Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who are you?

I know you don't normally use the Comments box, and prefer to lurk in the dark corners - but just this once I'm going to ask you, as a special favour to me, to say hi and introduce yourself!

I don't need your bank account number, and I don't even mind if you want to use a pseudonym (heck, I have done until today!) but I'm curious, and often wonder who is out there reading this.  The clever machine that is Google Analytics tells me that I've had 54 unique visitors in the past month.  Gut feel tells me that 40-50 of you are robots, but I'm keen to hear about the 4 real people!!

So.. who are you?  Do you know me?  How did you find your way here?  And most importantly, is there anything you'd like me to cook for you?  I love a challenge!

I'll kick off: 
My name's Janette, I live in New Zealand, and I've known me my whole life.
I work full-time in a small town in New Zealand, which is the most beautiful place in the world.  I love cooking and gardening.

My favourite foods involve simple methods and clean flavours.. but I like to try something different and/or difficult when the mood strikes.  I tend to get stuck in themes for months on end, where I cook with rice a lot, or have to have lemon in everything (until I get told to stop, usually), or slow-cook every day, and then completely forget about the ingredient or recipe I was so obsessed with until someone mentions it years later.  My mother cooked dinner for me when I visited a few weeks ago:
  Mum: "I'm making your chicken schnitzel recipe"
  Me: (blank look) "I have a chicken schnitzel recipe?"
  Mum: "You know, with lemon and mushrooms - you used to make it all the time"
  Me: (blank look) "are you sure that was me?" 
Turns out it was me, and I love that recipe, but haven't given it a thought in at least two years.  It's delicious - I'll make it for you soon!

This blog is my way of keeping track of my favourite things, so that I don't forget!  Thank you for sharing it with me! 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Red wine risotto

I love this for so many reasons, I'm going to make a list:
1. It tastes fantastic.
2. It's a low-maintenance risotto.  No need to stir!
3. It uses exactly one bottle of wine.  If you drink two glasses.
4. As long as I have the rice, I can make this with what's in the pantry.

The only tricky bit is the rice.  You need vialone nano rice - this technique doesn't really work with other rice varieties.  I buy mine here, but have just found that it's (a lot) cheaper here (but I've never used this company so can't make any claims aside from price!!)  If you're not in NZ, you'll have to do your own Google search, sorry.  I know you can cope. 

Cast of characters:  vialone nano rice (1 and 1/2 cups), a bottle of red wine (I usually use something mid-range, with guts like a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.  Just don't use cheap stuff.  Please.), 1 cup of beef stock (low salt), 1 large or 2 small onions, 2 cloves of garlic, and a handful of rosemary.  You will also need 50g of butter and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan.  Yes, I'm incapable of taking a perfect ingredients shot, thank you for noticing!

Pour the beef stock and 1 and 1/2 cups of wine into a small saucepan, cover and set heat to medium.  You want this to start heating up, so it's just simmering when you need it in a few steps time.

Finely dice the onion, crush the garlic, and finely chop the rosemary (remove stalks).  Cook gently on low heat with a splash of olive oil, stirring until onion softens.

Add rice, stir to coat with oil, and turn the heat up to medium.  Keep the rice moving, letting it toast slightly (the grains will become a sharper shade of white - we are not looking for any colour here, just white!)

Add a splash of wine, and stir until most of the liquid evaporates:

Pour in the simmering beef stock/wine mix (all of it, all at once), then as soon as it starts bubbling turn back to low heat, and cover securely.

I weigh the pot lid down with a couple of wet tea-towels (old ones with a few red wine stains on them already).  This step is not compulsory, but stopped the lid from rattling and driving me crazy..

Now for the low-maintenance part.  Pour yourself two glasses of wine (OK, share one if you're feeling generous).  Walk away for 15 minutes.  Leave the lid on and resist the urge to meddle.  Magic is happening.
Once your time is up, grab a spoon and give it a poke and a stir.  Throw in the butter and the parmesan, and stir until melted.

Serve with steak (mushrooms work well too), and veges.
Reheats well, I love this for lunch the next day - if there's any left.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chicken and spaghetti with lemon, thyme, and roasted tomatoes

I made this up a couple of months ago, and surprised myself with how well it worked.  Usually, when that happens I forget some essential detail and can never make it the same again, so after 6 weeks of dreaming of how good it tasted, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to recreate it!
I'm sharing this with you quickly, before I forget!

