Sunday, March 31, 2013

Comfort Food - Traffic Light Soup

Last weekend was spent raiding family members' gardens for herbs. Well, technically, we were visiting family, but as a happy offshoot of these visits, I came home with a nice swag of chillis, parsley, spring onions, basil, thyme and oregano. The basil, thyme and oregano was stored in the one bag and when I opened it up it smelt like pasta. Or pizza. It was crying out for tomatoes and garlic. I thought it only fair that I complied.

Sitting at work, looking out the window, the sky got steadily greyer, and heavier, and wetter. Summer is officially over, with this storm and the temperatures dropping. Ok, so it's still not super cold, but it's cooler. And it's been a while since we've had such snuggle-worthy, soup and bread weather. So I decided to just go with it. A steaming bowl of hot soup and some crunchy pizza bread to dip into it. Some of the positive aspects of winter! My husband isn't the hugest fan of "just" tomato soup, so as I drove home in the rain, I contemplated what I should add. Sitting at the lights and going through the vegetables I had at home, I decided to go with those colours. Red, orange and green. I know, I know, kinda lame. But it turned out delicious! Red tomatoes and chilli, orange pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots and lots and lots of green herbs.

I then followed through again with the garnish. Red bacon bits, orange soup and green parsley. I already had some cooked bacon bits in the fridge, but if you don't, dice up some bacon very finely, then fry for a few minutes until crispy.

Technically, a roast vegetable soup - but I'm calling it Traffic Light Soup.

Traffic Light Soup
1 medium butternut pumpkin
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 small carrots
2 tbsp olive oil
a few sprigs of thyme
4 ripe tomatoes
2 cans diced tomato
big handful basil
big handful oregano
salt & pepper
1 brown onion
1 red chilli
4 cloves garlic
5 cans of water/stock
cream (or sour cream)
bacon bits

Preheat oven to 180C

Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Lightly oil and place cut side down on baking tray, with a thyme sprig in the cavity. Slice the sweet potatoes and carrots in half length-wise, lightly oil and sprinkle in thyme leaves. Roast for 40 minutes or so until soft.

Mix the chopped herbs, salt, pepper into the tinned tomatoes, put in an oven proof dish and add the fresh tomatoes on top. Roast for 30 minutes or so, until the whole tomatoes fall apart when you touch them.

About 10 minutes before the vegetables are done roasting, saute the onion, chilli and garlic in a tbsp or so of olive oil until translucent. Fill the tomato cans with water to rinse out and add the liquid to the pot. All up I used 5 cans of liquid (3 water, 2 stock). Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Take the vegetables out of the oven. Add the tomatoes (carefully!!) into the pot. Allow the pumpkin and sweet potato to cool slightly, then skin and tip into the pot as well, along with the carrots. Stir it all around, then whizz it up until smooth with a stick blender. This can also be done in batches in a normal blender. Check for seasoning.

Swirl some cream over the top, sprinkle on some bacon bits and parsley.

Serve with your favourite bread. This pizza bread is just Lebanese loaves, garlic olive oil, parsley and parmesan, chucked in the oven for a few minutes.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Instagrams of Yumness - Roast Chicken and Vegetable Buckwheat Pilaf

This is a weird combination of leftovers/cooked-for-another-dish/new meal that I made for dinner the other night. Confused? Haha! Me too, writing that! Let me explain. Earlier in the week, we had my in-laws around for dinner. For Christmas, they had given my husband a beer chicken frame - it's a ring thing that you put a can of beer in, and place the cavity of the chicken around it and then roast it in the BBQ. The beer steams through the chicken and subtly flavours it. It's quite delicious and seeing as we had a small chicken, my husband roasted it as a taster for them before the main meal. It's something he's planning on experimenting a lot with, I think ginger beer is next on the list! Currently his favourite way of doing it is by adding chillis and garlic into the beer. So anyway, I had about 1 cup's worth of beer-roasted chicken leftover, so that takes care of the "leftovers" part.

And that night, I was making people chocolate gifts for Easter, rather than buying them eggs. I decided on two items, Chocolate Salami and Whisky Marshmallow, Caramel Bacon Bark. I absolutely fell in love with the Chocolate Salami idea when I saw the pictures on my favourite food blog, Always Order Dessert. And the Bacon Bark, which as a vegetarian dish improved by bacon, shouldn't really need further explanation. I will do a post on both of these in the not-too-distant future. It being Easter very soon! But to make the Bacon Bark, I needed to cook bacon! So I left about a quarter cup of small diced bacon in the pan to help flavour this pilaf. So that's the "cooked-for-another-dish" portion.

