Italian cook up!

Recently I have been doing some creative cooking on Friday nights as a way to wind down and relax with friends. Which is weird, because most people would eat out with friends or avoid creating more work for themselves at the end of the week.

Having said that, it is much cheaper and probably healthier eating in with friends than out. It also helps having an extra pair of hands to do some chopping/washing task. The down side of cooking creatively at home is that you have to wash up afterwards, and you end up with a mish mash of random ingredients you don’t know how to use up.

Cooking with people also reveals certain aspects of your personality. I realise that I’m actually quite controlling in the kitchen. Throughout the night, I heard my self saying “Just let me do it” several times. I would say I’m usually quite accommodating of people in other areas but somehow I end up being surprisingly intolerant in the kitchen. I guess there goes my chance of appearing on My Kitchen Rules haha.

So the last couple of Fridays I ended up making some gnocchi and risotto; both I found therapeutic in cooking. With the gnocchi dish, I served it with pumpkin, ricotta and some fried sage in burnt butter. Sorry for the half eaten photo. I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture…I know, such a blogging novice.

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Recipe 

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 200 gm pumpkin cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • Oil
  • Mixed dried herbs
  • 1 floury potato
  • 00 plain flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Butter
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Knobs of ricotta
  1. Place pumpkin with a bit of oil in a pot over low to medium heat. Sprinkle in some herbs, salt and pepper and cover. Let saute until the pumpkin is just soft.
  2. In the mean time, steam potato or if you want bake it until soft.
  3. Pass through a potato ricer into bowl. Let cool a bit.
  4. Mix through an egg yolk gently and season with salt, pepper and a bit of parmesan.
  5. Add in a scant handful of flour and gently fold together.
  6. Flour your bench top and tip the mixture out. Keep adding handfuls of flour and kneading gently until the dough is just dry to touch.
  7. Roll out into sausage shape and cut into little pillows of gnocchi. Keep flouring as you go along. Place gnocchi pieces on a tray and try not to have them touching each other. Keep going until you’ve used up the dough.
  8. Boil up a big pot of water. Add in a tablespoon of salt.
  9. When the water starts to boil, start heating up some butter in the pan until brown. Turn off the heat.
  10. Place gnocchi into boiling water and boil until they start floating to the top. Let it boil at the top for another 10 seconds and then scoop out and into your browned/burnt butter. At this stage you might want to turn on the heat to your pan again.
  11. Add in the pumpkin pieces and season with salt and pepper to your tasting. I also melted in a bit of ricotta at this stage.
  12. When all the gnocchi pieces are in the pan together with the pumpkin, scoop out onto your serving plates.
  13. Add some more butter in the pan until it is just about to brown. Add in your fresh sage leaves and fry until crispy. Pour over your gnocchi.
  14. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and knobs of ricotta.

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The other dish I made was a porcini risotto.

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Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 200 gm arborio rice
  • 100 gm dried porcini mushrooms
  • Around 5 button mushrooms sliced thinly
  • 1 brown onion diced finely
  • 3 cloves of garlic diced finely
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • Oil
  • Half a cup of red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half litre of vegetable stock
  • 3 or 4 little knobs of butter
  • 2 heaped tbsp of grated Parmesan
  • Around 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Finely chopped parsley
  1. Soak porcini mushrooms in cold water until soft. Wash them thoroughly and place in another half litre of water and bring to boil. Then turn heat off and let soak for half an hour. Strain the mushrooms reserving the liquid in a bowl.
  2. Heat oil in pan on medium heat, saute onion, garlic and mushroom with thyme until the onion are slightly translucent.
  3. Turn heat to high. Add in rice and stir around until mixed through with onion and garlic.
  4. Add in wine to rice and let it evaporate into the rice. Keep stirring.
  5. Turn heat down to medium.
  6. Add in the porcini mushrooms.
  7. Add in a ladle of the mushroom soaking liquid. Be careful not to agitate the bottom of the bowl and stir up any unwanted grit.
  8. Keep stirring as you put in the liquid. Do it gently but make sure all the rice get to soak in the liquid.
  9. Keep ladling in the mushroom soaking liquid.
  10. When all the soaking liquid is used up, start using the vegetable stock.
  11. Keep ladling, stirring as you go along.
  12. When the rice is nearly up to your preferred consistency, add in parmesan cheese.
  13. When it the texture of the rice is right, turn off heat and season with salt and pepper to your tasting.
  14. Scatter around the knobs of butter and cover the pan. Let sit for 5 minutes to let the flavours settle and soak up that butter.
  15. Take off lid and add in the lemon juice. Stir around gently to make sure everything is mixed together.
  16. Dish up and garnish with parsley.

