Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Maaate! There's something on me barbie!

Springy weather


As far as Saturday goes, you could almost say winter has long deserted us and Elvis spring is in the house baby! The weather forecast for this week is very springy - Monday: mid 20's [°c], Tues: 20, Wed: 18, Thu: 22(!) then it's back to 15 on Friday and 18's on the weekend.

I was considering participating in this round of WTSIM (Waiter,,there's something in my ... meatless barbecue) at Jeanne's by sticking something in the oven (because it's just a bit silly to be bbqing in winter). But the weather on Saturday (22°c) convinced me that dragging out the barbie(cue) wasn't such a bad idea after all. I figured, it's highly unlikely that anyone can accuse me of insanity seeing that it's absolutely fabulous weather that day - if there was anyone at home to see me that is.

Alv was lanning at a friends the whole day, his mum was out and about with her mahjong crew so it was just me, myself and I the bbq.

Table for 2

This round of WTSIM as the title suggests is a meatless affair, but Jeanne loosened her definition of "meatless" to allow the inclusion of seafood. Woohoo... I love meat but if I have to become a vegetarian I would be a seafood-eating-vegetarian. Which sort of defies the point really... Since seafood got a tick from Jeanne, I decided to go with prawns and since no meal of mine is 'complete' without some veges, I added some asparagus to the menu bbq.

Table for 2

For the prawns, I made a quick marinade of sumac and chopped coriander/cilantro. Sumac is one spice that I've never really quite work out how to use. I remember buying a bottle of the spice because a friend of mine was raving on about how good it was and how I should try it. So I bought a small bottle of it and only used it once on some chicken for a bbq we had last year. It didn't really impress me that much then, and it just stayed in the corner of my cold dark pantry for the last 10 months, until now.

Out it came from the little nook in the pantry. Twas about time to give it ago again.

Sumac has a mild berryish-lemony-tangy sort of flavour. So I thought that it would suit a seafood type dish better than the chicken I marinated with last time. I paired it with some coriander in reference to a lemon and coriander marinade that goes really well with seafood. Marinated (about 30mins) some prawns (300g) with 1.5 tsp of sumac and 1/4 cup of chopped coriander, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Skewered it and cooked it on the barbie for about 10mins on each side.

Grilled Prawns with Sumac and coriander

The asparagus was grilled and divided into two portions. On one side (left) it was simply served with a few dots of Jaden's lime, cilantro and wasabi butter and the other half (right) was drizzled with a balsamic and olive oil dressing. It was meant to be topped with some de-seeded and finely chopped tomatoes (ala bruschetta) but at the last minute, the tomato that I thought we had in the fridge went missing. (mind you, I just found it today behind a whole bunch of other vegetables)

Grilled asparagus. Two ways

My verdict:
The asparagus was superb! or I should say Jaden's butter and the simple balsamic dressing was superb. The prawns however, were totally unimpressive.

This sumac herb still baffles me! I'm not sure I will ever use the remainder of my bottle of sumac because the prawns was just totally disappointing. Maybe I didn't put enough sumac in or I didn't put in enough coriander. There was barely any taste to the prawns except for the excessive amount of salt and pepper that I added in (I'm nuts about s&P). Sigh. Even the extra sprinkling of sumac before serving didn't do anything to justify the herb's place in my kitchen pantry. I'm afraid, this girl's never going to buy another bottle of sumac...


Sumac experiment no 2 was a failure. Oh well.. at least I had the daffodils to brighten up my day :)

Daffodils

For a super late entry to Waiter, there's something in my meatless bbq. Don't forget to head to Jeanne's for the round up! :)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My little Italian adventure - Part 2: The recipe, the ingredients and the woman

Lasagne al forno

Lasagne is something that we eat maybe once year or at most twice a year and that's only when it's a home made lasagne or a store bought one where I have no choice in the matter. It is also not something that I would ever order in a restaurant. Come to think of it, I have only ever ordered lasagne once when we were at a restaurant, and that was only because I was intrigued by it as it was the only thing that a friend of ours ever orders whenever we eat at this particular restaurant.

Not sure why I've never attempted making lasagne. If I have to guess, it's probably the béchamel sauce that put me off. I've heard many stories of how lasagnes end up in the bin because the texture of the lasagne was just appalling. There were lots of reservations about making this, but in the end I decided that I'd dive in and give it ago. If it doesn't work out, I would have a good excuse as to why it didn't work.. - I would just blame old age and the recipe.

So, the above was my attempt at Sophie Baimbridge's Lasagne al Forno from her book Simply Italian. It looks like a lasagne right? So if it looks like a lasagne and it tastes like a lasagne then I must've got it right...right??

Suffice to say that I almost gave up on this lasagne after the "horror" that ensued, after successfully making a delicious meat and béchamel sauce. (I passed on the béchamel sauce!)

You see, the instruction on the recipe said to use a third each of the meat sauce, the cheese and béchamel sauce in each layer of the lasagne.

SO you (that's me) spread 1/3 of the meat sauce first, follow with 1/3 of the mozzarella and then cover with some lasagne sheets, pour in 1/3 of the béchamel sauce and sprinkle with some parmesan. Then place another layer of lasagne sheet, meat sauce, mozzarella, béchamel, parmesan etc etc etc..

