Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bill Granger's Lemon Chicken



I think I should preface this post by explaining my stance towards that most clichéd of Chinese culinary clichés, lemon chicken. It's that type of dish available at every "Chinese" restaurant, right from the Flower Drum, down to your little suburban takeaway, in varying quality (usually poor). Generally it consists of pieces of battered, deep-fried chicken, doused in a luminescent yellow "lemon-flavoured" sauce. I don't think it bears any resemblance to anything people in China actually eat, and for the longest time, I refused to order it, even in better restaurants, believing that my selecting lemon chicken would diminish my food credibility.

This was, of course, until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw Bill Granger make it on his program, bills food 2. He dusted chicken breasts in flour and five spice powder, fried them until they were crispy, and put them in the oven until they were cooked. He then doused the cooked chicken pieces in a sauce made by stir frying wedges of real lemon with ginger, rice wine, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice, chicken stock and cornflour. It looked good. Really good. So good that my dad insisted that I make it as soon as possible, and so good that I instantly threw away my prejudice against declassé foodstuffs and decided that, good God, yes, I too must have this lemon chicken.

The recipe appears in Every Day, and Bill serves it with oven-baked rice, made special with the addition of Chinese cabbage, peas, rice wine and ginger. Now, although I was more than ready to embrace lemon chicken, I still couldn't countenance oven-baked rice (I mean, why?). I just cooked it on the stovetop, but a rice-cooker would work equally well.

While the rice was cooking, I got on with the chicken. How beautiful does floured and fried chicken look? Frying this chicken, I was suddenly inspired to make some good ol' Southern fried chicken. Nigella has a fab looking recipe, as does Tyler Florence. Soon, soon.


fried chicken

As you can see from the first photo, I piled all the rice, chicken and sauce onto one large platter to share with my family. It was the only appropriately Asian-looking dish I had. In the book, Bill says that the recipe reminds him of Chinese dining in suburban Melbourne. So true! I'm from suburban Melbourne! And it's such a staple dish - I used to eat it all the time as a child, before I worried about what was "cool", and before I though of fluroscent food as a problem. But having said that, Bill's version is a far cry from the dodgy takeaways of my childhood. It tasted absolutely wonderful! It was fresh and light, whilst at the same time being substantial enough for a proper dinner. The rice, additionally, was a great accompaniment.

Yes, lemon chicken is a culinary cliché. But when it is made like this, fresh and delicious, it hardly matters.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dinner Party

I recently mentioned that I was going to be cooking for a big real grown-up dinner party. That was on Sunday night. We had 9 people in total: my family (4 of us), my friend Frances, and 4 of my parents' friends (the grown-up contingent). 2 of them are a husband and wife team who run a fabulous Lebanese restaurant, and the other couple run a similarly fabulous bakery nearby.

I had a hard time planning the menu - obviously Lebanese food was out of the question. I wanted to make something that was fancy but not too try-hard, reasonably easy to make, and above all - delicious! After a week of frantically searching through all my cookbooks, and asking almost every single person at work, school, and everywhere else, I decided on a menu.


Menu

Roast Prime Rib of Beef with Horseradish Crust and Wild Mushrooms (Real Kitchen, Tyler Florence)
Perfect Roast Potatoes (How to Eat, Nigella Lawson)
Green Bean and Lemon Casserole (Feast, Nigella Lawson)

Summer Fruit, Elderflower and Prosecco Jelly (Happy Days, Jamie Oliver)


As you can see, it's pretty much a normal roast beef meal, but made slightly special with flavourings and a fancy dessert.

Earlier in the week I trialled the jelly in individual moulds, and it was very pretty, but difficult to work with. This is the jelly I made for a trial - as you can see, there is a lot of fruit and not enough jelly. Additionally the jelly wasn't very firm and a bit messy around the edges.



For the dinner party itself, I made it in a large ring container, used less fruit and a bit more gelatine. You basically dissolve gelatine leaves in elderflower cordial, add sugar and sparkling wine, and pour it over chilled fruits in a mould. Although the recipe stipulates prosecco, I used a cheap Asti for the trial run, and a Seppelt sparkling rosé for the real thing. It gave it a really pretty dusky colour. (See below).

This beef and mushroom recipe was the first I've ever tried from Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen, and it did not disappoint. It involves getting a fab piece of beef rib (from Rendinas, of course)...


Raw Prime Rib

... and covering it in an intensely flavoured paste of salt (1/2 a cup!!), olive oil, pepper, thyme, rosemary, horseradish and garlic... before roasting it with some vegetables at 180C for 20 minutes a pound (44 minutes a kilo).


Marinade + Vegetables

While the beef was cooking, I prepped the other vegetables (slicing mushrooms, parboiling potatoes, slicing beans etc.)


Roasted Vegetables - ooh pretty!



