food for thought

by michelle

steamed fish with spicy sauce

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Here’s a spicy Sichuan-style sauce for any white fish.

This recipe is for 700g (1½ lbs) of fish fillets. Make a slurry of 1 tablespoon of water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and set aside. Finely chop ½ an onion and mince 1 clove of garlic. Finely chop a few shiitake mushrooms and ¼ of a red pepper. Into a small bowl measure out 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon of Doubanjan (spicy Sichuan bean paste), 1 teaspoon of hoisin sauce, ½ teaspoon of sesame oil, ½ a teaspoon of sugar, and ground white pepper to taste. Mix well and set aside. Prepare some chopped coriander (cilantro) and spring onion greens for garnishing. When you’re ready to cook the sauce, heat a wok to high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for another minute. Now add the prepared sauce ingredients and ½ a cup of water and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat while you prepare the fish. To steam the fish, place it in a shallow bowl and season with a little soy sauce. Place the bowl into a steamer over boiling water and steam until the fish is cooked through and flaking apart. Use a slotted spoon to remove it to a serving plate. Reheat the sauce and add the cooking liquid from the fish. Thicken the sauce with the cornstarch slurry until it coats a spoon. Stir in another teaspoon of oil to finish and pour the sauce over the steamed fish. Garnish and serve with steamed white rice.

* recipe adapted from this recipe.


Written by michelle picker

January 31, 2018 at 12:41 am

mint chocolate and pistachio cake + fresh mint ice cream

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A wonderful combination of dark mint chocolate, crumbly biscuit and crunchy pistachios takes this hedgehog-style cake to the next level. And fresh mint ice cream is the perfect addition. Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi for the cake recipe and to Deborah for making it! The ice cream recipe is from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer.

For the cake soak 100g (3½ oz) of sultanas in 2 tablespoons of rum for 30 minutes. Line a 28cm x 18cm (11″ x 7″) baking tray or glass dish with greaseproof paper. Set a large heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water and add 100g (3½ oz) of mint-flavoured dark chocolate, 200g (7 oz) of dark 70% cocoa solids chocolate (both roughly chopped into 3cm pieces), 100g (3½ oz) of golden syrup, 120g (4¼ oz) of unsalted butter cut into 2cm (¾”) cubes and ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt. Make sure the bowl isn’t touching the water or the mix will get too hot and split. Heat and stir for two to three minutes until melted and combined. Add the sultanas and their soaking liquid, 170g (6 oz) of roughly broken digestive biscuits and 75g (2½ oz) of roughly chopped pistachios and mix until everything is well coated. Transfer it into the lined tray and smooth the top. Sprinkle with an extra 25g (¾ oz) of crushed pistachios and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Cover the tray and refrigerate for two to three hours. When set, cut into strips and store in an air-tight container in the fridge. Serve cold. For the mint ice cream measure 2 cups of milk. Take out 2 tablespoons of the milk and make a slurry with 6 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch). Heat the remainder of the milk in a saucepan with 1¼ cups of heavy cream, ⅔ of a cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of glucose (in Australia I use this in place of light corn syrup). Bring to the boil and allow it to simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour in the cornflour slurry. Stir, return to the heat and allow to thicken. In another bowl whisk 3 tablespoons of softened cream cheese with ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt. Pour in the hot milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Now tear a bunch of fresh mint leaves into the hot mixture and cool the mixture down in an ice bath. When the mixture is cold strain out the mint leaves and freeze with an ice cream machine, sorbetiere or even over ice and salt. If you have flexible silicone moulds, transfer the nearly set ice cream into them for ready-to-serve portions.

Written by michelle picker

January 24, 2018 at 12:35 am

noodle salad with cucumber and poppy seeds

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Another delightful salad from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam OttolenghiTart apple, cooling cucumber, pickled onions and fresh herbs. What a great combination.

In a small saucepan combine 60ml (2 fl oz) of cider vinegar, 30g (1 oz) of caster sugar and 60ml (2 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar has dissolved and continue to cook for a few minutes to reduce by one third. Finely slice 1 red onion and finely julienne a 5cm (2″) piece of ginger and place them in a small bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and allow to pickle for 1 hour. Meanwhile, break 150g (5 oz) of flat rice noodles into 15cm (6″) pieces and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes. When the noodles are soft drain them and put them in a large serving bowl. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of oil and allow  to cool. Blanch and drain 200g (7 oz) of edamame beans, core and slice 1 sharp green apple into thin wedges, de-seed and julienne 2 red chillies, roughly chop 10g (⅓ oz) each of fresh mint and tarragon and cut 2 large cucumbers in half lengthways, scooping out the seeds and cutting them into thin long strips. Add all the prepared vegetables and the pickled onion and ginger to the noodles. Add 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds, some more vegetable oil, 1½ teaspoons of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Written by michelle picker

January 17, 2018 at 12:17 am

turmeric chilli squid + belacan asparagus

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Fifi cooked up a storm when she stayed recently. This Malaysian squid dish includes ingredients popular throughout South-East Asia such as turmeric and kaffir lime leaves.

Place 700g (1½ lbs) of fresh squid rings in a non-reactive bowl and add 1½ teaspoons of ground turmeric, 1 tablespoon of chilli flakes, 1 finely minced clove of garlic, 3 finely sliced kaffir lime leaves, 1 tablespoon of grated palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, the juice of ½ – 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper and 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Allow the squid to marinate for at least a few hours before cooking in a hot wok until just cooked through and still tender. Serve with steamed rice. 

