Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yeah Baby !!

I love calamari, and my favourite calamari to eat is the baby kind. Whilst it can be a bit fiddly to clean, it is worth the effort for the beautiful tender texture (you can always ask your fishmonger very nicely to clean it all for you if you can't be bothered doing it -  but I prefer the do it yourself approach) I particularly love the tentacles, which go all crispy when you fry them - delicious! My local fishmonger had some beautiful fresh baby calamari on sale when I visited him on the weekend, so I couldn't resist taking some home with me for a light and delicious dinner.

I decided to cook the baby calamari with a nutty, sesame crust and serve it with a very simple salad of rocket and kiwifruit. Kiwifruit is lovely at the moment and it works really well with the peppery flavour of the rocket. Choose kiwifruit that is ripe, but still on the firmish side. To finish the salad, I made a simple vinigarette style dressing with macadamia oil and white balsamic, but if you don't have either of these, you can use olive oil and a touch of vinegar to make a straight vinigarette. Also, if you cannot buy baby calamari, just use the smallest calamari you can find. Regardless of what you choose, make sure it is super fresh and avoid those large pre-cleaned frozen squid "tubes", unless you want to feel like you are eating fried rubber bands! Ugh! It is always better to change your menu if the produce isn't up to scratch than to buy something second rate. This dish is very easy to make but it tastes and looks lovely. Enjoy!

Baby calamari in a sesame crust 
with rocket and kiwifruit salad and macadamia/white balsamic dressing

You will need:
About 500g cleaned baby calamari (including tentacles) - you can cut the calamari into rings if you want to, but I prefer cutting them into pieces. I score them in a criss cross pattern with a sharp knife on the soft side of the flesh. I find that it holds the coating much more effectively and also curls nicely when cooked for presentation.

(for the coating) 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons plain flour, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt,1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 2 tespoons paprika, oil for frying.

(for the salad) A couple of handfuls of rocket leaves, 1 kiwifruit skin removed and diced, 1 small lebanese cucumber seeds removed and sliced, 1/2 small red onion sliced finely.

(for the dressing) 2 tablespoons macadamia oil, 2 tablesppons white balsamic vinegar, 2 tesapoons caster sugar, salt and pepper to taste

Method: First, thoroughly whisk together the dressing ingredients and abjust the seasoning to taste - you may want to add more white balsamic if you like the dressing to be more tangy. I like to be generous with the salt and pepper - heavier seasoning seems to work with the buttery nature of the macadamia oil. Set aside the dressing.

Next, in a plastic bag mix together the sesame seeds, flour, cayenne, salt, pepper and paprika. Set it aside.

Heat the oil for frying in a pan ( I fry the calamari in about 4cm of oil) While the oil is heating up, assemble your salad ingredients on your serving plate/s.

When the oil is hot enough to fry, put your prepared calamari in the bag of seasoning and coat all of the pieces well. Fry the calamari in small batches until golden. Drain on paper towels to remove any excess oil.

Pile your cooked calamari onto the plate, drizzle some dressing over the salad and you are done.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

A lovely fig tart for Autumn....

You will remember that I purchased half a dozen lovely organic red figs at the Addison Road market on the weekend, so I decided to use those as the centerpiece for a quick and easy tart. I had to bake something for a work morning tea and I wanted something I could throw together easily - This tart fits the bill perfectly.

I am also in the process of trying to use up various bits and pieces in the freezer and pantry - something I do each season. It is always good to have a good pantry clear out at  least a few times a year and it is a good excuse to create ways to use up bits and pieces that you might have leftover from other culinary ventures.

I discovered I had some almond meal (just a handful), some hazelnuts and some walnuts so I ground them all together and used those on the base of the tart. Other random leftover ingredients were a couple of sheets of puff pastry in the freezer and some maple syrup in the cupboard. These also helped to create this dish. This tart is of the rustic, freeform variety - I didn't fuss around with it or attempt to make it particulary perfect or pretty. You can if you want to. You could also do individual ones. This tart can be served warm or cold and would be nice with a little double cream as a dessert. This is a great way to enjoy the beautiful new season's figs that have started to appear in the greengrocer, welcoming in Autumn.

Walnut, almond & hazelnut tart with organic red figs.

You will need: 1 sheet pre packaged puff pastry, 6 figs sliced, 1 cup maple syrup, 3 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup each of ground hazelnuts and walnuts, 2 tablespoons almond meal, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 Tablespoons caster sugar, 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 egg lightly beaten.

Method: Preheat the oven to about 220C.

Melt the butter and combine well with the nuts, vanilla, sugar and nutmeg.

Lay the pastry sheet on a baking tray (I use baking paper on the tray - no washing up!) and spread the nut mixture over the pastry, leaving about 2cm free around the edges of the pastry.

