Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gourmet burgers - the fast way

I work full-time.  Like most people I know, I don't have a lot of time to cook - but I still insist on eating well.  I've learned a few tricks, and have a few nice quick meals up my sleeve, which I try to share here.
I also live in the middle of nowhere, so we are lacking in options for take-out.  If I want a decent burger, I make it myself (the other options being fish & chip shops, or McDs).

This is nothing fancy.. and certainly nothing healthy.. but it is easy and delicious.  And officially the easiest way to crumb chicken (or fish) - no more messing about with flour and egg.

Take boneless thigh fillets, and trim skin and visible fat.  Use a sharp knife to cut part-way through any thick parts (to help cook evenly).
Now, use a butter knife to spread creme fraiche over the surface of the chicken.  (Remind me why I trimmed the fat earlier??)   
Today's Food Safety tip: to avoid contaminating your tub of creme fraiche, put a couple of tablespoons into a ramekin, and spread onto the chicken from there!  You don't want to be double-dipping that knife when it's been all over the raw chicken.
Now, take your chicken and dredge in breadcrumbs to cover.  Pat lightly to make 'em stick.
Cook everything outside on the BBQ hotplate.  I've said it before.  It's too hot to cook indoors in February.
The fillets will brown up beautifully, and don't need more than a quick spray of oil, as the creme fraiche melts right into the crumb and does everything for you, just like self-saucing pudding.
Now just partner with your favourite burger fillings.  You can't go wrong with bacon, camembert, and tomato relish.. unless you're counting calories.. in which case you should have steered clear of the creme fraiche in the first place.
Look! It's almost as tall as a McDonalds burger photo!  Tastes very different, though!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Variations on a theme

Still craving seafood, so when I saw cockles (NZ little-necked clams) at the supermarket this week it was hard to resist!  As I made this, I realised how similar this recipe is to the mussel recipe I posted last week.  Once you know a few basic techniques, and understand flavours, you can mix and match pretty easily.. as I did here to make a quick seafood pasta:
The main difference between mussels and clams is that the latter have a tendency to hold sand.  Rest in a bucket of cold water while you prep, to encourage them to spit some of it out! (not as important if they've been sitting in the spray bin at the supermarket).  This also means you don't really want to use the cooking fluid as your sauce, unless you like a lot of texture (and personally, I gave up eating sand as a toddler!).
Steam the clams in a saucepan with a little white wine (NZ sauvignon blanc is beautiful with shellfish), using the same technique as for the mussels, but keep an eye on them as they'll open much faster.
I usually multi-task, and at the same time boil pasta and brown terakihi fillets to pad out the dish!
Yes, I left the stalks on the onions and the dirt on the garlic so you'd notice they were home-grown!
In a separate pan, soften half an onion (finely diced) and a clove of garlic (crushed).  Add cream, grated parmesan, and the zest and juice of one lemon.
Add about a cup of peas (frozen), and a few handfuls of shop-bought pasta (I used spinach and ricotta), and the terakihi.  Shell the clams into the sauce (save a couple of shells if you are taking photos, or trying to look fancy).  Decant a little of the cooking fluid to thin and flavour the sauce (just try and leave the sand behind!)  Stir it all up, and voila:
The hard work is in the multi-tasking.  Otherwise, this is so easy it should be cheating.

This post was entered into the "Grow Your Own" roundup, created by Andrea's Recipes and hosted this month by House of Annie

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mmmmmm.. Mussels

It doesn't get better than this:
Oh - sorry - I meant this:
You have to be quick around here!!
I grew up with shellfish, and have fond memories of standing in a crowd around the BBQ hotplate after a day at the beach, scoffing cockles and pipi straight from the shells as fast as they would open!  My tastes haven't changed, but today I can get beautiful, fresh green-lipped mussels from the supermarket now, at a minute's notice, and without getting wet!!

This is my favourite lunch or dinner:

Prepare the mussels by removing beards (just pull), and give a quick scrub and rinse under cold water.  Never use mussels that smell bad, or that don't close when tapped sharply with the back of a knife.  
Don't ask me how many mussels you need: I can eat 1kg in a sitting, but I think most people go for about a dozen per person.  I don't know where they get their willpower.  I'll let you figure out where you sit on that scale, just make sure you have a big enough saucepan!