Roasted shrimp paste or belacan is a common addition to Malaysian dishes. Here it adds amazing flavour to asparagus and zucchini.

Soak 1-2 tablespoons of dried shrimp to soften them a little. Wrap a small piece (approximately 2 teaspoons) of belacan in foil and roast it over a flame or in the oven – it’s done when it smells roasted. Chop a few brown shallots, a few cloves of garlic and some fresh red chillies and place them in a mortar and pestle (or a small food processor) with the shrimp and shrimp paste. Pound (or process) to a rough paste (rempah). Cut the asparagus and zucchini into similar sized pieces. Heat some oil in a wok until very hot and add the rempah, cooking until fragrant. Add the vegetables and stir constantly until just cooked. This dish shouldn’t require any seasoning as the belacan and dried shrimp are salty but check the seasoning just in case and serve hot.

Written by michelle picker

January 10, 2018 at 12:34 am

lemon and mixed berry cake

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This cake, baked with my sister Eve, made an impressive and festive Christmas dessert. From SWEET  by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, the light and fluffy lemon sponge and berry buttercream are assembled into a sort of swiss roll on it’s side.

Preheat your oven to 205ºC (400ºF) and line a shallow 30 x 40cm (12 x 15″) rimmed baking sheet with baking paper. For the cake separate 8 large eggs and place the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer along with 180g (5½ oz) of sugar and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice. With the whisk attachment beat on medium-high for about 3 minutes until pale and thick. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and add ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt. Sift in 135g (4¾ oz) of all-purpose flour in two batches, folding through with a rubber spatula after each addition. Sprinkle ¾ of a teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest on top and set aside. Now place the 8 egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add in 4½ teaspoons of sugar and continue to whisk until your have firm peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture until incorporated then fold in the rest until combined. Transfer to the baking sheet and even out the surface with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before dusting the top lightly with powdered sugar. Place a clean kitchen towel on top of the cake and flip it over so that it is now lying on top of the kitchen towel. Carefully peel away the paper and straighten the very edges of the sponge. Starting at the shorter edge of the cake, carefully roll it up (along with the kitchen towel). This will train the cake to roll when assembling later. When cooled, unroll the cake and cut into 3 equal strips lengthwise (we opted for 2 to make a narrower, taller cake). Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside. For the purée place 300g (10½ oz) of mixed berries and 80g (2.8 oz) of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm through for 4-5 minutes until the berries are soft and the sugar dissolved. Transfer to a food processor to purée and then strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. For the buttercream add ¼ of a cup of light corn syrup (I used glucose), 135g (4¾ oz) of sugar and the seeds scraped from ½ a vanilla bean into a medium saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until all the sugar dissolves. While the syrup is cooking place 4 egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and beat on medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow in colour. Now stir the sugar syrup again and increase the heat to medium until bubbles begin to appear. Swirl the pan gently and continue to simmer until there are large bubbles all over the surface of the syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer on low carefully pour the hot syrup in a slow, steady stream into the beating yolks. When all the syrup has been added increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat for about 10 minutes until cool. Gradually add 255g (9 oz) of softened unsalted butter, one spoonful at a time, allowing it to be incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. When all the butter has been added scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute until very smooth and light. Add a scant ½ cup of the berry purée and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated. To assemble the cake spread each of the strips of sponge with about 85g (3 oz) of the buttercream. This should leave enough for the top and sides of the cake. Take one strip of sponge and roll it up. Position the exposed end at the beginning of the next strip and keep rolling. Add the last strip at the end of the second and roll again until you have a whole cake. Transfer to your serving plate standing the cake on a flat end. Smooth the remaining buttercream all over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula. Drizzle the remaining berry purée over the top of the cake and decorate with fresh berries (we chose blueberries). Set aside for 1 hour at room temperature (or in the fridge on a warm day) before serving.

Written by michelle picker

January 3, 2018 at 12:28 am

christmas 2017

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This year our Christmas lunch was a lovely eclectic mixture of food. Our guests brought the entree of antipasti.

For the main course we roasted butterflied chickens over charcoal with a garlic, sage and rosemary butter under the skin. We added oak chips from Chardonnay barrels to the fire for a smoky flavour. Our gravy was Chef John’s turkey gravy recipe made with chicken wings instead.

Side dishes included potatoes and heirloom carrots cooked in duck fat, a lovely fresh salad,

and a wonderful stuffing following this recipe.

My next post will be dedicated to our Christmas dessert.

Written by michelle picker

December 27, 2017 at 12:18 am

chicken in a chorizo and red wine sauce

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This wonderful recipe, from The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas, is a family favourite. Serve it with crusty bread, a fresh green salad and a robust red wine.

This recipe is for a whole jointed chicken but any bone-in chicken will work. Season your chicken pieces with salt and freshly ground black pepper and dust them lightly with a little flour. In a large, heavy casserole dish heat some olive oil and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Depending on how large your pot is, you may have to remove the chicken to a plate at this stage. Add 1 large finely chopped onion, 1 finely diced carrot, 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1 skinned and finely chopped chorizo sausage. Sauté this mixture until the onions wilt. Add 2 tablespoons of brandy and flame to remove the alcohol. If you have removed the chicken, return it to the pot with 1 finely diced pimiento (skinned sweet red pepper), 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped parsley, ½ of a teaspoon of fresh thyme, ½ a cup of chicken stock and 1 cup of dry red wine. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 – 1½ hours until the chicken is falling from the bone.

Written by michelle picker

December 20, 2017 at 12:10 am