Lay the sliced figs over the nut mixture. Fold up the edges of the pastry and pinch around the edges so that it sticks together and stays put. Bake the tart until golden.

When you remove it from the oven, brush with the maple syrup when it is still warm.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Shopping & Cooking - Sunday Organic Market

I have lived in Marrickville for quite a few years and can't count the number of times I have passed the badly written sign at the Addison Road/Victoria Road intersection advertising the Addison Road Organic Sunday Market. A few times I have thought "Hmmm...must check that out one Sunday" - but never actually got my act together to go (despite it being only a 15 minute walk away from my house - pathetic, isn't it?) I also think that the sign was so crappy and amateur that I had visions that the said organic market would comprise of a few hippies selling some dodgy produce from a sarong draped card table. Well, on Sunday I woke up to a beautiful autumn morning and I needed to buy some supplies anyway, so I thought I would get out in the sunshine and pay the market a visit. The market is situated at 142 Addison Road in Marrickville, New South Wales - which is part of the Addison Road Centre - apparently the largest community centre in Australia. It houses a number of not for profit organisations and community groups, as well as hosting the market from 9am to 2pm each Sunday.

Fresh from the farm

We arrived right on 9am, and already there were groups of people heading down the driveway entrance with kids, dogs and shopping bags. A band was setting up under the trees and the aroma of coffee was completely seductive. I imagine that as the morning wears on, it could get quite busy, so I recommend an early start to ensure ease of shopping, and that you get your pick of the best stuff. The market is lovely to walk around being surrounded by trees and away from the main road. It is also the perfect spot to enjoy breakfast outside in the fresh air, which is what we did.

Actually, I confess to indulging in not one breakfast but two. (Degustation brekky anyone?) I could not resist the lure of beautiful, flaky, stretchy Roti Canai, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roti_canai) served with a mildly spicy dahl to dip it into. Memories of breakfasts in Singapore came flooding back. The stall that sold these also had a beautiful selection of mostly Malaysian curries and treats - all of which smelt and looked amazing. I'm definitely going to pay them a visit again.  Breakfast number two was from a stall selling a variety of traditional German Sausages - we chose bratwurst that we devoured with saurkraut, onions, mustard and sauce served in a lovely fresh roll. Delicious. There are lots of other breakfast options, including fresh fruit juices, steamed dumplings, bacon and egg rolls, vegetarian treats and a few choices of coffee stalls (including Fairtrade) I plan on working my way around to all of them!

The first stall that caught our eye was Brasserie Breads - a Botany based artisan breadmaker that offered a stunning selection of organic savoury and sweet sourdoughs, pastries and other baked treats. After sampling a number of the breads on offer (and a deliciously aromatic sliver of freshly baked hot cross bun) we settled on a large traditional sourdough loaf, and a garlic loaf studded with masses of beautiful, gooey caramelised garlic. It smelt so good, I wanted to rip into it with my teeth right there! I managed to control myself and explored the rest of the market.

I love mushrooms so a stall specialising in mushrooms got my attention - I have never seen such a range of varieties for sale in one place. I was particularly interested in the lovely orangey, saffron coloured wild pine mushrooms. The lovely bloke running the stall told me that due to the recent rain, the pine mushroom harvest was particularly good. I couldn't leave without buying some of course!

Pretty mushies

Wandering through the stalls, I also picked up some gorgeous Tuscan cabbage (kale), fresh herbs, organic black figs (which I hope to turn into something delicious in the coming days), organic fetta cheese and some duck fat for those times when I want to feel all French and indulgent.

Another great stall I discovered was one specialising in various varieties of potatoes and garlic. I was very excited to see some types I didn't recognise and chose the deliciously named Dutch Cream variety to take home. I decided that those potatoes had a date to keep with my newly purchased duck fat later that evening...

From the potato/garlic man - I chose the Dutch Cream variety

As well as a good selection of fruit and vegetable stalls, the market has much more on offer - fresh flowers, organic cheeses, homemade preserves, herbs, eggs, honey, cakes and pies. There are also some plant stalls, second hand clothing, jewellery and bric a brac for those who like to fossick. The fun and relaxed atmosphere of the market made for a really enjoyable morning. It would be very easy to just sit under those trees drinking coffee, listening to the music and watching the eclectic passing parade all day if you wanted to. All shopping should be this enjoyable. I was impressed by the pricing of the produce on offer at Addison Road - sometimes choosing organic can be insanely expensive, but I felt that it was all pretty reasonable. Some of the trendier organic markets I have visited make choosing organic cost prohibitive for many of us, but this market seems to be more aimed at the local community and was a lot more reasonable. Certainly worth checking out  - even just as a pleasant Sunday morning breakfast excursion if nothing else.

