Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The taste of Spring - Lamb

As you all know, I purchased some beautiful Mirrool Creek lamb shanks at the Eveleigh Farmer's Market on the weekend. On Sunday I took advantage of the fact that I was at home all day to treat myself to the delight that is slow cooked lamb shanks. To go with the Spring theme, I decided to serve the shanks with some crispy sliced potatoes and a fresh watercress, Kalamata olive and blood orange salad, drizzled with a small amount of good extra virgin olive oil.

I flavoured the shanks with the rind from the organic blood oranges I bought from the market, garlic and fresh rosemary. The result was absolutely delicious. The meat was meltingly tender and the flavour of the orange and the rosemary was perfect with the sweetness of the lamb. This dish was so, so simple to put together, with very few ingredients. It is the long, slow cooking that really allows all of the flavours to shine and makes this dish special. It is worth the wait, believe me!

Slow cooked lamb shanks with rosemary and orange

You will need: 4 Frenched (trimmed) lamb shanks, 3 x pieces of orange rind about 6 cm long (remove as much of the white pith as you can so that it does not make the dish bitter) 1 large brown onion cut into medium sized pieces, 4 sliced cloves garlic, 1 x sprig fresh rosemary about 6 cm long, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 cup water, salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 teaspoon paprika.

Method: Ideally, you should use a casserole dish for this that can go from the stovetop to the oven- a heavy cast iron dish is perfect. If you do not have one of these, you will need to do the first step in a frypan and then transfer the shanks to lidded casserole dish for the oven cooking part of the process.

Mix the flour, paprika and some pepper in a plastic bag. Add the shanks and dust them with the flour. Heat the oil in a pan on the stove and sear the shanks until they are browned. Add the onion and garlic and let these cook for about 5 mintues. Add the water, orange rind and rosemary and combine well.

Put the lid on the dish and transfer the shanks to the oven. Cook covered, on a low/medium heat for 2 hours. From time to time check the shanks and turn them, also give the onions a stir, adding a little more water if they start to dry out. There should be about a 1cm layer of liquid in the pan at all times. Eventually the onions and orange rind will break down to a puree-like consistency. This will form the sauce to spoon over the meat.

When the meat is done, let it rest out of the oven with the lid on for 15mins before serving.
Serve with crispy potatoes and a salad. Serves 4.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pumpkin Head

Today I decided to make some soup to have for my lunch this week. My criteria was that I wanted something with Asian inspired flavours, it had to be vegetarian and it had to be good for me. I love pumpkin soup, so I played around with my usual pumpkin soup recipe and came up with something brand new, that ticked all the boxes. The result is today's recipe - Spicy Pumpkin and Coconut Soup.

Because I wanted a coconut flavour, but still wanted the soup to be healthy (An average 400ml tin of Coconut milk has a whopping 60g of fat in it, which is ok for the occasional treat - but I planned to eat this soup almost every day this week!) I decided to try the reduced fat coconut infused evaporated milk from the supermarket. I have never used this before and frankly I wasn't convinced that it would be all that great but I was pleasantly suprised by the result. Rich coconut flavour? Check. Creamy texture? Check. Low fat option? Check. (It only has around 6g of fat in a whole tin)

The soup has a lovely velvety texture and has a delicious aromatic taste, with the addition of ginger, garlic, chilli and of course the coconut. Serve the soup with fresh coriander and some extra fresh chilli to ramp up the flavour even more.

Spicy Pumpkin and Coconut Soup

You will need: 500g pumpkin, 1 large onion, 2 large carrots, 2 large potatoes, 4 cloves garlic, 4cm piece ginger, 1 x 375ml tin coconut evaporated milk, 1.5 litres vegetable stock, 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder (or more, if you want it spicier), salt and pepper to taste. Fresh coriander and chilli to serve.

Method: Peel and then roughly chop the ginger, garlic and onions. Set aside. Peel and roughly chop the pumpkin, potatoes and carrots.

Heat the oil in a pot and add the garlic, onion and ginger. Cook on a medium heat until the onion starts to turn transparent. Add the pumpkin, potato, carrots and the chilli powder. Combine well and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the vegetable stock and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat slightly and allow it to simmer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, add the evaporated milk and mix well. Let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes.

Blend the soup until very smooth with a hand blender or food processor. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. Serve with fresh chilli and coriander.

Serves 6


Saturday, September 26, 2009

To Market, To Market....

This morning I finally got around to checking out the Eveleigh Farmer's Market @ Carriageworks. There seems to more and more small farmer's markets popping up around Sydney, and I have to admit that there is a real appeal to buying produce direct from the producers. I also love a market atmosphere. To me , a market environment inspires me and encourages me to try new things. I love the interactions with the stallholders, the opportunity to taste and touch ingredients and the "buzz" that a market always seems to have.

