Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cucumber Salad

My friend's husband has the most wonderful vegetable garden, he's a real green thumb, unlike me. We have a deal going...he shares his veges and I supply him with lip balm!

Recently, I received a huge bag of cucumbers. I love cucumbers, but there's only so much you can do with them. Fortunately, home grown produce keeps for ages. Another friend gave me some cherry tomatoes which were delicious little morsels.

My guys aren't really enamoured with cucumbers, but do love the old tomato, cucumber and onion in vinegar.  I decided to re-vamp this salad tonight:

Cucumber Salad
1 cucumber
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1/2 onion, sliced
handful basil leaves

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

Cut the cue in half lengthways and remove seeds. Slice thickly and place in a bowl with tomatoes and onions. Add vinegar and oil. Tear basil in to small pieces and add just before serving.

So simple, yet so tasty.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why do pro chefs choose Thermomix?

Why do pro chefs choose Thermomix?

Click the link above to view a video which shows the mighty Thermomix in action. Four top chefs use and talk about the Thermomix.

Moroccan Couscous Salad

Summer means lots of BBQ's in our house. Almost every night, we cook on the BBQ. Rissoles, Salmon Patties, Fish, Chicken, it doesn't matter what it is, if it can be fried, Steve has to cook!

That means lots of salads too, which can be difficult if produce isn't always available and fresh. I love recipes that use store cupboard and freezer ingredients and I've adapted a recipe. This salad is almost a meal on its own and it keeps for two or three days:
Photography by Ben Dearnley

Moroccan Couscous Salad
350 - 500g cubed pumpkin
2 - 3 Tbsp dukkah
1 Tbsp peanut oil
oil for frying
250g frozen (or fresh) broad beans (or peas)
1 cup boiling water
1 cup couscous
2 tsp Thermomix Vege stock or 1 tsp vege stock powder
1 can chickpeas, drained
30g toasted pine nuts
Chopped fresh coriander (or dried, or parsley)
Lemon Mustard Dressing

Toss cubed pumpkin into a freezer bag and pour in peanut oil. Shake to coat. Add dukkah and shake around until all coated.
Fry gently in the extra oil, stirring frequently until well browned. Drain and set aside to cool.
Simmer broad beans in a little water until just tender and drain. Pinch beans out of their skins and discard skins.
Place stock into boiling water and stir to dissolve. Stir in couscous with a fork to separate. Place a cover over container and set aside for about 5 minutes or until all liquid is dissolved. Stir with fork to separate grains. Place into salad bowl and stir in all other ingredients. Finish with the Lemon Mustard Dressing to taste.

NB: If you don't have any dukkah on hand, use a combination of spices such as coriander, cinnamon, ginger and cumin and add some sesame seeds to the mixture.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Spelt and Wheat Bread

  Spelt and Wheat Bread

Long have I held the view that the Western diet contains way too much wheat. It's consumed in large amounts every day. Even our 'cornflour' is wheaten flour that's been processed to make it finer and more easily mixed with water.

In my quest to try different flours, they've proven to be difficult to find and extremely expensive. Usually found at health food stores that charge outrageous prices anyway, but also only available in small quantities. Then I found a wonderful place in Greenwood called "All About Bread". They have an enormous range of flours in all different package sizes and will also send orders to the country.

Spelt is an ancient grain, having been grown in Iran around 5000 BC. It is similar in appearance to wheat, though has a tougher husk. Though it contains more protein than wheat, it's in a form that's easier to digest. It still has gluten, so isn't suitable for coeliacs.

