Everyday Cooking

Monday, August 27, 2007

Spaghetti with Shiitake Muhsrooms

In a previous life, as an active and very social member of singledom, I liked nothing better than a filling and simple pasta dish to set me up for a night on the town. Some spaghetti and chilli in olive oil or perhaps tagliatelle in burnt butter. Cooked in minutes, wolfed down in front of the hob and you can be out the door for a few 'fortifying' drinks and some serious boogeying.

This is another simple pasta dish that I find very satisfying. I found the original recipe in a book called Quick from Scratch, Herbs and Spices, which is part of a Food and Wine books series. How this book got into my book shelf is a complete mystery to me. It looks old, the pictures of the contributors look dated. I don't remember ever buying it and it's not my husband's either. However, this is one of the most well-used books in my house. It features, surprise, surprise, herbs and spices, timeless recipes that highlight each one and wine recommendations for each dish. So if I borrowed this book from you (and forgot), I owe you an apology and a meal....

Good quality Parmesan or Grana Padano is imperative for this dish. None of that pre-grated stuff will do, I'm afraid.

300g spaghetti
400g shiitake mushroom, stems removed, caps sliced thinly
1/2c chicken stock
1 garlic clove, sliced thinly
4Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c grated parmesan or grana padano

Cook pasta as per direction and drain. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the mushrooms until soft. Add the garlic and pepper. Stir around quickly and then add the stock.
Simmer for 2 minutes. Add the spaghetti and chesee into the sauce and toss around.
Season with additional pepper and top with more cheese prior to serving.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

White Chocolate and Cranberry Biscuits

Baking didn't use to hold much appeal to me as I felt the discipline required would leave me feeling the heat of the kitchen. All that strict measuring, weighing, proving, whipping-until -'soft peaks' -form, etc just sounded oh so technical. I love to cook with gay abandon- another pinch of this and that, just throw that in, substitute this for that, oh yes- needs more madeira, brandy, red wine! Taking on that sort of attitude with baking usually means sunken cakes and very weird-tasting biscuits. Until recently, I have left that side of culinary responsibility on my husband as he had more patience and is actually the one with a sweet tooth anyway.

These days, I am slowly discovering the joys of baking. One thing now I know- baking is a lot more fun when there's help from another set of hands, no matter how small they are.

These cookies always turn out lovely and I always get asked for the recipe.
The original recipe was actually for white chocolate and macadamias but since more and more people I know have developed an intolerance for nuts, I have substituted dried cranberries. I also use a bit of condensed milk, which I think makes them more chewy.

250g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c condensed milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1 1/2 c rolled oats
1 c white chocolate chips
1 1/2 c dried cranberries
a pinch of salt

1. Preheate oven to 180 deg C
2. Cream butter with sugar until pale. Beat in the condensed milk.
3. Lightly whisk the eggs and vanilla together and add to the butter mix.
4. Add in the sifted flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well.
5. Add the cranberries, choc chips and oats. Mix until well-combined.
6. Form gold-sized balls of the dough and place on lined baking trays. Slightly flatten with your fingers.
7. Bake for 10 minutes.
8. Remove from oven and let cool on trays for a few minutes (the biscuits will be very soft when you take them out of the oven).
9. Once firm, the biscuits can be transferred onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tangy Lamb Stir-fry

A family made up of two adults, a toddler and a toothless bub means a supermarket pre-cut slab of roasting lamb is always too big to finish in one meal. Now, the adult male in said family, more often than not, will refuse to eat left-overs unless heavily disguised and passed of as a new creation.

Enter the humble stir-fry. Quick, easy and very forgiving should one choose to 'reincarnate' some left-over roast meat.

For this recipe, one can of course, use fresh strips of lamb. Just brown the meat first in batches and then follow the rest of the recipe.

