Sunday, September 14

Kung POW chicken!



Ok it's actually Kung Pao chicken, but Pow is more fun, especially if you do a fist pump at the same time. Whatever way you spell it, this is a delicious, easy dinner.
I don't normally cook a lot of stir fry's, I seem to have trouble getting everything cooked at the same time so if the protein is cooked the vegetables are either heading towards mushy or still rock hard. I also don't own a wok (actually my sister gave me one years ago, it was big enough to bath a small elephant, apparently she thought I was opening a Chinese restaurant and needed to cook for hundreds ...needless to say its in the garage somewhere...)

It does not matter with this recipe, the chicken is cooked separately, and is easily done in a standard fry pan. It is based on a recipe from Nici Wickes on World Kitchen, where she visits the Szechuan province of China. One of the ingredients of the dish is Szechuan peppercorns, confusingly these are not peppercorns at all but the dried berry of the Mountain Ash Tree.



They have a unique fragrant aroma and a distinctive, almost floral flavour. You could use plain peppercorns & still have a delicious dinner, but if you can get your hands on the real thing (I got mine at Farro Fresh , along with some Chinese Rice Wine, or try an Asian supermarket), they do make a difference.

So what are you waiting for?

Kung Pow Chicken
Serves 4 with rice and steamed vegetables

4 large chicken thighs, skinless and boneless

Marinade

1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
2 tsp soya sauce , I use dark Kikkoman soya
1 tbsp Chinese Rice Wine (or use sherry, or Marsala)
1 tsp oil, I use peanut oil

Sauce

2.5 tbsp soya sauce
1 tsp sugar, I use brown but any sugar will be fine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, or use rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

2 tbsp peanut or other oil
1 thumb size piece ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 dried chillis, or 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (to taste, if you like it fiery go for it)
3 spring onions, sliced
1 tsp Szechuan Peppercorns (or black/pink peppercorns)
3 tbsp roasted peanuts




Firstly, mix together your marinade ingredients, and add to your chicken, which has been chopped into small chunks. Leave to one side while you get everything else ready. It wont look terribly promising but stick with me


Now mix together all your sauce ingredients and also put to one side. Next chop the rest of your ingredients ready for cooking.


A thumb sized piece of ginger..rather depends how big your thumb is.....!



Yes, I do actually chop things up and put them into small bowls before I cook, it isn't just for the photo! It makes me feel much more organised, and I don't discover I haven't got an important ingredient half way through cooking dinner........



Put a med-large frying pan onto to heat with the 2 tbsp of oil. You want it reasonably hot to fry your chicken. Add as much chicken as will fit in one layer to your pan, and cook for about 6-8 minutes until golden and cooked through


Remove from the heat and put the chicken on a plate while you cook the rest of the ingredients. If there isn't any oil left in the pan, add a splash more

Add the ginger and garlic to the pan with the chillis (or flakes) and stir around until you can start to smell the spice, about 1 minute. add the spring onions and peppercorns, and cook for a further minute. Add the chicken back to the pan.



Finally, add the sauce, and stir while it thickens. You will be left with a deeply savoury coating on your chicken and vegetables, rather than lots of gloopy sauce.






That's it! I like to serve this with steamed rice and greens. If you don't have a rice cooker, I highly recommend you get one, makes for a VERY easy life. For today's version (can you tell I make this recipe often...?) I cooked broccoli in a steamer bag in the microwave, to which I added lemon juice, chilli flakes and a tiny dash of sesame oil.




Super easy, and takes just minutes. Enjoy (fist pump optional)






Sunday, July 6

Spiced chilli truffles,feel good sweet treats............





Who doesn't love chocolate? I mean, really, even those who profess not to have a sweet tooth (myself included) cant usually resist a little sweet treat. Sometimes its the dark fancy stuff, sometimes it cheap and cheerful milk (my own illicit pleasure when I lived in London was a Yorkie bar, even if its not for girls!). I dont really think of white chocolate as being chocolate at all, but lets not get technical.
I was thrilled to receive a box of gorgeous Fairtrade and Tradeaid products recently, and was inspired by the fabulous choice of chocolate, cocoa powder and cinnamon to make these truffles for a friends birthday. They would be perfect to make for your friends/family/someone you want to impress, for the Big Fair Bake which is from 1-18 August, please check it out!
They are rich and creamy, and incredibly easy to make. As you can see from the picture I dont faff around rolling the mixture into balls, buy simply cut it into chunks. This is mainly because I have never managed to roll a truffle without covering myself, the kitchen and even a passing husband in cocoa powder. You may be technically more proficient with cocoa powder, or you dont mind spending hours cleaning your kitchen, either way suit yourself.




