Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Caramelized Ginger Chicken

It can be so painful navigating a good cookbook when you're allergic to fish. All of my favorite cookbooks, Movida, Momofuku and Red Lantern all have these absolutely delicious seafood dishes, many of which form the centrepieces of the books. Alas i have to flick past those pages to the meat, poultry and vegetarian but i always do feel a little bit cheated.

Thankfully, every dish that i DO cook from these books fills any void i may have felt previously, and i am once content with the food that i CAN eat. This is one of those dishes.

Deliciously sweet, gingery and sticky, i have again molested one of the Red Lantern recipes to suit it to my tastes: namely, cooking down the cooking liquid into a decadently sticky sauce to pour over the chicken at the end. My dad tends to omit the fresh coriander and parsley from the garnishes on my meals, but i feel they are integral to reinvigorating all of the cooked ingredients.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Homemade Banana & Coconut Icecream with Crisp Toffee Coated Strawberries

A crackle, a crunch, as crystal of sweet toffee surrender to your mouth, before the sweet, slightly tart stickiness of strawberry envelopes the senses. Another bite, rich and creamy and undeniably tropical, recalling beachside cocktails serve in hollowed out coconuts: sound good? Read on. 

So my first experience with my latest impulse purchase, an icecream machine, was a bit of a disaster. I decided to jump right in and make a hazelnut gelato, and, being my first time making icecream i curdled the custard by overheating it. I was devastated! All that work squeezing milk from crushed hazelnuts, all that money spent on eggs and cream, all gone!!

Well i had to persevere, and since my visit to Thailand my mind has been all about tropical desserts. The icecream in the recipe is loosely adapted from yet another Luke Nguyen recipe however i'd tried to make it a bit richer and a bit more decadent.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tuscan Tomato Soup

Today was such a beautiful day in Melbourne. The sun was shining but there was a light breeze. The air was fresh and the mood was peaceful on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I have similar dreams of Tuscany, though in truth i know little of the Italian region nor it's climate. But when i read the word 'Tuscan' in a dish's title i am transported to rich tomato sauces and suckling roast pig. What better a day to make a Tuscan tomato soup, rich and satisfying but simultaneously light, redolent with fresh basil and begging to be devoured with a crusty Pana Di Casa and a rich red wine.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gazelle Horns

In case it's not already apparent from the plethora of sweets i've cooked using the ingredient, i'm a devotee of almond meal. The nutty, almost creamy flavor that it imparts through a dish, with the faint hint of bitterness, makes my tastebuds rave!

The chef at the work cafeteria, Rosalee, makes the most delicious frangipane croissants, however she keeps the exact recipe a closely guarded secret! Frangipane is a sweet filling similar in flavor to marzipan. Flicking through a Moroccan cookbook i came across a couple of recipes incorporating a form of frangipane. One, a filo coil filled with the mixture, looks very easy to make, so i thought i'd take a shot at the second, slightly more involved recipe: Gazelle's Horns. These Moroccan celebratory biscuits shaped like a crescent, have a thin crisp outer shell filled with a sweet almond mixture, with faint scents of roses.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prosciutto Wrapped Lamb Fillet with Pomegranate Reduction on Potato & Asparagus

Whenever i watch Iron Chef Sukai on SBS i am fascinated by his use of caul, a fatty membrane surrounding the organs of some animals, to encase pieces of meat. The fat of the caul keeps the mean juicy and succulent as it is being fried, or more generally, roasted.

With the same concept in mind, i have seen, and on occasion tried, wrapping lean cuts of meat in thin shaved slices of fatty prosciutto. In addition to retaining the juices of the lean meat, the prosciutto adds its own seasoning, flavor and personality to the dish.

When i was making this dish i felt like it belonged in the annals of an old Women's Weekly 'entertaining' cookbook. With the asparagus and mashed potato, the dish harks back to what was considered haute cuisine when i was younger. The retro style of the plating reflects that. However in using prosciutto rather than say, bacon, and with the addition of balance through the sweet-sour pomegranate reduction, i think i've been successful in achieving a bit of 'retro-chic' with this dish.

