June 22, 2011

Chicken Soup with Pastina

This is just a quick little post.  I wanted to include my recipe for a really simple and tasty chicken soup - the kind of soup that makes you feel better when you're having a rough week. 

I made this Sunday afternoon while watching long awaited episodes of Gossip Girl - after a busy morning, I felt like nothing more than watching cheesy drama with amazing fashion.  I threw some things in a pot, turned it on then walked away for 3 hours.  My kind of soup.

I've been eating this soup for as long as I can remember.  When I was a little girl and my mum would ask me what I wanted for dinner it would always be "pastina!".  She always cooked Stelline, which is the little stars, because it was my favourite.  I haven't found them lately, so I just use Risoni instead.

Original recipe
1kg chicken pieces, skin and fat removed
2 celery stalks
2 large carrots, washed and ends removed
2 large onions, peeled and ends removed
Rock salt
200g Pastina or Risoni pasta

Place the chicken, celery, carrot and onion in a large pot and fill with water.  Add a few chunks of rock salt and bring the pot to the boil.  When boiling, turn down to a gentle simmer, cover with the lid, and leave for 2 - 3 hours.  The longer you leave it, the more flavour. 

While the stock is cooking, skim off any excess oil and impurities and discard. 

When the stock is ready, allow to cool slightly before removing the vegetables and chicken.  Discard the vegetables.  Remove the chicken meat from the bones and set aside.  Discard the bones and gristle.

Pass the stock through a sieve and or muslin cloth and return to the pot.  Bring the stock back to the boil, then add the pasta.  When the pasta is cooked, add the chicken.  Check for seasoning.

Serves 4.

June 20, 2011

Fresh Egg Pasta

It was a cold and raining Saturday afternoon, four girls huddled around a selection of cheese’s and accompaniments and red wine, and prepared for an afternoon of pasta making.  This is how it begun.

Making my own pasta is something I have wanted to do for ages.  It makes perfect sense that seeing I have eaten, and still do eat a fair amount of the stuff, that I make it myself.  My friend Sarah had the brilliant idea of spending a Saturday afternoon with the girls and do such a thing.  And brilliant it was.  Making homemade pasta is one of the best cooking experiences I’ve ever had.  Its so therapeutic and hard work, that you really feel like you’ve accomplished something.  And the end result, oh well that’s just amazing fresh silky pasta.

I’ll be honest, the kneading part wasn’t too fun.  Well it was, due to the screams of “why aren’t you soft yet!” and Leanne and my attempts at stealing Sarah and Elise’s perfect dough while they weren’t looking.  We didn’t try that hard, but gees did we get the old arm muscles working.  I haven’t been to the gym in quite a while so this was my weekend work out.

Putting the pasta through the machine, whilst constantly dropping the turning handles on the floor, made us all a little giddy.  And when you get to the final stage of putting it through the fettuccine setting, there’s this almost heavenly ‘ahhhh’ – pasta!  It was like my child.  I was so proud.  I took photos on my phone and sent it to everyone.  I made pasta.

I actually took a lot of photos.  Really.  Lots.

Oh I should really talk about the recipe.  Ok so the recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s book Cook with Jamie, but you can find the original here.  I always thought you needed olive oil and salt, but this recipe with just flour and eggs worked perfectly.  Don’t panic if it seems too dry – it will come together beautifully.  I was tempted to add water or oil but held off.  Make sure you buy the real deal flour, ordinary flour will not work.

Recipe from Jamie Oliver
600g Tipo ‘00’ flour (or farina di grano tenero, which is an Italian very finely sieved flour)
6 large eggs

Sieve the flour in a bowl, and then pour onto a clean kitchen bench top.  You can also do this in a bowl or board, but a bench top gives you more room to work.

Make a well with the flour and place the crack eggs in the centre.  Using your fingers, break the eggs up (you can also do this with a fork) and slowly and carefully start incorporate the eggs and flour together using your finger tips.  When all is combined, knead the dough for around 10 minutes, or until you have a smooth, slightly elastic dough.  You will know when it’s ready as it will have a nice gloss finish and will be soft with no dry cracks. 

Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a pasta machine, I suggest referring to Jamie’s site for tips.  If you do, read on!

Clamp the machine to a table with a good amount of length in front of it (trust me, you’ll need it).  Dust the surface with a bit of the pasta flour, and grab an orange size amount of dough.  Press it out so it’s a little flat and start to roll the dough through the machine on the widest setting.  After each roll, reduce the setting to slightly narrower and feed through again.  When you reach the thinnest setting, fold the dough in half and half again until you have a square, then feed through the machine again, going from the widest setting to the narrowest.  Do this one more time.  This process works the dough, which will result in smooth and silky pasta.  As you work, continue to lightly flour the dough so it doesn’t stick to the machine.

After rolling it out, when you have a pasta thickness you’re happy with (2mm is ideal), lay the sheet of pasta out on the bench.  To make fettuccine or spaghetti, cut the long sheet into 30 cm pieces, then roll each piece through the setting you prefer (fettuccine or spaghetti pasta).  Once it’s through the machine, flour the strands of pasta so no bits stick to each other.

Alternatively, you can fold the pasta into a square, then cut the strands with a floured knife.  If making ravioli or pasta with a filling, you will need a slightly thicker sheet of pasta. 

The pasta will store in the fridge for a couple of days or you can freeze it, but its best eaten straight away!

Although Jamie says this recipe serves 4, we made enough for 12.

June 13, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes

Perth is starting to get really cold.  This weekend I pulled out my coat for the first time in Perth.  I have a funny story about my coat actually.  Turns out, when you buy stuff on eBay, it’s not always the best quality.  Go figure.

I bought my coat a couple of months ago so I could have something warm to wear in Melbourne.  It cost me $50 and was pretty much what I was looking for.  It had an average brand name so I figured it would be made to a satisfactory condition.

First morning in Melbourne waiting for a tram, I do up an extra button, pop, off it comes and into my hand.  Oh well, it happens.  That night when we get back to the hotel I sew it back on using a mini hotel sewing kit.  We then go out for dinner after, and as I’m walking to the tram, pop, off comes another.  Gees, crappy coat.  I guess two’s not too bad.  Go back to the hotel, sew it back on.

Next day, go to eat breakfast, pop.  I give up.  I’m not sewing anymore on.  The next night, pop.  This is just annoying now.  The next day another one.  The ones I sewed back on are falling off!  How is this possible?  By the end of the trip all the buttons to do up the coat are jingling in my pocket.  I’m cold.

Saturday night before heading out I decided to sew them all back on.  Finally, back to normal.  I went to two bars on Saturday night, took my coat off in the second place, pop.  This coat is doomed!

So onto these cupcakes.  The recipe for these comes from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook.  After making the Lavender Cupcakes from the book I had to make chocolate ones.  I need the chocolate ones!  I altered the recipe slightly as last time I made their cupcakes it only produced 10.  This time 11.  Strange how that happened again. 

1 cup plain flour
4 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
50g unsalted butter, room temperature
180ml whole milk
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups icing sugar
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
80g unsalted butter, room temperature
30 ml whole milk

Preheat the oven to 170°C.  Line a 12 hole cupcake tin with paper cases.

In a large bowl, add the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter, and beat with an electric mixer on a slow speed until you have a light crumbly consistency.

In a jug, add the milk, egg and vanilla extract and mix until all ingredients are combined. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture slowly, beating as you go.  When all ingredients are added, continue beating for a further few minutes until all lumps are gone and you have a smooth consistency.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Leave cupcakes to cool before icing.

In a clean bowl, add the icing, cocoa and butter, and beat on a low speed until the mixtures comes together.  Slowly pour the milk into the icing mixture, beating as you go.  When all is combined, beat on high for a further few minutes until the icing becomes light and fluffy.

Top the cupcakes with the icing.

June 10, 2011

Italian Food Safari

I have just made a new discovery.  Well it isn't so much as new, as I have been following the Italian Food Safari series for weeks now.  But the website...

You know when you watch a show and at the end they say "visit our website for recipes and more information"?  And as they say it, your listening but nothing actually goes through?  Well I've been listening to Maeve say it for years and yet never visited the Food Safari site.

