Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tapas Platter

I love living in cities or neighborhoods that are "walkable." In San Francisco, my favourite flat was the one on Polk and Bay. From there I could walk to the Marina, Crissy Field, Fort Mason, The Embarcadero, North Beach and even to Union Square on days when I'd be oozing with energy to climb the infamous hills of the city by the bay. I loved being a stone's throw away from the shops and restaurants of Polk, Union and Chestnut streets. It meant I could easily entertain myself when I could no longer bear one more minute stuck at home.

Now that I am in Sydney, I don't live within the city limits. In fact, we live quite a way from the city. The saving grace for a city girl like me is that I still have many places to walk to on days when I just need to get out. Now I enjoy walking to the beach where I still have my strip of cafes and small shops, along the coast to any of the other nearby towns and my most frequent walk - down the road to a plethora of choices when it comes to shopping for food.

I absolutely love it! I can actually spend a whole afternoon surveying all the different food stores to see what's fresh and what's on special. I then go home and proceed to plan my weekly menu and shop. For groceries, I have a choice of Coles, Woolworths and about 4 Asian ones. For fresh produce and higher end items I have Harris Farms and Dee Why Fresh Market, I have Aussie, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese butchers to choose from, a Vietnamese bread bakery and a fish monger with the most beautiful seafood. What more can I ask for right? Sometimes I end up with too many meal ideas for the number of meals one can consume in a week. It's not a bad problem I know but there are weeks when I have to forbid myself from stepping foot in any of the said establishments in order to stick with the food budget!

Ah! The fish monger - he is one of my favourites because he really knows his products so well. It makes me feel more confident that I am buying good stuff when the person selling it to me has great tips to share and is really passionate about his/her product. This is actually the reason why I've stopped going to one of the Asian butchers I mentioned. Each time I'd ask about a certain cut of meat, he'd just shrug and show no interest in helping me figure out what the best cut is for the dish I want to make. One day it got to me and I couldn't help but tell him that he ought to learn more about his products so that he could answer customer questions and sell more effectively. I just felt like he was not giving his products the respect they deserved. That probably sounded weird but to me, this is the reason why I really like going to the fish monger's. So... back to him. I had been buying whole fish for steaming and roasting from him, then some prawns and mussels week in and week out. Recently though he had baby octopus on special and convinced me to try it. I'd never cooked octopus and I was a bit scared about taking this new challenge on. I just had to make sure that I was not going to serve up a rubbery mess. So I asked him some questions, did my own research and even asked my chef/seafood specialist cousin about how best to prepare these babies. I was finally ready to attack and this is what I did:

Pulpo a la Plancha
800 grams of baby octopus
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 t chili flakes
salt and pepper

Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, garlic, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Marinate the octopus in the this mixture for 24 hours to tenderize and flavor the otherwise tasteless creatures. 

(I later found out from Maggie Beer's show that you can also use mashed kiwi fruit to tenderize octopus. I'll have to try that the next time I make this dish. She also mentioned that you should check with the fish monger that the octopus has been tumbled before being sold at the market as this ensures a tender product.)

When you are ready to cook and serve the octopus, slightly oil a grill pan. A charcoal grill is preferable but I don't have one. Drain the octopus from the marinade and sear each one for about 2 minutes on each side. You'll have to be careful not to overcook them or they'll become rubbery. Serve immediately while hot with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. 

It turns out that making octopus is really not that difficult. I was really happy that we ended up with a light, fresh and exciting tapas platter.

The other items on the platter are:
-Sobrasada on Melba Toast

-Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese and Lemon Vinaigrette

-Piquillo Peppers - dry grill whole red peppers directly on the flame of a grill or stove top. Once charred on all sides, put peppers in a paper bag. The steam will lift the skins off so you can slide them off simply by hand. Slice peppers into thin strips.

Champignones a la Jillo: - simply saute mushrooms with olive oil, garlic, butter, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

-Patatas - boil potatoes in water flavoured with lemon, a whole small onion, 1T whole black peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, and salt. Slice into rounds and finish with extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and chopped parsley.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leftovers Part 2

I can't believe it's already October. I had been planning to put in the second installation of my leftovers story before September ended but geez, time really does fly. So I was into using up my leftovers with these lovely roti wraps I found at the Dee Why Market. I just love how delicate they are and how they toast up so beautifully. After having Chicken Curry for dinner two nights in a row - I serve it again, now hidden in a wrap!

I heat the roti in a griddle pan over medium heat to soften. I had made some chutney with apricots and an onion a few weeks back so I used it up here too. Feel free to make your own chutney or use pre-made ones if you have it in the fridge. Spread it along the bottom third of the roti then lay down 2 romaine leaves and some cilantro sprigs if you have some. Spoon the leftover curry over the romaine leaves and wrap tightly. Turn the wrap one or two times to brown it all around as much as possible. 
If you like mayo, some Japanese mayonnaise would work here. You can also add cottage or cream cheese. In place of chutney, I think slices of mango would be great too.

In case you want to make chutney, here's how I did mine. It may not be too authentic but it was still delicious: 

Apricot Chutney
1/2 T oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1T raisins
1 cup water
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 sprigs thyme
pinch of salt and pepper

Saute the onion and garlic in a small sauce pan, season with salt and pepper. Add the apricots, raisins and water to the pan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the dried fruits soften. At this time, add the vinegar and leaves from the thyme sprigs. Let the acid cook off for another 5-10 minutes. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then puree in a food processor or blender.

Here is a rough recipe for the curry component. It is a really simple one from back home which goes as follows:

Chicken Curry
500 grams of chicken thigh or breast fillets - sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper
1T oil (I use rice bran oil)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 medium carrots, cubed
2-3 red potatoes, cubed
1/2 t grated ginger
2 T curry powder
1 T ground coriander
1/2 T cumin
1 C coconut milk
1 T fish sauce
salt and pepper to taste
water to thin out sauce if necessary

Heat the oil in a casserole and sweat the onions and garlic over medium-high heat. Add the grated ginger and saute for about 2 more minutes the throw in the carrots and the potatoes. Next in are the chicken pieces. Sear them so they brown on all sides. Sprinkle the curry powder, coriander and cumin over the chicken pieces. Allow the spices to get toasty and then pour in the coconut milk. Bring the pot to a boil and lower heat to simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Season with fish sauce, pepper and salt if necessary. If the sauce is too thick, use some water to get the consistency to your liking. Serve hot over brown rice, with chopped hard-boiled egg, crispy bacon and chutney on the side. And for lunch the next day, use leftovers to make these wonderful wraps!