Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I must stop spending so much money! - Salads

I've noticed that recently I've been spending too much money on takeaway and cafe food - and generally unhealthy stuff too - a pie or a focaccia on my lunch break at work; a muffin at uni when I sleep in and don't have time for breakfast; and coffees and any given time of day, for any reason at all.

Last week, I realised the folly of my ways, thought, "stop the madness!", and made a few salads to last me through the week.

Tessa Kiros' Chickpea, Coriander and Feta Salad

I remade this chickpea salad, which I'd originally made for my cousin Catherine's birthday. You will notice that the following picture is actually an old one, from the birthday night. The new batch I made looked exactly the same, and I am happy to say, tasted just as good. I did use tinned chickpeas this time, to make it a low-effort exercise. Still good!

Nigella's Green Lentil and Goat's Cheese Salad

For this one, I cooked French green lentils rather then using tinned. (Tinned lentils = mushy = not right for a salad!) The salad also contains goat's cheese, roasted capsicum and mint. Fabulous!

Whilst I was making those salads, I cooked some brown rice, because I wanted to make Karen Martini's fabulous brown rice salad. I've made it twice now, but never blogged it, because it is so delicious that we always finish eating it before I get a chance to get to the computer. Soon, soon. However, after making the above 2 salads, I was all salad-ed out, so I didn't end up making that salad this time.

The chickpea salad, the lentil salad and the plain brown rice ended up going together very well. And they lasted me about a week. Much healthier, and nicer than a meat pie! One scoop of lentil salad, one scoop of brown rice, and one scoop of chickpea salad - a delicious lunch, described aptly by my co-worker Paolo as a "health bomb".

Friday, March 23, 2007

Farewell to An!

**I actually made this meal a few months ago, but never got around to blogging it.**

Please to enjoy!

My dear friend An has recently moved interstate to start a new career. Sniff!

We had a farewell dinner for him a few weeks ago, which included many of his favourite food groups.

- crispy chicken fat
- gravy
- chocolate
- cream

Mmm... delicious.


Roast Chicken with Roast Potatoes (Nigel Slater's Real Cooking)
Baked Couscous with Summer Vegetables (Nigel Slater's Real Cooking)
Green Salad
Chocolate Cherry Trifle (Nigella's Feast)

Now, I've never come across a Nigel Slater recipe that doesn't taste good. However, in this one, the potatoes didn't turn out quite how I like them. Instead of being parboiled, roughed-up, and roasted in hot oil, they are cooked from raw in the pan with the chicken. They ended up being rather tough on the outside. I suppose next time, if I want the potatoes to soak up all the chickeney goodness whilst roasting, I'll parboil them first, so they get crisp rather than tough.
The couscous involves roasting some vegetables in the oven, adding a tin of tomatoes, some couscous, and letting it bake until the couscous is cooked through. It tasted very, very good.

And the finale was Nigella's amazing chocolate cherry trifle. Layers of chocolate cake, cherry jam, cherries, chocolate custard and whipped cream. Nigella says to grate dark chocolate over the top - don't bother, just crumble over a Flake! (Or a Flake Noir if you desperately want dark chocolate). It's way easier, doesn't dirty up a grater, and gives you delicious Flake crumbs to eat. Everybody wins!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Za'atar Chicken and Fattoush

Forever Summer was the first of Nigella's books that I ever bought. I think it was not as popular as her others, but it remains one of my favourites. This delicious chicken dish was one that I'd wanted to try for ages, but never quite got around to. Until recently. You simply marinate a chicken in a mixture of za'atar (available from some supermarkets, Middle-Eastern stores, and posh speciality stores), salt and oil, then roast it. While it's cooking, you assemble a salad of tomatoes, spring onions, toasted pita bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, sumac and herbs. Et voilà, dinner is served.

Za'atar is a pretty fabulous flavouring for chicken, or any food, for that matter. I recently had za'atar pizzas at a close friend's birthday party and they were an inspired choice. In this dish, the za'atar chicken complements the sour sumac in the salad, together forming a tasty and simple dinner.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Happy Birthday Frances! or "Happy St. Patrick's Day"

This weekend, my good friend Frances' celebrated her birthday, which coincided with St. Patrick's day. The instructions on her invitation said, "Wear green! Bring Corrs' CDs!". Having neither a green outfit nor a Corrs' CD to hand, I instead slapped some green eyeshadow on, and baked a very appropriate cake - Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake.

