November 30, 2011

Book Review: 1/3 of the way through French Women Don't Get Fat

So I’ve started reading the book French Women Don’t Get Fat.  Currently a third of the way through, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s a mix of a story, self-help and cookbook.  I like Mireille, I like the way she writes, and I love her personal story.  There are times when I have actually laughed out loud, like the part where after not seeing his daughter for 12 months, the first thing her father says to her is “you look like a sack of potatoes”.  Not to be mean or hurtful, but just an innocent reaction to her weight gain.  It made me laugh cos it’s not too far from something my dad would say.  He is first to comment if he thinks I have gained a few kilos, always saying that my bum looks bigger.  It’s ok, I’ve learned to live with it.  When my brother says it, I know he’s just trying to be wind me up.

So back to this book.  So far I’ve come to realise that the French way of eating is not so different to the Italian way of eating.  Major difference is the French would never sit down to a big plate of pasta, where Italians do, mainly for lunch.  But the concept of meals is the same - we eat together as a family at the dinner table.  From when we sit down to when we clear out plates an hour could have easily passed.  We enjoy our food, eat slowly, talk, laugh and debate over our meal.  We eat three decent meals a day (maybe not so much me as I tend to skip breakfast due to choosing an extra half hour to sleep in the morning) and finish with fruit.  We don’t go to the gym to exercise (a more-modern lifestyle is changing this), but we generally eat in moderation, eat well, and enjoy the ‘treats’ every now and then.

I needed this book to remind me of the way to eat.  Too often now I eat dinner quickly as I have other things to do, or I work throughout lunch.  I’ve started snacking, which means my main meal wasn't sufficient enough.  I’ve steered away from my normal way of eating and I need to get back to it.  I do eat healthy and have a good range of protein, vegetables, fibre and water, although I could definitely drink more water.

I’ve come across a some recipes so far, and noticed that there are more at the back of the book, so don’t be surprised if a couple pop up on this blog!  I’m really excited to see what the rest of the book has to offer.

To be continued...

November 28, 2011

Zucchini, Basil, Chilli and Prawn Risotto

How was everyone’s weekend?  For all my American readers – Happy Thanksgiving!  I will officially be celebrating my first Thanksgiving with some friends this weekend – quite excited!

Yesterday I helped some friends do some major renovations to their house – like major!  Pulling down walls and ripping up floors.  Yeah, told you it was major.  I didn’t exactly do much of the “hard-work”, the boys did that (picture sledge-hammers, crow-bars and electric saws).  I did the moving of boards, once they were pulled from the ground and walls, and put them in the skip bin.  Today, I’m feeling a bit sore, but good sore.

I have been making this risotto for a while now.  It's inspired by a recipe in Neil Perry’s book Good Food, which I've had for years, but always adapted to my style of cooking.  Neil’s recipe calls for slicing the zucchini and making the stock out of them, but I prefer to grate it and add it at the end – I think mines the lazy version.

I made this last weekend to go with my cocktails, but added prawns – wow, took it to a whole different level.  It was so yum that I made it again this weekend.  Only I go distracted and added too much stock in the end, but hey, still tasted delicious!

A note about the prawns – when you cut them lengthways, firstly, it gives you twice as many (awesome!) but also makes them curl beautifully and also cook quicker.  I do this with all pasta / risotto dishes when using prawns.  The quantity of prawns will also depend on the size – if using small ones I say add more, but you generally want 4 – 6 prawns per serving (when cut in half).

ZUCCHINI, BASIL, CHILLI AND PRAWN RISOTTO
1 litre stock (chicken, vegetable of fish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 knobs butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (alter depending on your liking of heat)
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
8-12 medium prawns, cut in half length-ways
½ large zucchini, grated and any liquid squeezed out
Handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
100g freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat the stock in a pot or microwave.

In a separate pot, heat the olive oil and 1 knob of butter, add the onions, garlic, celery and chilli, and fry on a low heat for about 15 minutes until the vegetables have softened.  Turn the heat up and add the rice, stirring until all the rice is coated with the oil.  Add the wine and keep stirring to cook out the alcohol.

Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring the creamy starch out of the rice.  Allow each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.

Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, use boiling water.

Remove from the heat and add 1 knob of butter, parmesan, prawns, zucchini and basil. Stir until all ingredients are combined well, then place the lid on and let the risotto sit for 5 minutes.  This will ensure the prawns and zucchini are cooked through.  You can add a little more liquid if the rice becomes too thick.

Serve immediately, topped with a good sprinkle of parmesan.  Serves 4.

Buon appetito!


November 21, 2011

Strawberry and Gin Cocktail

I’ve been craving summer lately for many reasons - catching up with friends, the beach, pools, going down south to Dunsborough and Margaret River, Christmas, New Years, time off work, but also for the cocktails - my new obsession.  A few months ago I set up this mini bar in my dining room.  I bought an old small cabinet and then proceeded to cover it with all types of different spirits and liquors.  Inside, it is filled with wine and champagne. 

So I have this rad mini bar, and haven’t really found the time to ‘mix’ anything.

I found this recipe on the Gourmet Traveller website not long ago and book-marked it, waiting for the right time.  Well seeing as I finally fixed part of my courtyard last weekend, and the outdoor table was clean, the chairs out, it was time to sit back and enjoy the beginning of summer with a cocktail!

My lovely friend Anj came over and together we drunk the night away with this awesome Strawberry and Gin Cocktail.  It was refreshing, light, not too sweet.  Oh dear, I think I have found my new summer drink!  And it’s red and green – perfect for the Christmas season. 

It’s given me ideas too…  I’m thinking passionfruit and peach syrup – how nice would that be with mint and gin!

