food for thought

by michelle

eggplant and tofu in garlic sauce

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I love Sichuan food. It’s so full of robust flavour without overpowering the ingredients. This recipe from Serious Eats has the perfect balance of salt, sweet, sour and spice. All the ingredients you might not recognise are readily available at Asian supermarkets.

Cut 900g (2 lbs) of eggplants into chunks. Place them in a large steamer and steam until the eggplant is completely soft. Set aside. Meanwhile make the sauce by combining 2 teaspoons of Chinkiang or black rice vinegar, ¾ of a cup of Shaoxing wine and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and stir or whisk to combine. Add 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of Doubanjiang (fermented broad bean chilli paste) and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Set aside. Heat a wok or large saucepan over medium heat and and add vegetable oil and 2 smashed cloves of garlic. When the garlic cloves are golden brown and fragrant discard them and turn the heat to high. Add 4 cloves of sliced garlic, the sliced white parts of 2 spring onions and 2-3 tablespoons of thinly sliced preserved Sichuan vegetable (mustard root). Stir and cook until fragrant and just beginning to brown. Stir the sauce and add it, stirring constantly. Add the steamed eggplant and 350g (12 oz) of firm silken tofu cut into chunks and fold gently to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for a few minutes more until thick and glossy. Stir in the chopped green parts of the spring onions and an equal amount of roughly chopped coriander (cilantro). Serve with steamed rice.

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Written by michelle picker

August 28, 2019 at 12:15 am

hunter’s stew

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Bigos is a Polish dish I’ve known about for a long time. I was inspired to try this recipe, or a a slightly adapted version of it. In Poland, everyone has their own recipe but the main ingredients are always assorted meats, shredded white cabbage and sauerkraut. More delicious than I anticipated and even better the next day.

Soak ¼ of a cup of dried porcini mushrooms in warm water for 10 minutes to soften them. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a heavy casserole and add a small whole head of sliced cabbage and 2 cups of sauerkraut (drained but not rinsed). Cook over medium heat and stir occasionally. Meanwhile, heat a large frypan and brown the meats in batches, adding them to the cabbage when they are browned. I included 3 large rashers of bacon cut into small pieces, 3 sliced sausages, 400g (14 oz) each of diced gravy beef and pork. Brown the bacon and sausage meat first and you can use the bacon fat to brown the other meats. When the meats have ben added, reduce the heat of the frypan and gently fry a large chopped onion until it softens. Add the chopped porcini mushrooms and 4 diced prunes. Pour in 1 cup of red wine and cook it until there is almost no liquid left. Add it to the pot along with 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, ¼ of a teaspoon of ground allspice and 1 large bay leaf. Stir it all, cover and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender. You will need to stir occasionally and possibly add a little water if it sticks before ready. Serve with bread or steamed potatoes.

For something fresh add a cucumber salad. Just slice and lightly salt some cucumber. Dress with a vinaigrette of apple cider vinegar, a mild vegetable oil, a pinch of sugar add plenty of fresh dill.

Written by michelle picker

August 21, 2019 at 12:14 am

tocinillo de cielo + almond and orange florentines

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My good friend Daniel Aguera introduced me to this traditional Spanish dessert. Although similar to a crème caramel, this rich custard is non-dairy and is made with only eggs, sugar and water. In the early 20th century, the wineries of Jerez de Frontera clarified their wines with egg whites. The left-over egg yolks were donated to the local nuns who created this magnificent dessert. The name translates to something like heaven’s little pig (or bacon).

As Spain is known for its almonds and oranges, these incredibly crunchy and delicious almond and orange florentines from Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi made the perfect accompaniment. 

For the custard I slightly adapted Daniel’s recipe. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350°F). Combine 100g (3½ oz) sugar and 100ml (3½ fl oz) of water in a small saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat until it becomes a deep amber colour. Keep an eagle eye on this caramel as it can burn. Remove it from the heat and quickly pour into the bottom of your baking dish. I used a rectangular dish and layered the caramel for serving. You can also make this in individual ramekins. In another small saucepan combine 300g (10½ oz) of sugar with 250ml (8½ fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar reaches 105º – 108ºC (220° – 225°F). If you don’t have a thermometer the cooled syrup should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile separate 8 eggs. In a large bowl, whisk the yolks plus 3 more whole eggs. Whisk in the cooled sugar syrup until well combined. Pour the mixture into the baking dish or ramekins. Place the baking dish into a larger dish and pour hot water into the outside dish making sure the water comes up the sides of the dish or ramekins and no water gets into the custard. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the custard is set. You will still see a slight jiggle in the custard when it is cooked. Carefully remove the custard from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. To serve, slide a sharp knife around the edge and invert onto a serving dish.

To make the almond and orange florentines lower your oven temperature to 150°C (300°F). Line an oven tray with baking paper and brush with a little oil. In a bowl combine 2 egg whites, 100g (3½ oz) of confectioners’ sugar, 260g (9¼ oz) of sliced almonds and the grated zest of 1 orange. When the ingredients are well mixed wet your hand and place portions of the mix in little mounds on the lined tray, flattening them a little and making sure they have some space between them. Bake for about 12 minutes or until they are golden brown and cooked through. Allow them to cool completely before removing from the baking tray with a spatula. They will keep for 4-5 days in an air-tight container.