This wonderfully simple collection of ingredients is about to become something special.  Not the cheese, though - that's just a decoy (or an ingredient I thought I was going to use, but changed my mind about).  Plus a splash of balsamic vinegar and whole green beans which I forgot.

First, take a small bowl or ramekin, and add one or two tablespoons of good olive oil (mine is a locally produced, cold-pressed extra virgin).  Now add the zest of a small lemon and 2 small cloves of garlic, chopped (please use fresh garlic for this.  There is a time and place for the stuff in a jar, and this is not it.)  Stir it all together and set it aside so the flavours can get to know each other.

To a second bowl, add the following, all finely chopped:  marinated artichoke hearts, (I used 3 or 4 quarters), 4 or five sundried tomatoes and a handful of fresh thyme.  There's usually enough oil already clinging these to dress these, but add another teaspoon (from the jar of tomatoes if you can!) if the mix looks dry.

Officially dedicated to my mother, who kindly tolerated my obsession with making "mixtures" as a child.  See - I've turned it into something useful!

While the flavours hang out and do their thing, take your chicken breasts and prepare for stuffing (just like we did for the crumbed mango chicken a while ago).  Stuff with the artichoke/tomato/thyme mixture.  The oil in the stuffing will make the chicken beautifully moist, and help to distribute the flavour.  Then, instead of crumbing the chicken, we're going to wrap it in streaky bacon (2-3 strips per breast).  Everything is better with bacon.
Toss a couple of cups of cherry tomatoes in olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar (use the reddest vine-ripened tomatoes you can fine.  Pale, watery substututes will not cut it here.)  Place the chicken in a medium-sized roasting tray or baking dish, and scatter the tomatoes.

Pour over half a cup of white wine, and throw the whole thing, uncovered, into an oven preheated to 220C for half an hour.

Now, this is where the timing gets tricky.  If you play your cards right, it all comes together perfectly - but read through first, so you know what's coming!

While the chicken is cooking, cook your spaghetti (I use the thinner stuff for this recipe, but not for any particular reason, so just use whet you have!)  Stir-fry beans in a wok if you feel you need the vitamins (or just because the colour looks pretty) - I've also thrown these into the boiling spaghetti for the last minute or two with some success, if you want to save on dishes!  Add the cooked (and drained!) spaghetti to the beans, and pour over the lemon/garlic/oil mixture, tossing to coat.

Remove the chicken from the oven, and drool over the way the tomatoes caramelise and the bacon browns and crisps.  Ovens are wonderful.

Set the chicken breats to one side, then pour the juices and the tomatoes into the spaghetti.  Toss again to mix.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Muffin cases

I'm in love with a local kitchenware store called Table Pride.  By local, I mean within an hour of here (we are a little short of shops closer than that!) - plus they have a website, so stuff just turns up on my doorstep and I don't even have to leave the house.
If you find yourself in Tauranga, pop in to Devonport Road and have a look.  You'll find all sorts of handy items, including muffin cases:
Thanks to those of you who thought I was creative enough to have made these myself (and I do like that they're rough and homemade-looking), but I bought them..  They come in a tall stack, and fit perfectly into muffin cases.  And you could probably make them with squares of greased cooking paper, but you could also cheat like I did.  And after all, I don't think you can buy brown baking paper.
No need to grease the muffin pan (or give it more than a quick wipe-down afterward), and if you're serving a crowd, these keep the crumbs contained and the buttery goodnness off your fingers!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

White chocolate muffins

I was all set to make dark chocolate muffins for a friend's baby shower last weekend, when I remembered the Mum-to-be is a big white chocolate fan.  I did a little research, and one test batch, and discovered the best muffins ever. Seriously.  I'm usually a dark chocolate kind of girl, but there's just something about these.. they're slightly chewy/caramelised at the edges, and tasty hot or cold.  And they're almost solid chocolate.

Makes 12 muffins
350g white chocolate (I used 1 x 250g block, and a couple of handfuls of chocolate buttons)
60g butter
300g all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup sugar (160g)
3/4 cup full cream milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

(While this recipe starts out the same way as my dark chocolate muffin recipe, things change pretty quickly, so pay attention!)

Preheat oven to 200C (375F) and line muffin tin(s) with paper liners.

Add butter to a small saucepan, and melt on a medium heat. When the butter melts and starts to bubble, remove from heat and add 100g of chocolate (break into pieces first, or use buttons/melts).

Stir until smooth, then set aside to cool.