I still kind of exist

It has been a while since my last post and if this blog was a child, I would be an abusive and neglectful parent. But much has changed in my life since the new year and cooking has not been a priority at the moment. Some of these changes include: quitting my job, starting uni again and buying my first car. You might not think these changes are that monumental, but I have never dealt well with change…especially when it involves leaving behind familiar people and plunging into a new social environment. So as an excuse to write a post about my insecurities, here’s some things I’ve made recently.

A potato rosti

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I was inspired after watching some people make it on My Kitchen Rules. Yes, I am time poor but still find time to indulge in reality tv…

I’ve tried making rosti before and it really is quite simple. After grating one raw floury potato, I added half a whisked egg and 2 tbsp of flour until sticky and not soggy. I then heated up some oil until hot and made four deliciously crispy servings. I can only imagine it going well with some smoked salmon which I unfortunately did not have at the time.

Another thing I had recently was some kaya toast! I have heard a lot about this phenomenal brownish spread and have always wanted to try some. My cousin bought some when he stopped over in Singapore and wow is it good! I can’t really describe how it tastes like but its got a similar addictive quality like sweetened condensed milk. It goes well with a bit of butter on toast.

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As you can see, I didn’t really use much Kaya… I need to make it last as long as possible haha

Shallot pancake

I haven’t really been home for dinner recently, let alone cook it, so this post is a quickie. Its a great afternoon snack to make on the weekend and only consists of flour, water, shallots (or spring onions), oil and salt. Literally.

Usually you can get these frozen at most Asian grocers but as usual they are a bit stingy on shallots and only offer incy wincy slivers of it. I remember making this a couple of years back but forgot how. After doing some google searches, I found two variations. One with more water and another with less.

Unfortunately, going with the one with more water was a mistake as it ended up being quite difficult to roll without getting very very frustrated with its general stickiness to anything. So for the recipe use only 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water instead of 1 like me.

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Recipe

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of warm water
  • Half a cup of shallots chopped somewhat finely but not overly so
  • Sesame oil
  • Salt
  • Oil for frying pancake
  1. Mix flour with warm water and slowly bring together in bowl before kneading into uniform ball on bench top. Rest for at least 30 min in fridge
  2. Dividing the dough into around 4 chunks, take the first one and roll out thinly on floured bench top, around 2 mm in thickness. It should be roughly circle shaped.
  3. Rub sesame oil all over the flattened surface and scatter on the shallots evenly but sparsely. Season with a bit of salt. The key is not to over do the shallots. Only scatter just enough or else they’ll burst out when you roll out the pancake.
  4. Start rolling up the dough like a swiss roll, rolling up the shallots as you go along. You should be left with a long 4-5cm wide sausage. The tighter you roll up, the more layers you are going to get when you fry it.
  5. Twist up the sausage into a spiral so it looks like a snails shell.
  6. Flatten the spiral with a rolling pin until around 0.5-1cm thick. That’s one pancake done, now repeat for the other pieces of dough.
  7. Heat generous oil in pan on medium heat and place in pancake when pan is hot.
  8. Brown one side and then flip and brown the other side.
  9. Drain on some paper towel and serve with your own choice of dipping sauce. I went with a concoction of black vinegar with water, sugar and soy.

Chilli tomato gnocchi

Goodbye long weekends 😦 This was the first full week back at work for me after two 3 day weekends in a row….I had a look ahead for those of us working in Australia, and the next one is on June the 9th… that’s like a whole month away. And it really doesn’t help waking up when its getting so cold in the mornings.  But with colder weather comes more opportunities to simmer away some delicious warming comfort food.

