Monday, August 23, 2010

Peri-Peri Chicken - very very delicious!

The name Peri Peri is used in Mozambique to describe the African bird's-eye chili. In Mozambican cuisine, Peri Peri (or Piri Piri) is often used in preparing sauces and marinades for roast and grilled dishes, especially chicken and seafood. Peri Peri is also used in all kinds of dishes in Portuguese cuisine - in Australia we commonly associate it with "Portuguese Charcoal Chicken" - chicken that is marinated in the Peri - Peri sauce and then baked flat over coals. The name actually comes from the Tupi language in Brazil - Portuguese traders introduced it to Africa along with other species of capsicum and chillies. Whatever the name, it is a delicious way to prepare food, especially if you like a bit of spice. Adjust it to your taste, but it really does benefit from being on the spicy side.

I served my Peri-Peri Chicken with Patatas Bravas (a Spanish favourite - twice cooked potatoes , first par boiled then shallow fried - topped with a spicy tomato sauce, aoli and finely sliced spring onion.)  I also served a bowl of sweet corn on the cob with coriander butter - Yum!!! The chicken will go well with a salad, baked potatoes and sour cream, or rice. It is also excellent cold as a picnic or buffet dish. You can use the sauce to cook seafood (it is fabulous with fish or prawns) and if you dont want to do the chicken whole, it can work well with chicken pieces or even just wings (a great budget option)

You can buy Peri Peri sauce in a bottle, but why not make your own? It is very quick and easy and you can adjust the flavours however you like it. You can also freeze the sauce, so it is worth making a big batch and dividing it into portions so you always have some on hand to jazz up whatever meat you happen to have around. Here's how I served it...

Peri-Peri Chicken served with Patatas Bravas and corn with coriander butter

You will need:
1 whole range chicken, 1 cup roasted red capsicums (you can roast them for yourself, buy them from a deli or get them out of a jar - whatever works for you), 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 heaped teaspoon coriander powder, 1-2 teaspoons finely chopped or minced chilli (according to your taste), Juice of 1 lime (Do NOT use that awful lime juice in a bottle - it is absolutely vile and full of preservatives. If you can't get lime then use 1/2 a fresh lemon), 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons warm water, salt and pepper to taste, fresh coriander or extra lime wedges to serve.

To make the Peri-Peri sauce - Combine the capsicum, cayenne, coriander,chilli, lime juice, paprika, garlic, olive oil, sugar, water and salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more chilli or salt if required. Set aside.

Wash the chicken with cold water and dry inside and out with paper towels. Lay the chicken on a chopping board breast down. Now, with a sharp knife cut down either side of the backbone. This will remove the backbone/tail in one piece - disguard this backbone. If there is any offal attached to the remaining chicken, trim it off.

Next, turn the chicken over so that it is breast up. With the palm of your hand, push down firmly to flatten the chicken out. Now that the backbone is removed, this will be quite easy.

Use half of the Peri- Peri mixture and rub this into the chicken very well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (overnight is ideal). Reserve and refigerate the other half of the Peri-Peri mixture for later.

Cook the chicken for about 45-60 mins in a moderate oven or a covered BBQ, such as a Weber until the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh/leg area. Baste the chicken as you go with the remaining peri-peri sauce and turn a few times during the cooking process.

Cooking times will vary according to how large your chicken is. I cook my chicken in the oven on a wire rack - this allows good hot air circulation and speeds up cooking time - but you can simply place it on a baking dish/tray if you don't want to do that.

Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces and serving with fresh coriander sprigs and extra lime wedges. This recipe will serve 4-8 people, depending on the size of your chicken and your appetite.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Gorgeous Dumplings

There is something incredibly comforting about dumplings in broth - and my travels in Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam have given me a real appreciation for not only eating this style of dish, but also the joy of making your own dumplings. I love that each dumpling is lovingly fashioned by hand and the attention that is put into each one. There are so many different fillings that you can put into dumplings, I have eaten pork, vegetarian versions with spiced tofu and green vegetables, Shitake mushrooms, fish and chicken - but my very favourite is the subject of today's recipe - a delicious light combination of scallops, prawn and water chestnut (I buy the small tins from my local Asian grocery shop, but I'm pretty sure many western supermarkets stock them these days)

