Saturday, March 19, 2011

Quick Dinner 1 - Slightly Spicy Salt and Pepper Fish

Reality has set in. I've had to say good bye to my life as a housewife/lady of leisure - and hello to 10 hour days that leave me with very little time or energy to prepare elaborate meals every night of the week. Planning weekly menus and cooking on the weekends to stock up for the work week are tasks that have become more important than ever. But I must admit that on some weekends, I'd rather laze about than spend the day cooking. Hence, the need for a repertoire of dinners that can be whipped up in 20 minutes flat.

Thankfully, Mr. P has been so patient and supportive as I adjust to this change in pace. Because he works closer to home, he's put his hand up to do the prep work for me so that I walk into the kitchen with all ingredients in place and ready to go. I must say, we are making a great team so far.

This dish has become a staple for many reasons. It's quick and simple, it tastes great and is very satisfying. I guess you could also say it is pretty light and healthy, just use as little oil as possible when frying.
Dinner is Served in 20 Minutes Flat.
4 hoki or dory fillets, sliced into 2 inch pieces
2-3 stalks of scallions, chopped (white and green parts separated)
1/2 a sweet red chili, minced
1-2 cloves garlic
1 egg
1 cup of wholemeal flour 
salt and pepper
1 wedge of lemon
2T or less of rice bran oil

Season the fish lightly with a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper. Beat the egg in a small bowl. Spread the flour on a plate and season lightly with salt and pepper. Dip the pieces of fish in the egg and lay on the seasoned flour to coat evenly.  

Saute the white scallion pieces in very little oil, add in the garlic and chili once it softens, season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Add a little more oil. When the oil is hot, slide the pieces of fish into the pan and fry for about 2 minutes on each side or. Do not crowd the pan or the coating will get soggy. When the fish is golden brown, remove from heat and keep warm in a 160C oven while cooking the rest of the pieces. When all your fish is cooked through, put them all back into the pan and toss with the scallion, garlic, chili mixture. Top with the green scallion parts and serve immediately.

We love to eat this with a salad on the side, dressed with Japanese dressing. Of course, Mr. P has to have it with hot steaming white rice. 


Monday, January 10, 2011

Jamming for the Holidays

Oh dear, where did the time go? I can't believe I let two months pass without posting a new entry on this blog. I feel like I've cheated on blogging but the truth is, things got pretty busy over here.  My parents were here for most of November and we had so much fun taking them around. Not to mention, I was very happy cooking for four, sometimes six, rather than two. Many dishes were made and in time, they will be shared.

Towards the end of their visit my spouse visa also got granted. Because I am now allowed to work in Australia, I have been on hyper job-hunt mode. With that, cooking and blogging have been relegated (hopefully only for the time being). Having said that I am determined to get back into it. I guess I just need some time to re-adjust my daily schedule especially because the priority did moved from experimenting and documenting experiments, to the more serious task of securing employment. Then the holidays came and went and just like that, we are well into the New Year.

I'm happy to say that I'm getting my groove back. Throughout this period, we've still had some great dinners, sumptuous breakfasts and other experiments. Having had a full week, I was extremely delighted to find time in the kitchen. Some may get this and some may find it strange but for me, being in the kitchen is truly a release of stress, tension and even a bad mood.

Falling under "other experiments" are the jams I made as Christmas gifts. One day I read a recipe for banana-mango jam from the issue of Yummy magazine that my mom brought from the Philippines. I was so intrigued, I decided to make something of the bananas that needed to be consumed before going dark. I didn't have mango though but I had apricots and passionfruit. I simply used those fruits in place of the mango and voila, I amazed Mr. P and myself with a delicious concoction that went so well with goat cheese and toast. It was really good!

Right about this time, we were thinking of gift items for the family members we were going to be seeing over the holidays. Mr. P promptly suggested that this could be it. I thought about it and decided it was a great idea to go with homemade gifts this year. I remembered an Ina Garten recipe that combined strawberries and basil. But, for the second jam that ws to go into the basket, I really wanted to use sage. My basil plant was still a baby and yet I had sage growing like a weed in our balcony. I tested both anyway and confirmed that this fruit-herb combination would work. Recipes all set and off I went to buy the ingredients, containers, and packaging supplies. It was time to jam.

Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the jams themselves but I have photos of how I intended to pack them up for gift-giving time. We were quite happy with the look and even happier to know that the recipients and their families truly enjoyed these little concoctions.

With this experiment done, I really would like to venture into making more interesting combinations later on. I guess with anything else in life, it's just a matter of finding the perfect match.

Banana-Passionfruit-Apricot Jam 
(adapted from Pixie Sevilla-Santos' Banana-Mango jam recipe in the Sept 2010 issue of Yummy Magazine)
4 cups of sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1 kilo of the fruits, combined (I think I had 4 bananas, 3 apricots and 3 cups of passionfruit pulp)

Cook the sugar and water until it reaches the soft ball stage (to test, drop a small amount of the boiling syrup into cold water, if you can gather the strands into a soft ball, you are there). This takes about 8-10 minutes of rapid boiling, or if you are using a thermometer (I didn't) it should be at 112C.

Once you've reached this stage, put the peeled and sliced bananas and apricots into the pot. Add the passionfruit pulp. Boil for about 15 more minutes until it reaches a jam-like consistency. Take note that while it is hot, it may seem runny. Once the jam cools, it will set more.

Strawberry and Sage Jam
1 kilo of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
4 cups raw sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
rind of 2 lemons
5 sage leaves

Combine all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring consistently. Once the strawberries break down, lower the heat and add the sage leaves. Continue to boil slowly until you reach your desired consistency. The flavour of the sage will gently infuse into the strawberry mixture.

For both recipes, pour the jams into sterilised jars while hot and seal tightly. Put the sealed jars into a pot filled with water and bring to a boil. Let them sit in the boiling water for 10-15 minutes. This process will give your jams a long shelf life.

I hope this is just the start of some unlikely but lovely matches to be made in my kitchen!

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!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Loving Leftovers

Adobo Flakes Wrap
Don't you just love the feeling of accomplishment when you manage to turn leftovers into something "new" for lunch the next day? I do! Yes, some dishes work better than others in the leftover department but I think those of us from the land of adobo can agree that this one is tops when it comes to aging gracefully. 

I made a huge vat of adobo recently. It was so huge that we had it for three meals and still, there was more. So, to change it up a little I decided to make adobo flakes. When I was living in San Francisco and my mom would come to visit, she would never head home without leaving a mound of adobo flakes in my fridge. It was her labour of love and it was simply the best! It could be consumed in so many ways: either on it's own, with eggs, as a sandwich, on a salad - I can go on and on. One version created by my pasta-loving brother-in-law, Mr. Noodleman was mixed into his spaghetti with marinara sauce. What a discovery! It may sound weird I know but it added heft and great flavour to a simple tomato sauce. We had so much of it one night, we almost passed out on the couch.

So now it was my turn to make adobo flakes. There definitely is room for improvement in my version. I just flaked the meat and cooked it down with the leftover sauce until all the liquid was absorbed. Then, I fried this in a little bit of oil until it turned to a brown crisp. I need to find a way to make it as fine and crisp as mom's but I have to say that it was still super yummy and crunchy. What's even better is I found yet another way of having these magical leftover flakes one hungry afternoon. All I had in the fridge was the adobo flakes, feta cheese, wraps and spinach. So my adobo flakes wrap was born out of:

1 naan wrap
1 small bunch of baby spinach
1/2 cup or more of adobo flakes
about 6 cubes of feta cheese (I used low fat and it was very good.)
1 T Hoisin sauce
1 T Japanese mayo (optional)

Lay the naan wrap in a pan over medium heat smear the Hoisin down the middle and the mayo next to it if you are using. Line the spinach leaves, feta cubes or crumbles and adobo flakes along the bottom half of the wrap. Roll over starting from the bottom so that the empty half can be wrapped snugly around the filling. Leave on the pan to heat through for about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate, cut in half and enjoy!

