Month: January 2014

You don’t win friends with salad….but I still love them

Pinterest Calamari

 

The title refers to one of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons wherein Lisa begs Homer to have a vegetarian BBQ and the family starts a song reminding her that ‘you don’t win friends with salad’ yet come summer and BBQ season, a good salad is always appreciated.

So what makes a good salad? To me it is the variety of textures and flavours. I love salads. It is my go to food any time of the year. In winter it is a warm salad with grilled vegetables or baked pumpkin, summer lends itself to crisp lettuce, vine ripened tomatoes and refreshing cucumber.

To flesh out a salad protein such as chickpeas, quinoa or meat is always a good start or a decent serve of carbohydrate such as potato, pumpkin or rice.

Fresh is always best so try to pick the crispest lettuce, nice ripe tomatoes, crunchy celery, green herbs and a variety of colours in your ingredients.

If in doubt, keep it simple. It is easy to throw the whole contents of the crisper in a bowl but there is an elegance in three or four quality ingredients combined and dressed to impress.

My Top Five Salads:

1. Asian Coleslaw – Crunchy, Tangy and add some fresh chilli for a spicy kick. What’s not to love?

2. Greek Salad – The taste of the Mediterranean in a bowl. Creamy fetta marries perfectly with tangy tomatoes and cool cucumbers for a summer treat

3. Baked potato salad – For a twist in the classic, bake your small cubes of potatoes first and dress when warm with a combination mustard and mayo dressing

4. Chickpea and kale – Pack a protein punch with a combination of chickpeas, finely diced red onion, shredded kale and pumpkin seeds for crunch. Top with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing and you’re good to go

5. Broccoli and spinach – Finely chop your raw broccoli, toss with baby spinach leaves and dress it up with flaked almond and dried cranberries. Great for a sunday bbq

 

 

I had a hankering for a seafood salad so I am going to share a grilled calamari and prawn salad. The ingredients are pretty simple and the method quick thus making for an easy mid-week dinner. I love to use fresh herbs in salads to create a bit of punch and flavour but you can always chop them up in a dressing if you don’t like leafy herbs in your dishes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

salad ingredients

4 squid tubes

250 g prawn meat

1 cup shredded wombok cabbage

1/4 large cucumber cut into thin strips

1/2 large capsicum diced into small cubes

1/2 cup of Thai basil and coriander

1/2 cup spinach

1 small can chickpeas

150 g butternut pumpkin sliced

2 tbsp Thai seasoning mix from gourmet garden tube

Juice one medium lemon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Dressing

3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

2-3 teasp fish sauce

Juice one lime

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp thai seasoning mix

squid

 

 

Method:

– cut squid tubes in half and cross score. Place in bowl with prawns and marinate with Thai seasoning mix, lemon juice and olive oil for half an hour (I use the tube mix as easy, fresh and no fuss)

– heat grill or fry pan to medium heat, cook sliced pumpkin until soft, set aside

– heat grill or pan to high, sear squid until opaque and almost cooked through, add prawns and cook both until opaque and cooked through

– remove from heat and cut tubes into 5cm strips

– mix salad ingredients together, add squid and prawns

– pour over dressing as desired and enjoy!

 

sallad complete

Recipes for success – five easy ways to choose a great recipe

As a lover of food, chef and blogger extraordinaire *tongue in cheek* I am always on the lookout for recipe inspiration. There are some go to favourites that allow you to know what’s in vogue/season/trending which is always interesting to read if not inspirational. Gourmet traveller and Vogue Food and Travel are great monthly mags that keep me up to date and Donna Hay and delicious are great for everyday recipes, but what about recipe books?

Spending $4-$10 on a magazine doesn’t seem quite the hefty investment an $80-$100 recipe book is. So how do you choose? How do you literally choose a recipe for success, a book of go to ideas that are sure to impress your guests? I have five different components to look for when finding a recipe for success

1. Method in the madness – How is the dish cooked?

Whilst the photos will draw you in, I always read the methods. If I as a chef can sense complex methods and too many ingredients in more than one recipe, I have to either a) really enjoy the author’s food having made a recipe before or b) have found a book in a genre I’d like to learn so I am prepared to spend the time creating the dishes.

Taking notes on recipes and methods that work for me and had worked for my mum

2. Inspiration and Food Porn – Does it look great and does it make you want to cook it?

My problem is that despite being a stickler for the methods, I don’t always follow the exact rules. It’s a habit that pertains to other areas of my life. Sewing and following a pattern? Some of the time. I usually do my own little thing to it. Paint by numbers? Not a chance. But then this is how I create food that is authentically mine. I like a good and clear method so I can clearly grasp the concept of the dish, the reasons for adding something or making it just so. From there I can alter to suit my tastes, palate and preference. Beautiful photos give me a sense of the dish and how it comes to fruition from the ingredient list. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and photo that makes you drool is worth its weight in culinary inspiration and success. A word of warning though – food styling is full of tricks so what you see may not always be the whole truth – as with the method use it as a guide and don’t judge yourself for the finished product – it is made by you therefore fabulous by default!