These dumplings are so easy to make - even easier when you do what I do and buy the Gow Gee pastry instead of making your own! You will find Gow Gee pastry at any Asian grocer - they are usually sold in packs of 30 and are already rolled and ready to go. They freeze extremely well, so grab a couple of packs so you can whip up dumplings whenever the urge takes you. The filling will also freeze well, so if you are only cooking for one or two, you can freeze the Gow Gee pastry and the filling in a seperate container. Just defrost and assemble the dumplings when you are ready.

My recipe serves the dumplings in a lovely lemongrass scented broth, but you can just have the dumplings as they are, with a touch of soy. They make a nice entree or even finger food for a cocktail party. I like mine served with lots of fresh chilli, but you can omit the chilli completely if you prefer a mild dish. For me, nothing beats these delicious dumplings and aromatic broth for a beautiful comforting meal, with a touch of the exotic.

Prawn and scallop dumplings in lemongrass broth

You will need:
(for the dumplings) 300g Prawn meat, 200g scallop meat (Roe removed), 8 whole water chestnuts, 1 eggwhite, 1 teaspoon sesame oil (Plus a little extra to serve), salt and pepper, 1 pack Gow Gee wrappers (you can buy these from any Asian supermarket and they usually come in packs of 30), 1 whole egg, 1 teaspoon of water.

(for the broth) 1litre vegetable stock (I used Campbell's brand), 1 large stalk fresh lemongrass cut into about 8 large pieces, 1 bunch fresh coriander (roots and stalks removed and chopped roughly), 2 Tablespoons finely sliced spring onions, a couple of finely sliced red chillies (less or more, depending on your taste)

Combine the prawn and scallop meat, water chestnuts, eggwhite, sesame oil and a touch of salt and pepper in a food processor. Combine until smooth.

Beat the whole egg with a teaspoon of water and set aside.

To make the dumplings, place the Gow Gee wrapper on a chopping board and put about a teaspoon full of filling in the middle. Avoid over filling the dumplings, or they will be hard to handle and may burst as they cook.

Brush one edge of the pastry with the egg mixture and then pinch the sides firmly together to make a half moon shape. When I do this, I sort of fold the edges a little (like curtain pleats) so that the egdes are very firmly joined. You don't want the dumplings to burst when you cook them. Repeat until you have used up all of the filling.

To make the broth, simply allow the vegetable stock and lemongrass to simmer for about 15 minutes, then strain out the lemongrass (it is too tough to leave in when serving)

To serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the dumplings for about 5 minutes. Drain them and place them in serving bowls with some fresh coriander and chilli to taste. Ladle over the lemongrass broth and drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil. Serve right away.

This recipe will serve 4-6 people.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Pate - Gourmet Goddess Style

I haven't made pate for ages and I had a bit of a craving for it last week, so I decided to whip up a batch. Making pate is very easy. I think the thing that puts a lot of people off is dealing with the chicken livers, however it isn't as messy or difficult as you think. Choose very, very fresh livers (I would go to a butcher to get them as opposed to a supermarket if you can)

You can make the pate by itself or you can go one step further like me and make a beautiful glossy consomme aspic for the top. This kind of topping not only gives an extra dimension of flavour and texture, it also stops the pate from discolouring and also looks professional and pretty. I added fresh chervil leaves to mine, but you can add any soft herbs that you may have on hand. I didn't make the consomme myself - I just chose a supermarket brand for convenience and it worked beautifully.

I like my pate very smooth, so I blend it for quite a while until I am happy with the texture. You may prefer a more rustic pate - go with whatever you prefer. Sometimes I actually put the mixture through a sieve if I want it to be extra velvety. I didn't on this occasion, but still ended up with a very, very smooth result.

The pate will last for 4 or 5 days if you don't scoff it all before then. Keep it well covered in the fridge.This batch didn't last long - we had polished off one large pot by day two and I took my friends Justin and Marek a pot when I visited them for dinner the other night, which we later enjoyed with a few glasses of French champers as a starter. Very nice.