If I had access to kesong puti here, I would definitely use it. But anyhow, the feta worked really well and the combination of the adobo with the Hoisin just made it oh so delicious. A quick lunch that got two thumbs up from Mr. P. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Discovering the Elements of Coq au Vin

I learned about mirepoix while visiting my Tita Paz in Cincinnati one summer. At the tender age of 8, I got such a kick out of saying this "fancy" French word which she explained meant the combination of onions, celery and carrots. I guess she saw that I had an interest for the kitchen as early as then. So from being her spectator and just watching her prepare meals for us, I quickly becoming her sous-chef for the summer. And boy did I prepare lots of mirepoix for her that year! Now that I think about it, she is surely one of my earliest cooking mentors.

Fast forward to Mother's Day back in 2001. I was still living in San Francisco and decided to treat my dear mother out to lunch at a French bistro in Yountville, Bistro Jeanty. It was then that she first introduced to one of the most basic French dishes: Coq au Vin. Immediately I fell in love with it. I loved how the chicken was so tender, infused with the red wine and all the yummy flavours coming from the herbs and guess what? The mirepoix! This is when I put two and two together, the little element I learned about at 8 years old turns out to be the basis of most French cooking. Similar to how the combination of garlic, onion and tomato is the basis of Filipino cooking.  Note taken: guisado to Filipino food = mirepoix to French food. 

This I can say is when I began to explore cooking French inspired dishes more and more. For some reason however, Coq au Vin was one of those that intimidated me for a while. I guess it was because from that time at Bistro Jeanty I started to order it a lot when eating out, and back then there were just some restaurant dishes that I was afraid to cook myself. I'm glad that is not the case anymore because really, Coq au Vin is a stew so it really is simple to do. 

This recipe may not be authentic or completely true to the classical French ways but it was satisfying, delicious and tasted like Coq au Vin to me. The method was definitely simpler than Julia Child's recipe, which I do want to try next time. 

6 chicken pieces (I used thighs and breasts with bone and skin on)
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 strips of bacon cut into lardons
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 T cognac
4 T flour
about 15 pearl onions
1-2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 a bottle of red wine (should be Bordeaux but I just had Shiraz)
bouquet garni:
-3 sprigs of thyme
-a sprig of parsley
-3 bay leaves

Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. In an oven-proof casserole, heat olive oil and butter and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Remove chicken from pan and bacon lardons to render the fat. If there is too much fat for your taste, drain some of it and add the mirepoix, season and brown. Once the mirepoix has browned, add the chicken back into the pan and pour in the brandy to deglaze. Bring a lit match close to the liquid to flambe. Swirl the pan around until the flame is gone. Pour in the red wine and chicken stock, add the bouquet garni and pearl onions, bring to a boil. Bring down to a simmer, add the sliced mushrooms and keep simmering for 30 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the casserole to a 170C oven and continue cooking for one and a half hours.

Remove the bouquet garni and serve hot with scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes or buttered noodles. 

I truly had a moment making this meal. As I was prepping my mirepoix and putting all the elements of the dish together, I was smiling, thinking of my mom and my aunt. Who knew that those individual moments of discovering food in Ohio and California would lead to me cooking up a dinner that would put a huge smile on our faces down here in Sydney? The back story made the meal that much more enjoyable for me. And it made for good dinner conversation with Mr. P too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Holy Smokes!

Not just the fish but the entire flat was smoked! Yes, I didn't heed warnings to do this outside because I was too curious and excited to get to it. I had learned about smoking fish using simple tools like a wok and some foil from a Masterclass episode of Masterchef a few months ago. When I read this blog post last week I remembered that I wanted to try it out.  

Taking the tips from both sources, I got started. I had some green tea leaves, trout fillets and a wok with a rack. This really felt like a kitchen experiment. Smelling the wonderful aroma and thinking about the rich smokey flavored fish we were going to have for dinner, I was smiling all throughout the process. Mr. P is not a huge fan of fish. He likes it but is a little picky about it. Smoked is not on the top of his list. Yes, I was taking a risk here but the discovery of a new technique was definitely worth it.

