Monday, June 30, 2014

Seafood Chowder

We have just returned from a gorgeous week long winter escape to Tasmania - just the thing to bring a bit of joy to what is often mid year blah-ness. I was lucky enough to win return flights to Hobart courtesy of Destination Tasmania, so the trip was an unexpected and much welcomed surprise. We had already decided there would be no trips for us this year, as we saving to buy a house over there, but it seems that the Goddess had other ideas and so off we went!

Tasmania in winter is just beautiful - cold? well yes.... we actually got snowed on as we stood on the banks of an alpine lake taking in the pristine beauty of it. Little snowflakes fluttering down on a face numbing wind. Breathtaking - literally! But with the harsh winter, there is also a lovely cosy feel too - the smell of wood smoke and open fires, everyone rugged up against the cold. And of course, plenty of seasonal comfort food - which is the inspiration for today's recipe.

Filled with fresh seafood and flavoured with leeks and eschallots, my seafood chowder will more than warm the cockles of your heart - especially when served with warm crusty bread on a cold winter night. I used fish, scallops and prawns for my version, but you can use any seafood really. It is also beautiful with the addition of mussels and clams. For a budget friendly version, you can use just fish and it will still be delicious.

As well as my chowder recipe, I also wanted to share a new addition to my kitchen. I have been searching for an old copper kettle for ages, and was thrilled to find one in Hobart. Being an antique, it has a few bumps and mends on it - but no holes, which is the important part! I think it is just beautiful and has heaps of character. It's going to be a pleasure to use. I love the thought of using something that has a history - I wish my new kettle could talk and tell me where it's been and whose households it has been a part of. Here it is, pre- polish.

My Antique Copper Kettle

Now back to the chowder - it is best eaten freshly made and is not suitable to freeze. But it is so delicious you're unlikely to have any leftovers. Serve it will warm crusty bread and lashings of butter. Roaring winter fire optional.

Seafood Chowder

You will need: 400g firm white fish cut into cubes, 6 large shelled and de-veined prawns, 6 scallops, 1 large potato, 1 small carrot, 1 leek- white part only, 4-6 eschallots, 1 clove finely chopped garlic, 2 cups fish or vegetable stock, 2 cups milk, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons plain flour, 2 pinches cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, a little extra olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Method: Peel and finely dice the carrot and potato. Set aside.

Finely slice the leek and eschallots. In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the leeks and eschallots on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until very soft. Do not let them brown. Add the garlic, carrot and potato, season with salt and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside.

Cut your prawns and scallops in half and season them with salt and pepper. Heat a little extra olive oil in the pan and cook them quickly on a high heat. The idea is to sear them and give them a little colour - they do not have to be cooked right through, as they will continue to cook in the chowder later. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Now add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Once bubbling gently, add the plain flour. With a wire whisk, combine the flour and butter thoroughly. It is important to use a whisk and not a spoon, as this will stop any lumps forming. Cook the butter/flour mixture for a few minutes on a medium heat.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the stock, combining well. Now return to the heat. Add the cayenne and milk and whisk it through. The mixture will start to thicken slightly. Add the vegetables back into the pot. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. If the chowder is too thick, add a little extra milk.

Add the fish and stir gently through. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes before adding the prawns, scallops and 1 teaspoon of chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if required.

Spoon into bowls, top with the remaining parsley and serve with warm crusty bread. Serves 4 people.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Day of Winter

Welcome to the first day of winter here in the southern hemisphere. We could be forgiven for thinking that it would never get here, given the unseasonably warm weather that we have been experiencing. Autumn barely made an appearance at all, and frankly I feel a little bit ripped off, given how much I love the cooler weather (actually, the colder the better as far as I'm concerned). Happily, we got some welcome rain overnight and  the day has been cool, with a steely grey winter sky - just gorgeous.

I headed out into the garden to check out how my winter veges are faring, and they were looking beautiful and healthy after a soaking of rain. The lettuce is ready to start harvesting this week, I picked the last of the tomatoes, the first baby carrots should be ready in another couple of weeks, as well as the spring onions. I plan to plant some beetroot and maybe a few other vegetables in the coming weeks. Always a good idea to plant a few vegetables at different times, so you have things to pick at various times during the winter. The herbs, such as parsley, lemon balm, chives, sage and bay leaves are all powering along. I used fresh bay and parsley from my garden in today's recipe.

I thought I would welcome Winter with the comfort food of comfort foods - slow cooked lamb shanks. They are the perfect dish to cook if you are having a lazy Sunday at home. Although the cooking time is long - about 3 hours - the preparation time is short, and there are minimal ingredients. It's set and forget cooking.

To make the dish more complex, you could always add vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and celery with the meat  - but I keep mine really simple, preferring to add fresh vegetables after the meat is cooked as side dishes. With a rich dish like this, I think it's good to have some fresh greens or other vegetables on the side to balance things out a bit and provide contrast to the richness. Because the cooking time is so long, if you put veges in the pot, they are going to break down completely anyway - and believe me, these lamb shanks already have buckets of flavour, so they don't need help in that department.

A dish like lamb shanks really benefits from being served with creamy potato mash or polenta to soak up all that delicious sauce - not to mention that buttery, falling off the bone tender meat. Enjoy this gorgeous welcome to Winter dish.

Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks

You will need: 
4 lamb shanks, 2 large sliced brown onions, 1 large sliced red onion, 2 cups beef stock, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 bay leaf, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley stalks, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, 1 tablespoon butter, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 4 teaspoons cornflour, salt and pepper to taste.

For the seasoning mix:
2 tablespoons plain flour, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, pinch of cayenne pepper.

Method: Preheat the oven to 160C.

Combine all of the seasoning mix ingredients and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and while that is happening, coat the lamb shanks well in the seasoning mix. Add the shanks to the pan and cook until very well browned on all sides. Transfer the lamb to an ovenproof casserole dish.

Add the butter, and when this has melted, the onions and the bay leaf. Cook the onions on a medium heat until very soft. Add the parsley stalks, paprika, brown sugar and garlic. Cook and combine well for another 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the lamb.

Combine the stock and the soy, and pour over the lamb. Cover well with foil (I use 2 layers) - or a tight lid.
Cook the lamb covered for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, uncover the lamb, add half of the parsley leaves, stir well and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes. Combine the cornflour with a little cold water until smooth. Remove the lamb from the oven and stir through the cornflour and water mixture quickly. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. Return it to the oven for another half an hour. Finish off with fresh parsley to serve.

Note: Depending on the amount of fat in the individual lamb shanks, you may end up with a thin layer of oil on the top of the dish. I choose to get rid of this and use a big spoon to skim it off before serving.

Serves 4 people.