The chocolate is simply melted with cream which has been infused with spice and chilli, then set until firm, cut and dusted in a cocoa spice powder. Easy, and completely addictive.

Gently Spiced Chilli Chocolate Truffles

makes plenty, they keep brilliantly in the freezer

500 gr dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids if you can)
200 gr milk chocolate
Pinch sea salt
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch allspice
Pinch nutmeg (fresh ground is best)
5 cloves
Large pinch of chilli flakes or use a whole dried chilli
500 ml cream
Small knob of unsalted butter

Spice dust
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp chilli powder
Zest of a small orange
Large pinch of sea salt

Heat the cream with the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and chilli to almost boiling, then take off the heat and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile put the chocolates and salt in a large heatproof bowl.
Once the cream has had a chance to take on the spice flavours, pop it back on the heat and bring back up to nearly boiling. Pour through a strainer onto the chocolate, and whisk while it melts. Add the butter and continue whisking until you have a glossy mixture. Taste and if you feel like it needs a little more heat add another pinch of chilli flakes. You are looking for a gentle taste of spice with a little bit of heat at the end.

Pour into a tin lined with baking paper or cling film and pop into the freezer for about 1 hour until very firm.
To make your spice dust, simply mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. This will keep for ages in a small jar in your pantry.



Turn out onto a board sprinkled with your spice dust ,and cut into appropriately sized truffles (I prefer smaller pieces, but you may prefer larger chunks!) Dust the truffles with more spice mix and serve. I put tiny paper cases into a tin, with a truffle in each one to give as a gift, but you could serve simply on a wooden or slate board.

Delicious with a glass of port or whiskey after dinner



You can keep uneaten truffles in a tightly sealed bag in your freezer to pull out as needed, simply dust with more spice mix and serve chilled, yum! 




Wednesday, July 2

Brazilian Cheese Balls, not footballs.........




There is a footie tournament on at the moment, have you heard?  In Brazil, where football (not soccer my friends) is a form of demi-religion, a bit like rugby here ......when the All Blacks are winning anyway.
Being married to a fan, I know more about the round ball game than I any girl needs (he’s also keen on the NRL so any questions about that you want answered just pop on a postcard....), but Brazilian food is a bit of a mystery. My first experience of a caipirinha was made by a friend who had lived in Brasilia for several years as a student, it was delicious of course. But I suspect I’m not the only person who hasn’t progressed much past that.


So I have really been enjoying Andy Bates Street Feasts in Brazil, currently playing on the Travel Channel. I love his enthusiasm, and of course it’s always exciting finding out about food you never even knew existed. And boy have I uncovered a gem. Balls of cheesy chewy goodness, which coincidentally are made for sports viewing. I have actually tried these once before, at a book reading but I didn’t actually know where they came from. After watching them made on Street Feasts I realised that was what we had, and how easy they are to make. 





Now I would not normally recommend a more obscure ingredient , but believe it or not I actually found the secret ingredient to these treats at my local supermarket. It is called manioc flour, and is made from cassava. Cassava has been a staple food since pre-Columbian times in Central and South America, and was introduced into Africa by Portuguese slave traders from Brazil. The root is a dense carbohydrate source, and grows well in poor soil. As such, it has become staple food stuff in many part of the Americas and Africa, and an important source of income.
***update*** I contacted the NZ importers of the flour, they sell it and other brazilian foodstuffs direct to the public online at www.brasil.co.nz

But the most arresting fact about certain types of cassava is the work required to make it non-poisonous. Bitter cassava varieties must be processed correctly, often by soaking and boiling multiple times, to detoxify them. Which of course begs the question, who figured that out? I am always fascinated when I come across food that required processing to make it edible and/or non toxic. Mouldy cheese, soured milk, fish so minging it makes the can bulge....who wakes up one morning and thinks “oh lovely, I’ll have a bit of that??”

Thankfully someone did, and now you get to eat the yummiest cheese snacks I have come across. Don't worry, perfectly safe to eat! They are super easy to make, and are ideal for people who cannot tolerate gluten,( manioc four is gluten free), providing a lovely chewy texture, somewhere between a choux pastry gougere and a cheese bun. What is not to love......