300g roast lamb, sliced into bite-sized pieces
handful of snow peas (mange-tout)
1/2 c broccoli florets
1/2 c red capsicum (pepper) strips
1/2 bunch spring onions, cut into 3 cm pieces
1Tbsp tamarind paste
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 clove garlic
1 cm piece ginger
1 lemon grass stalk, white part sliced thinly
1 tsp coriander root
1/2 c coriander leaves
3 Tbsp cooking oil

With a mortar and pestle or using a food processor, pound/process the garlic, ginger, lemon grass and coriander root into a paste. Set aside.
In a wok or frying pan, stir the meat around in the oil until heated through.
Add the paste and stir around for a minute. Add the tamarind paste and sugar and mix around until the sauce is sticky. Add the vegetables, turning the heat off while the greens are still crisp.
Sprinkle the coriander leaves over the dish just prior to serving.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pinakbet (or Pakbet)

As much as I love Filipino food, I don't regularly cook it. You see, the thing with Filipino food is, it doesn't taste half as good as it should unless shared with someone else who truly appreciates it. My hubby (bless his heart) is not a big fan. Sharing with him a Filipino dish I enjoyed in childhood does not really evoke the finger-licking memories I love to wallow in from time to time. Never mind, we have more than enough shared memories we've created over wedges of Gruyere, merguez sausages and bottles of Margaux to last our lifetime.

Soooo, when Mum calls a Sunday lunch with the extended family, I rub my hands in glee. A chance to cook a Filipino dish and eat another couple (or 20) other dishes my 'mother tastebuds' will enjoy. My Mum and her sisters are all excellent cooks but I'm never intimidated about making a contribution for these lunches as they are always appreciative of whatever I bring.

Pinakbet (or Pakbet) would have to be up there amongst my all-time favourite Filipino dishes, although ironically, it's made up of vegetables I detested as a child. I have to always remind myself how my taste evolved over time whenever there is a battle at dinner time to make my little daughter eat her greens. Perhaps one day, she will learn to love Pinakbet as much as I do now.

There are numerous versions of Pinakbet I have come across. I do not use bagoong, preferring the less pungent flavour of anchovy (yes, there are things more pungent than anchovies, believe it or not!). Serving the bagoong, instead, as a condiment alongside this dish just gives one leeway on how strong a fish flavour they want with each mouthful.

For an 'extended family size' serve (around 10 adults), you will need:

400g pork spare ribs
300g Jap pumkin, cut into cubes
3 pcs lebanese eggplant (the thin long variety), cut into bite-size pieces
10 pieces baby okra
1 bunch snake beans (sitaw), cut into 4cm pieces
1 medium bitter melon (ampalaya), sliced into bite-size pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
5 very ripe tomatoes, chopped (or 400g tinned chopped tomatoes)
4 anchovies in oil, mashed
1/2 c chopped chicharon (pork crackling, pork scratching)
1/2 c water
fish sauce to taste
6Tbsp cooking oil

Boil the pork pieces until tender. Cut into cubes and then shallow fry until brown. Take the pork out of the frying pan and leave around 3 Tbsp of fat.
Sautee the garlic, onion and tomatoes in the fat until soft. Add the anchovies and cooked pork, let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the water and pumkin. Cover and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
Add the rest of the vegetables and the chicharon. Season with fish sauce. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft enough for your liking.
Personally, I take the pot off the heat when the vegetables are still firm to the bite. I always like to leave a bit of 'crunch' on my and snake beans and bitter melon.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fish Friday

I tend to experiment a lot with different spices to use with fish. What I have found is that it's difficult to stuff things up if you use a white fish with a mild flavour. For this dish, I used New Zealand hoki fillets (blue grenadier) but any firm white fish will do.
The fried fish was served with a citrusy couscous. To round up the vegetable component of the dish, I added slices of fennel (oranges and fennel are a classic pairing).

Spiced fish:

400g hoki fillets
1/3 c plain flour
1 Tbsp corn flour
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
oil for shallow frying

Mix all ingredients, except the sumac, together.
Dredge the fish fillets in the mixture.
Fry until golden then sprinkle with sumac, if using.

Citrusy Couscous (adapted from Australian Women's Weekly)

1 c couscous
1 c water
1 Tbsp butter
1 orange, peeled and sliced
1 small fennel bulb, sliced
1/3 c slivered almonds
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1/3 c mint, torn into small pieces

Brown the almond slivers and set aside.
Boil water in a saucepan and pour in the couscous. Remove from heat and leave for 5 minutes to absorb the water. Put the saucepan back on low heat, fluff up the couscous with a fork and add the butter. Continue mixing with the fork until butter has melted.
Add in the lemon juice, grated lemon rind, fennel and almonds. Toss everything together and sprinkle the mint leaves over the couscous before serving.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Midweek Quickie#1-Glass Noodle Salad

I've had Asian Noodle Salad in various incarnations and I've always loved them. Flavourful, texture-rich, light yet filling.
This version, as per usual, uses whatever ingredients are handy. Minced meat are a staple in my freezer as they are versatile. I find that minced pork is best when infused with Asian seasoning.