A note on both asparagus and the pomegranate reduction. Firstly, asapargus is best in season in Spring, when the spears shoot up from the ground and are at their sweetest and most succulent. The worst thing you can do to these delicious vegetables is overcook them! Blanch in salted water for 30 seconds at most! And to the pomegranate reduction: you can buy ready reduced pomegranate juice in the form of pomegranate molasses. But why pay $20 plus for a bottle of the stuff when pomegranate juice is easily available and ready for reduction at any local supermarket. Look for Pom, it's normally located in the fresh produce aisle of your supermarket.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lamb Shank & Pearl Barley Soup

Soup soup soup! Dear god how many soups can i cook? From Wikipedia;

"Soup is a food that is made by combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water or another liquid. Hot soups are additionally characterized by boiling solid ingredients in liquids in a pot until the flavor is extracted, forming a broth."

enough said. This is my weekly soup recipe! The rich fat from the lamb shanks gives this soup it's delicious mouth feel, and yet it is also nutritious and healthy, abounding with vegetables. Light enough for the beginning of spring, but warming enough for the lagging winter chill.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hainanese Chicken

In the days when i lived in a shared house, i shared what was possibly the least inspiring kitchen ever. An old oven, electric stovetop, and a lack of my own cooking equipment led to a proliferation of burrito packets, quick pastas and frozen meals. The few dishes that i did cook were distinctly... awful. But the biggest kitchen sin i committed was palming off chicken boiled chicken thighs with rice and soy sauce as as quick 'Hainanese Chicken'. I did this dish a great disservice because what i cooked was not even a slight homage to the real deal.

Hainanese Chicken is prevalent at Hawker stands in Singapore, where people line up for miles to savor the delicately poached (never, ever boiled) chicken, served with the broth in which it was cooked and delicious rice cooked with fat from the chicken. Every Singaporean and Malaysian i meet seems to be a connoiseur of chicken and rice, so it is with a sigh of relief that i cooked this dish for unsuspecting caucasian folk. Surprisingly though, my dish came out equal to any i have had in Melbourne. Normally when i've had it in Melbourne, it has been served with soy sauce and sometimes chilli, but after making it i've become a devotee of the deliciously fresh and zingy ginger dipping sauce.

Macarons with Raspberry & White Chocolate

Macarons are de riguer right now, as several cafes have sprung up around Melbourne specializing in the delicious melt-in-your-mouth French treats. The variety available now compared to 12 months ago here is astonishing: pistacho, passionfruit, snickers, lavender, violet and licorice are all flavours that have been devised. For cooks too, the macaron is a mountain to climb.

I won't go into much depth about the difficulties surrounding the making of macarons. The consistency of the batter, the numerous ways of whipping the egg whites, fables of leaving the oven door open, using powdered colors only. So many opinions, and rightly so: the macaron is a devilish food to make, and on this, my second attempt, i only got it partially right. Again, some of the shells did not come away from the baking paper. My macarons had little peaks from the piping bag which in truth should not be there. I will keep trying, and i urge you to do the same! For when you get it right, macarons are delicious and nothing comes close.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Frangelico Zuccotto with Chocolate & Vanilla Hazelnut Ricotta

I keep trying to best myself in desserts and sweets, whether it be those that i cook for family or friends. The peak of that mountain to me at the moment is Macaroons, which i am yet to get the hang of. In the meantime, i have stumbled across recipes for Zuccotto, which is a very impressive dish, though deceptively simple to make.

A distinctly Italian dessert with it's origins in Florence, rich, creamy zuccotto, much like say a cheesecake, can be twisted into countless variations for personal taste. Vanilla zuccotto, orange zuccotto, even icecream zuccotto have made their appearances. But how can a hazelnut lover like me possibly go past the irresistable notion of a hazelnut riddled filling, and a cakey outside literally basted in frangelico! I have taken the basic recipe by Emma Knowles and twisted it a bit to my tastes. Fellow hazelnut lovers, enjoy!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Penne with Italian Pork & Fennel Sausage, Brocolli and Parmesan

My boss at work comes from an Italian family, and is occasionally dropping hints at how to make a good pasta. One such recipe he mentioned was spaghetti with brocolli, a pasta simply tossed with olive oil, parmesan and small brocolli florettes. I stumbled across a more extravegant recipe in the Carmine's cookbook (Carmines is a famous old-school Italian restaurant in New York for those who don't know), which added Italian Pork sausages and a few other ingredients. So i thought i'd give it a go!

I was pleasantly surprised to find such a different tasting pasta dish to add to my repertoire. A good quality Italian sausage is key to this dish, so make sure you go to a reputable butcher or delicassen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Baked Eggs with Tomato & Chorizo

I'm not a big breakfast person. Every work day my breakfast consist of 1/3 cup of instant oats, 1/2 cup milk, microwaved in a mug for 120 seconds on high. Sacrilege i know, for someone who loves his food so much! The idea of eggs benedict, of Canadian short stacks and even champagne and roast chicken brunches is so alluring, but when i grumble my way out of bed in the morning my stomache just wants its cardboard porridge to start the morning.

But every now and again the mouth wins out and i'm taken on a journey to seek out an indulgent weekend breakfast. This time the catalyst was my parents' going to brunch in Warrandyte. So i rolled up me sleeves and decided to make my own! Now THIS is my kinda breakfast.