Take the remainder of the chocolate, and chop finely with a heavy knife.  Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine flour, baking powder, and salt (the whisk helps aerate the dry ingredients, and keep your mix light)

I have no idea why I decided to switch to portait orientation at this point, but you can see my pretty new scales!  I prefer to weigh ingredients for baking, as a cup measure of flour can be so variable!
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg and sugar until thick (about 2 mins).  Don't think you're clever and use a small bowl, or you'll make a mess in a couple of steps time.  I found out the hard way so you wouldn't have to.

Add the cooled chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth:

Note that the cooler the weather, and the longer you wait, the more the chocolate will thicken.  It was cold on Saturday, and my chocolate set a little too much.  You want it cool enough that it doesn't cook the egg on contact, but warm enough that it's still a smooth paste, rather than waxy semi-set chocolate..
Now stir through the milk and vanilla.  This will splash a bit, and you'll be pleased you used a large bowl.

Fold in the chopped chocolate.  Finally, stir through the flour mixture until just mixed (never over-mix muffins.  Fold ingredients together until the flour is just moistened.)

Fill muffin tins, and bake for 20 minutes or until centres bounce back when lightly pressed.
These really are best eaten warm if you can.  They're good muffins when cold, but amazing when warm.
A further note on weather.  The first time I made these, it was a warm day and the mix was the consistency of sweetened condensed milk - thick and runny, and sticky.  The second time, it was a cold day, and the mix was completely different - see the centre shot above.  Don't panic, the consistency of your mix will depend a lot on the temperature of the melted chocolate when you add it.  Expect a bit of variation.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dark chocolate muffins

These are a great treat.  Using dark chocolate gives a real depth of flavour that chocolate chips and cocoa just can't achieve.

Makes 12 muffins
250g block of dark (bittersweet) chocolate120g butter
300g all purpose flour
100g brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk (or soured milk*)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and line muffin tin(s) with paper liners.

Add butter to a small saucepan, and melt on a medium heat.  When the butter melts and starts to bubble, remove from heat and add 150g of chocolate (break into pieces first).

Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula while the chocolate melts.  Resist the urge to eat the resulting smooth, chocolately goodness with a spoon.

Set aside to cool slightly.

Take the remainder of the chocolate (by my reckoning there should be 100g left.  Try not to eat it!), and roughly chop with a large knife.  Other than flavour, this is better than using chocolate chips because you'll get variation in your muffins: small shards of chocolate add even flavour to the mix, while the bigger pieces give you a good hit of chocolate every now and then!

In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt with a whisk (to keep it light).  Next time I make these, I'll add a tablespoon of cocoa for an extra hit, and to give more depth of colour.  Feel free to beat me to it and let me know how you get on!
Make a well in the centre, and add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Fold together until almost smooth.  Stir in the melted chocolate mixture until evenly distributed, then the chopped chocolate.

Transfer to muffin pans with a big spoon.  I fill almost to the top, as these don't rise a lot (and the papers I use are tall and very forgiving!)

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops bounce back when lightly pressed.

Eat these while they're still warm.  Divine.

* If you don't have buttermilk, make your own soured milk as a substitute.  To make 1 cup, pour 1 tsp of white vinegar into a measuring jug, and top up to 1 cup.  Set aside for 10 minutes to sour before using.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It's slow cooker season

.. well, almost.  It's definitely getting colder.
I love my slow cooker in winter.  It cooks stuff while I'm not home.  Beautiful, tender, meaty stuff.

Lamb shanks are delicious, and surprisingly easy.  They have had a bit of a surge in popularity lately, so I tend to wait until they're on special or they can be pricey!
Just throw the following into your slow cooker: 2-4 lamb shanks (one per person), one large onion (diced and browned in a frypan with a little oil first), 2-3 carrots (cut in half), 2 tsp crushed garlic, 2 Tbsp tomato paste, a few shakes (about 1 Tbsp) of worchestershire sauce and a couple of sprigs of thyme.  Pour over 1 cup of stock (I use vegetable stock, but beef works fine, too.)

Sit it on the cold stovetop, and turn the extractor fan on.  (Trust me, the fan is the easiest way to stop the whole house smelling like casserole for a week.)  Pop the lid on, switch on, low setting, for 4-6 hours.  Walk away.  Stir once if you need to, but the shanks really won't mind if you just leave them.
While you're off doing something else, this happens:

It's a beautiful thing.  The meat is tender, and falls away from the bone.  The juices have all run together to make a delicious gravy.  I'm getting hungry all over again just thinking about how this smells.

Serve with green veges, and mashed potato.