Written by michelle picker

August 14, 2019 at 12:14 am

red lentil pasta + salad

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Red lentils are an excellent source of protein and this vegetarian pasta is satisfying and so full of flavour.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 finely diced onion, 1 finely diced carrot and an equivalent amount of finely diced celery. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and cook for a few more minutes. Deglaze the pan with some white wine and cook it all away. Now add a tin of chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of water. Add 3-4 cloves of crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, ¾ of a cup of red lentils and some chopped green olives to taste. Bring to boil and simmer until the lentils are cooked, adding more water as necessary. Season with salt to taste and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and toss it with the sauce adding some pasta water until the sauce sticks well to the pasta. Serve with a generous sprinkling of feta cheese. 

I served mine with a fresh salad of spinach, zucchini and pine nuts with a simple olive oil and lemon juice dressing.

Written by michelle picker

August 7, 2019 at 12:12 am

snapper with peas and saffron

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David cooked this amazing recipe from Moro: the Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark. The book focuses on dishes from Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean which were linked by the Moor’s 700-year occupation of Spain. The fish in this recipe is cooked in a saffron-infused bread and garlic sauce with peas – an interesting and delightful version of mash.

Add about 60 saffron strands to a medium-sized bowl, pour 5 tablespoons of boiling water over them and allow them to steep while you cook the rest of the dish. Place a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 6 peeled cloves of garlic and cook them until golden on all sides, adjusting the heat as necessary. Remove the cooked garlic and set it aside. Cut the crusts from 2 thick slices of white bread and cut them into cubes. Add them to the pan, toss well and cook until browned on all sides. Transfer the bread and the cooked garlic to a mortar and pestle and pound it to a thick paste. Now add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Season 2-4 fish fillets (depending on size) with salt and pepper and when the oil is hot add them to the pan. Cook them for about 2-3 minutes a side. Add 150ml (5 fl oz) of white wine and the bread and garlic to the pan. Let the wine simmer briefly before adding the saffron water and 240g (8 oz) of fresh or frozen peas. Immediately reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the fish is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve the fish over the pea and bread sauce. 

Written by michelle picker

July 31, 2019 at 12:21 am

rhubarb custard cake

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Ruth made this attractive cake for a gathering recently. Lovely and moist and not too sweet with a good tang from the rhubarb. If rhubarb is not in season the cake will work just as well with other fruit.

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Lightly grease a 20cm round cake tin and line with baking paper. Cook 200g rhubarb with 1 tablespoon of caster sugar until soft and a little jammy. Set aside to cool. In a small saucepan combine 1 tablespoon of custard powder, 2 teaspoons of caster sugar, of a cup of milk and ½ a teaspoon of pure vanilla essence. Stir and cook until the custard is thick. Set aside to cool. Now beat 75g of butter, of a cup of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of grated orange zest until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs one at a time. Sift together of a cup of self-raising flour and ½ a cup of wholemeal self-raising flour. Now stir the sifted flours and of a cup of milk into the cake mixture until well combined. To assemble the cake spread  of the mixture in the prepared cake tin. Place the rhubarb over the cake mix then add the custard. Top with the remaining cake mix and bake for 55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out. When cooled dust with icing sugar and serve with natural yoghurt.

Written by michelle picker

July 24, 2019 at 12:04 am

Posted in cakes & desserts

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goat cheese soufflé

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It’s been a while since I made a soufflé but a glut of egg whites and this recipe inspired me. My version was adapted for goat cheese and more egg whites and had an excellent light and fluffy texture.

Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F) and place the oven shelf in the lowest position. Grease a 4-6 cup straight-sided oven dish with softened butter and add grated parmesan so that it sticks to the buttered surface. If the weather is warm set it aside in the fridge. In a small saucepan melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat then add 28g (1 oz) of plain flour and whisk to form a paste. Stir and cook until the flour no longer smells raw. Add 1 cup of milk bit by bit, maintaining a lump-free texture by whisking continuously. When all the milk has been added simmer until thickened then reduce the heat to low and cook for a few minutes more. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer this béchamel sauce to a large mixing bowl and allow it to cool slightly. Whisk in 200g (7 oz) of soft goat cheese followed by 3 egg yolks, one at a time, until thoroughly blended. Set the mixture aside. In another large mixing bowl or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment combine 5 – 6 egg whites with ½ a teaspoon of cream of tartar and beat until you have firm peaks. The cream of tartar is optional but will prevent the egg whites from becoming over-whipped. Using a silicone spatula gently fold the egg whites into the soufflé mix just until well combined. Set the prepared baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer the mix into it, filling it up to the inner ridge but not quite to the top. Gently smooth and level the surface. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until well risen, nicely browned and set. The soufflé may have a wobble but the centre should be the same as the outer edges. Serve immediately.

Written by michelle picker

July 17, 2019 at 12:16 am

Posted in eggs

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