Two of my favourite cookbooks both for the actual food and the stunning images

 3. Watching the clock – How long will this really take?

The lament I have often heard from my family and friends is how long it took to make something. The fact that Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals have been a roaring success is a no brainer. The marketing almost does itself. Dinner is a half hour or less? Yes please! Now I know he makes sure certain elements are in place like a hot oven, a boiled kettle and utensils ready, but really, this is what chef’s do every day to make sure creating the delicious food you enjoy doesn’t take three hours to get to your plate after ordering. Realistically though it shouldn’t take you any more than an hour to create one of those dishes. Dishes that are labour intensive can be tedious and remove the joy from the final outcome unless you are truly in the mood. Check how long the dishes will take and whether they are the type of time frames you like to worth within.

Jamie – making dinner quick and easy

4. Kicking it Old School – Tried and Tested recipes

My favourite recipes and recipe books are more often than not the old school traditional ones. Great sauces, jams, chutneys, relishes, mayonnaises, dressings are the building blocks to a great meal. These are the final touches that can elevate a piece of lettuce to the piece de resistance! A slight exaggeration perhaps but you get my drift I’m sure. The great thing about recipe books such as those from Australian Women’s Weekly and Marie Claire is that they test and test and test their recipes before release. This ensures the recipes are tried and true and able to be replicated in a home kitchen. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe and realising you need a special piece of equipment that you don’t have.

One of the most comprehensive guides to ingredients and what to do with them from Stephanie Alexander. Fabulous stuff. Australian Women’s Weekly making entertaining easy. Just like it should be. 

5. Step Back in Time – Retro and classic cooking to remind you just how much food has evolved

Sometimes too it is fun to scour for retro and vintage cookbooks. There is certainly a large selection of microwave cookbooks in second hand stores. Microwaves were initially seen to be the time saving life savers busy people who love to cook were looking for. People were poaching eggs, steaming veg and making microwave cakes like it was going out of fashion. Thankfully it did as I don’t feel you can really recreate conventional cooking methods in a microwave. Other amusing finds in retro recipe books are the ingredients that are used and the way they were presented. Curly parsley, paprika, lemon wedges were food items elevated to pride of the dinner table. Liver, onions, tinned asparagus and pastry encrusted items filled the pages. Now foams, gelee , sous-vide poaching and spherification are all the methods a home cook needs to master to emulate restaurant style food. Or so it would seem.

The best ever recipes, classically retro and stylish 

So how do you create a recipe for success in your own home without trotting out the same meatloaf that your grandmother made and seeming behind the times? Take it up a notch of course. Recipes can recreate classical combinations and ideas in a way that is more current, clean and interesting. You can take the elements you are familiar with and present them in a way that looks like it was lifted out of the pages of the latest foodie magazine.

It can be very easy to fall into a cooking rut, thus dishes which are simple and easy to make become high on rotation. It doesn’t always have to be so though. It can be remarkably easy to tweak minor components of a dish to make a major change and that’s the beauty of recipe books, research and inspiration. You see something in a new light and all of a sudden you’re eating interesting again.

Need a hand updating your culinary skills? Feel free to throw a challenge my way to update a family recipe to a new dish or a new way of presenting it and I will blog it here.

Otherwise enjoy the hunt for a great recipe book and I hope the recipes I feature here become favourites too. Happy eating!

IMOK_signature dish

Sometimes you just gotta roll with it

Roll with it 8x10 full

I’ll admit it, I am a sporadic blogger. Sometimes the ideas just aren’t there. So of course that for me began to beg the question, why write at all? What do you want to say? What would you like to share? When I read something wherein the author shares a glimpse of a truth, a speckle of an idea of what inspires them, what they would like you to consider I treasure that book and share it.

So that is why I write. To share my observations about food. Which begs the next question, why food? It is a question I have pondered and played with and at the end of the day the answer is simply, nothing excites me more. I love to dance, to sew, to paint, to draw, to write. But put some food in my hand and ask me to create something and I am transported. Perhaps it is because all of my body is involved when I get to cook something. My fingers can caress an ingredient, my nose is filled with the delicious wafts of whatever is simmering or baking, my ears can hear the sizzle as an ingredient hits a hot pan and my mouth gets to relish the end result. Truly for me this is where the magic happens.