If you have never made pate, give it a try - it is not hard and flavour is just wonderful. I think the best way to serve pate is with toast, but crackers of freshly cut crudites (raw vegetables) are also nice.

Gourmet Goddess Chicken Liver Pate with port and chervil

You will need:
(for the pate) 500g chicken livers, 3 rashers streaky bacon (rind removed and chopped into small pieces), 6 eschallots sliced, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 200g unsalted butter, 2 bay leaves, a couple of pinches of freshly ground nutmeg, 1/3 cup port, salt and pepper, a splash of olive oil + 2 teaspoons butter.

(for the aspic topping) 400ml cold chicken consomme (I just used a store bought one) 100ml boiling water, 1 tablespoon powdered gelatine, 2 tablespoons fresh herbs - I used Chervil, but any soft leafed herbs such as Thyme (stalks removed of course) parsley or chives would all work well.

Method: First, cut any of the visible connective tissue from the chicken livers, so that you are left only with the livers. Rinse the livers under cold water, drain them and then pat them dry with paper towels.

Heat a splash of olive oil and the 2 teaspoons of butter in a frypan. Cook the chicken livers on a high heat for a few minutes until they are nicely browned on the outside. Do this in a couple of batches so that you do not overcrowd the pan and cause the livers to stew and not brown properly. The livers should be cooked until still a little pink in the middle. Set the livers aside.

Add the eschallots, bacon, bay leaves and garlic to the pan and saute until the eschallots are soft and transparent. Return the livers to the pan and add the port. As the port is bubbling up, use a wooden spoon to scrape up any small pieces from the bottom of the pan - don't miss any, as there is a lot of flavour in those small caramelised bits. Add nutmeg, a touch of salt and some pepper and stir through the mixture. Remove the bay leaves from the mixture.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor and blend for 5 minutes until fairly smooth. Cut the butter into pieces and gradually add the butter a few chunks at a time, blending well in between. Keep blending until the mixture is very smooth. At this point, pour the mixture into ramekins or pate pots. If you want a very velvety pate, then you can pass the mixture through a sieve before doing this, to make it extra smooth.

It is a good idea not to overfill the pate pots - leave enough room for your aspic topping and to give enough space to cover them later without ruining the top of your aspic.

To make the aspic, combine the gelatine and the boiling water until very well dissolved. Strain the liquid (I use a tea strainer) and then whisk the mixture into the consomme. Gently press your fresh herbs into top of the pate and spoon over the consomme mixture.

Cover the pates with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the aspic sets - about an hour. Overnight is even better.

Serve with hot toast or crackers.

**This recipe will make 2 large or 4 small pots of pate. You could also make one batch in a smallish loaf tin. If you do this, I recommend making the aspic first. Let it set completely in the loaf tin, and then add the pate mixture. This means that when you turn it out, the aspic will be on the top and you can then slice it into pieces.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Hot rocks and an Italian flavour

There is something so special about meat that is cooked over coals or a wood fire. The flames and the coals give the meat a wonderful smoky character that an oven just can't deliver. I think about some of my favourite food experiences and a lot of them involve food cooked and eaten outside on a fire - succulent fresh fish prepared on the beach at Jimbaran Bay in Bali, swoon inducing Satay in a smoke filled street market in Singapore, the delectable aroma of spicy Italian sausages cooking on a backyard BBQ in Marrickville.

My fiancee Andrew is a true devotee of cooking over coals (he insists on cooking pretty much everything on the Weber if he can get away with it!) and today's recipe was inspired by his love of hot coals and my love of rustic Italian food. The result is a delicious dish that is full of gorgeous flavours,contrasting textures and of course that brilliant smoky character that cooking over coals imparts.

Recently I attended the Sydney Food and Wine Show, and as well as coming home laden with two new Japanese knives, a Jarrah wood rolling pin and chopping board, breasts of quail, duck, honey, a bottle of NZ Limoncello, four kinds of cheese, a whole baby salmon, salmon roe and lots of other "essentials" (well, I told myself they were!) - I also purchased two Spatchcocks.

