Friday, April 9, 2010

Italian obsession

There are some moments where I swear I must've been Italian in a previous life. I'm so fascinated by the processes, depth and intricacies of Italian food - which is why I'm over the moon that SBS has created a weekly TV drool-fest: Italian Food Safari.

When I saw this creation, I could almost smell the fried fish through the TV! It looked divinely innovative.
I headed off to buy the sardines at our local seafood market and was shocked - sardines are SO cheap!! As it was close to the end of the working day, I just bought all of what was left in the window - about 30 sardines I think and it was only $4.75. It's the perfect GFC budget food!

The only thing that irked me a bit about this recipe was filleting the sardines - which you do by pushing your thumb down the midline of the sardine from tail to head to splay the fillet, then gently lifting out the bone. It was easy, but each time I picked up a new, whole sardine, I kept thinking of my childhood goldfish, Sparkle! Just that slipperiness and the texture of it all was odd - I've never had to fillet a fish of any type before.

I remembered the ingredients that were required, but due to my utter laziness, I didn't bother to look up proportions and just went from memory and what felt right. The filling is composed of fresh white breadcrumbs (zap them in the food processor), chopped parsley, parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and a beaten egg.

I had intended to use fresh parsley from my herb garden, but my neighbourhood friendly possum had completely gnawed my parsley plant to pieces. Grr. The only time I needed a significant quantity of it.

Pick up a sardine fillet, squish a little sausage of the mixture along the middle, then use another similarly sized fillet to sandwich over the top - then press the edges together slightly with your fingers to make it stick together.

Coat with a light dusting of plain flour.

Pan fry in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes per side.

These are incredibly delicious - the sardines still retain some of their inherent fishy-flavour, but with the salty characters of the parmesan and the parsley herbal-hit , it's a perfect balance. I used to love eating canned sardines in tomato sauce, but that is put to shame by this fresher alternative.

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, not to mention Vitamin D, calcium, B12 and protein and being very low carriers of mercury - this is skyrocketing to the top of my fish list. As I'd made so many, we had leftovers to eat the next day and believe it or not - they taste even more spectacular the second day. If you're going to try this recipe, definitely plan for leftovers. But you may have to hide some away from your family as you're cooking to actually create leftovers!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

For the love of dairy

Considering my absolute love of cream, milk, butter and anything full-fat dairy, I was dismayed when my worst fears were confirmed - my boyfriend is lactose intolerant. This news came to us gradually as he loves milk and his coffees so much that he was adamant that it couldn't possibly be the milk that was giving him gut-wrenching tummy aches.

Also, I secretly think that he felt it was almost a blow to his masculinity - he was incredibly embarrassed about asking for soy milk when we went out to cafes. It wasn't until we were at a dinner party once and two other men announced they were bypassing the icecream because of lactose intolerance, that he finally 'came out of the closet' and reluctantly agreed to go soy.

Unfortunately, my boyfriend constantly complained that soy milk was making his coffee taste awful. Thank goodness we've found Zymil milk, which contains the enzyme lactase, and tastes like ordinary milk. The only problem is - I adore cooking with cream and there are no lactose-free versions. Please, please Zymil - start producing cream products as well! I'm normally good with trying to keep cream out of recipes - but when I read this recipe, I couldn't resist despite the large quantity of cream.

The offending ingredients! 250ml full fat milk, 500ml cream and a split and scraped vanilla bean into a saucepan.

Heated until close to boiling point, then allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.

Whisk together 8 egg yolks and 150g caster sugar. I saw on Poh's Kitchen recently that you can't leave caster sugar sitting on egg yolks for too long or it will cook them, so best to get beating.

The mixture becomes gorgeously pale and fluffy.

Pour in the warm milk and cream mixture and combine well.

David Herbert's tip is to ensure the depth of custard is a maximum of 3cm to allow for the perfect texture. This souffle ramekins are probably not the best vessel to use, but they were the only appropriate oven-safe ones I have.

The ramekins are filled, then placed into an oven tray and hot water is poured into the tray until it is 2/3 up the side of the ramekins.

