wash the duck inside and out with tumeric infused water, then stuff spinach spice paste and cinnamon stick into cavity.
(That photo was NOT a good look, thank me for sparing you!)
Rub the rest of the duck with the reserved spice paste, patting it on thickly to coat.
Wrap the duck well in banana leaves or baking paper. I just don't like foil directly touching the meat, somethings it can react with ingredients leaving a funny taste. Now Wrap the wrapped duck well in foil to seal in any cooking juices. Put the little ducky parcel on an oven tray or in a large pot as I did.
Cook the duck at 160* for 2 hours, then drop the temperature to 120* and cook for a further 2 hours.
Take your ducky dinner from the oven and drain any yummy juices into a pan. Simmer until slightly reduced, I also freshened it up with a squeeze of lime once off the heat. Serve alongside duck.
Not too hard at all now was it? Once that paste was done you could just ignore it, for four whole hours, perfect for entertaining!
I served the duck with some yellow rice. A bit of grated ginger, garlic and tumeric,a stem of lemongrass, a pandan leaf, and a couple of kaffir lime leaves- all left from the spice paste ingredients or my freezer stash- chucked in the rice cooker with some rinsed rice, coconut milk and a good pinch of salt.
The duck meat is so tender it just falls off the bone. It steams away happily swimming in spice infused juices. Not tough or stringy,juuuust right. Mmmmmmmmm.....
So Dear Readers, what's your favourite cuisine, and why?
January 6, 2012
Continuing my series of food-that-can-be-made-with-half-an-arm, is this yummy fun pappadam stack.
All you need to do is stir, press, and get someone else to slice, how easy is that?
I don't know about other countries or cultures, but here in Australia, BBQ chickens are the ultimate meal-to-grab-on-the-way-home-in-a-hurry type of food. Hot, brown, affordable, smelling delicious, they are great with salad, veggies, or even cold on a sandwich the next day. Sold at most takeaway joints, and all Coles and Woollies, it's practically a comfort food, and I'd venture to say, almost a fixture of many weekly meals.
Today I'm going for the posh version of takeaway chook, and making mine slightly more interesting, for that typically middle class trick of pretending something is more exotic than it is by adding a foreign ingredient.
You can be the judge of how successful this trick is.
Pappadam Chicken Stacks
Lactose Free Plain Yogurt
Pinch of good quality curry powder
Did you know you can puff Pappadams in the microwave?
It's so easy! Just place 3 or4 on the plate, then program the microwave on high for about30 seconds. Your microwave might need a little more or less time, but it's easy to figure out.
Mix equal quantities of mango chutney and pain yogurt, add the pinch of curry powder and adjust according to your taste.
Cut nice thin slices of fresh mango. Fresh nectarine is nice here too.
Slice thin pieces off your BBQ Chicken, I prefer the thighs myself as they're always juicy and full of flavor.
All these steps can be done ahead of time, but don't assemble until just before serving or the Pappadams will go soggy.
Place a little splodge of yogurt mixture on the base of the plate to secure a Pappadam.
Put a bigger splodge of yogurt on top of the Pappadam then drape some mango slices over.
Another tiny splodge to hold the next layer in place, and start over again with another Pappadam.
A decent spoon of yogurt, then some lovely slices of chicken, and another tiny splodge of yogurt.
Another Pappadam, a spoonful of yogurt and some more mango, then garnish w with coriander- I forgot to buy any, so had to make do with flowers and micro parsley from the garden instead.
A nice little salad on the side and a little splodge of chutney for color, and you have a cute little luncheon that makes the old cooked chook fit for a princess, or coffee with the girls, at least!
So Dear Readers, are you a fan of the old cooked chook? And do you have any secrets for jazzing one up for company?