Although the Eveleigh Farmer's Market is pretty small, I really loved what was on offer. Organic fruit and vegetables, artisan breads, organic meat, poultry and smallgoods, freerange eggs, organic milk and dairy products, flowers, stalls selling homemade cakes, jams, confectionery. There is a stall that sells the gorgeous Toby's Estate coffee, as well as food stalls selling pastries, pies and other treats if you haven't got around to having breakfast yet. This morning, I was starving by the time I walked to the market, so I was definitely up for some brekky. I sampled a delicious bacon and egg roll, cooked while you wait with organic bacon, freerange organic eggs and organic bread, topped with homemade BBQ sauce. Yummo!

So, what did I buy? Well, a few things caught my eye, and you will be seeing some of these ingredients in the coming days as I turn them into various dishes. Here they are.....

Today's selection was a bunch of golden beetroot, which you rarely see in your average greengrocer, so just I had to bring home a bunch! The beautiful blue tinged Kale (Tuscan Cabbage), Blood Oranges, A loaf of stone ground organic "La Tartine" sesame/sourdough bread, organic Pecorino cheese from Highland Organics in Picton, a tub of organic salted Jersey Butter, lovely vine ripened Conchita Tomatoes (sold by the delightful Sorbello family, who also sell a range of heirloom tomatoes and zucchini), fresh Rosemary and a massive bunch of Rununculi flowers to pretty up the house.

On the meat/smallgoods front, I tried a truly outstanding spicy goat sausage from Eumundi Smokehouse (made just a few suburbs away in Dulwich Hill) but it was their stunning Chorizo, robust with plenty of chilli and red wine, that won me over. I'm already regretting that I only bought one! I was also rather taken with the lamb on sale from "Mirrool Creek" (a farm near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales) I ended up bringing home 4 frenched lamb shanks from them (not pictured) which I think I will cook tomorrow. They also had lovely looking legs of lamb, shoulder, cutlets, rumps and minced lamb.

The Eveleigh Farmer's Market is only open from 8am to 1pm on Saturdays and is located on the corner of Wilson and Codrington Streets, Eveleigh. It operates rain or shine, as it is undercover. For more info, check out their website: http://www.eveleighmarket.com.au/farmers.html

I really enjoyed my first visit to the market this morning and I will definitely be going back. It is a nice way to start the weekend with good coffee, a delicious breakfast and surrounded by flower stalls and all that wonderful seasonal produce. A helpful hint though, most stalls only take cash, and there is no ATM on the premises, so come cashed up. I got caught out this morning and had to make a detour to the pub in the next street who did have an ATM. If you are someone who loves fresh flowers in the house like I do, this market had a beautiful selection, with really great prices and good quality. I picked up 3 bunches of Rununculi for $15, which is really good value. Generally, I thought the prices were reasonable, considering the quality of what was on offer. Almost all of the produce was organic and all of it is seasonal and direct from the producers. A visit to this little inner city gem is recommended.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Frittata - With a little help from my friends......

I'm heading off with my other Beatles obsessed friends to our mate Damon's house this afternoon to play the eagerly anticipated "Beatles Rock Band". Word has it that he has set up his attic to accomodate us (closest thing we have to "The Cavern"!) and I have no doubt it will be a riotously entertaining time for all. Lots of gin and tonics and bad singing will ensue, I'm sure. Now, even the real Fab Four must have had to stop for a snack break occasionally, so I cooked a few things this morning to make sure that we keep our strength up for those dodgy renditions of "I am the walrus". The recipe I'm posting today is one of the things I have made to take to Damon's.

Today's dish is a simple to make mushroom, leek and fennel frittata but I have given it a bit of a twist by serving it with a delicious, fresh tasting horseradish and mint cream. I will be serving small slices of it with a dollop of the cream on the top. Of course you can serve the frittata alone if you want to. This dish works as a finger food but would also be a nice spring entree or a vegeatarian main course. It would also be perfect for a picnic.
Either way, you'll love it. (Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!)

Mushroom, Leek and Fennel Frittata with Mint and Horseradish Cream

You will need: (For the frittata) 1 doz free range eggs, 1 cup cream, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup grated parmesan, 1 bulb fennel sliced finely, 1 large onion sliced finely, 1 large leek sliced finely, 1/2 cup sliced spring onion, About 3 cups sliced mushrooms, 1 tablespoon finely chopped continental parsley, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, splash of olive oil, salt and pepper.