Brazilian Cheese Balls  (based on a recipe from Andy Bates Street Feasts)
makes about 48


200 grams Manioc Flour (the brand I use has labelled it Sour Starch)
200 grams cheese- I used good old Tasty Cheddar
3 eggs
25 grams soft butter
A splash or two of milk


The flour is slightly grainier than wheat flour, and has a texture more like cornflour. Pop into a bowl with the cheese and rub together, as if you were making pastry. You can do this by hand, or put the ingredients into the food processor and whizz together briefly. 


You are looking for a texture similar to breadcrumbs.


If you are using a food processor, take the mixture out and put it into a large bowl. Add the eggs, butter and a little splash of milk, bringing everything together with a knife. Once it is starting to come together (it will look like yellow scone dough) get in with your hands and work the mixture to a soft dough, adding more milk if necessary. Now I won’t lie, the aroma is quite “cheesy”, the flour has a slightly sour smell which I found a teeny bit odd at first. But once it is baked it does not smell any thing but delicious, trust me.
Using your hands, roll into balls about the size of a walnut and pop into mini muffin pans which have been greased/sprayed with oil. If you don’t have mini muffin tins just bake on a tray greased or lined with baking paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 15 minutes until golden.





The outside will be crunchy with a soft slightly gooey middle. I served them with a tomato chili jam for dipping, but they are delicious as is. They would also be great with soup or as part of an antipasto platter.

The mixture does make a large batch, so if you don’t need them all at once (do however bear in mind they are very moreish), freeze the uncooked balls on a tray then store in a bag or container; they can be cooked straight from frozen.






Have I convinced you? Please try them, with a caipirinha if you can, for a perfect intro to Brazilian food. Now, lets see if there is some football on the telly.......

Monday, June 10

Easy breezy souffle....yes, really

So my last post was moaning about the heat.......I'll resist the temptation to start complaining about the cold. I doubt you could hear me over the roar of the heatpump anyway.
Although it has turned a bit chilly recently I don't always want stodgy comfort food. Ok, quite often that's exactly what I want, but not every day, I don't really want to have to buy TWO plane tickets for my trip to New York in September (I know, wheeeeeee!!!).
My Outlaws arrived the other day, en route to the airport with fresh eggs from the farm. While this does not quite compare with two weeks in Fiji it is still a lovely treat to have in the fridge. A girl cannot live by omelette's alone, and fresh eggs and various remnents of cheese in the fridge says souffle. Now souffles do have a reputation (the dirty things!) but for the most part it is unwarranted. This particular recipe, adapted from the ever fabulous Delia Smith is cooked twice, is very user friendly, and means you can have the souffles ready to go in the fridge if , like me, you cant always be sure what time you will be eating dinner.
Rich but light, I like this with a fresh apple & lettuce salad. Cheese and apple are so good together, especially with a tangy mustardy dressing. Comfort without the stodge....although I may well have hot chips tomorrow

Twice-Baked Cheese Souffles adapted from Delia Smith

Make 4 souffles, serving 4 as a starter, or 2 for a light supper

1/2 cup milk
Thin slice of peeled onion
1 bay leaf
Fresh grated nutmeg
Fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plain flour
2 large fresh eggs, separated
1 tbsp of fresh herbs- I use chives, parsley or chervil would also work
1/4 cup Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup blue cheese
4 tbsp cream
Extra cheese to sprinkle

Heat the oven to 190C, and grease 4 half cup ramekins/tea cups.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan or a microwave jug until almost boiling, add the onion, bay, nutmeg & pepper, and leave to sit for 10 minutes or so.