What I bought on Sunday

I had already decided to try the Dutch Cream potatoes cooked in duck fat for dinner on Sunday evening and I teamed these with a salad of organic baby rocket (another market purchase), the organic fetta cheese, grape tomatoes and olives which I just drizzled with some olive oil and balsamic. I also slow cooked a leg of lamb with garlic, olive oil, a touch of white wine, lemon and rosemary (5 hours in my favourite cast iron/enamel pot at 190C) and added some of the gorgeous sticky garlic bread from Brasserie Breads for good measure.

What I cooked on Sunday

Sunday dinner was delicious - and there was plenty of left over lamb which I am already dreaming up plans for. I always like finding ways to create new dishes from leftovers - I'm notorious for over catering so it is a skill I'm trying to work on! I imagine you will see the lamb in some other incarnation in the coming days. The potatoes were a knockout - crispy on the outside and creamy and fluffy in the middle. I scored them all over with knife before I cooked them to maximise the surface area and to allow all that gorgeous duck fat to permeate through the potato. I used a tablespoon of the duck fat, which was plenty and just seasoned them with some sea salt and pepper. The potatoes had great flavour but weren't in the least greasy. If you see Dutch Cream potatoes for sale, give them a try - they are beautiful.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Something delicious from the sea....

I had a bit of a seafood craving earlier in the week and wanted something hearty, easy to make and full of gorgeous delights from the sea. This dish fits the bill perfectly. It is very rustic and simple and only requires about as much time as it takes to cook some spaghetti. I threw in a few handfulls of fresh rocket at the end, which is delicious when it wilts and absorbs all the flavours of the seafood and the garlicky, lemony goodness. Yum! Use whatever seafood takes your fancy - I went for salmon, mussels, prawns and scallops this time. I have also made versions which included clams, calamari and balmain bug tails. Just visit your fishmonger and see what's good.

This pasta makes a great shared dinner party dish - just do a large bowl of it, add a big mixed leaf salad, some good crusty bread and a few bottles of red and your guests will love you forever. Bear in mind that it is not a dish you can make ahead - it needs to go straight from the stove to the table - but then, it is so fast and easy to do, you will only be away from your guests for a few minutes to throw it all together. Enjoy!

Seafood Pasta with lemon, capers and wilted rocket

You will need: 1 cup raw seafood per person (I used a mixture of prawns, scallops, salmon), 2-4 mussels per person, 1 large chopped red onion, -2 red chillis, finely chopped,1 tablespoon capers (I use the salted baby ones, soaked in water for a few minutes and drained. If you are using the big ones, chop them roughly for use), 1 or 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, a few handfuls of rocket  leaves, grated rind of a lemon, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, a splash of olive oil, a tablespoon salted butter, pepper to taste, 70-80g dry spaghetti or fetucchini per person.

Method: Put your water on to boil for your pasta, making sure you salt the water well.

Now, to the sauce. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and sautee the onion, chilli and garlic for about 5 mins. Add the seafood, except for the scallops and mussels. Cook for about 5 minutes. By now your pasta water will be boiling, so add your pasta to cook while you finish the sauce. Give it a stir so that it doesn't stick together.

Add the capers, mussels and scallops to the seafood mixture in the pan. Cover with a lid and allow to cook until the mussels open. Discard any that don't.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the seafood, along with the lemon rind, lemon juice, butter. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you need to. Serve right away.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Vietnamese Inspiration - Spring Rolls

Today's recipe was inspired by some of the delicious spring rolls that I ate in Vietnam. The fillings tend to be fresher and lighter than other more Chinese influenced spring rolls I have eaten. They are a real crowd pleaser dish for a cocktail party or make a nice starter for a dinner party and are very easy to make. I made a big batch and put a whole lot of uncooked ones in the freezer for later - just defrost, deep fry and serve. You can be as creative as you like with the fillings - when I was away I ate spring rolls made with minced pork, chicken and prawns as well as vegetarian versions that used mung beans.

Our beloved "pork lady" (see previous post) used to put mung beans and pork in hers. She would make then earlier in the day and then grill them over the coals to reheat them, which gave them a whole new dimension of flavour. My recipe uses minced pork, fresh herbs, rice vermicelli noodles and black fungus (don't get freaked by the whole "fungus" thing - it is just a variety of dried mushroom that you can purchase easily from any asian supermarket) The fungus is quite mild and gives a lovely texture to the rolls, as well as gorgeous ebony coloured flecks through the mixture. I made these rolls on Saturday night and served them simply with some soy and sweet chilli sauce, but feel free to make your own dipping sauce if that takes your fancy. This recipe makes about 50 small rolls.

