Thursday, July 22, 2010

...A Little Lamb For My Mint Sauce

Every time I do a big grocery shop, I make sure to include some fresh herbs in my basket. Since there is only two of us eating here, I have to stop myself from buying too much for fear that they will wilt and go to waste. I've devised a system of alternating between various herbs and planning dishes around them, realizing that this allows me to push the envelope in terms of experimenting on dishes and cuisines I may not be accustomed to cooking. It also helps in changing up the flavours coming out of my kitchen, ensuring that Mr. P and I don't get stuck with the same types of dishes week in and week out.

This particular shop saw me buying a bunch of mint for a change. Trina's previous entry inspired me to try making my own mint sauce (yes, sauce, not jelly). Unlike her, I'm a huge fan of lamb and thankfully in this town, it's not too pricey. The butcher showed me a cut that he said would be great for simple pan grilling. A perfect vessel for the mint sauce I was so keen to make, I thought.

After looking up several recipes on Mint Sauce, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it is oh, so simple.  I settled for my own rendition which consisted of stuff already in my cupboard:
-1 bunch of fresh mint
-3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
-6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
-1 tablespoon of honey
-salt and pepper

Chop up the mint finely and whisk all the rest of the ingredients together. Alternatively, you can dump all the ingredients into a mini food processor and blitz to emulsify. Amazing what the addition of an herb like fresh mint can do to alter the taste of your most basic vinaigrette. The combination of flavors definitely brought out the crisp minty taste that goes very well with lamb dishes. However, don't be stuck on lamb with this one. It makes a great dressing for mediterranean style salads, chicken, fish and a whole slew of other stuff.

For this evening, it was drizzled on pan grilled lamb that had been seasoned with salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic. Alongside the meat was roasted potato and lemony-minty orzo. Clean crisp flavours cut through the lamb's slight gamey taste. All together, it was delicious. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the star sauce so here is an image of dinner plated up instead.

Lately, I've been into making dressings, some sauces and preserves (like this one) from scratch. I find that some of them are really not that difficult to do. I say some because I have yet to (or may never) build up the courage to make things like X.O. Sauce, Sriracha, Oyster Sauce, curry pastes and the like from scratch. So I'm starting with things that are not too daunting to me. Sauces and such that we may have gotten so used to buying pre-made, off a shelf. As Trina pointed out, by sticking to what we know and what is natural, it is possible to get the same great flavours minus the unnecessary additives. My kitchen will definitely be on experimentation mode and I hope to start churning out more complex items sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pica Pica for La Furia Roja

Tonight, I decided to treat Mr. P to some pica pica. Good thing because he came home from work, hungrier than normal. The theme for tonight's pica pica was Spanish. This is in taking my dear brother J's suggestion to prepare and put up a Spanish food entry in anticipation of the huge game that is upon us. I won't share my thoughts on that, allow the game kicking off in about 5 hours to do the talking. Let's just say this house is all red and yellow, leave out the black please!

For now I'll just tell you about my Gambas and Albondigas.

For my Gambas I don't like using tomato sauce at all. I like to do it in what I think is the classic way of just using the following ingredients:
- olive oil
- 400g of fresh prawns
- about 6 cloves of garlic
- about 3T paprika de pimenton
- 1T chili flakes
- salt
- pepper
- a splash of lemon

Peel and clean the prawns. Squeeze lemon over them and season with salt and pepper. Sliver garlic like you are going to make garlic chips.

In a hot cast iron pan, cover the bottom with olive oil. When oil is heated through, put in the garlic and lightly season with salt and pepper. This is a good time to add in the paprika, I like to use a lot since this is the main source of flavor. When the garlic is starting to show a cast of golden colour, throw in the prawns and toss in the flavourful orange oil. Make sure each prawn is coated in the oil. You may season again as needed. Finish with a little more paprika if you wish, and a dash of chili flakes depending on your tolerance for spiciness. Serve with a wedge of lemon in case, but I like eating it straight up. Toasty bread is good too for soaking up the garlicky-paprika oil in the end!

Now for the Albondigas, I honestly just had left over beef mince from my tortang talong preparation so this was an impromptu addition to the menu. Great because Mr. P was happy with the meatballs he'd been clamoring for. 

- 250g ground beef/beef mince
- olive oil
- 1T garlic
- half an onion
- 1 tomato
- 1T parsley
- 1T bread crumbs
- 3T parmesan cheese
- 1 egg

Spicy Tomato Sauce
- olive oil 
- 1Tgarlic
- half an onion
- 1 stalk celery
- half a carrot
- 1C canned diced tomatoes
- 1T paprika
- 1t chili flakes
- 1T red wine vinegar
- soy sauce (just a dash)

For the meatballs, finely mince all the vegetables. Cook the garlic and onion until transparent and allow to cool slightly. Combine all ingredients and shape into balls. In a pan, add just a little olive oil and cook the meatballs over medium heat until brown on all sides and cooked through. Set aside.

For the sauce, mince and saute the garlic, onion, celery and carrots until tender in a small sauce pot with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, paprika and chili flakes. Pour in the canned tomatoes, red wine vinegar and soy sauce. Allow this to simmer until the sauce thickens. Taste the sauce to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated well, season as needed with salt and pepper. When the sauce is to your liking, pour it into the pan where you cooked the meatballs and simmer for a minute or two. This will allow you to pick up the bits on the pan and let the meat juices and tomato sauce combine. Serve on its own or with toasty bread to sop up the sauce.