Strawberry and Gin Cocktail
500g strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
500ml water
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Gin
2 limes
Handful mint leaves
Soda water
Ice

Place the strawberries and water in a medium pot and bring to the boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 – 15 minutes or until the strawberries have broken down and become pulpy.   Strain the strawberry mix through a sieve and muslin cloth so all seeds are removed.    You should have about 2 cups of liquid.

Return the juice to a clean pot add the sugar (you can add less if you don’t want it too sweet, but taste as you go – remember the syrup is watered down so you want it to be sweet).  Bring the liquid to a simmer and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.  Continue simmering for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the vinegar and stir.  Set aside to cool completely.

To make the cocktail, in a tall glass with ice, squeeze in two lime wedges, rip in a couple of mint leaves, add 60 mls of the strawberry syrup (two shots), 30ml of gin (one shot) and top it up with soda water.  Give it a good stir and enjoy!

Makes about 10 cocktails.


November 14, 2011

Pink Snapper, Mussels and Clams al Cartoccio

Which is fancy for fish, mussels and clams baked in paper. 

In my efforts to stop baking (well not stop, cut back, and when I mean baking, I mean cakes and sweets, cos then I would have already failed on this mission seeing I baked bread yesterday, and ate a lamington for breakfast, I’m not really sticking to this mission, seems I need to try harder, hrmm..  I’ve also got distracted) I turned my thoughts towards healthy but incredibly awesome food.

Enter Pesce al Cartoccio.

I made this a couple of times when I lived at home with my parents.  A couple of goes in, we started to perfect it.  It comes from Jamie Oliver’s book, Jamie’s Kitchen.  We adapted it to suit our palates, and gees its yum!  So light and tasty.  The lemon gives it a little zing, while the wine and butter create an amazing little broth when cooked with the water from the shellfish. 

Last night, Colin and I ate this with blanched asparagus, which we dipped into the broth, along with some fresh made sourdough.  Great dinner!

Bare with me on the details of how to create the bag part – I can picture it in my head while I write but I’m not the best at explaining things, so it might come across at confusing.  So basically, what you want to do is place everything in the centre except the wine, half seal the bag, pour in the wine, then finish sealing it, remembering to turn the edges up so nothing seeps out.  Got it?  Yeah?  Good.  Enjoy!

Pink Snapper, Mussels and Clams al Cartoccio
2 fillets of snapper or any flaky white fish (roughly 350g)
8 mussels, cleaned and beards removed
8 clams
2 slices of lemon
2 knobs of butter
½ cup white wine
Parsley, chopped


Preheat the oven to 250°C, with a roasting tray inside.  The hot tray will ensure the fish is cooked quickly and evenly.

Take 2 square pieces of tinfoil (the length of the roll should be the same as the width) and two pieces of baking paper.  You can use one or the other; I prefer both to ensure liquid doesn’t seep from the bag.

Place the baking paper on top of the foil, and place one piece of fish, 4 mussels and 4 clams in the centre of each.  Place a slice of lemon on top of the fish, a knob of butter and sprinkling of parsley. 

Bring the two edges (longways) of the foil together and make a fold at the centre, pinching the foil to ensure no liquid or steam escapes.  Bring one of the ends up slightly (also to ensure no liquid comes out) and scrunch the foil to seal the bag.  Take ¼ cup of wine and pour into each bag from the open end, then carefully seal that end, lifting the corner up as you scrunch.

Carefully remove the hot tray from the oven and place the sealed bags in the centre.  You will hear a sizzle and steam may start – this is normal.  Return the tray to the oven and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.  You can test the fish after 15 minutes to see whether it is cooked through and the shellfish have opened up.

Serve with some greens and crusty bread.

Serves 2.


November 7, 2011

Apple, Cranberry and Almond Loaf

Firstly, I have to say sorry for another baking post.  I’ve done lots, and to be honest, I’ve got to stop baking, it’s taking a toll on my waist line.  Secondly, I had this great recipe I wanted to post which didn’t work out.  I’m not sure if it was me or the recipe, or the fact that it just might not be my type of dish.  I’m talking about Macaroni and Cheese.  Yep, I made it on Saturday night.  Got the recipe from Neil Perry’s book, took lots of photos, got really excited.  Then when I sat down and ate it, I realised I didn’t really like it.  It tasted fine, the recipe was simple, good quality ingredients.  I just don’t like cheesy-pasta.  I like oil, garlic, tomato and-or meat in my pasta.  

I contemplated all Sunday on whether I would post the dish, but in the end I realised I’m not going to cook it again, so I wouldn’t be true to the blog if I asked you to cook it.  So back-up plan you ask – Apple Cranberry and Almond Loaf.

I’ve had a print out of this recipe for years!  I’ve baked it quite a few times and every time I really enjoy it.  I had to do a little search to find where it came from, and it’s none other than Bill Granger.

This bread has no butter or oil, and only a small amount of sugar, so it is perfect for breakfast.  Plus it gives you the excuse to lather it with butter!

It should have dried cherries, but I couldn’t find any at my local shops, so I opted for cranberries.  Other than that, I changed some of the ingredients slightly, only because when I added the coconut I then needed more milk, and an egg.  This bread seriously makes your house smell amazing…

Apple, Cranberry and Almond Loaf
½ cup rolled oats
300ml milk
2 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
50g dried apples, chopped
1/3 cup desiccated coconut
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons honey
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons chopped almonds, plus extra on top


Soak the oats in the 300ml milk for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

In a large bowl, sift in the flour and baking powder, and stir in the oats, dried fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon, honey, eggs, coconut, milk and almonds. Stir until all ingredients are well combined.

Pour the mixture into the lined tin, and sprinkle the remaining almonds on top. Bake for 1 hour or until golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Leave it to cool a little before removing from the tin, then completely cool on a wire rack.  Serve warm or toasted.


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