Serving suggestions:
- In Vietnam, fried spring rolls are often wrapped in lettuce and then dunked in chilli or a dipping sauce - they are delicious this way, as the crunchy fresh lettuce is a great contrast to the fried roll. I must admit that this is my preferred mode of eating spring rolls now.
- Another serving option is to cut the rolls into pieces (the Vietnamese just use scissors for this that they keep on the table) and use them to top cold noodle salads or pickled vegetables.

Spring roll handy hints:
- Dont overstuff your spring rolls or they are likely to burst open when you cook them.
- Make sure your filling mixture is not too wet - it can make your spring roll pastry weaken and split.
- Make sure your filling is cool or cold before creating your rolls - using hot filling can also split the wrappers. I sometimes make the filling the day before to avoid this.

Pork and black fungus spring rolls

You will need:
(for the filling) 400g pork mince, 1/2 cup dried black fungus soaked in hot water until soft, drained and chopped finely (available from asian grocers. You can also use dried Shitake mushrooms if you like),
1 bunch finely chopped fresh coriander, 1 finely chopped red chilli, 1 cup soft vermicelli rice noodles (I just soak the dried ones in hot water for 10mins and then drain them), 3 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1/2 cup finely chopped spring onions, pepper to taste, 3 teaspoons sesame oil, splash of peanut or vegetable oil.

(for the rolls)
1 pack spring roll wrappers - you can buy these from an asian grocer and some supermarkets. I like the smaller sized ones (about 14cm x 14cm), but if you want larger rolls, then go for the bigger sized wrappers.
Oil for frying, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water whisked together.

Method: Heat a splash of oil in a pan and cook the pork mince until browned. Add the spring onion, chilli, noodles, fungus, sesame oil and oyster sauce. Combine well and season with pepper. Finally mix in the coriander. Allow the mixture to cool before making the rolls.

To make the rolls: Place the spring roll sheet diagonally, with a pointy end towards you. Brush the edges with the egg mixture. Place a small spoonful of the mixture on the pastry and fold the corner over the mixture. Now fold each side in. Now roll the pastry away from you - voila! One spring roll! Repeat with remaining mixture.

Cook the finished rolls in hot vegetable oil until golden. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with sweet chilli sauce or soy.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Welcome back to Gourmet Goddess after my South East Asian odyssey....

Hi everyone - Well, I'm back after what was a very memorable trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. I saw lots of beautiful and sometimes confronting sights and also did lots of things I never thought I would do (including finding myself underground in the pitch black, crawling on my stomach in an old Viet Cong fighting tunnel and shooting rounds off an AK47 gun !!) I also ate some fantastic local food in both places, including some of the more exotic options, including frog's legs, river snake on a stick (why does everything taste better on a stick??), fried crickets and fermented fish. I also became addicted to the delicious Vietnamese coffee.

One of my favourite food memories of the trip was a lady who sold the most incredible pork from a small cart at the intersection near where we were staying. Every night she would be there, cooking thin slivers of succulent pork belly, that was threaded onto split bamboo and cooked over coals, until it was melty and caramelised. The flavour was sweet and smoky and sexy. Needless to say that we kept going back for more! The lady on the corner became affectionately known as "The pork lady". Every neighbourhood should have one!

The pork lady and her cart

I thought I would get back into the swing of things with a recipe inspired by my time in Vietnam - a simple to put together salad that is fresh and full of flavour. I made this for friends who came to dinner on Saturday night and they really enjoyed it. You could serve this on individual plates as an entree, but I just tossed it all in a bowl and let everyone help themselves. I have used a combination of pork and prawns in my salad, but you could just use one of these if you want to. It would also work well with cooked squid, duck or chicken.

Pork and prawn salad with green mango

You will need:
(for the dressing) 5 tablespoons fish sauce (Nam Pla), Juice of 1 lime, 1-2 finely chopped red chillis (more or less depending on your taste), 1 heaped tablespoon palm sugar.

(for the salad) 1 green mango sliced thinly, 1 bunch coriander chopped, 1/2 cup chopped mint, 1/2 cup finely sliced spring onion, 1 cup fresh bean sprouts, 1 lebanese cucumber cut into juliennes, 12 cooked cold king prawns (I stir fried mine in a little oil with some salt and pepper), 400g cooked cold pork sliced into small pieces (I used cooked pork belly with the crackling left on, but you could use cooked pork chops or fillets), extra sliced red chilli to serve (I like lots!)

Method: First, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more lime or palm sugar if you need to. The dressing should have a nice balance of sweetness, saltiness and hotness from the chilli.

Toss together all of the salad ingredients. Drizzle over the dressing and serve right away.
How easy was that ?!!!