Spelt can be used as a total substitute for wheat, but I prefer to do a blend of wheat and spelt in my cakes, biscuits and bread. Today I made bread with a 50:50 mix of the two flours:

250g strong wheat flour
250g wholemeal spelt flour
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp lecithin
1 Tbsp pepitas
1 Tbsp oat bran
1 Tbsp wheatgerm
2 tsp salt
300g water
2 Tbsp Probiotic yeast (from All About Bread. Can replace with 2 tsp regular dried yeast)

Blend in Thermomix on the dough setting for 5 minutes. Leave to rise until popping out of the hole in the lid. Push down and blend again on the dough setting for 2 minutes. Roll out into a rectangular slab, roll up and place in tin.
Dust with flour and cut diagonal slices across the top. Leave to rise for an hour or so. Bake at 220 degrees C for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 200 and continue to cook for 30 more minutes. To test, tip out of tin and knock on the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow and feel light. Sometimes, I place the loaf back in without the tin for 5 minutes for a crusty loaf.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Vegetable Medley with Tomato Passata

This is one of those dishes that I've had at a restaurant and have re-created at home. In this case, the Venice in Albany. It's a vegetarian meal, but can be easily prepared for carnivores by the addition of some crumbed veal, pork or chicken.
This is a summer dish as you will need a lot of fresh ripe tomatoes. 

It sounds complicated as there are quite a number if steps involving a bit of preparation, but it's not difficult at all. If you happen to have some left over risotto, this is a great way to use it up. The stuffing ingredients can vary depending on what's in your fridge or garden.

Vegetable Medley with Tomato Passata
1. Zucchini stuffed with roasted pumpkin, fetta and topped with mozzarella
2. Tomatoes stuffed with zucchini, spinach and basil
3. Green Capsicum stuffed with mushroom (or vegetable) risotto.

Make the Tomato Passata first:
2 kg tomatoes
30ml olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp tomato paste
salt (requires quite a bit, but to your own taste) and pepper

Peel tomatoes by dropping into boiling water for a few seconds. Slit skin with a sharp knife and peel. Chop into quarters. Sauté onion and garlic in hot oil. Add tomatoes and simmer until tender. Add tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Blitz with a stick blender. Set aside.

While the Passata is cooking, make a Risotto of choice.  I make a Mushroom Risotto in the Thermomix because I don't have to worry about stirring it. I use a mixture of dried porcini, chantarelle and fresh mushrooms.

Slice zucchini in half lengthwise. Allow one zucchini for three people. Chop half of the zucchini into tiny dice for the tomato filling. Hollow out the other half and place in a steamer basket.
Filling for Zucchini
olive oil
1 cup small dice pumpkin or sweet potato
1/2 onion, small dice
1/4 cup crumbled fetta

Saute pumpkin in oil until browned, add onion and sauté until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add fetta and set aside. When zucchini half has been pre-steamed, (I use the Thermomix) press into cavity. Top with grated mozzarella.

Peel by piercing a few holes in each tomato and dropping into boiling water for a few seconds. Allow one tomato per person. Slice top from peeled tomatoes and remove seeds and flesh, leaving just a shell.
Filling for Tomatoes
1 Tbsp butter
diced zucchini
spinach leaves

Sauté zucchini in butter and when soft add spinach and torn basil leaves. Stir until wilted. Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Allow to cool and fill tomatoes. Top with fresh breadcrumbs and grated parmesan.

I find it's best to turn capsicums upside down as the stem end is more stable. Remove the stem and turn on it's end. Slice the top from each capsicum (1 small one per person or half a large one). De-seed and remove membranes. Place in steamer basket with zucchini and steam until just softened.

Fill with risotto and top with garlic breadcrumbs and mozzarella.

Mushroom Risotto, Pumpkin ( haven't added fetta yet), Zucchini/Spinach
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Place all stuffed vegetables into a wide dish, such as a lasagne dish and place enough Tomato Passata in to cover base of pan to 1 cm depth. Place dish in oven for about 20  minutes to 1/2 an hour or until tomato is softened and toppings are cooked and browned. While this is cooking, put the remaining Passata in a saucepan and heat gently on the stove.
Place each vegetable on a serving plate, cutting zucchini into portions and spoon sauce around base to cover plate. Top with sprigs of basil or parsley. Add crumbed veal, pork chops or crumbed chicken for the carnivores.

Unfortunately, this was devoured before I had a chance to photograph the finished product!

Homemade Bickies

Rarely do I buy biscuits any more. I like to avoid unnecessary additives in my food as much as possible. I also prefer butter to margarine as it's a natural food. Most commercial bickies use margarine because it's cheaper.

