Friday, March 26, 2010

A few of my favourite things..

Sushi, sashimi, tempura, sake, teriyaki, soba, miso, and cherry blossoms... yep, we're off to Japan to try new things (and more authentic versions of a few old things!) for a couple of weeks. 

Try not to miss me too much, and remember to check back in about 2 weeks - I'll have plenty of photos to share!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lamb cutlets with lemon

I love it when I make stuff up and it works out.  I felt like lamb, and had to use up what was left in the fridge (we're taking a holiday at the end of the week).  This was the delicious result:

Take one lamb rack:
Use a sharp knife to slice between the bones, and turn your lamb rack into lamb cutlets:
Of course you could also just buy pre-prepared cutlets.  Or you could use lamb chops, leg steaks, whatever you get your hands on!
Today, for my quick-use-everything-in-the-fridge project, I needed to use lemons and plain yoghurt (Greek, but any plain, non-sweetened yoghurt would do.  Or sour cream.  Either way, my apologies to Kerryn - I promise to post something dairy-free soon!)  
Mix half a cup of yoghurt with the zest and juice of a small lemon, a teaspoon of chopped mint, and a clove of garlic (crushed).  Then, take each cutlet and dip it to cover the surface.  (I prefer to leave the bone clean, as this mix tends to just burn when it's not on the meat!)  Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Pop into a 200°C oven for 10 minutes (no longer.  It is a crime to overcook lamb.)
Serve with couscous and stir-fried veges.  I've posted a quick couscous how-to separately because it's really quick and easy.


I've been making this for years, and love its versatility.. but I have to admit that while I've always wondered what couscous actually is, I've never bothered to look it up until now!
According to Wikipedia, the couscous granules are made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat (coarsely ground durum wheat) and then coating with finely ground wheat flour.  So that solves that mystery.

Making it is easy.  Simply add boiling-hot liquid at one and a half times the volume of the couscous.  That is, if you use a cup of cous-cous, add one and a half cups of boiling water.  Cover and walk away for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.  (I find that half a cup of cous-cous is enough for three generous side-serves).
 ready to be fluffed with a fork and served

Once you know this basic technique, you can mess around with it!  Add lemon zest, garlic, chopped sundried tomatoes, raisins, olives, herbs - you get the picture.  Likewise, swap some of the water out for wine or stock (bring to boiling in a small saucepan first).  have fun with flavours - try to match to your main dish, but remember you should complement not overpower.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Trying new things: kasha

The fun part of my cooking philosophy (also known as "winging it") is you never quite know how dinner is going to turn out..
I only get it really wrong about 3 times a year (and can only recall one meal which was inedible), but from time to time it's "interesting", or not quite what I expected!

Today's case study is a good example of "interesting":  Browsing the interwebs, I discovered a new use for buckwheat I wanted to try: buckwheat kasha. I read enough to figure that it should be toasted and then cooked in much the same way as rice.  A couple of days later, I decided to try it.  From memory.

Given the Slavic roots of this side-dish, I thought beef stroganoff was a good pairing for my first attempt.
Buckwheat has always appealed to me because of its pyramid shape.  Here it is raw:
First, toast the grains in a clean, dry saucepan.  On a medium heat, keep moving it around until it starts to let off a warm, toasty smell, and starts to brown.  Watch it closely and do not attempt to multi-task, or you'll end up with some dark (burnt) spots on your lovely golden grains.  Oops.
This should be an even, golden colour.  Just like this, but without the black spots.

Now what you should do is add water and/or beef stock, and simmer.  But I thought I knew better, and decided to add finely diced onion and a little garlic.  This would have been a nice idea to brown and add at the end, but I do not recommend adding to the mix at the start.  It just makes the water go "gluggy" and the onion gets a little overpowering.  Lesson learned.
You have been warned.
Meanwhile, make the beef stroganoff.  I love the way mushrooms and beef and tomato go together.
But if I'm honest, it's the sour cream that really makes my skirt fly up.
When I threw it all together, it was beautiful.  But the kasha on its own was absolutely overwhelmed by the onion - so this was really saved by the fact that stroganoff loves onion.  I'll skip that step next time and just enjoy the lovely toasty grains.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I feel like chicken and chips

Driving home from work, we managed to reach agreement on dinner: chicken drumsticks, with a request for "crunchy, please".  I felt like potatoes, so threw this together:
Crunchy chicken, with homegrown Maori heirloom potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.  Oh, and cheese sauce because when you cook, you get to make whatever you feel like eating and I felt like cheese sauce.  No idea why.
On this side of the plate are the potatoes.  Chop roughly into equal-sized pieces (so they cook evenly).  Most of these are just cut in half because they were the small ones, left at the bottom of the bin.
Coat with flour and spray lightly with oil.  Spread on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Next, the chicken:
Note that to get a crunchy coating, you need to crumb properly - none of the cheating you may have seen earlier!
Simply coat in flour, with a little salt and pepper to season (I just throw the whole lot in a plastic bag, and shake).  Dip in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs.

Then, just throw the whole lot into the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes (or until the potatoes are browned, and the chicken is cooked through - juices should run clear.)  Sprinkle the potatoes with garlic salt to serve.
Roughly 30-45 minutes from fridge to plate.  Easy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On recipes, and dancing: my cooking philosophy

You may have noticed, I don’t really use recipes.  This is harder to believe if you know me – I’m commonly described as “structured” and “well-organised”.
Maybe it’s my science background, but I’m a big fan of understanding the basic concepts and techniques, so I can bend the rules.  

Sure, it feels great the first time you try a new recipe.  But the joy for me is in taking whatever I have in the fridge, adding a bottle of wine and a few friends, and pulling together something fantastic with no notice.  That never works with a recipe – you freak out because you don’t have olives, or the right cut of chicken, or a lemon.   Instead, I use recipes as a guide - or more often simply a source of inspiration.

I was thinking about this today, and the best analogy I could come up with was this: It’s like dancing.  I don’t mean this in a fruity, cooking-is-art sense, but in a practical sense.  You need to know the basic moves, a few cool steps.  You learn which styles you prefer – ballroom or hip hop – and a few of the well-known dances in your genre.  Then, once you’ve done a few classes and can get through the cha-cha without too much prompting, you start showing off a few steps at a party.
Think about really dancing.  I mean the perfect night out, when you dance for fun, without having to really think about it.  You make it up as you go along.  You take those basics and you mix them up, throw in a few of your own moves, to whatever music is playing at the time.  That’s dancing.

In the same way, food for me is not about the recipe, it’s about the experience you get when you sit down at the table after the work is done.  How does it taste?  There’s no point adding something just because the recipe says so, if you hate it - but you have to know enough to understand the impact of removing or substituting an ingredient.  Once you know why an ingredient is there, you learn whether or not you can mess with it.

In short: don’t expect recipes here, unless we’re baking.  You don’t mess about with baking.