Tea Smoked Trout
400g of trout fillets
Splash of white wine and lemon juice
salt and pepper

1/2 cup jasmine rice
1/2 cup tea leaves (I used the peach flavoured green tea I have now)
1/2 cup sugar 

Season the fish with the salt, pepper, lemon juice and white wine while preparing the rest of the ingredients. I read that some cure the fish prior to smoking while others just go straight to smoking. So, I decided to go half way and marinate my fish briefly.
The smoking mixture in its foil receptacle.
Make a receptacle out of foil for the smoking mixture. Put the rice, tea and sugar and in it and place the whole thing at the bottom of the wok. Spray or brush the rack with some oil. Turn the heat to med-high and cover the wok. Once the mixture starts to smoke, lay the fish fillets on the rack and cover the wok tightly. Use some foil to seal off the sides if like mine, your cover is not tight enough. Allow your fish to smoke for 6-8 minutes until it flakes easily with a fork. Turn off the heat and set fish aside. (If you plan on doing this indoors, I suggested taking your covered wok outside and removing the cover there. That way most of the smoke will just waft through open air, and not into every room and corner of the house.)
I decided to make an herbed yogurt sauce for the fish.

Yogurt Sauce
1/2 cup of Natural Yogurt
1 clove of Garlic
a handful of chopped herbs: I had basil, chives, parsley and a bit of rosemary
1T lemon juice
2T extra virgin olive oil

Put the yogurt in a sieve lined with a sheet of paper towel or a cheese cloth. Allow it to drain for about 6 hours. Meanwhile, grind the garlic, chopped herbs, a dash of the olive oil, salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle. 
Once the mixture is finely ground whisk in the rest of the olive oil and the lemon juice. When the yogurt is ready, put it in a bowl and whisk in the garlic and herb mixture to blend. You can do this in a food processor too. Add lemon juice and/or olive oil to thin it out if necessary. Season to taste.

To cut through the rich smokey taste, I made a citrus salad and to make it a full meal, accompanied it with lentil puttanesca and a forgotten sweet potato that I just roasted.

Green Salad with Fennel and Citrus
a bunch of mixed greens good for two
half a bulb of fennel
segments of 1 mandarin orange

I'm not a huge fan of raw fennel so I just roasted it for 8 minutes in the oven with a little bit of salt, pepper and olive oil. Once done, let it cool and toss with the greens and orange segments. I like to do the segments over the salad so any juice that runs just works to further dress the leaves. 

Lentil Puttanesca
-half a red onion, finely chopped
-1 garlic clove, finely chopped
-1 anchovy fillet, chopped
-1 tablespoon of capers
-2 tablespoons of black olives, roughly chopped
-1 tomato, roughly chopped
-1 can of french lentils
-2T red wine vinegar
-1-2T extra virgin olive oil
-1T parsley, finely chopped
-1T basil, finely chopped
-dash of chili flakes
-salt and pepper

Chop the onion finely and saute in the olive oil until tender. Add the chopped garlic to the pan. Season with a little salt and pepper. Once the garlic begins to cook, add the tomatoes and allow it to soften slightly with the heat. Toss in the anchovies, capers, olives and lentils. Stir lightly to combine and heat through. Pour in the red wine vinegar and stir through. Remove from heat and finish with the chopped herbs, chili flakes and a dash of extra virgin olive oil. 

Due to the saltiness of the anchovy, capers and olives, you may just need to add pepper and omit the salt in the final seasoning. Check to see if the taste is to your liking.

For the final assembly, toss the fennel, greens and cooled lentils together. Arrange the orange segments nicely over the salad and place the roasted sweet potato discs neatly around the dish. I then flaked the smoked trout into slightly large chunks and put this on top of the salad, in between orange segments. Spoon the yogurt sauce over each chunk of fish. 

The combination of flavours was really refreshing. Both Mr. P and I could not get enough. The light citrus and vinegar from the lentil salad cut through the richness of the fish perfectly. It was a light and delicious one-dish dinner and would make a great addition to a barbecue or a picnic.