After baking at 150 degrees celsius for 25-30 minutes, allow to cool and refrigerate for a minimum for 4 hours or up to 2 days. Sprinkle with caster sugar and use a blow torch to caramelise the top before serving. I just popped them under a strong, hot grill for a few minutes after sprinkling the sugar and this did the job perfectly.

I am so in love with this recipe! My boyfriend had two on two separate days (and hence suffered horribly with stomach cramps) just because he couldn't help himself - they really are that fabulous. If that's not enough to convince you how amazing this brulee is, then nothing will. The custard texture is so supple, soft and silky and just humming with a warm, vanilla aroma. An easy recipe and one that I'm sure I'll be repeating time and time again.

Friday, March 26, 2010

No canned salmon here, folks

Every two weeks at work there's an assortment of books that arrive in a large cardboard box, casually placed in our communal kitchen for our perusal - all at an enticing reduced price, delivered by an affectionately-termed 'Book Man'. It's really a book company that manages to get some fantastic deals on books and opens mini book 'vending' stores at small businesses. Of course, I get sucked in. Every time I say, 'This is absolutely the last cook book I'm buying for 6 months," then two weeks later, "OMG! But it's Jamie! And it's half price!". So yes, I've gotten some amazing deals, but because I work at two different practices and they change the variety in between places - I can no longer close my Recipe Book cupboard anymore. Aargh.

This recipe is from another awesome book that I got for only $20 (it's still $39 at Book Depository!).

This recipe promotes itself on the premise that poaching your own salmon for fish cakes is worth the extra effort. I have to agree - I've been searching for ages to find a decent recipe that didn't just involve opening a can of salmon. Sure, it's easy - but not that much easier, really. Poaching the salmon just involves wrapping the salmon in foil, leaving some space for air, then adding to a pan of cold water and bringing slowly to boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. It's only an extra 3 minutes compared to 30 seconds to open a can of salmon. So, I've got my bossy-boots on and I'm telling you - put the canned salmon away!

Boil chunks of potato in boiling, salted water until tender.

Mash the potato, allow to cool slightly then add the flaked, cooked salmon, chopped spring onion, parsley or basil, lemon zest and juice, mustard and egg yolk. Season.

Form into patties and coat flour, then dip into a mixture of beaten egg and milk, then breadcrumbs.

Shallow-fry over medium heat. I served this with a beetroot and lettuce salad and a bit of leftover rice - I don't think you need the extra carbs with the potato within the cakes.

These are really tasty - not a hint of fishiness at all, which can sometimes irk me a bit with poached fish. With all the herbs and lemon, it had almost a meat-like quality to it - and of course, anything fried is a hit with me! A lovely simple recipe. Of course, I know canned salmon has a place in the pantry - just nowhere near this recipe.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fancy name, but not so fancy results

Every time I cook or eat seafood these days, I reminisce about the amazing fresh crab that my boyfriend and I ate at the pier in San Francisco on our US holiday. Recommended by our San Francisco For Dummies book (which I was brazenly reading out in the open at the SanFran airport baggage carousel while waiting for my boyfriend until he quickly whisked it away from me - I was a walking advertisement for getting mugged!), the crab is fresh and cooked right on the pier.

The staff will clean and break the crab shell for you so that all is needed is clean hands (pack some hand wipes too) and gorgeous Boudin sourbread with butter to mop up the amazing juices. Because it can be bitingly cold outside, buy your crab first then take it over the massive Boudin building - they've got seating there as long as you purchase some bread. Hands-down the best dining experience ever - it's an absolute shame that crab is ever cooked any other way! We ended up going back again the day before we left and I'm saddened that Melbourne doesn't have a similar facility. The second time back we bought a simple basil and tomato pizza from Boudin to eat with the crab. Divine.

I think I have the world's weakest food processor. However, every now and then I muster up some patience and get cracking with it. 200 g of firm white fish fillets is minced, followed by 150g scallops and 150g prawn meat separately then they are combined.

An egg white and 1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest is added to the minced seafood. I think I was a bit overzealous with the zesting and I'd advise you to stick to 1 teaspoon.