So then, how to explain the extra 40g of parmesan cheese (used), extra 20g of mozzarella cheese (ok this is negligible.. I had 20g left no point saving it for a rainy day), the thin layer of béchamel sauce on the top and the 2 sheets of lasagne leftover after assembling the 'lasagne' in the dish??!

I can think of 3 possible reason. Maybe...
  1. The recipe is not quite right? or
  2. The Ingredients I prepared shrank in quantities. or
  3. The stupid woman that made it (hang on.. that's me!) couldn't comprehend the meaning of "1/3".
There were lots of "what the..." flying around when I was making this, but I guess, it's the end result that matters the most. My lasagne was one layer short of béchamel, meat and cheese, but it was still delicious. I'll just have to make sure that I have lots of extra ingredients at hand the next time I attempt this.

Lasagne al forno


Lasagne al forno
adapted from Simply Italian, Sophie Baimbridge

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce

30g butter
1 onion, finely choped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic clove, crushed
120g Italian sausage meat*
500g minced beef
1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of ground nutmeg
75ml dry white wine
375ml beef stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp double cream

Béchamel Sauce
850ml milk
1 bay leaf
6 cloves
1 small onion (stud cloves into onion)
50g butter
40g plain flour
125ml double cream
pinch nutmeg

8 fresh/dried lasagne shets (min 8, as you know from above, I ended up using less)
170g mozzarella, grated
100g parmesan, grated

Meat Sauce
  1. Chop onion and carrots finely.
  2. Heat butter in a frying pan and add in the onions, carrot, sausage meat and crushed garlic.
  3. Cook over low heat for 5-6min or until softened.
  4. Increase the heat a little and add in the beef, cook until beef is coloured but not browned. Make sure you break up any lumps of mince as you're cooking. Add in the oregano and nutmeg and season to taste.
  5. Add the white wine, increase heat and cook until the wine evaporates.
  6. Add in beef stock and tomato puree, mix well and leave to simmer for 2hrs. During this time, ensure that the mixture is moist, add a little hot water if necessary. At the end of the simmering period all the cooking liquid should to be absorbed by the meat.
  7. Turn off the heat, stir in the cream and leave to cool for at least 15mins.
Bechamel Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, bring to boil the milk, bay leaf and onion. Once boiled, remove from heat and leave to stand for at least 20min to infuse.* Strain milk into a measuring jug.
  2. Melt butter in another saucepan and mix in the flour to make a roux.
  3. Cook over low heat, stirring as about 2mins.
  4. Add milk to roux in small amounts, stirring as you go to prevent lumps. Simmer gently for about 10mins until sauce is creamy.
  5. Stir in the cream, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour it into the same milk jug. Cover surface with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming.
*It got confusing here a bit. I thought the milk was suppose to be hot when added to the roux. Anyway, it turned out ok after a lot of extra stirring. I think next time I'll reheat the milk a little before adding it into the roux.

Assembling the Lasagne
  1. Preheat oven to 180deg C and grease a large oven proof dish.
  2. First, spread 1/3 meat sauce into the dish. Scatter 1/3 mozzarella cheese over the meat and cover meat/cheese layer with pasta sheets.
  3. Follow with 1/3 bechamel sauce over the pasta sheets and sprinkle with parmesan.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, and finish with a layer of bechamel sauce and parmesan.
  5. Bake lasagne in oven for 40mins or until it is golden and bubbling.
If serving on the same day, allow lasagne to rest for 10mins before serving. Alternatively, leave overnight for the the flavours to develop, reheat in oven before serving.

I KNOW, it's the dish's fault! It must be.. it's just way too.. err.. big.


Note:
*The original recipe called for 120g of panchetta. The deli where I usually frequent didn't have any panchetta that day so I substituted it with Italian sausages that I had in the fridge. Not quite right I know, but since it tasted ok, I'd like to think that it was good enough :)
- The crust looks a bit dry because I was too busy watching tv and forgot about the lasagne. I think it sat in the oven for an extra 15-20mins than it needed to. Plus I didn't have enough cheese, so I couldn't get a cheesy texture on the top. :(

Previously:
- My little Italian adventure - Part 1: That salad.

Next:
- My little Italian adventure - Part 3: Lime Panna cotta

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My little Italian adventure - Part 1: That salad

A conversation between my friend Jules and I a few weeks ago went like this:


Me: Hey Jules, you know that salad
Julie: Which salad?
Me: That salad with tomatoes, bocconcini, and basil in it.
Julie: Oh.. "that salad"..
Me: Yeah "that salad"
Julie: What about it?
Me: What's it called again?
Julie:
*pause* uh I don't know.. but it tastes good with lots of salt and pepper in it.. mmmm.
Me: Thanks Jules, that was really helpful.

I was craving for "that salad" a few weekends ago and was hoping that Jules would know the name since I didn't. Then whilst was going through my Wednesday night routine of flipping through recipe books, I found "that salad" in my Simply Italian cookbook by Sophie Baimbridge. Friends, "that salad" now has a name, it is called "Insalata Caprese" or salad in the style of Capri, a little resort island close to Italy.