Italians especially, are masters at flavour packing comfort food with their pastas and rustic stews. As I posted previously, I was inspired to try making my own tagliatelle the other day, and because I had some 00 flour left over, I decided to have a go rolling out some gnocchi. My previous attempts have been a hit and miss. I once ended up with a whole batch of rubber bullets… mmm. I think it was because I used too much plain flour and forgot to take out the egg white.

This time I trusted my touch a bit more and didn’t really follow a recipe. I ended up using:

  • ~400g sebago potatoes (I cut mine into quarters)
  • 00 flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper to season
  1. I started by peeling and steaming the potatoes until they were soft. Then I let them cool.
  2. I didn’t have a potato ricer which would have been ideal, so instead I pressed the potatoes through a seive into a large bowl.
  3. I then mixed in the egg yolk. Roughly but gently. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t thoroughly mixed in. Season.
  4. Next, I add one big spoon of sifted flour into the potato mixture. This is the part where I used my hands and started folding the flour through the potatoes.
  5. Little by little, I added the flour and started kneading gently. Keep adding flour and kneading until the ball of gnocchi dough feels like its sitting on the border between wet and dry.
  6. I then tipped it out onto a floured wooden chopping board and divided the dough up into four sections.
  7. Taking one of the sections, I rolled it out until its diameter was sausage size and then cut it up into 2-3 cm chunks. Place in a single layer on a floured tray
  8. You can do that fancy thing where you roll the gnocchi on a fork but it’s fine if you don’t.
  9. Boil a big pot of water, salt, then drop in gnocchi
  10. When they float, boil for another 10 seconds and scoop out, drain a little and place into sauce.

For the sauce, I went with a simple one with tomatoes, chilli and garlic

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 3 tomatoes chopped roughly. Best if they are still trussed
  • 3 cloves of garlic chopped roughly
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 2 chillis chopped finely. Seeds removed.
  • Handful of torn up fresh basil leaves if you have them
  • Fresh oregano if you have it.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half a ladle of water
  • Parmesan to garnish
  1. Heat oil in pan on medium-high heat. Add chopped garlic and chilli. Stir a bit and make sure you don’t burn it.
  2. Add in tomato paste and fry for a bit until you see the oil turning orange in colour.
  3. Add in tomatoes. Mix for a bit and let the juices come out. Add in the water and season
  4. Add in the herbs. Cover and let simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. In the mean time boil the water for gnocchi
  5. Open lid and taste sauce. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Let it keep simmering away and let the sauce reduce for another 5-10 minutes. Keep tasting. I wouldn’t mind making the sauce a little bit saltier than preferred as the moisture from the gnocchi would mellow the sauce out when you put them in.
  6. You can probably boil the gnocchi and once they’re ready, drain and place into sauce.
  7. Gently, use a spatula to fold the sauce through the gnocchi. If you’re skillful (I tried and failed) you can use your wrist  motion to toss the gnocchi with the sauce and let them mix together.
  8. Dish out and garnish with parmesan.

I had some lamb chops as well and fried them off to make it a meal. Yumm

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Cravings for pizza

Wow I am getting worse… 2 posts in one month.. I thought I’d have greater blogging discipline, especially since its about food…but obviously not. To be honest, my recent eating experiences have been quite mundane. Noodles, mince and whack-it-in-the-oven stuff aren’t really worth sharing online. However, just the other week I saw a post by grabyourfork on a Newtown pizzeria and couldn’t help but feel like making and stuffing my face with delicious pizza. Not the dominos stuff either, I was after real earnest flavours and a delectably thin yet slightly chewy crust.

Having never made pizza before, I turned to a basic online dough recipe. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any 00 flour and my dry yeast was expired by 2 years but you use what you have when you just can’t wait. In the end I decided to make 2 toppings, a sausage one and one with mushrooms.

Pork sausage pizza toppings

Ingredients

  • 2 italian pork sausages or normal pork sausage with the meat  removed from the casing
  • Sprinkle of fennel seeds
  • Sprinkle of dried oregano and basil
  • Couple of bocconcini balls torn up
  • Grated mozzarella
  • Pizza tomato paste or you can make your own
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle of dried chillli
  1. Break up sausage meat and pan fry until browned
  2. Roll out dough, spread tomato paste sparingly
  3. Top with all the ingredients and bake at the highest temperature until dough is browned and looks cooked.