If you make a bigger batch and have leftovers, you can serve it over noodles the next day for a classic spaghetti and meatballs treat.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these little Spanish delights. AND I hope our little pica pica fest is a prelude to a celebration for a Furia Roja win tonight (or tomorrow morning/afternoon depending on where in the world you may be reading this from). Vamos Espana!

An Abundance of Oranges

For some reason, Mr. P decided to purchase a 3kg bag of oranges when we were out shopping the other day. I thought to myself, why not, stocking up on healthy fruit to snack on is not a bad idea. Two days later, he comes home with 4 more oranges. The abundance then pushed me to think of ways to use up all this citrus.

Coupled with a craving for chocolate, I decided to experiment with a combination I like. Orange and chocolate. Presenting, store bought chocolate chip muffins with a twist of my own.

-1 box of chocolate chip muffin mix
-juice from about 2 oranges
-rind from 1 orange

For the curd:
-juice from 1 orange
-1 teaspoon flour
-rind from 1 orange
-1 egg yolk
-3 tablespoons butter
-1/4 cup of sugar

Prepare the muffins according to box directions, replacing the water with orange juice. My mix called for 1 1/4 cup of liquid. Fold in orange rind and scoop mix into a greased muffin tin. Bake according to instructions.

Making the curd is rather simple. Put flour into a sauce pan and whisk in the orange juice. Once flour has been dissolved, turn on the heat to medium. Whisk in the egg yolk, sugar and butter. Keep stirring until butter melts and sugar is dissolved. Add in the orange zest and keep stirring over heat until mixture thickens to the right consistency. It should split when you drag the spoon down the middle of the pot. Remove from heat and let curd cool.

Once muffins are baked. Let them cool. Spread curd on muffin tops.

Friday, July 2, 2010

World Cup Food Part 2

As I mentioned in this post, I stocked up on food for the World Cup. One night was Thai night. I guess you could say it was in celebration of the Asian teams doing better in the tournament than they usually do. I sure hope that the development of top quality football players from our part of the world continues. 

For Thai night, I decided to make green curry. Okay, I kinda cheated because I used prepared curry paste, but I added elements to make it my own. I didn't just throw in the meat and pour in coconut milk. I used prawns for this version so we had to eat it up right away.

- 2-3 tablespoons of green curry paste
- 3 cloves of garlic
- half a medium onion
- 2 eggplants
- 1 bunch bok choy
- 1.5 - 2 cups coconut milk (add more or less to adjust heat)
- 400g of prawns
- 4-6 kaffir lime leaves (cut in half for easy removal later)

- 10 Thai basil leaves
- 2 stalks of cilantro (optional)

Here's how I did it: I sauteed the curry paste in canola oil. Then threw I in the chopped garlic, onions and kaffir lime leaves, and continued to saute until onions were cooked through. At this point, you add in the eggplant and after a couple of minutes, the bok choy. Pour in coconut milk and allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add whole prawns to the pan. I left the skin and heads on as I thought it would add more flavor to the dish (which it did!). As soon as the prawns turn pink, remove from heat. Finish with whole leaves of Thai Basil to give the curry it's well known fragrance. I'm not too sure if cilantro is part of green curry but since I had some, I just added a bit in anyway.

Remove the Kaffir Lime leaves before serving because they are tough to chew. Serve with hot rice.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

World Cup Food

June 11 came along and I was so, extremely happy that the World Cup was finally here. I could not wait to watch my favorite teams entertain the world with the beautiful game. I was anxious for the Azzurri to defend their title and excited to see a highly talented Spain team go far. Throughout the group phase, I was also very impressed with Argentina. I've always loved the skill and sportsmanship of Messi and am entertained by Maradona playing coach 24 years after his infamous hand of god goal. It's been great to see the new comers do well on the pitch too.

But alas, Italy have made an early exit and I was so depressed. Yes, coming in I knew that the 2010 squad was nothing compared to that of 2006. I knew they had not been playing like the champions they were. But I was still hoping against hope that their brilliance would show against Slovakia. It did, but it came too late. The Azzurri are out and while my expectations were managed, I was still feeling down.

The games show at the worst times for us here in Sydney. One at 9:30 pm, the next one at 12 midnight and the last one at 4:30 am. This schedule, combined with our passion for the game gives us very, very little time to sleep. I had anticipated this so I resolved to at least ensure we had great meals to keep us going. Before this becomes an entry about football (another thing aside from food that I am passionate about), I want to share with you some of the dishes I've cooked up and stocked the fridge with. No matter what time of day either of us is awake and hungry, there is always something satisfying to eat.

The multi-cultural aspect of the World Cup inspired multi-cultural dishes. More to come in later posts but for now, here are the rough steps for:

Moroccan Lamb Stew
Lamb for stewing. You don't need expensive cuts for this.
Sweet Potatoes or Butternut Squash
Canned Tomatoes
Dried Apricots
Fresh Cilantro and Parsley

Rub the lamb with salt, pepper and the first three spices. Allow to marinate while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the garlic, onion, celery and carrots.

Dust the lamb in a little bit of flour. Then, in a large saute pan, brown the lamb for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and set aside. In the same pan, quickly brown the sweet potatoes which have been chopped in big pieces, and set aside as well. 

Still in the same pan, saute the chopped vegetables in olive oil until tender. Season each layer as you go. Add the lamb and sweet potatoes back into the pan, pour in the stock and the canned tomatoes. Chop the apricots and stir into the pan. Allow to simmer for about 2 hours until the lamb practically falls off the bone.

Meanwhile, chop the cilantro, parsley and the almonds if they are whole. Toast the almonds for about 3-5 minutes. Finish the lamb stew with these last three ingredients.

Serve with couscous prepared with the same stock, dried cranberries, parsley and cilantro.