From the "Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame" chapter in Feast, the Guinness cake is a simple melt-and-mix dealy. Start with some Guinness in a pan, and add butter, cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla, sour cream, flour and bicarb. Easy. The recipe says to bake it for 45 minutes in a 23cm tin, but as I wanted it to be shared amongst Frances' many friends, I baked half the mixture in a 20cm tin, with the rest in mini-muffin tins. The mini-muffins took about 20 minutes, and the full sized cake took about 30 minutes. It is a damp and dark cake, so make sure you test it with a skewer rather than just going by eye.

Once it's completely cool, you can ice it. Nigella's icing of choice is cream-cheese based, so that the finished cake resembles a pint of Guinness. I iced the cupcakes on the same day, but did the large cake the next day. This allowed the very moist and damp cake time to cool down and firm up so that I could unmould it without fear of breakage.

I covered the iced cakes with little green sugar sprinkles, for a festive touch. As for the large cake, I did a mixture of little sprinkles, and the green leaves (not shamrocks, but still festive) from a packet of mixed colour sprinkles.

The cupcakes turned out really well! The cake mixture is very moist, and has a fabulous sugary crusty exterior. I think the cream-cheese icing makes a fabulous combination. It isn't too sweet, and the tang really undercuts and complements the sweetness of the cake. I will definitely make the cake again. And with 600ml of Guinness left, how could I not? There's no way I'm going to drink it! Urks.

Frances liked the cake. Yay, success!!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Mum & Dad!

Last week, we celebrated my parents' 30th wedding anniversary, for which I decided to bake an enormous cake. I didn't want to go with a usual big ol' chocolate cake (my mum is not that keen on chocolate), but still wanted something that looked celebratory. After much deliberation, I ended up choosing Tyler Florence's yellow butter cake with red fruits. I'm not sure which of his books it's printed in, but I found it in an old issue of Delicious magazine.

I was going to print the recipe here, but I seem to have misplaced that particular magazine. Oops. I'll rootle around for it and publish the recipe when I find it.

So, basically it's a butter cake, which you slice in half horizontally, (Tyler said to slice it in thirds, but I didn't want to tempt fate), and fill with frosting. The frosting, however, proved to be very difficult. To make it, you beat castor sugar, water and egg whites in a double boiler until dissolved. You transfer the mixture to an electric mixer, and add small cubes of butter one at a time, until the frosting is thick and fluffy and spreadable. Once that's done, you fold in a mixture of red berries, which have been cooked with sugar and vanilla.

I've never made frosting like this before, so I'm not quite sure where I went wrong - but it ended up grainy and slightly curdled-looking, and didn't set very well. I think that I didn't dissolve the castor sugar enough at the start, and that I added too much butter. I just followed the recipe, adding the entire amount of butter, but I probably should have just stopped adding butter when the frosting looked thick and lovely.

Oh well. I had no time to start again, so I just slapped the icing on, and shoved the whole thing in the fridge to (hopefully) set overnight. The next day - phew! - the icing had stayed on the cake, and looked passable. I decorated it with wicked gold buttons, to say "double happiness" (the Chinese character for marital happiness), and strew little sugar heart sprinkles over. A little OTT, yes. But it was their 30th!!

I was really worried that the icing would taste totally munting, but it tasted ok, if a little grainy, and my parents liked it. Which is the most important thing.

Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Crunch, crunch, munch, munch!

I have recently been revisiting my copy of Feast, thanks to the new Nigella Feasts programme. It's screening on Wednesday nights on the Lifestyle channel, and is endlessly repeated throughout the week. I'm totally loving it. (Naturally!) This week's episode focused on dinners, and Nigella's crunchy pork chops with a garlicky tomato and spinach salad just looked so wonderful, that I had to try it.

The whole process is pretty easy, and Nigella suggests it for a casual, yet special, weekday supper. The meal consists of crumbed and fried pork chops, and a salad of spinach leaves and diced tomato, dressed with minced garlic, oil and lemon juice. I decided to add some roast potatoes, and served it with an Italian-style tomato sauce which I'd made that morning. (You know the deal - garlic, onions and a dried chilli cooked slowly in olive oil, with peeled and diced tomatoes added, and simmered until delicious and thick.) Kinda like an Australian pub parma!

Here's a photo of the frying process. Note the clever (yet probably dangerous) arrangement of old newspapers to minimize oil-splatter. As for the pork, the egg is seasoned with dried oregano, salt and pepper, and the breadcrumbs have grated parmesan added for extra flavour. Delicious.

I can't describe how good the meal was! My family went crazy for it. The pork chops were super crunchy, and because I'd bought good quality meat, juicy and flavoursome. The roast potatoes and sauce worked well with the meal, but the salad and pork chops make a fab meal in their own right. This was the first meal that my family ate all together since my brother returned from Malaysia last week, and I’m glad to say it was a great one.

Thanks to Nigella for a fantastic recipe!