Finely chop a small onion, and a clove of garlic.  Throw in a handful of other veges at the same time to make this feel healthy if you're prone to guilt trips about meals based almost entirely on cream, butter, and meat!
In a large saucepan, melt a tablespoon of butter, and add onion.  Stir until softened.
Stir through garlic and vegetables, then add just enough white wine (or chicken stock if you're stuck) to cover the base of the pan.  Throw the mussels on top, and cover.
Walk away for about 5 minutes, leaving the pan on medium heat, and let the steam work its magic.  Give the pan a bit of a shake from time to time if you have OCD, and tell yourself that this makes the mussels cook evenly, even though it doesn't really make any difference.
When they start opening, lift them out with tongs into a bowl for serving (careful, they'll be hot, and steam is nasty stuff)
Keep shaking them around (or watch patiently if you can!) until they all open.  Discard any mussels which don't open after a reasonable period of time.
Now, the good bit.  Turn off the heat, and pour in about 1/4 cup of cream.  Trust me on this one, you don't want to skip this step.
Stir to mix, then pour the sauce (and veges) over your bowl of mussels.
Serve immediately, with bread and butter, forks, a big pile of napkins, and a spare bowl for empty shells.
Butter your bread and dip it in the sauce.  It will ruin you.

DISCLAIMER: (If you're not NZ-based) These are New Zealand green-lipped mussels (you can tell by the green lip - see?)
This recipe will need adapting if you're using the small varieties of mussel found overseas (they'll cook much faster, and if my experience is worth anything, they'll be tough and taste like old boots no matter what you do with them)..  Really, I'm sorry if you can't get NZ mussels.  You should be too, you're missing out.

More potatoes

I dug the last of the potatoes on Friday night - and they were in the pot within about 20 minutes!  Nothing beats freshly dug spuds.
These are Maori heirloom varieties Urenika (or tutae kuri) and Kowiniwini (also creatively named purple-and-cream!), and both taste fantastic!  Our local farmers market often has both varieties, and the friendly stallholder is usually more than happy for me to pick out the small ones (I love the 'bite') which others avoid!  I buy them every time I see them, and when the last couple decided to sprout last year, I decided it was time to grow my own!
I used the same technique as for my Jersey Bennes, with one potato per bag.  This lovely pile of spuds started out as just three.

Unlike anything I've seen before, Urenika is purple the whole way through (!), and holds its colour when cooked.

I imagine this might be a good option for fussy children: mashed, these look like Play-Doh!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Salmon parcels

We try to eat fish at least once a week - not only for its nutritional value, but as a nice easy option for me to cook on a week night!

I used to reserve salmon for nights when I had a little more time, but more recently this has been a favourite as a fast option!  This is great baked in the oven, but I find there is very little difference (other than time) when microwaved.
First, choose the freshest salmon fillets you can find.
Remove pin bones (that's the row of bones you can see below, or feel if you run your hand across the grain) using tweezers, and remove the skin (if you prefer) by sliding a sharp knife between the skin and the flesh.
Next, trim to individual portions.  Our local supermarket does a pretty good job of this for us, but we love sashimi so much that I always decide the fillets are "uneven" or "the wrong shape" or "too long for the dish I want to use" so that I have an excuse to take the finest slices off one end of each fillet:
See, now I have nice, thick, even fillets for dinner - and I can slice the small pieces as thinly as possible to make sashimi:
Serve in ramekins with good soy sauce and tiny cocktail forks :)
Apologies for the diversion - where was I?  Oh, yeah, salmon parcels.

Decide what you want to throw in with the salmon!  I like lemon slices and onion, (or leeks, depending on the season), or julienne carrots with oyster sauce, or lime and manuka honey - so many options!  Best you figure out what works for you.  Today, I'm using red onion, because I love the pink colour it goes when cooked.
Slice your onion thinly:
Does anyone else think the onion looks surprised?  It makes me giggle..

Place each salmon fillet in the middle of a square of baking paper, and assemble flavouring on top:
Red onion, fresh thyme, and a squeeze of lemon.

Wrap the parcels tightly, and secure with butchers string or these magic silicone bands I bought in Portland.  Remember, the goal is to keep the steam inside the parcel, so you want to fold the paper so it can't escape.
Place on a microwave-safe plate or tray, and nuke 'em for 3-5 minutes on Medium-High.  Told you this was easy.  (You can bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 180C if you prefer.  Just make sure your paper and string are oven-safe.)
A short while later, the salmon has made its own sauce, and the onion has melted into the top of the fish.  Yum.

I discard the herbs before serving (they look gross once cooked, and they've done their bit by now).  You can serve in the paper if you like, or on rice.  I'm currently hooked on soba noodles, so went this way with fresh steamed greens.