Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I love pesto but have only been able to make it once from scratch because I usually can't get enough fresh basil leaves. The 'pesto' you see in the photograph isn't really pesto. It's made with a similar technique but with different ingredients. I wasn't sure how good it would be but the handful of fresh basil leaves I added at the very end seemed to bring it all together and it turned out to be quite delicious.
So long as your children don't have an aversion to 'green food', this is a great way to hide spinach as they won't taste it. The trick is to put enough garlic, parmesan cheese and basil leaves to mask the flavor.
Natural ingredients vary so trust your own tongue and add a little more of whatever you think is necessary as you make this. The recipe isn't that fussy so long as the nuts are ground down properly, so if you feel you need to add a little more parmesan cheese, garlic or basil leaves, go ahead and do it.
Makes approximately 1 Cup
2 Cups Fresh Spinach Leaves
A Handful of Fresh Basil Leaves
1/3 Cup Marcona Almonds*
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 Garlic Cloves
Salt & Black Pepper to taste
Step 1: Pulverize the marcona almonds first and then add the spinach, basil, garlic, parmesan cheese and pulse.
Step 2: Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and pulse. Add more oil, salt & pepper if necessary.
Basically, even though more precise directions are given in making pesto normally, you can just throw everything in and let the food processor do its job. The only thing I was careful about was making sure the almonds were pulverized properly because you don't want bits of almonds ruining the texture.
So now you've got your Spinach Pesto ready but what is that tomato?
Roasted Stuffed Tomato with Tuna & Fresh Spinach Pesto
4 Medium Sized Tomatoes
1 Can Tuna (80g)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Step 1: Slice the tops of the tomatoes and use a spoon to remove everything inside. Set the contents inside a bowl.
Step 2: Mix the tuna with the tomatoes and season this with salt, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil.
Step 3: Stuff the tomatoes and top them with the mixture in the bowl, top them off with emmental cheese, and bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is nice and golden.
Step 4: Put a generous mound of the spinach pesto on top and garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.
*Use pine nuts if this is an option. Pesto should be made with pine nuts, but although I can buy Marcona almonds easily in Spain, pine nuts are very expensive and not of very good quality usually.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Is it too warm for baking bread? The wild yeast don't think so. They were very happy yesterday and when I was proofing the sponge I was pretty excited about the rise I was going to get from the dough already.
To make this bread, I pretty much followed S. John Ross's basic sourdough recipe but improvised a bit and before I put the bread in the oven, I brushed the top of the loaf with cold water and sprinkled sesame seeds on it. I also put a casserole dish filled with boiling water at the bottom of the oven and removed it after 15 minutes.
Reminder: Do not preheat the oven. Turn the oven on to 176C/350F, after you put the bread in.
Baking time was longer than usual. It took 55 minutes for this loaf.
This was an interesting lesson for me because I found out why baguettes have those slits on top. It's to control where the breaks happen instead of letting it happen randomly like I did.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
This isn't really a recipe. It's just a combination that worked pretty nicely so I'm going to share.
Mushroom, Spinach & Blue Cheese Pizza with Caramelized Bacon
Pizza Crust Dough
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Spinach Leaves
Onion (thinly sliced)
Bacon (chopped up into bits)
Red Chili Powder
Step 1: The only preparation is the part where you fry the bacon in its own oil and you season it with copious amounts of freshly ground black pepper and a liberal dose of red chili pepper. When it starts looking pretty nice and crisp, sprinkle this with brown sugar and toss it until it's glistening in the caramelized brown sugar.
Step 2: Brush the pizza dough with extra virgin olive oil and make a layer of mozzarella cheese on it.
Step 3: Put two layers of baby spinach leaves on it and then sprinkle this with the caramelized bacon bits.
Step 4: Put the sliced mushrooms, thinly sliced onions and slices of blue cheese on top and bake.
