Saturday, January 22, 2011

Comfort Food + Chocolate Raspberry Mousse

Friend and colleague L recently emerged from major surgery, now to be faced with weeks of bed rest and boredom.  I can offer little more than some comfort food, which hopefully helps to alleviate the pain a tiny bit.

Some good "healing" foods for L (my opinion only!):
  • Chorizo and chickpea stew:  includes cinnamon, and I also included fresh ginger and garlic for their healing properties.  Chickpeas for protein and all-round goodness, chorizo because L loves it.
  • Steamed white rice:  seems to be a cure-all in asian cultures, is reasonably easy to digest and what isn't comforting about a steaming bowl of rice?
  • Roast apricot chicken:  made with my mother in law's homemade apricot jam, from apricots grown on the family orchard by my father in law.  I roasted chicken thighs (bone in) in a casserole dish - spread with a jar of apricot jam, and a cup of chicken stock, salt and pepper for about an hour (first 40mins foil on, remaining 20mins foil off).  
  • Lup cheong sausages: aside from the fact that L loves them; they are handy to have in the cupboard, have a long shelf life, and can be chopped and added to almost anything (or eaten shamelessly on their own).
  • Chicken and pistachio korma, made from scratch: for Christmas, L gave me a book of recipes from last year's Australian Materchef contestant, Poh.  In it, there's a very simple recipe for chicken korma - I challenge anyone to get it wrong!  The only change I made was to up the spice levels.  Chilli also has healing properties, does it not?  Also contains lots of ginger and garlic.
  • The grand finale:  Chocolate Raspberry Mousse, my own recipe, whipped out at random for moments when true comfort is needed (or when I need to use up some leftover cream).  Use the "three bowl" method:  Bowl 1: beat 450ml cream until thick.  Bowl 2: beat three eggs and 1/4 cup caster sugar for a few minutes until thick and very pale.  Bowl 3: place a heatproof bowl over a small pan of simmering water and melt 300g of chocolate (I prefer dark but you can use any sort). Once the chocolate has cooled (transfer chocolate to a cool bowl to speed up the process), stir into the egg mix until completely combined.  Spoon in about 2/3 of the whipped cream, and use a big metal spoon to fold in gently.  Once combined, refrigerate for about two hours or until set; spoon over the remaining cream and sprinkle over raspberries (or any other fruit or berry).  Warning: comforting in small doses only!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Quick pantry dinner: Lup Cheong Fried Rice

Whenever I cook rice, I always make at least double the amount I need.  This is so I can knock together some fried rice the next day.

It's so simple - the main ingredient is day-old cooked rice.  You can use white or brown but I think white works best.  Brown long-grain could work equally as well though.

All you need to worry about is getting a flavour base going.  Once that's done, just throw in the rice!

I hadn't been shopping in a while, but here's what I managed to scrounge together:

-  half a red onion
-  two small carrots
-  handful of green beans from the garden
-  red chilli
-  soy sauce
-  thumb-sized piece of ginger
-  pack of lup cheong (chinese cured) sausages
-  brown sugar

Finely dice onion, chilli and ginger, throw into a hot wok with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Stir fry for a minute until softened and fragrant.  Add lup cheong - this is quite a fatty sausage and will impart some more juices and flavour into the pan, stir fry one minute.  You could instead use some chorizo, chicken or prawns, or for a vegetarian option, add firm tofu.  Add carrot (you could also use frozen peas, tinned corn, capsicum, etc) and stir fry for another minute or two until cooked.  Add cooked rice (about 2-3 cups worth), a splash or two of soy sauce, sugar and season with a few shakes of white pepper.  Stir fry until combined.

I like to spoon over some chilli oil for a little extra kick.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chinese Broccoli (Gai Larn)

I've been loving Gai Larn - otherwise known as Chinese Broccoli - ever since my good friend T (who grew up in China) introduced me to it with a simple oyster sauce drizzled over, at Spicy Fish restaurant in Melbourne's CBD.  The dark green vegetable has thick stems from which big dark leaves sprout; sometimes it comes with small yellow/white buds as well.  You can basically eat the whole thing; just trim the ends, wash thoroughly, then chop and put a few slits in the thicker stems so it cooks evenly.

Gai larn is super-charged with beta-carotene and also contains folate.  Plus, it tastes incredible.  It's my favourite asian vegetable - much more robust and crunchy than say, Bok Choy.  It's "meaty" enough to stand up on its own, served simply as is, or with steamed rice and a salty sauce such as oyster or chilli - or you can throw it into a stir fry in the last few minutes of cooking.