Spatchcock (also called Poussin or Spring Chicken) is a young chicken that weighs from between 450 to 750g. Spatchcock is a delicious meat - incredibly sweet and tender and is a lovely alternative to your standard roast chook. It was once quite difficult to source, but is becoming much easier to find. If you do not see it at your butcher, then ask them to order some for you. It also looks fantastic on the plate and makes for a wow factor dinner party dish. You can serve 1 per person as a main course - although I would choose the smaller sizes if you plan to stuff the birds - as I have in my recipe. A 750g bird would be far too much for one person once it has been stuffed.

The amounts given in the recipe below are for two people - or you could do 4 serves as a substantial entree or lighter lunch. Just cut the spatchcocks in half once they have rested if serving four people.You can of course cook this dish in the oven, but if you have a Weber or covered BBQ then I would suggest using it - you will end up with a superior flavour.

I have given my spatchcocks a rustic Italian feel, with a rich mushroom stuffing, lots of garlic, roasted tomatoes and super creamy parmesan polenta. You could plate them up individually or do a big, bountiful platter that you place in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. However you serve it, I guarantee you will literally want to lick the plate clean....

Roasted spatchcock with mushroom stuffing and Parmesan polenta

You will need: 2 spatchcocks, 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 red onion finely chopped, 3 cloves finely chopped  garlic, 2 cups sliced mushrooms, 2 rashers chopped bacon or proscuitto (rind removed), 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (remove the rough stalk so you are left with just the soft leaves) , salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon chopped continental parsley, 1/2 tablespoon butter, splash of olive oil, 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.

Method: First, rinse the spatchcocks in cold water and then dry them thoroughly with paper towels, inside and out. Set aside.

To make the stuffing, heat the butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan. Add the bacon (or proscuitto) and onions and cook until the onions are soft and transperent. Add the thyme, garlic and mushrooms, season with salt and a little pepper and cook for about five minutes.

Add the mushroom mixture to the fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan and egg. Season well with salt and pepper. Combine thoroughly and then allow the stuffing mixture to cool.

Stuff the spatchcocks with the filling, making sure the stuffing is well distributed.After you have finished stuffing the birds, you can use toothpicks, a skewer or trussing string to close up the cavity if you wish. It is not absolutely necessary, but will make for neater presentation if you do. It also ensures the stuffing does not come out of the birds when they are in the oven, which can sometimes happen as the stuffing expands a little during cooking.

If you are using a Weber or covered BBQ, cook the birds for around 30-35 minutes, basting occasionally. If you are using the oven, cook them in a moderate oven for around 40 minutes. As sizes of spatchcocks can vary, so will cooking times, so they may take a little bit longer or a little less. They are cooked when the juices around the thickest part of the spatchcock (leg and thigh) runs clear.

Cover the spatchcocks loosely in foil and allow them to rest for 10 mins before serving. Drizzle over the pan juices just before you bring the birds to the table. You could serve gravy if you really wanted to, but there is so much flavour in the meat, stuffing and the pan juices, I think it would be a shame to drown it all in gravy.

Suggested accompaniments: I served my spatchcocks with oven roasted tomatoes (leave them on the stalk for a nice presentation), steamed sugar snap peas, asparagus and sauteed mushrooms with garlic and parsley. I placed the spatchcocks on a bed of creamy Parmesan polenta (cornmeal)

To make polenta, just follow the directions on the packet - but if they suggest using water, replace this with chicken stock for extra flavour. I always use a whisk to stir my polenta instead of a wooden spoon, as it tends to pick up all the polenta from the sides and the bottom of the pan much more efficiently. Polenta has a tendency to stick if you do not tend to it well and the whisk really helps. Prepare the polenta as directed and just prior to serving, stir in a generous amount of grated Parmesan, a touch of butter (more than a touch if you are feeling decadent) and plenty of salt and pepper.

Polenta warning!!! When cooking polenta, be aware that when it boils, it becomes the consistency and temperature of molten lava and tends to splutter. Be careful! Avoid nasty burns and a very messy cooktop by making sure that you turn the heat down low and cook it gently. It will also help to put a lid on the pan (but leave it askew so that the steam can escape)