With the motor running, add 125ml pouring cream then snip in 3 tablespoons of chives. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Once chilled, use two tablespoons to form egg shapes. I found this easier to do with my fingers, but I've seen chefs do it properly and it looks great once you get the hang of it. Place them on baking paper, cover and refrigerate for an extra 30 minutes.

While the quenelles are chilling, make the tomato couli by heating 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and lightly heat 1 crushed garlic clove.

Add 425g crushed tomatoes and 170ml fish stock (I used chicken because I can't stand the smell of fish stock!). Simmer for 30 minutes until thickened and reduced. Push through a fine sieve - I didn't as I prefer the chunky bits in my tomato sauce. Return back to the pan and add 2 tablespoons of cream and 2 tablespoons of snipped chives and reheat gently.

In a large saucepan, heat 1 litre of fish stock (again, I substituted with chicken) until just simmering then lower the quenelles into the poaching liquid in batches. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and each batch needs about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve by ladling the tomato coulis onto the drained quenelles - or you can use the sauce as a base and place the seafood on top.

I served this with rice. The quenelles reminded me strongly of fish mince balls that are used in Vietnamese hot, strongly flavoured noodle-soups. I had made quite a lot of quenelles and used the second batch the next day in this fashion. It's probably related to the way I've grown up eating minced seafood, being more familiar with having it with noodles and soup, that meant it tasted quite bland and out of place with the tomato coulis. Even with the coulis seasoned and with the citrus notes in the seafood - it just didn't seem right. The next day, the flavour was much better - I think this recipe really needs some chilli to give it an extra zing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thumbs-up for fresh pasta

After seeing weeks of relentless advertising for My Kitchen Rules on Channel 7, I had vowed to not watch this reality show purely based on the fact that the advertising was so repetitively annoying. But I caved. Ah, who can resist when it's such slim-pickings when it comes to weekday evening show choices.

I found myself watching one couple make fresh pappardelle pasta and having an enormous craving. It's been quite awhile since I've brought out the pasta machine, but it's certainly getting more fun as I learn to make different types. I amended the fresh pasta recipe from Jamie Oliver's and made up the sauce as I went, using whatever I had available.
  • Freshly-made pappardelle marinara with roast sweet potato, parsley and basil
I was hoping for leftovers to take to work the next day, so for two people I used 400g pasta '00' flour and 4 eggs and an extra egg yolk. The extra yolk was a last-second addition as in my hurry to get started, I accidentally cracked open 5 eggs instead of 4. I couldn't let that last egg go to waste!

I've read a variety of recipes where salt or olive oil is added - I think this is a case where simplicity wins out in the end. When you're eating the final product, you'll realise that no alterations are needed at all - it's perfection with just egg and flour.

After letting the dough rest for half an hour, I started cranking the pasta machine and slicing the pasta into wide ribbons - just a bigger version of fettucine.

While I was rolling out the pasta, I cut two sweet potatoes into rough 1.5cm cubes, placed them on a roasting tray with olive oil, salt, pepper dried parsley flakes and roasted until they were soft - about 45 minutes in a 200 degree celsius oven.

I was a bit nervous about the pasta ribbons sticking to each other as they cooked in the salted water, but thankfully it wasn't an issue at all.

As the pasta bubbled away, I heated olive oil in a pan with 3 chopped spring onions and 2 minced garlic cloves.

In with about 3 large handfuls of raw marinara mix and white wine. I covered the pan here briefly to help the seafood cook through.

Once the seafood was close to done, I threw in the roasted sweet potatoes, fresh chopped basil and parsley and turned this through briefly to warm the herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

I had some fresh parmesan in the fridge so the boy and I grated it straight onto our plates. There's a side salad hiding towards the back too!

I cannot encourage you enough to try making your own pasta at home if you haven't tried it - or attempt to do it more often if you've got a little extra time on your hands one evening. There's really no comparison to dried pasta - the pasta has a completely different bite to it, as well as absorbing the sauce flavours much more intensely. Like most things around the kitchen, I'm sure with a bit more practice it becomes a speedier (and less messy!) process.