The other day I stumbled on the site, here.  I'm kicking myself that I didn't jump on here sooner!

This series has by far been the best Italian food series I've ever seen.  The recipe and interviews are so traditional that I get that I get a goose bumps watching it sometimes.  They cook things that I have been eating all my life. 

There were a few particular recipes that got me all excited. One was Spaghetti Vongole - my ultimate pasta dish.  They talked about Italian Ricotta Cheesecake, which my dad used to bring home around Saturday lunch time just after closing his workshop from the morning.  Even little things like an episode at an Italian bakery - once the bread comes straight out of the oven they first drizzle with olive oil before stuffing it in their faces.  Bread and olive oil, with a pinch of salt, to me is heaven.

The series focuses on Italian's living in Australia, most who have migrated and then pass on tradition to their Australian raised kids.  Which is kind of like my Dad and me. 

June 7, 2011

Butter Chicken

I’ve noticed that I keep cooking a lot of chicken recipes lately, which for me is not normal.  I’ve never been the biggest fan of chicken, I prefer beef or seafood.  When going to restaurants, I would never order the chicken.  Ever.

This has changed.  I don’t know when the change took place, but I have a new interest in chicken.  It’s by no means intentional.  I still won’t order chicken at a restaurant, unless it is the best option on the menu, which to me says more about the restaurant.

I think it’s because chicken is so versatile and easy to cook with.  It has a non-specific flavour and isn’t as sensitive as something like fish where there’s a thin line between over-cooking and under-cooking.

My favourite chicken recipe would have to be a simple chicken soup with pastina, shredded chicken and a clear broth.  It’s a winter staple, cheap, and makes you feel better.

My next favourite dish – butter chicken.  I know it’s such a cliché dish, everyone orders it.  But gees its good!  I’ve made a butter chicken in the past which was meh, ok.  But when I came across Jimmy’s recipe from the Season Two Masterchef book, I just had to make it.  The photo alone was amazing, but it was the fact the recipe came from Jimmy.  The judges always loved his curries so I figured I probably would too.

And yep, it was good, really good.  I missed one crucial step because I tried to juggle too many things at once.  I forgot to marinate the chicken in the yoghurt.  This would have made the chicken so so tender.  I also changed one other thing and that was adding a teaspoon of ground cumin, only because it’s my favourite dried spice and I had to put it in.  Other than that the recipe was flawless.

I served this dish with some raita, tomato salsa, pappadums and dry roasted cauliflower.  This was easy.  For 4 people, use half a head of cauliflower and cut it up into little florets.  In a baking dish, add a good slug of olive oil, one teaspoon of ground turmeric, one teaspoon of ground cumin and a teaspoon of sea salt.  Mix well, then add the cauliflower and toss them so they are coated in the oil. Bake in a preheated oven of 200°C for 45 minutes or until soft and golden.  Perfect.

140g (½ cup) yoghurt
Small piece ginger, finely grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped coriander
1 tablespoon garam masala
800g chicken thigh fillets, cut into strips or cubed
2 tablespoons ghee
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
2 long red chillies, seeded, finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup passata
300ml pouring cream
1 bunch of mint, finely chopped

In large bowl, add the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, oil, coriander and garam masala, and stir. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat in all the ingredients.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for around 3 hours.

Lightly oil a frypan or grill on a medium to high heat.  Cook the chicken pieces in batches, for around 5 minutes, or until half cooked through. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.

Heat the ghee in a large pot over a medium heat.  Add the onions, garam masala, ground cumin, turmeric, chillies and tomato paste, and stir.  When the onions are soft, add the passata and cook for a further 5 minutes to let the sauce slightly thicken.  Reduce the heat to low and add the cream and mint, and stir.  After 2 minutes, add the chicken and continue on a simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick.

Serves with rice, and any other accompaniments such as pappadams, raita, roasted cauliflower and tomato salsa.

Serves 4.

June 1, 2011

What to do with leftovers?

Sandwiches!  I love sandwiches, actually I love anything to do with bread.  This particluar one was a mix of leftover pork belly, and leftover caramelised onion, horseradish cream and rocket.  Put it in a nice roll and you have a gourmet lunch.

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