I was pretty happy with the outcome despite not having a wood fired oven. As you can see it kinda looks alright… the rustic label is especially applicable in this context.

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For the Mushroom and caremalized onion pizza topping

Ingredients

  • 3 mushrooms sliced thinly
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp of oil and butter
  • Half a brown onion sliced thinly
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of fresh oregano
  • Couple of pieces of bocconcini torn up
  • Grated mozzarella
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Saute mushrooms and garlics in some oil until cooked through
  2. On lowest heat, cook onions. Stir around frequently and cover to speed up caremalization process. Take off heat when onion has browned a bit and softened completely.
  3. Roll out dough. Place a bit of the bocconcini and mozzarella on the base. Add mushroom/garlic mix, onion and herbs. Place the rest of the cheeses on top.
  4. Season with salt and pepper then bake until ready.

I really enjoyed the flavours in this pizza as well. The textural nature of the mushrooms and fragrant herbs really placed it on par if not better than the sausage one. It also looked better in my opinion.

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The funny thing was that later that evening I ended up eating pizza with some friends at a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint near Wynyard station…so I think I can do without pizza for a while now.

Gingerbread house 2.0 and a salad

So I decided to make a gingerbread house again, but with my previous experience, I was able to finesse it as much as I can. I used the same gingerbread recipe but spent a bit more time on icing the decorations.  To be honest, I enjoy making the house rather than eating it. Although it has a nice mellow taste of ginger, I was never fond of gingerbread; yet somehow I made three in the span of a month.

ImageThis time I added some almonds to the roof and piped some icicles which actually look quite good. Unfortunately, the gingerbread had lost its brittleness by the time we demolished it. I forgot to cover/wrap it up and it just sucked up the moisture in the air. It still tasted alright though. Image

Because I had work and church in the morning, I didn’t have much time to whip up anything complicated so I just made some stock standard pumpkin, rocket and spinach salad which is always an easy and safe dish to prepare.

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And it seems that other people had the same idea, as my friend later that night also made the same salad.. and also some turkey. So I guess that’s my Christmas feasting complete.

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I hope you guys had a joyful Christmas too. And since I’m off to Tasmania soon, I also wish you have a satisfying and meaningful new year!

Vegetarian lasagne

Last week I met up with some friends for dinner to just catch up and take advantage of our summer holidays. Instead of trekking it to the city, we decided to meet up and prepare our own food. Usually, we would have had a meat-fest around the bbq, however, one of our friends made a recent decision to turn vego so I decided to make a vegetarian lasange and some roasted mushrooms.

The recipe for the lasange was from Neil Perry and having seen it on Masterchef I couldn’t wait to try it out. With ingredients such as roasted capsicum and ricotta cheese sauce, I knew that it would be far from bland. In fact, I thought it was on par if not better than one made with meat. The roasted mushrooms were also simply done, I started them on the stove to brown them with some butter, oil and garlic, then placed it in the oven to finish. Towards the end I added some salt, pepper, parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice for some tang. Yum!

Image My friend who is really into photography helped take this photo so that’s why it is so much better in quality. Also my other friend who reads this blog will probably want to take credit for his featured chips, which were delicious and baked nicely according to the instructions on the packet 😛

Simple spaghetti and poached egg

Having nothing interesting in the pantry is a great way to train up my ability to create delicious meals from everyday ingredients. Especially tonight, I was cooking for one and had no meat or veges in the fridge. However, I did find some spaghetti and garlic which was all I needed for a simple garlic spaghetti with olive oil. It tastes better than it sounds…in fact, lots of Italians enjoy cooking their spaghetti this way. I did have a bit of tomato paste leftover so I used that as well for extra flavor. I also had some eggs in the fridge and decided to poach one to accompany the spaghetti. I love poached eggs but don’t really have them that often mainly because you need really fresh eggs that hold their shape, or else you will end up with egg soup..mmm. However, the mental image of runny egg yolk oozing over a glistening tangle of garlic spaghetti was all I needed to take the risk and poach an egg. Overall, it was delicious! and I didn’t even miss the meat. Here’s a picture of what it looked like

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And here’s a picture of that glorious egg yolk.. Admittedly, I wanted to have it runnier but accidentally left it in the pot too long. oops. Proof that I have yet to master the skill of multi-tasking

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