This obviously is not a good idea for anyone on a low sodium diet for obvious reasons, but those of us who aren't fussed about sodium also need to pay attention to the amount of bacon and blue cheese we use because it can get pretty salty - so use both ingredients sparingly. It's integral that you spice-up and caramelize the bacon because the spicy sweetness is what makes this combination work.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Shui Jiao or boiled Chinese Meat Dumplings are really mid-winter fare and not something you really want to eat in the summer - but we turned on the air conditioner and made them anyway. We had some leftover wrappers so we wrapped some goat's cheese in them and deep fried them.
Shui Jiao (Boiled Chinese Meat Dumplings)
Wrapper - Buy some ready made ones or make your own like we do. We use Yohana's recipe.
300 g AP Flour
3/4 Cup Boiling Water
1/4 Cup Cold Water - but you probably won't be using all of this!
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil - we use extra virgin olive oil because we're in Spain
250 g Ground Pork
2 Leeks (finely chopped)
4 Cloves Garlic (crushed)
1.5- 2 Inch Knob of Ginger (grated)
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Dry Sherry* or Shao Hsing Wine
1 Tbsp Dark Sesame Seed Oil - if your pork is very lean add more
Chili Bean Paste
Soy Sauce - I prefer Japanese soy sauce
*I use ALFONSO Oloroso Seco Palomino from Gonzalez Byass, because this contains the right notes in it similar to Shao Hsing wine.
Step 1: Put the AP flour into a bowl and then pour the boiling water over it. Stir vigorously until it's all blended. Mine always looks like when I'm making pie crust or something. You'll see lumps of dough. It won't have a smooth consistency nor will it be gluey.
Step 2: Add a little cold water (but not all of it!) and mix some more until you think it's cooled down enough to handle with your hands.
Step 3: Knead the dough with your hands a bit and add 1 Tbsp oil and keep kneading it until it's a smooth resilient ball. If you absolutely think the dough needs more water add a little bit again. You have to be careful about the amount of water you add, because if you add too much water, it will increase kneading time exponentially. I once had to knead the dough while watching Prison Break because I added too much water and you don't want to do that. This is the only part of this recipe where you need to exercise good judgment. The rest is really easy.
Step 4: Once you have a smooth ball of resilient dough, wrap it up in plastic and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. I usually let mine sit for a few hours. This means you can make this a few hours in advance so that you have less work to do later on in the evening.
Step 5: When you're ready to start boiling the dumplings, use the big pot you use to boil pasta in normally and fill it up with water and put the heat on. While waiting for this to heat up you can start preparing the filling and rolling-up the wrappers.
Step 6: In a medium sized bowl, mix the ground pork, chopped leeks, crushed garlic, grated ginger, soysauce, salt, black pepper, dry sherry and dark sesame seed oil. Mix this using a kitchen utensil or your hands if you're brave. If your ground beef is very lean add more sesame seed oil. Go easy with the soysauce and sherry because you don't want the filling to be soggy. Set this aside.
Step 7: Now roll the wrapper dough into a log (4cm diameter) and cut it up into 35 or so portions. Basically each piece of dough when rolled out should be the size of a commerical dumpling wrapper. You don't have to be too fussy about the wrappers not being perfect circles because freshly made wrappers are much easier to handle and you can pull them into shape as you make your little dumplings. Here's a tutorial on how to do it on Jaden Hair's site.
Step 8: When the water is boiling I like to throw in leftover pieces of leftover ginger (from when you grated the ginger - you know how you end-up with a piece you can't grate without grating the skin off your fingers?) in the water to flavor it nicely - you can boil your dumplings. Boiling time is supposed to be shorter than with commercial wrappers but I'm paranoid so I boil mine for 15 minutes. If you think the raw pork will cook faster, then you can shorten this time to 5-10 minutes.
Step 9: Remove them and serve with Chili Bean Paste, soy sauce and chopped cilantro (and maybe thinly sliced scallions or leeks if you want).