Add newly roasted vegetables, and that sort of explains what I meant. But after tempering more chocolate than I've eaten all year, toasting nuts, making caramel, burning caramel, making more caramel, melting marshmallow and crushing biscuits, this hearty yet light pilaf was a delightful dinner. And it all comes together with very minimal 'active' cooking time. In fact, I was calling it a 'risotto' until I realised I didn't do the constant stir, add stock, stir that comes with real risotto cooking.

Roast Chicken and Vegetable Buckwheat "Pilaf"
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 cup finely diced bacon bits
punnet of cherry tomatoes
kernels of 3 corn cobs
1 small zucchini, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
splash of apple cider vinegar (or white wine)
1 cup buckwheat
2 cups water (or stock)
pecorino to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the cherry tomatoes, zucchini and corn kernels in a splash of olive oil. Add the garlic slices and roast in a moderate oven for around 30 minutes. Until zucchini and tomatoes are soft and squishy and corn is golden and cooked.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon bits in a high sided saute pan or put until crispy. Add the buckwheat and stiry around to coat in the bacon fat. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and stir the buckwheat around in it until it's evaporated. Add the water (or stock), put the lid on and cook for half an hour or so until very almost cooked. Stir through the shredded chicken and cook for an extra 5 minutes or so until warmed. Check for seasoning.

Serve with shaved pecorino, and a fresh crack of pepper.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Food Inspiration - Once Upon a Time with Beef Pibil

Food inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere. Have you seen "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"? It's got Johnny Depp in it, of course you have! In it, his character says that he orders Puerco Pibil in every dive he goes to in Mexico, ordering it with tequila and lime. There's a sort of pivotal point he makes in relation to the dish, which I won't go into on the off-chance that you haven't seen it. But consequently, the dish is deemed significant enough for the recipe to be included on the DVD. Awesome, right?

Knowing my husband's love of food & tequila matching, I surprised him one day around 5 years ago by making this slow-roasted pork dish. Well, as close as I could (I couldn't find annatto seeds or banana leaves). It was pretty darn good. It's a pretty specific hot/citrussy flavour that both of us end up craving from time to time. You know something I realised just not - a lot of my food cravings are things that are either slow-cooked or have ingredients that I don't ordinarily have on hand - convenient :/). My husband has to work on public holidays, so consequently I often end up making slow-cooked or complicated dishes on these days. So I have time to make them and he gets to come home to something awesome. Win-win!

Last public holiday, I decided two things. I was *finally* going to make my own tortillas. This was something I was putting off until weekends because the idea seemed time consuming - but then our weekends were so full that it still never happened. I am absolutely addicted to tacos at the moment, so it just makes sense for me to make my own tortillas. And two, I wanted to make Puerco Pibil to go in those tacos. With tequila and lime on the side. I didn't have any pork in the house, but i did have a big lump of beef. I thought that beef would stand up to the flavours just as well. So, Beef Pibil? I chucked it all in the slow cooker, made some fresh guacamole, a fresh tomato and nectarine salsa to kick in some sweetness, a few crispy veges in my own homemade corn tortillas. Now, who wouldn't want to come home from a hard day's work to eat that?

Beef Pibil
1.5kg beef gerello
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
1 tbsp salt
2 green chillis, finely diced
2 jalapeno chillis, finely diced
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
8 garlic cloves
juice of 5 lemons
shot of tequila (I use a reposado for cooking)
half tin black beans - optional

Cut the beef up into chunky dice, or i just sliced into fat rings that would be just submerged in the braising liquid. Grind the spices in a mortar and pestle. Mix all the liquids together in a bowl, stir the spices in.

Throw the beef and braising liquid into your slow cooker, then cook on high for 4 hours, turning occasionally. When the beef is tender, use two forks to shred, then continue cooking for an extra half hour with the lid off to cook off some of the liquid. Add the black beans, if you're using them.

Tomato & Nectarine Salsa
2 large, ripe tomatos
2 small, ripe nectarines
splash of red wine liqueur vinegar
hot sauce to taste
chopped coriander
chopped basil
chopped flat leaf parsley

Everything here is basically to taste, chop it up, mix it up. Let it rest for half an hour or so for the flavours to infuse while you make the tortillas.

Corn Tortillas

As per the recipe in this book, bought for me by the lovely Jasmine  
3 cups tortilla flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups warm water

Mix the flour and salt together, add the water and mix with your hands, kneading it to become a firm dough. This is only a minute or so. The dough should be slightly sticky, and leave a light film on your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.