Yesterday I made giant chocolate chip 'cookies' (damn American terms sneaking into our language!) from a recipe by Valli Little, of Better Homes and Gardens fame. I was bitterly disappointed with the outcome. To 300g flour, the recipe had a whopping 300g of sugar a well as 350g chocolate chips! When I made them, I used 240g sugar and 230g chocolate chips (that was the size of the packet). They were still way too sweet for me.

There's nothing worse than following a recipe and finding it's not right.  I recently purchased the book "Ratio" by Michael Ruhlman. This book is a revelation for home cooks. The ratio for everything you cook is provided with explanations in simple terms. So, I checked out the ratio for 'cookie' dough, as biscuits in the US are a totally different thing.
No wonder Valli Little's recipe didn't work well! The ratio for bickies is:

3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part sugar.

Therefore, her recipe for the choc chip cookies should have been:

300g flour, 200g butter, 100g sugar.

With the addition of choc chips, the sugar could be cut even further if desired. The recipe also used brown sugar, which doesn't give that lovely contrast of the bickie and the little dark spots of chocolate.

So, I've re-created her recipe and am now claiming it as my own:

Megan's Choc Chip Bickies
200g soft butter
100g castor sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
300g plain flour
1/2 tsp bi-carb
230g dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 190 degrees and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Cream butter and sugar, add egg and vanilla and cream. Sift flour and bi-carb. Fold into butter mixture with choc chips. Roll a tablespoon of dough into a ball and place on  baking sheet. Press down gently.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes depending on size of bickie. Allow to cool on tray for a few minutes before using a spatula to move them to a cooling rack.

Using this standard ratio of 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter and 1 part sugar for bickies I can create different varieties from much the same recipe. Here's a few:
  • For shortbread, replace part of the flour with ground rice.
  • Replace 1/3 of the flour with ground nuts.
  • For low GI bickies (diabetics etc), replace sugar with agave nectar and flour with rice flour. 
  • Use a combination of brown sugar and golden syrup, add 2 tsp ginger, an egg and 1 tp bi-carb for ginger bickies. Top with chopped glace ginger.
  • Add 90g melted chocolate, sift flour over it and fold into butter sugar mixture.
  • Add peanut paste the same way as melted chocolate.
  • Use a combination of sugar and honey.
  • Instead of rolling dough into balls and flattening, roll dough into a log and chill. Cut thin slices from the log.
  • Top with Smarties, cherries or nuts.
  • Roll in crushed nuts or crushed cornflakes.
The possibilities appear to be endless. Of course, the ratio isn't hard and fast. More sugar will yield a crisper biscuit, more butter a shorter biscuit. Anna Olsen, from the programme, "Sugar", replaces some of the flour with cornflour for a chewy bickie.

For now, I'll stick with the 3:2:1 ratio and try lots of ingredient variations.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ginger Chilli Chicken

This is something I came up with tonight. I love that sticky sweet/hot/salty chicken that you can get at Chinese Restaurants and wanted to make something similar. It's delicious - I wish I'd measured everything that I put in! It was a case of a blob of this and a bit of that, so I am writing this straight after I've made it in case I forget what I did.

Ginger Chilli Chicken
4 boneless chicken thighs
1 brown onion, roughly diced
3 Tbsp Peanut Oil
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
2 cloves garlic, finely diced (2 tsp of garlic in the jar)
1 cm piece of ginger, finely diced (3 tsp of ginger in the jar)
1 diced red chilli or 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

Heat oils and when hot sauté ginger, chilli & garlic. Add sugar and cook until bubbling and beginning to caramelise. Add vinegar and soy sauce and continue to cook. Taste to see if balance of sweet, sour and salty is right and add more of what is needed.
When thick and bubbly add chicken and stir in. Cook, stirring frequently. Add onion when chicken is cooked and stir while cooking. Remove from heat while onion is still crisp.
Serve topped with chopped spring onion. Accompany with Fried Rice and Stir Fry Vegetables in Oyster Sauce.

This is a variation that I'm going to try next time:
Schezuan Beef: Replace chicken with thinly sliced rump steak. Replace chilli with black pepper, add a little plum sauce.