Food in my household was always fresh, always interesting and always lovingly prepared. My grandparents had chickens who I used to bug and upset when I collected their eggs and a vegetable garden I podded peas out of. My dad’s garden was filled with seedlings in spring and boy did I know he was angry, especially when I stamped over them carelessly when playing in the yard. Summer brought about tomatoes and zucchini, beans strung up high and winter saw broccoli and cauliflower bursting forth. Biscuits used to bake every other day or a simple cake, pasta was homemade and my brother and I used to love to help mum make sugo or ragu to freeze for sauce. It is little wonder that when the time came to create my life beyond high school I chose to work with food.

collage

 

I have often toyed with the idea of what else after an exhausting day, another small burn or another party missed. The answer is always clear. Nothing else will do. I admire all the head chefs I have worked with. Their desire to create menu’s that inspire, excite and tantalize. To lead a team of others in a common goal of serving the best food they can in the best way they see. For me though, the allure of sharing my love of food resides in teaching others how to create and enjoy food in their own home. I love watching people cook something for the first time and enjoy it. I know that some people have had awful food experiences that have put them off cooking or certain foods. These unfortunate events shouldn’t stand in the way of enjoying cooking and eating food in my opinion.

I’ll always remember one of my brother’s commenting that the reason he learnt to cook as we used to create family meals together, is that he held in regard the idea that if he is to eat, he may as eat well. My dad was very much the same. He came from a less than luxurious upbringing,  WW2 being the background to his early childhood (I had a much older father by the time I was born, he was born in 1936) and good food was scarce, so what he did have was appreciated. Growing up it was no big deal for dad to come home with a tray of peaches or a roll of salami, explaining ‘I couldn’t help myself, it just looked too good’.

Food, with patience and someone to guide you can become something you enjoy, not despise. One of my sister in-laws never ate oysters but with a with a willingness to give it a go and enjoying ones that were fresh she has grown to love them. As an apprentice there were many food I didn’t really enjoy or want to taste but I did, to educate my palate. As a child I hated peas but as an adult I don’t push them to the side on my plate. Cauliflower used to horrify me but now I know to keep it slightly crunchy when I boil it and it’s much more pleasurable. Food has so much to offer if you can give yourself the opportunity to try. So really, in the end, you just gotta roll with it.

As you can see, there are many factors that have lent themselves to not only my appreciation but my love of food. It’s place in history as the sign of wealth, to the traditions of a culture to mark a special occasion, food has long been a part of life and this in turn inspires me to seek more, cook more and enjoy more. I hope that the food I share with you and my thoughts and ideas in turn inspire you to pick up a spoon and bowl or a knife and board and get cooking. If you would like to learn more about any particular food or see a recipe featured here please let me know. Happy cooking!

IMOK_colllage eat asia

A penne for your thoughts

Pinterest Pasta

 

 

I’ll admit it, I’m a food nerd. I love learning the background of food names, history and the whys of food preparation. The names of pasta and their meanings has always amused me with their logical translation. More often than not the words are just simple meanings such as snail or butterfly but something about the romance of Italian language transforms cute “little ears” into “Orrechiette”, rolling off the tongue, sounding both exotic and inviting.

What fascinates me about food is how it transcends language to be an invitation to an experience. From simple to sublime food can be the means to express your love for someone, the joy of a party and celebration, the upholding of traditions or just an honouring of your body through feeding it delicious items.

Food history is full of anecdotes and stories of the origin of dishes, their names and their place at the dining table. Out of interest I recently looked up the translation for Strozzapreti, a twisty short pasta that is a favourite of mine. Here is what I found care of Wikipedia:

Origin of name (original source Wikipedia)

“There are several legends to explain the name.

One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savoury pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the “azdora” (“housewife” in the Romagna’s dialect), who “chokes” the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: “… in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!” Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives’ food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany.”

 

strozz pasta

I love the passion, the drama and the imagery this simple name evokes. You can almost imagine an angry Italian housewife up to her elbows in flour and rolling out the pasta cursing the priest that was to dine on it soon. The fun of pasta names doesn’t stop there, below is a list sampled from http://garrubbo.com/pasta/ :

Farfalle: Butterfly-from the wing shape of the pasta

farfalle

 

Orrechiette: Little ears – from the shell shape of the pasta akin to the curve of an ear

orrichiette

 

Cappellini: Thin hair – from the thin strands resembles long strands of hair

capellidangelolr6

 

Penne: Pen (quilled pen nub)from the angled shape of the tube ends

penne

Conchiglie:  Shell – from their sea shell appearance

conchieggle

 

Lumaconi: Snails – from the bent tube shape pinched at one end like a snail shelllumaconi

 

There are plenty more pasta types and translations clearly highlighting the Italians love affair with it!

Do you have any funny names for things? Has your family created a dish and christened it with its own name? My boyfriends family make a dish called green tuna.. I have yet to dine on this but it is an early family favourite despite the interesting name. Do you have any favourite words for food or interesting recipe history to share? Let me know, I’d love to hear them all 🙂

Buon Appetito