Tyler says this gives you medium-rare beef, but at the end of the cooking time, it was well done. It still tasted good, but next time I'll be more careful with cooking times. I covered the beef and the vegetables in foil, and finished off the side dishes and had a drink as our guests arrived (with champagne! Yay!).

For the potatoes, they need a high blast in the oven for an hour (don't be impatient, because they are worth the wait!). See Feast or How to Eat for Nigella's roast potato method. They are amazing! The beans need to be boiled, and turned through butter and a chopped-up lemon. For the mushrooms, you slice them, and cook them in butter before adding red wine and the pan juices from the beef.


side dishes

And then, it is time to eat! Joe watched me hack at the beef with my usual ineptitude before offering to carve it himself. He sharpened the knife (ooh, scary!), cut the meat away from the bone, and then sliced it into delicious-looking slices. What a pro!


Joe about to cut meat


Joe cutting meat


Mum getting some pointers


Nearly there!


Sliced beef - Mmm... delicious.

The meal went down really well! Thank goodness! Tyler's recipe gave a fabulous flavour to an already fabulous piece of meat, and the mushrooms were a perfect accompaniment. The beans were lovely and astringent against the rich beef. Now, the potatoes! Everyone loves Nigella's potatoes, and I highly recommend her method for each and every potato lover of you out there.


roast potato


roast potato

For dessert we had the jelly! It looked beautiful when I turned it out, but collapsed soon after. No-one seemed to mind though. Perhaps extra gelatine and a longer refrigeration time would benefit it. Richard also brought a banana cake from his bakery, which was fabulous.


Prosecco and Elderflower Jelly


Jelly, served with vanilla-scented Greek yogurt. (It was highly unnecessary of me to add seeds from a vanilla pod to the yogurt, but it just looked so pretty!)

The dinner was so much fun! It was just so relaxed and enjoyable, and everyone got along really well. After eating, we moved onto the porch and kept drinking and talking into the wee hours of the morning.


Banana cake - my breakfast the next morning.

Friday, November 24, 2006

More Happy Days with The Naked Chef


Square bowl of Spaghetti Carbonara

Earlier this week I cooked dinner for my good friend Daniel, who has recently moved out of home to his own place. Daniel just loves creamy food, so I made spaghetti carbonara and chocolate Cambridge creams. The spaghetti was not actually from Happy Days, but the dessert was.

Chocolate Cambridge creams are similar to crème brûlée. You start by making an ordinary custard (with 1 tsp cocoa powder added), then line 4 ramekins with finely chopped chocolate, and pour the custard over. You then bake it in a waterbath until almost set.



Jamie says you can make the custards a couple of days in advance and store them in the fridge, which I did. On the day of the dinner, I made the sugar topping. I don't own a blowtorch, so I made caramel in a pan and poured it over. This didn't look as good as a blowtorch would have, but it still made a tasty crunchy topping. I will probably buy a blowtorch soon.

I also chopped up the bacon and made the cream sauce on the day at home, and transported it all to Daniel's place. (Having just moved in, I wasn't sure what utensils he owned). When I got there, I boiled the pasta, fried the bacon and stirred it all together. Then dinner was ready!


Dinner - notice how my place setting (front left) doesn't have a glass of wine because I was driving. *Sigh*

Here is the finished Cambridge cream.



It was very tasty - the custard had a lovely texture and light chocolate taste, but it was so rich! Do 8 egg yolks and 375ml of double cream for 4 servings seem a bit much? Also, the chocolate layer at the bottom had totally solidified, increasing the richness - I guess it would be a better idea to chop it up more finely, and not make it so far in advance. Delicious as it was, we were all stuffed about halfway through.

I would make it again, but in much smaller containers. I think the recipe could easily feed 8 people, in cute little dinky ramekins or espresso cups.


Tap tap crack!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Days with The Naked Chef and "Chicken in Milk"

I recieved Happy Days with the Naked Chef for my 21st birthday last year, but have only recently got around to opening and reading through it. (This is why.) I'm also cooking for a scary real grown-up dinner party on Sunday (more on this later), which has made me go searching frantically through all my cookbooks trying to find suitable recipes.



So anyway, Happy Days is a really great book. As I was flipping through it I made a list of all the recipes I'd like to try (regardless of dinner parties).

- Jethro tart (pine nut tart)
- Summer cruit, elderflower and prosecco jelly
- Lovely lemon curdy pud
- Chocolate Cambridge cream
- Hamilton squash (a butternut pumpkin stuffed with flavoured rice)
- Roasted asparagus with rosemary, anchovies & pancetta
- Chicken in milk
- My Old Man's superb chicken
- Lovely tray-baked plaice with spinach, olives & tomatoes
- Sicilian roasted brill-steak with lemon, anchovies, capers and rosemary
- Parsnip & pancetta tagliatelle with parmesan & butter
- Courgette salad with chilli, garlic and mint

Sounds delicious, yes? Please check out this book!

For Monday dinner I made the interesting-sounding chicken in milk, served with mashed potatoes and green beans in tomato sauce (adapted from Jamie's recipe for runner beans in tomato sauce).