Take small balls of dough (around 2 tbsps) , roll out disc-like between two sheets of baking paper. Try make it as even thickness as possible.

In a frypan heated to medium, carefully place the tortilla onto the pan. Flip over after around 30 seconds, then again after 30 seconds. Both sides should be slightly coloured. Put on a plate and cover with a clean tea towel to keep warm.

Repeat with all the dough.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Vegetarian Recipes Improved By Bacon - Stuffed Pumpkin

I don't know about you, but sometimes I get really specific cravings. I'll be sitting watching tv and really want avocado and vegemite on rye toast. Or I'll be reading and want a Corona with a splash of Creole bitters. Or sitting at work imagining a jambalaya just like I had in San Francisco 5 years ago. Or that dish that I made up a few months back that would be perfect right now. In my introduction post, I sort of forgot to say why I decided to start up this blog.  I told you a bit about who I was and where I was coming from, but not why I came to be here, doing this.

Something like this is always based on lots of reasons - wanting a creative outlet, showing off my mad skills in the kitchen (ha!) and giving back to a source that has inspired me so often are all up there. But the number one reason is because I need to have a reason to write down my recipes and what I cook. I'm a bit scatty in the kitchen, I find it difficult to follow a recipe exactly. I like to consider it 'experimental', because that makes it sound like a good thing. I change the recipe bassed on what my mouth feels like it wants, what I have stocked in the house and crazy ideas of what just might work. I can be disappointing to realise that the thing I am craving, I can't replicate exactly. I'm still a little fly-by-the-seat-of-my-apron, so most of my measurements will be a little guesstimated (mainly to save on dishes), but generally close enough is good enough.

And speaking of cravings, last night I wanted roast pumpkin. And bacon. I had bought the cutest ever baby butternuts earlier in the week and it conjured up a memory of a stuffed squash recipe I'd seen in the not too distant past. Back when pinterest was full of 'Fall' recipes and I was gearing up for summer. And then that was what I wanted. But with bacon. I was so satisfied with the result that I made sure I wrote it all down. So far, so good!

Stuffed Butternut Pumpkin with Kale, Chipotle and Bacon
serves: 2-4 depending on how hungry everyone is and how big the pumpkins are. I had the cutest little ones.
2 small butternut pumpkins
2 cloves of garlic,cut in half, then lightly squished
2 chipotle chillis, cut in half

1/2 cup cooked millet
3 rashers bacon

2 shallots, minced
1 celery stalk, small dice
1 carrot, peeled and small dice
2 bay leaves
10 or so coriander seeds
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried sage
splash of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water

3 leaves kale, finely shredded
3 sprigs parsley, leaves chopped fine

1/4 cup pepitas
Parmesan cheese – a few shreds on top of each half.
Pepper (I used lemon pepper – get the no added salt type)
Preheat the oven to 180C.

When I was making the millet for this, I cooked a whole big batch, because I needed some for another recipe. But generally I use a 1:2 millet:water ratio, bring to the boil, simmer for about 10 minutes, then turn off and leave the lid on for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork to separate the grains.

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the smashed garlic cloves and chipotle peppers on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover them with the hollow of the pumpkins. Roast in the oven and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Flip the butternuts, and spoon a bit of the cooked flesh out to make a bit more of a hole for the stuffing . Leave a decent pumpkin lining still. Finely dice the chipotle and garlic from beneath the pumpkin. Set it all aside.

While the pumpkin is in the oven, dice the bacon small, and chuck in a medium heat pan with tallish sides. As it releases some of it’s fat as oil into the pan, chuck the shallots and bay leaves in and give a good stir. Once the bacon is a bit crispy and the shallots are softened, add the carrots and celery. Cook these for about 5 minutes and then add the coriander seeds, thyme and sage. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and scrape the bacon bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the parsley and kale, swirling around until the kale wilts a little. Add the millet and water and mix around to ensure it’s all fully incorporated. Cook until the water has evaporated. Add the pumpkin flesh you removed earlier. Chop the chipotles and garlic from beneath the pumpkin, mix it all in well.

Change the oven to grill. Fill the pumpkin hollows with as much stuffing as you can, pop some pepitas on top, and as much parmesan as you desire – I only put a tiny bit. Just enough to add flavor and that crispy/melty crunch that parmesan gets. Top with lemon pepper, then grill until cheese is melty and pepitas are toasted.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rituals - Quinoa Cookies

Love is in the everyday, in the rituals. My husband and I have developed and perfected various routines for our day-to-day chores and tasks. And mornings are more sort of my domain. When the alarm goes off, I get up and get my husband toast, bring it in on the best plate ever, and pack his lunch while he gets dressed. His lunch has changed over the years to something super easy for me to pack. 