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low heat, then add the flour. Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Add the milk and whisk together , the mixture will be very thick. Cook for a minute or so, and remove from the heat. Add the egg yolks and herbs,  whisk together until smooth. Add the cheeses and whisk again, the cheese will mostly melt in the heat.
In a clean bowl whisk together the egg white until when the beater is lifted out a soft peak falls over. I recommend the old fashioned handheld beater in the picture, so easy  and quick to use, check out Hospice or Salvation Army stores for these gems (I use one found in a cupboard when my in laws sold their Bach)


Using a metal spoon add a tablespoon of the egg white to the cheesy sauce and stir, this loosens the mix & makes it easier to add the rest of the egg white. Now add the rest of the egg white and using a twisting motion fold it into the sauce, quickly but gently. The aim is to keep all the air in the bowl, this is what gives you puffy cheesy gorgeousness for your supper.
Pop the ramekins into a baking dish, and pour hot water around (not over!) them, then carefully pop into the oven. Water can only heat to 100C so this stops the egg getting too hot and over cooking to rubbery toughness.
Cook for about 20 minutes until risen and puffy, then remove from the oven and put them onto a cooling rack. They will sink, dont stress, this is normal! When they are cool enough to handle, run a knife around the edge and flip out onto a baking tray


You can pop them into the fridge, pour yourself a vino (you Souffle Master you!) and when you are ready for dinner pull them out, top wioth extra cheese and bung back into the oven at 180C for another 20 minutes. Take them out, pour over a tablespoon of cream over each souffle and pop back into the oven for a couple more minutes


Serve with a crispy salad and a smile of satisfaction, no cooking version of craft fail for you, nailed it!
The Engine Room in Auckland does a wonderful twice baked Goat Cheese souffle, so if you happen to have goat cheese that would certainly be worth trying. And chedder would of course be just dandy also
It took me longer to type the recipe for these than it did to cook them, so please dont be put off, I just like to over explain everything see?

PS please excuse the orange tint to the pics, we are mercifully replacing our orange light shades in the kitchen renovation..........sigh

Sunday, February 3

To hot not to really.....

I am writing this from my kitchen table, ambient temp in the room about 35 degrees. Why do tomatoes, so essential for the best condiment known to woman, appear right when it is least comfortable to have the oven on, or indeed be anywhere near the kitchen at all? While I ponder this & other mysteries of the universe (Marmite , the appeal of those incredibly sad animal rescue programs on TV, Rap music....) I have a couple of kilos of homegrown tomatoes roasting away in the oven. My desire for delicious pizza sauce has outweighed my desire for a nice cool house.



Instead of standing over a bubbly pan or several hours I am taking the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall route and making an oven roasted sauce. Place about 1.5-2 kg of tomatoes on an oven tray. I use a mixture of heirloom cherry tomatoes from plants Mum gave me & a slightly bigger variety called Tommy Toe. This I brought solely because I have a cat called Tommy, as you can see I'm quite the scientific gardener.......

Anyway, toss your chosen tomatoes with a good glug of Olive oil, a clove or two of chopped garlic, a few sprigs of thyme & a few of oregano, sprinkling with plenty of salt & fresh pepper. Roast in a 180C oven for about 45-50 mins until the fruit has collapsed, with tinges of brown. You may also have collapsed from the heat, can I just say its worth it?




Let the tomatoes cool for a while, then either push through a sieve or commender your Mums retro cool orange Mouli, (burnt melted bits where it was left on the stove countless times optional). Actually with the resurgence in interest in sauce making I have seen this beauty, certainly a bit more stylish than mine.....! Unlike a food processor a mouli gets rid of skin & pips, saving you having to skin hundreds of cherry tomatoes, surely the quickest way to a complete sense of humour fail.
This recipe makes about 500 mls of sauce depending on the moisture levels in your tomatoes If you find it a bit thin for your liking reduce it down by rapid boiling in a saucepan. Use right away or pop into the freezer for a taste of summer another day.....

I used a little of this as a basis for homemade pizza. Due to the fire ban in Auckland at the moment (we have not seen rain in weeks, the lawn looks like a brown and Mr PK is the only person happy about it, no mowing required....) the pizza oven is a no go. I spied a pizza stone at Farro on special for $20 and decided to splash out. Yet more heating up of the oven, but homemade pizza is SO much better than brought........



My go to pizza dough is here, if you have not made your own before I urge you in the strongest yet least bossy terms I can to try. A great crispy base, rich roasted sauce, a bit of mozzarella, maybe a few basil leaves, how good does that sound? 
I am a real purist when it comes to pizza, I think I am going way out when I put mushrooms on. Strangely I am married to a man who thinks Tandoori chicken & banana is completely acceptable as a pizza topping, at least making my own I have complete control. I do enjoy a hot pizza out of the oven topped with prosciutto, I like it cold & chewy rather than crispy after cooking, but its up to you.  Control freak I hear you murmur? Hmmmm.........