To make the chicken, you first brown it in a pan with oil and butter...



...pour off the excess butter, and add milk, sage leaves, lemon rind and a cinnamon stick...



...and put it in the oven for 1.5 hours (no lid).



Whilst it was in the oven, I made the beans and mashed potato. For the beans, you make a tomato sauce by frying some garlic, adding a tin of tomatoes and letting it simmer for 15 minutes. Then you add some boiled beans. Ta-dah!


Beans in tomato sauce

In the recipe, Jamie says to remove the meat from the bones and serve it on a plate. This sounded like way too much effort, especially as I was only eating with my parents. So I just put the whole chicken on the table, and we ate it like that.


Have at you!


Dinner!

Wonderful! Being cooked in milk makes the chicken skin deliciously bronzed and crispy, whilst the meat absorbs the flavours of the sage, lemon and cinnamon. The buttery, curdy sauce is also very tasty spooned over mash. It was quite a low-effort supper in total (as soon as the chicken goes into the oven it needs no further interference), so I definitely intend to keep this in the repertoire.

More Jamie to come...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bill's Semolina Syrup Cake



This is exactly the type of cake my parents love - Greek-style and moist, full of almond and citrus syrup. When they saw the photo in Every Day, they immediately requested that I make it.

It contains butter and sugar, Greek yogurt, eggs, orange zest, almond meal, semolina, flour, milk and baking powder, with the egg white being whipped and folded through at the end - this makes it both very moist and very light.

After baking, you pour over a syrup made of a spoonful of orange blossom water, and equal parts sugar and water. It looks like a lot of syrup, (and it is!), but the cake can absorb it all. I poured over the syrup in 3 batches, letting each batch be absorbed before adding the next one, just to make sure I didn't drown the cake. But I'm sure it would be fine if you just poured all the syrup over in one go.

The cake tastes just as good as it sounds! I think you're supposed to wait until the cake is cold before you cut it up and start serving, but we couldn't wait. It was a bit fragile whilst still warm, and the first piece broke (oh dear!). The rest were fine, however. It become easier to handle once cold, and the flavour improves the next day, as I can attest.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Polish Festival

Here are the photos from the Polish Festival at Federation Square on Sunday.


Polish Donut!

I got a paczki (pronounced "ponchki") donut. It's filled with powidla (plum jam) and has a lemon sugar glaze on it. Fabulous!


Inside a polish donut

If you missed the festival, fear not, because these fabulous donuts are available at Monarch cake shop on Acland street all year round.

The festival was really crowded, with loads of patriotic Polish people dressed in white and red. So crowded, in fact, that the lines for the other culinary delights (potato pancakes with sour cream, pierogi dumplings, stew etc.) were too long and I couldn't get any. *Sigh*. Some of my friends got some, and said they were really good. I did get some zywiec Polish beer though, and that was great!


crowds


Polish Festival


Fed Square

Johnston Street Fiesta 2006

The Johnston Street Fiesta is an annual celebration of all things Latin-American and Hispanic, with dance and music performances, arts and craft stalls, and my favourite, fabulous food!

We went on both Saturday and Sunday. Stupidly, I had lunch before hitting the festival on Saturday, and only had room to eat a meat and onion empanada, some Peruvian flan and a fresh lemonade slurpee…


Peruvian sweets stall

The Peruvian sweet stall specialized in Peruvian donuts, but I had my eye on the flan – a wonderful bowl of sweet, eggy, caramel pudding goodness.


Flan


Me with a meat and onion empanada and a slurpee - notice the ladies rolling dough in the background. This was a subtle way of getting a photo of them.


inside a slurpee

Some random photos…


Johnston street


More meat, baby!


Food


Meat

Learning from my mistake on Saturday, I went to the Fiesta today on an empty stomach. We were on a mission to try as many things as possible.


Argentinian Tart from Chocolateria San Churro. Filled with dark chocolate and dulce de leche. Incredible!


Pupusas stall – from El Salvador


South American Soft Drinks

I grabbed a couple of pupusas (one filled with cheese and chicken, the other with cheese and refried beans) and a bottle of champagne soda from the Pupusas stall.


Champagne soda – tastes like creamy soda, but sweeter, and more delicious.


Pupusas… YUM.


Empanada stall


Fried Cheese Empanada – equally as delicious as the meat and onion one.


Choripan - as you might guess from the name, it's a chorizo sausage in a bread roll. $5 and sold at practically every stall at the festival!


Paella! We didn’t end up getting any paella as they ran out of the vegetarian version. (I am emphatically not a vegetarian, but my friend who I went with doesn’t like seafood). It smelled great though.

We finished off the day with a visit to a stall selling my favourite Hispanic dessert – CHURROS!


Churro stand!


CHURROS

You’d think we were full after all of that... and we were... but the Polish Festival was also on that day and it was only a 15 minute tram ride away...