Portugese Chicken with Peri Peri Sauce & Red Onion Salsa

Through what must be a subconscious longing for the long sunny nights of summer, i've been hankering for barbecue more and more in the past few weeks. The delicious crunch of slightly charred meat, succulent on the inside, is, to me, unmimicable in the modern kitchen, even with grills, broilers and countless other gadgets.

To be honest, before this recipe i had never actually cooked a whole chicken, nor had i butterflied one for that matter. I found a great video on Youtube detailing how to butterfly one here. It was surprisingly easy! In fact this entire dish is very simple and speaks of very core flavoring.

I don't pretend that this peri peri sauce is close to authentic: a true peri peri sauce would obviously be made with the African birds eye chilli, also known as peri peri.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Raat Nar Gai - Charred Rice Noodles and Chicken with Thickened 'Gravy'

One thing that really surprised me on my trip to Thailand was that despite trying it 5 or 6 times, i never did find a Pad Thai as good as the really good ones you can find here, or indeed even as good as my own! Maybe it was my own personal tastes but i found most of them too gluggy, too sweet and too saucy. I didn't try any other noodle dishes, but i wish i tried this one over there.

The key to making this dish stand out is the charring of the noodles. I learned after making this that you really need to make sure you don't overload the wok with noodles, and really don't be afraid to leave them to the point of almost burning. The small amounts of charred noodles that i DID manage to make had a wonderfully smokey flavour that was sadly absent from most of the noodles. Next time!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Neua Pat Bai Grapao - Stir Fried Minced Beef with Chillies & Holy Basil

So finally i have cooked something from the second cookbook that i picked up in Thailand, Thai Street Food by David Thompson. Very fast and simple to cook with easily accessible ingredients (except perhaps Holy basil to some, check your Asian grocer), this dish reminds me so much of the small amount of street food that i did have in Thailand. Pungent and strong in flavour, it begs to be devoured in a rush, so that you can go back for more! 

Monday, September 6, 2010

KL Hokkien Mee

So the second Malaysian dish i decided to cook for Fathers' Day was KL Hokkien Mee. My dad loves Hokkien noodles and was accustomed to buying them with the premade, salty sauces which were pretty nice in their own right. But i wanted to cook Hokkien Mee from scratch!! And i can say i had moderate, if not complete success.

The first thing any self respecting Malaysian will tell you when it comes to making good Hokkien Mee: it's all about the lard! None of this vegetable oil business. True hokkien mee is cooked in pork lard with the leftover pork scratchings from the rendering added to the noodles.

My friend 3 Hungry Tummies gave a good recipe for KL Hokkien Mee and whilst i'm sure mine is not as good as his, i'm on my way! The only disappointment i had with the dish was that it was not as rich black as i had hoped. Was this the brand or type of sweet soy that i used? I'll have to try again!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

BBQ Assam Prawn

Yesterday in Australia it was Fathers' Day and this year, having moved back home with my parents to a much larger kitchen i was able to help cook a feast for dinner that day. I went for a Malaysian theme and with my mother providing a chicken satay and my sister providing a beef rendang (both of which were magnificent) i decided to try my hand at some Nonya cuisine, as well as the obligatory KL Hokkien Mee.

Assam prawn, from what i gather is a Nonya dish of tamarind and soy marinated shrimp, normally wok fried though sometimes there appears to be some variation in recipe. I decided to grill my prawns on the BBQ, considering the amazing size of the ones i managed to get my hands on!

The BBQing of the assam prawn had it's pro's and con's. The tamarind was much less present as the sauce was not made to cling to the prawn. On the other hand it made for a much drier dish, more perfect for the appetizer purpose i had for it. The sourness of the tamarind is tempered by the sugar and dissipates with the fiery breath of the grill.

Moroccan Chicken & Couscous Soup

My father actually made a Moroccan soup last week, a lamb and couscous one. It was delicious, with a flavour that reminded me of goulash but much lighter and i loved how the couscous filled out the soup. To change it up a bit, i've used chicken this time, with lighter spicing to accompany the meat. It works well and makes a delicious spring soup. 

Peanut Butter Layer Cake

Today is my good friend Darryl's birthday. He likes to keep his birthdate a secret, so he's disguised his birthday party as a housewarming (though, that too is overdue). Similarly to last year, i like to spoil the surprise by bringing along a birthday cake. Last year was a hazelnut mudcake with ganache, and i pondered over how i could outdo that year's effort. And here it is: Three layers of peanut butter cake sandwiching a rich chocolate and peanut butter ganached. Cover the entire thing with rich chocolate ganache and garnish with chopped Picnic bars and you have 12 slices of rich ecstacy.


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