Are you having a tomato glut at the moment? 


Tuesday, January 29

Dont you want me Baby.....?


Well friends it would seem my hopes of TV superstardom are to be dashed once again. Despite a cracking audition vid (courtesy of Mr PK’s very clever cousin, who kindly brought his filming expertise, amazing kit and extreme amounts of patience to my kitchen for the price of a sponge cake) and potential writers cramp filling out an extensive application form I am not to be the next NZ Hottest Home Baker……..sigh.
I am must say I thought I might at least warrant an audition, but perhaps there was a surplus of competent baking woman my age (“cough cough”) with a taste for floral aprons & nary a tattoo to be seen clamouring to appear on screen?


I shall not however waste a perfectly good film, if you would like step by step instructions in the Art of the Sponge, please ignore the references to auditions and sugar companies & enjoy….


At least I got to feel like Nigella for five minutes………..

Ellerslie’s Slightly Lukewarm but still Enthusiastic Baker xx

Thursday, January 3

A new salad for a new year.....

 
 
So its 2013 already.I am resisting the temptation to bang on about all my New Years resolutions, I am quite sure you don't really give a toss if I lose 10kg by my birthday or finally get around to learning Spanish this year.
See, you don't, I knew it. I will tell you I have resolved to create a new recipe every week for the year. By new I mean original to me. Perhaps not recreating the wheel (not every week anyway), but created in my own little kitchen all fresh & new and lovely. Actually the kitchen is going to be ripped apart at some stage this year, so we shall see how we go (that could be smoothie/microwave/raw food week....)
 
Right, new recipe we have. Inspired by the delicious Nigel Slater & his fabulous Kitchen Diaries Two, which I was very happy to see in my Christmas Stocking this year, this is a fresh fast salad using Bulgur wheat. It has a pleasant nutty flavour, only requires soaking (no boiling pans in my kitchen, given its about 97% humidity at the moment this is a Good Thing) and makes me feel like I am being much nicer to my body than several weeks of rampant vino consumption should allow. Nigel's version is a bit simpler, more a side salad than the main event, but the addition of the halloumi in particular means this is plenty substantial enough for lunch or a light supper.
 
 
Bulgur wheat salad with melon, mint & halloumi
 
Serves 2 with leftovers
 
1/2 cup Bulgur wheat (also known as Cracked wheat or Burghul wheat) I use the Ceres brand
Boiling water to cover
1/2 small rockmelon
2 spring onion, sliced
1/2 small red or green chilli, sliced thinly
2 radish, sliced thinly
3-4 asparagus spears, chopped
Tbsp pinenuts
1/4 block of halloumi ( I used a chilli version, but plain would be perfect to)
Splash of olive oil
juice of a lime
Handful of parsley
Handful of mint
 
Put your bulgur wheat into a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to sit for 10 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Peel and chop your rockmelon into small chunks and put into your salad bowl. Add the spring onion, chilli and radish. Bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the asparagus. Boil for 2 minutes, then drain & cover in icy cold water (this stops it cooking any further). Drain again & add to your bowl.
Toast your pinenuts in a small non stick pan until just colouring, then add to your salad. In the same pan over medium heat put your helloumi slices and cook for a minute or two each side until golden and melting hot . While this is happening drain your bulgur wheat and add to the salad bowl with the oil, lime juice, herbs & some salt and pepper. Top with your cooked halloumi & devour, yum!
 

 
This is a very flexible recipe, so just add, remove or substitute as needed.
A ripe juice peach would be great in place of the melon, if you had the grill/BBQ going you could grill it, the asparagus and the heloumi all at once for a different flavor. Any nuts could be used in place of pinenuts, and feel free to substitute lemon or other citrus for the lime. If you don't want to use helloumi try feta, or leave it out all together and serve as a side to some grilled chicken or fish....
 
Now, to celebrate the New Year, and just because I can, some gratuitous cat shots. Tuppence does have a weight loss goal this year, I keep saying she is big boned but the vet suggested she is turning into a chubby so a little less food should be coming her way.........she isn't best pleased
 


Tommy is going to attempt to grow a brain this year. This is so he knows to not sit in the rain getting wet , or under the car when it is running, or on top of Tuppences head when she is clearly getting cheesed off............he has relied on his looks for too long.


 
 
Happy 2013 everyone, I hope you are looking forward to lots of good times this year, starting with a good meal!