He works with a lot of tradies, and doesn't really like the state of the kitchen in his lunch room, so he was never a fan of preparing, or even storing his food there. And working outside in an Australian summer restricts what he wants to bring in for lunch. His current food of choice for lunch is biscuits. Nutritious, right? But he often doesn't get a proper lunch break, so he likes things he can snack on here and there. Enter quinoa. These cookies are the perfect mix of healthy, extended energy, bite-sized and delicious to work perfectly as a lunch biscuit. Something I don't feel too badly about giving him. Make sure that you use natural peanut butter (the only ingredient should be peanuts), because the texture helps them stick together. I found the original recipe here, but changed the mixing method slightly and added vanilla.

But knowing I make these biscuits for his lunch and help him get off to work every day makes him feel loved. Like when he gives me a back rub when it's my turn to do the dishes. It's the little things.

Rituals - Quinoa Cookies
Rituals - Quinoa CookiesRituals - Quinoa Cookies

Quinoa Cookies

Makes around 30 small cookies
2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (I like chunky)
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsps maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or cacao nibs if you're feeling especially virtuous)

Preheat oven to 180C
Line a baking tray with baking paper
Combine quinoa, salt, coconut, chocolate chips and oats in a large mixing bowl.
Stir in coconut and chocolate chips, make sure it's evenly distributed.
Add peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla and mix it all in really well.
Very lightly oil your hands (to stop the mix sticking too much!)
Mix round balls, forming together tightly and push to flatten slightly. They do not flatten/spread themselves.
Bake for around 20 minutes until golden.
Cool completely before storing.

These are also delicious with dried fruit - cranberries, sultanas and the like!

Breakfast Love - Greek Yoghurt and Coconut Souffle

I love breakfast. It's my favourite meal of the day. Maybe the bacon love has contributed to it's special place in my heart, I'm not sure. All I know is that I love breakfast. In fact, before my husband and I started dating, I gave him a little disclaimer that if we were a couple, we'd probably have to go on a few breakfast dates, even though he rarely ate breakfast back then. We now have our own favourite breakfast cafe. On weekdays, my breakfast is fairly steady - oats, greek yoghurt, some form of fruit. Simple, nutritious and yum. I'm not one of those people that get bored eating the same breakfast every day. However, that is "work day" food, so I don't want to eat the same thing on the weekend. I feel like I need something different to celebrate the fact that it's my time. I'm a bit weird like that.

I spied this recipe for Greek Yoghurt Souffle on pinterest the other day and was intrigued. I've never attempted a souffle before. To me, they are one of those mysterious things that are notoriously temperamental and therefore 'to be avoided'. I've seen many a breakdown in pop culture related purely to souffles that did not rise. But this one seemed relatively easy, and it was made with Greek Yoghurt - a favourite of mine...maybe it was time to give it a shot?

You may recall a previous post about how I'm not a gardener? Well, that doesn't matter to our mango tree, which decided to produce a fair amount of fruit this year. Walking into the kitchen to the beautiful summery smell of fresh mangoes told me that this was the perfect day for trying a light souffle. I replaced the normal flour for coconut flour to continue the tropical flavours, and added shredded coconut to the fruit salad. It didn't rise quite as much as it should have, and flattened quickly, but it tasted amazing. Next time I'd maybe make 4 larger ones, rather than 6 smaller ones to rise more and make it look more impressive!

And if, like me, you decide to make breakfast for someone special, this is perfect for breakfast in bed. It can all be eaten with a spoon, no messy cutting like eggs, bacon and toast have. The do go flat really, really quickly though - so serve them up straight away!

Greek Yoghurt and Coconut Souffle
1 cup Greek Yoghurt
3 large eggs, separated
3 tbsps coconut flour
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
pinch cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
butter/extra sugar to line ramekins

Preheat oven to 180C (the original recipe called for bottom heating only - who am I to argue)
Butter, then sugar the ramekins, tapping out the excess sugar. Line them up on a baking tray to make it easier to put in the oven.
Whisk yoghurt, yolks, coconut flour, salt and vanilla together in a large bowl
In a separate bowl, beat the whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Slowly add the sugar and keep beating until firm soft peaks form.
Slowly fold the egg white mix into the yoghurt mix, a little at a time. Make sure you fold it carefully to keep the air in the egg whites.
Divide into the ramekins, then put them in the oven for around 15minutes until risen and lightly browned.

Serve with your favourite fruit!