As with any household with young children, 6-8PM in our house are the witching hours. Toddler, tired from an afternoon of acrobatics and bub, fed up from taking too many new experiences in tend to have a short fuse at this time. So, dinner has to be planned, organised and be at the table by 6 to avoid any major tantrums (from me, that is).

I made this dish in separate stages:
2PM-while the kids were down for a nap
I heated up some oil and browned 300g of pork mince. To this I added 3 Tbsp of peanuts, ground into chunks.I seasoned with 1Tbsp soy sauce and 1 tsp of brown sugar. This went in the fridge until ready to use.

4PM-while L watches Peppa Pig and A enjoys some tummy time
I soaked 250g of glass noodles (Chinese vermicelli) as per packet instructions.
Salad dressing was prepared by mixing 1Tbsp lime juice, 1/2tsp tamarind paste, 1Tbsp brown sugar, 2Tsp soy sauce and a splash of sesame oil and fish sauce.
Oh, and I added 1/4tsp mint sauce (Coleman's, as in Mr. Roast Lamb's sidekick). This may seem unusual in an Asian dressing but I had to be resourceful. My potted mint is not faring so well in the cold weather and I still wanted that fresh flavour even if I can't have the leaves in the salad.

5.45PM-while hubby has a 'welcome home' tickle fight with the bubs
Toss the prepared mince, noodles and salad dressing along with 2cups of baby salad greens and carrot matchsticks. I would have added lots of coriander leaves and spring onion if I had any :-(

6PM-Voila! Dinner is served.

Variations I have done in the past for this:
Sauteed the mince in 5-spice instead of seasoning with soy.
Sauteed the mince in ginger,lemon grass and added lime leaves.
I used other crunchy vegies like snow peas, young corn and red capsicum in the salad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Luscious Golden Vegetable Soup

The grown-ups in our household do tend to overindulge from time to time so in order to balance things out a bit, we try and have soup for dinner some nights. This was my husband's idea. He seems to be under the false impression that soups are always healthy and low-fat. I do love very tasty things which, unfortunately, usually translates to creamy concoctions when it comes to soups.

This one that I made tonight doesn't seem so bad. The idea came up as I was thinking of something to make for A, who at 6 months, is still limited in his food repertoire. This really is just glorified baby food. Just kidding! At any rate, I am glad A kindly let me experiment with some of his vegetable puree which ended up feeding the rest of the clan.

Before anything else, please know that when I cook, except when making dessert, I do not follow a single recipe and follow a multitude at the same time. I do not like to measure, preferring to taste my cooking as I go along. I constantly read cookbooks and surf the net for inspiration and try and make things from memory, usually putting my own slant on things to use ingredients that are readily available. Measures are all approximate, trust your own instinct when it comes to cooking!

1 c chopped butternut pumpkin
1 c chopped sweet potato
1 c chopped parsnips

Boil above vegetables in 400ml water until very soft. Puree in a blender.
A couple of tablespoons of this was gobbled up by my little man. The rest can go in the soup...

Fry a cup of chopped leeks in 3Tbsp olive oil until transluscent. Add 1/2tsp minced garlic and 1/2tsp minced ginger (I decided to add this as everyone at home has got the sniffles at the moment). Mix around for a minute. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and 1 c bacon stock. Simmer for a couple of minutes. Blitz with a hand blender. Add the pureed vegetables and let simmer until hot.

There really is no reason to separate the boiling/blending of the vegies and leek apart from the fact that the vegies were originally bought and cooked for A, who isn't old enough for oil/onion/salt/pepper yet.

I was surprised by the taste of this soup at there was already lot of creaminess without needing to add the usual topping of sour cream. I have made sweet potato soup and pumpkin soup separately before. However, I think it's the earthiness of the parsnip that ties this together.

I also made some Zucchini floaters (if a bit of crunch on your soup floats your boat, try this!)
The idea of 'floaters' I got from a book called 'Super Soups' by Michael van Straten.
This is how I made my very simple version:
Mix together
1 cup grated zucchini
1 beaten egg
1 c plain flour
salt and pepper to taste.
Take spoonfulls of the mix and fry in olive oil until brown and crunchy.

Ta Dah!!!!