Insalata caprese

I can't believe I never thought of looking in that book! This salad is so easy to make and is so delicious that I had 2 helpings with lots of bocconcini and basil. I love the refreshing taste of the basil and the creamy taste of the bocconcini in this salad.

Here are the basic ingredients (and steps). In my little version above I went with some cherry truss and some green tomatoes because I couldn't find any decent plum or roma tomatoes. Knowing the amount of water tomatoes need to survive I can only assume that it is due to the current drought in my little state Victoria.

mmm.. I think I will go make some now...

Insalata Caprese

Some vine-ripened tomatoes (plum tomatoes, or cherry)
Some bocconcini or buffalo mozzarella balls
Extra virgin olive oil
small basil leaves

  1. Slice tomatoes and bocconcini. (or in my case, slice the green tomatoes and halve the cherry truss)
  2. Arrange them in layers of tomato and cheese.
  3. Scatter the basil leaves.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil and finish with some sprinkling of salt and freshly grind pepper.

tomatoes

Oh incidentally, this is the start of a 3 post series on my little adventure in Italian cuisine. Whilst flicking through my Simply Italian cookbook I bookmarked two other recipes, one which I had never really tasted before and the other is one I had never attempted outside my Italian repertoire of Spaghetti Meatball (which I should post one day), Spaghetti Matriciana and Garlic Prawn pasta (also made with spaghetti). Stay tune.

Next:
- My little Italian adventure - Part 2: The recipe, the ingredients and the woman
- My little Italian adventure - Part 3: Lime panna cotta

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A quick one, but a good one - Peach tart.

Peach Tart

Back when I was in high school (1997-98: In Melb that is) I could never tell the difference between apricots and peaches. Nevermind the fact that one is tiny in size and the other the size of a 5 year old's^ fist, they both have a stone seed, they are both orangey in colour(!) and when sliced up into small pieces and place right next to each other appear to be the same thing in my eyes.

Perhaps, you're thinking: "you need glasses woman!" or "are you sure you're not ('orange') colour blind?" or "you're just an idiot".

I can assure you that I do not need glasses and am most certainly not orange coloured blind. Umm, that would mean that I must be an idiot. Doh! I just contradicted myself!

Anyway, the point is, I was an ignorant fool (back then) of the large variety of seasonal (by seasonal I mean 4 seasons) fruits and food in general. Hey! What did you expect, I just arrived (fresh off the boat plane) from a tropical country. We have bananas (all ten billion varieties of them), coconuts, mangosteens, pineapples, durians (yuck!), rambutans and papayas (or paw paws) all year round.

The only seasonal fruits I was ever aware of were:
  • cherries - from a can or the super red maraschino cherries;
  • strawberries - of which I saw a lot on tv and got a slice of occasionally on a purchased cake;
  • raspberries and blueberries - of which artificial flavours I was very familiar with.
So you can't really blame me for being an ignoramus, no?

Anyway, back to peaches and apricots, I can't quite remember what an apricot tastes like but I remember not quite liking the texture of the fruit. I do remember the sweet juicy peaches that my dad used to peel and slice for me ;) There's just something about the crunchy texture and juicy flavour of peaches that just makes me swoon..... *ahem*

Unfortunately, we're right smack in the middle of winter at the moment and there are just no peaches to be found. (boo!)

So, because I was really craving for some peaches the other day, I had to resort to the canned stuff; and because I've had this image of a tart in my head for the last few weeks and REALLY because I am (SECRETLY) a very lazy person, this was what I whipped up on a whim to satisfy my cravings:

(Geez, how many 'because/s' can I come up with?)


Peach tart

Quick and easy Peach Tarts
Serves me 6

You will need:

1 sheet of puff pastry (I used store bought pastry - see! told you I was lazy!)
some sliced peaches (I used canned peaches)
1 egg, beaten (as egg wash)
icing sugar for dusting

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.
  2. Slice peaches into thin slices. (Since I used quartered peaches, I just sliced the quarters in half)
  3. Divide the sheet of puff pastry into 6 rectangles and place onto a lined tray.
  4. Brush tarts with egg wash and bake in oven for 5 - 8mins until it just starts to puff.* Remove from oven.
  5. Arrange the sliced peaches in the middle of the tart and return to oven for another 5 - 8mins until the pastry is golden. Remove from oven.
  6. Let it cool for a few minutes before dusting with icing sugar and serve.
*Notes:
The only reason I didn't place the peaches directly onto the puff pastry and straight into the oven (in one go) is because I was using canned peaches which were already super ripe as it is. I didn't really want to 'cook' my peaches too long for fear of losing the crunchiness.

If you have fresh peaches, it would probably be even yummier if you sprinkled some icing sugar onto them and placed them directly into the oven with the puff pastry. Creates a bit of a caramalised effect I reckon. (this is only a theory of course) You would then bake the tarts for slightly longer that the above suggested time. Maybe 10mins or so.

Peach Tart


My verdict: Quick, easy and very satisfying.
----

^I just picked a random number off my head.