I love it boiled for a few minutes, then refreshed under some cold water and served over rice.  Here's a great sauce that will complement it nicely:

Sauce for Gai Larn:

-  1 tsp sesame oil
-  1/4 cup oyster sauce
-  2 tbs light soy sauce
-  1 tsp chilli oil (check Asian grocers)
-  1 tsp brown sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a small pan over medium heat, until sugar dissolves and sauce heats.  Pour over freshly cooked gai larn (stir fried or boiled for 3 minutes) and rice.  Add extra chilli oil to taste.

The Perfect Steak: it's not rocket science

There was a time in my life when I was irrationally frightened of cooking steak.  Not being a huge red meat eater, I'd had limited opportunities to practice; and to be honest I wasn't that interested seeing as the rare (get it?) times I eat it, is usually when someone else cooks it for me.  I'm one of those occasional meat eaters who should probably go vegetarian and recognises all of the benefits to the body, the animal and the environment; but is a bit too lazy to make the transition.  (Before you silently judge me, I do go for free-range and local produce so I'm not a complete monster).

My conundrum is that I live with a total carnivore now.  I'm talking an outdoorsy, meat-n-three-veg, protein-obsessed, Aussie Bloke.  So in order to maintain a happy union, we've both had to compromise, expand our respective repertoires and be more flexible with our eating habits.  For example, chickpea curry and spicy rice translates into chicken curry with chickpeas and boiled rice with chilli on the side.  Salad becomes thai beef salad.  Dhal is laced with chorizo or at least accompanies some grilled sausages.   And meat + veg becomes ... meat + veg.

I'm sorry but for all my vegetable-worship I'm not a fan of meat substitute products.  So when the occasion calls for a steak and I'm in the mood, I throw caution to the wind and give it a go.  But of course, I'm not one for tradition and have banned "bland" from my kitchen, so here's my version of meat and veg:

Garlic Butter Steak and Smashed Sweet Potato (serves 2):

-  two thick-cut eye fillet or scotch fillet steaks
-  one clove garlic (crushed)
- 50g salted butter (softened but not melted)
- one large sweet potato
- handful of green beans
- fresh herbs from the garden, chopped (whatever you've got - I used sage)
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- 2 tsp sour cream
- 1/2 cup verjuice, or white wine (or something else acidic, i.e. lemon juice)

Press half the chopped herbs over both sides of the steaks, leave in fridge until ready to cook. 

Put the crushed garlic and half the herbs into a small bowl and combine with a fork.  Roll into a log on some cling wrap, wrap it up tight and place in the freezer.

Peel and chop the sweet potato into 2cm chunks, spread out on a baking tray and toss in olive oil.  Season with salt & pepper.  Bake in a 190C oven for 35-40 minutes, or until soft and browned.

Take the steaks and pat them dry with paper towels.  This is important - if you don't dry the steak it won't brown properly.  Then, rub all over lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place into a hot pan.  Cook first side for 6 minutes, then reduce the heat slightly and do the other side for about 4 minutes.  This will give you a "medium" done steak.  Once cooked, take out of the pan and cover with foil, rest for about 3-5 minutes.

While the pan is still hot, throw in the green beans and deglaze with the verjuice/wine/lemon juice to lift all of the lovely steak flavour off the pan.  Shake the pan to move the beans, until the veg is cooked slightly - then add any juices that have come out of the resting steaks.  Once all liquid has evaporated, take the pan off the heat.

Meanwhile put the sweet potatoes into a bowl, and mash roughly with a fork - don't completely pulverise them as you want some of the black/brown colours to remain as well as some texture.  Take the garlic & herb butter out of the freezer and slice some off, add to the potato and stir through.

To plate up, put some sweet potato on the plate and top with sour cream, then add steak & beans, then top with a slice of the garlic herb butter.  Serve with some token salad.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2 minute dinner: avocado & tomato "salsa"

Warm days and long weekends puts me in holiday-mode and inspires me to get into fresh and easy food - the faster, the better!

This could well be my shortest post; tonight's tomato & avocado "salsa" on toast.  You could use any combo of ingredients, but here's my version:

- two slices sourdough or wholegrain toast
- half ripe avocado, sliced
- one tomato, sliced
- two spring onions, sliced
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- extra virgin olive oil (the best you can afford)

layer all ingredients on toast, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt/pepper.