(For the topping) 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup natural yoghurt (I use an organic Greek style yoghurt), 1 tablespoon each of chopped continental parsley and fresh mint, 1 tablespoon horseradish cream ( You will find this in the mustard/condiment section of the supermarket)

Method: First, combine all of the topping ingredients well and then refrigerate until you areready to serve.

In a frypan, add a splash of olive oil, the spring onions,regular onion, fennel and leek. Cook on a moderate heat for about 5 minutes. You do not want the ingredients to brown, so keep an eye on it. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-8 minutes, until the fennel and leeks are soft. Turn off the heat and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, cream, grated parmesan, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined.

Line a baking dish with baking paper. Tip the leek/fennel mixture into the dish and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the top and mix it in a little bit, so it doesn't all sit on the surface. Pour over the egg mixture and ensure it is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle with the parsley and cook in a moderate oven for about 20 mins, until the frittata is set. Let it cool for at least 10mins before cutting it into pieces. Serve topped with a spoonful of the horseradish cream mixture and some extra mint leaves.

This recipe will make around 40 small pieces or will serve 6-8 people as an entree or main course.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quote of the day.....

Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.
- Tien Yiheng

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Go Mango!

I absolutely love mangoes and we are starting to see the first of the season appearing in the markets right now. I love them in sweet dishes, but I think they really shine when teamed with seafood or white meat. They also make a great addition to salsas or sauces, particularly with a bit of heat from chilli or peppers.Tonight's recipe uses my first mango purchase of the season teamed with fresh Australian ocean caught prawns. It is super quick and easy to prepare and has plenty of flavour, with the addition of ginger and chilli and a light tangy dressing. This would make a great entree or light dinner and something different to serve at a BBQ.

With the exception of the dressing, I haven't specified any amounts ingredient wise in tonight's recipe - just grab as much or as little of the ingredients as you need and follow the instructions. You know what you like - let your tastebuds guide you. This salad would also work well with calamari or scallops if you don't fancy prawns. Oh, and apologies for quality of the pic today - I was having battery issues with my digital camera.

Mango and avocado salad with ginger and chilli prawns
You will need (For the salad) Fresh raw prawns shelled and de-veined, lettuce (I chose Migonette today), sliced cucumber, sliced fresh ripe mango, sliced avocado, finely sliced red (Spanish) onion, fresh chilli and ginger, splash of olive oil, salt and pepper.
(For the dressing) 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and maple syrup, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, salt and pepper.

Method: Combine the prawns, ginger and chilli with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Let them marinate for a few minutes.

Assemble the lettuce, cucumber, avocado, mango and onion on your serving plate/s. Whisk together the dressing ingredients.

Cook the prawns quickly in a very hot pan. Add to the salad ingredients and drizzle over the dressing. Serve right away with some extra fresh chilli on the top.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Flower Power

I practically skipped and did fairy claps in the greengrocer this morning when I arrived to find that the first zucchini flowers of the season had appeared. To me, nothing means spring like these delicate beauties and along with asparagus, I think they are one of the best spring vegetables available. When choosing zucchini flowers, smaller is better. The zucchini should be bright green and unblemished and the flowers should show no sign of brown discolouration. Because they are so delicate, they don't cope with longterm storage or rough treatment, so treat them with lots of TLC and cook them within a day or so of purchasing. Here they are, fresh from the grocer.....

As well as the zucchini, I also noticed the most vibrant, glossy, fire engine red peppers for sale too and I got to thinking that I would build a dish around these ingredients. The result is a luscious, smoky flavoured scarlet coloured soup that is a delicious contrast the the freshness of the zucchini flowers. Add a filling with the creaminess of ricotta and the tang of lemon and you have a fabulous dish that just screams spring. This would be a great vegetarian main course or a lovely starter for a dinner party. A lot of recipes call for coating the zucchini in a light batter and frying them however I admit I'm not a big fan of this technique. I think it overshadows the clean, fresh taste of the produce so I just cook mine in the oven with a little olive oil.

This recipe is actually two, and you could easily serve the two elements seperately. The soup would be great hot or cold by itself and the zucchini would be a nice addition to an antipasto platter or draped with prosciutto as an entree. Feel free to make the soup the day before if you want to get the pepper roasting/peeling out of the way early. The soup will also freeze well but don't try to freeze the zucchini.
And here is the finished dish....

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup

with ricotta filled spring zucchini flowers

You will need: (for the soup) 4 whole red peppers (capsicums), 2 red onions, 6 large Roma (egg) tomatoes, 6 whole peeled cloves garlic, olive oil, 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon paprika, splash of Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.

Method: Drizzle some olive oil over the peppers and put them in a baking dish lined with baking paper. Bake them in a hot oven for about 45 minutes. They will scorch in places and you will probably hear a lot of sizzling and popping noises as they cook. This is as it should be.

While the peppers are cooking, roughly chop the onion. Cut the tomatoes in quarters and remove the seeds. Combine the onions,tomatoes, salt and pepper in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Combine well.
When the peppers are done, carefully remove them and put them all in a plastic bag. Tie up the bag and leave the peppers to cool for a few minutes. They will steam a little and this will make removing the skins (the next step) a whole lot easier.

Add the tomato/onion mixture to your baking dish and cook them in a hot oven for about 25 mins. While they are cooking, carefully remove the skin. core and seeds from the peppers. You will be left only with the flesh and it will be sweet and caramelised. Take extra care to ensure that you get rid of all the seeds, as they can be very bitter and will ruin the taste of your final dish.
When the tomatoes are done, transfer the mixture to a saucepan and add the roasted peppers, stock, paprika, tabasco, sugar and salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer and let the ingredients cook for about 15 mins. Now puree the mixture till smooth (I use a hand blender) and taste for seasoning. Adjust if required.

You will need: (For the zucchini) 8 young zucchini with flowers attatched, 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, Grated rind of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon each of mint and continental parsley, salt and pepper.

Method: Combine all of the ingredients except the zucchini and mix well. Set aside.

Now, prepare the zucchini. Be very gentle when handling them, as the blooms are very fragile. Also, do not wash them - the petals will become sodden and they will be impossible to work with. If they need a clean, use a damp paper towel on the zucchini only, not the flower.

Gently open the flower and remove and disgard the yellow/white stamen inside. Taking a teaspoon of the ricotta filling, carefully fill the flower and close the petals around the filling. Give them a little twist at the top to keep everything contained.

Drizzle the zucchini with olive oil and cook in a moderate oven for about 15 mins.

To assemble the dish: Ladle the soup (hot or cold, however you are serving it) into shallow bowls. Lay the zucchini on the top and serve. This recipe will serve 4.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Quote of the day.......

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta."
Federico Fellini

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Greek inspired salad for Spring....

I adore seafood of all varieties and there is nothing better than super fresh calamari, grilled simply with garlic, chilli and lemon. Tonight's dinner is a quick and easy salad with fresh Greek flavours and beautiful local Calamari.

When buying Calamari (or Squid), I really advise against buying pre cleaned, pre cut rings. You have no way to judge how fresh they are and in my experience they end up resembling rubber bands when they are cooked. Yuk. Buy whole squid and clean them yourself, or if you are a big wuss and are too squeamish to tackle the job yourself, buy them whole but get the fishmonger to clean them for you on the spot. Choose Calamari that are not too large - I find the really huge ones are more likely to be tough when cooked, even though they may be less fiddly to clean. Also, don't disgard the tenticles - carefully trim them off and use them too (actually, they are my favourite bits - I love how they go slightly crispy when you grill them - Yummo!)

You will notice I haven't specified amounts for the salad ingredients in the recipe - just throw in as little or as much as you want, depending on how many people you are serving. This salad can be served when the Calalmari is warm or cold, either way, it is delicious. As always, adjust the seasonings to your taste (tonight I used extra chilli because I wanted a bit more heat) You could also substitute the lemon for fresh lime if you like. You could also add olives or Fetta cheese for an even more Greek vibe to the dish. This works well as a main course salad or a really nice fresh tasting starter.

Calamari and Rocket Salad
with Kipfler Potatoes and Garlicky Lemon/Yoghurt Dressing

You will need: (For the Calamari) 1 medium sized calamari per person, cleaned and cut into rings, 1-2 small red chillies chopped finely, 2 cloves garlic crushed, generous splash of olive oil, squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper.

(For the salad) Rocket leaves, finely sliced Spanish onion, sliced cucumber, cooked potato (I used a few small Kipfler potatoes sliced lengthways, but you can use other varieties)

(For the dressing) 1 tablespoon good quality natural yoghurt (I use an organic, Greek style one), splash of olive oil, squeeze of lemon, 1 crushed clove garlic, 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar,salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon warm water.

Method: Combine the Calamari and the marinade ingredients and allow to marinate for at least 20mins. Combine all the dressing ingredients and mix well - set aside. Combine your salad ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Heat a grill pan and cook your Calamari in batches - it will cook very quickly, so don't let it sit in the pan too long, or your Calamari will be rubbery.

Combine the Calamari with the salad ingredients. Put on a serving plate and drizzle with the yoghurt dressing. Done!