We had the deep fried goat's cheese dumplings as a starter. These are great for cocktail parties because they make great finger food.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
It's been hot in Costa del Sol, and when the temperature closes in to 40C there is this strange sensation of sitting near a wood stove during the winter, because of this omnipresent scent of something like burning wood or pine needles in the air, and you can feel the heat in your face, except that you're walking outside in the open air and it's not cold at all and just mind blowingly hot. I'm not going to be ridiculous and even use the word 'warm' because who is anyone trying to kid in this kind of weather? It's not warm anymore at 39C. It's damn hot...so hot that when I walk indoors again I feel like I don't even have to turn on the air conditioner because the coolness radiating from the marble floors of my home is soothing enough. That's how hot it is these days.
This is pretty much my excuse now for being remiss about cooking. I do bake sourdough bread every Monday and make tomato sauce and do other basic things to ensure I'm eating well, but I really don't feel like doing much more than that.
So here's something nice and easy for those of you who are also wilting in the heat. Nothing special and I'm sure many of you have made some version of this before, but it's a delicious classic nonetheless, and very easy to make.
Shrimp Pesto Pizza
1 Pizza - Serves 2
1 Portion Pizza Dough
500g Boiled Shrimp/Prawns (shelled)
Mozzarella Cheese (shredded)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic (Crushed)
1 Dried Red Chili
Step 1: Marinate the boiled, peeled prawns in extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and dried red chili for at least 30 minutes.
Step 2: Roll out the pizza dough and put a layer of basil pesto on it.
Step 3: Put the marinated shrimp all over the pizza.
Step 4: Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the pizza and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or however long it takes your pizza to bake.
We used the recipe we always use from the old Cook's magazine and purchased boiled shrimp, which we peeled and then marinated, and Buittoni's fresh pesto (the kind that needs to be refrigerated), but if you have fresh basil growing in your garden, pine nuts and parmesan cheese - by all means - make your own pesto. Unfortunately in my part of the world, it's not easy to come by large amounts of fresh basil leaves, so making pesto would require that I grow my own basil in huge quantities on my sunbaked balcony first!
Some people have suggested putting other things on this pizza but if you're a shrimp/prawn lover believe me - you'll love it just the way it is....and this is why we've put 500g of shrimp on one pizza.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
If you have a vat of leftover mashed potatoes in your refrigerator, there are lots of things you can do with them, including this.
All I did here was mold the cold mashed potato into a round cake, brushed it with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled it with some oregano and baked it in the oven at 225 C for 10 minutes. At this point, I took it out and put a very thin slice of tomato and some emmental cheese on it, then baked it for another 7 minutes or so.
If you have sprigs of fresh oregano, garnish them with these and they can either be a starter or served on the side with some roast.
If you really want to get fancy with this humble leftover, I'd make a variety of potato cakes seasoned with different kinds of herbs (dried) and all garnished with a fresh sprig of each type of herb. Imagine what this would look like served on a tray at a party.
You can also change the topping. It doesn't have to be a thin slice of tomato. Maybe it could be a thin slice of grilled zucchini. What about braised leeks? The cheese could be goats cheese, Camembert cheese, Brie cheese, Manchego cheese, Cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese....use whatever you fancy...or whatever you happen to have lying around at the time.
Note: If you wish to make these from a fresh batch of mashed potatoes, you need to cool them overnight so that they can easily be molded. Of course by then they won't be fresh - but you get the picture.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Now that Ronny's back working and I've already got a sourdough starter, I thought I should learn to bake bread myself since it's not fair to expect him to spend an entire day baking bread over the weekend. There are lots of fascinating recipes available on the Internet these days but since I'm a novice baker I thought I'd try out the easiest one I could find and this was S. John Ross's recipe.
It's very warm in Costa del Sol now and it was 29C at 9:35 a.m. this morning and was getting progressively warmer so I didn't proof the sponge overnight but took it out in the morning. Even though each starter may behave differently one variable that will make any yeast happier is the temperature and I felt that this variable was in my favor.
I put 1 cup warm water and 1 cup flour into a bowl with my starter which totaled to 2 cups of sponge, but then thought I'd better add another 1/2 C each as the recipe calls for 2 cups of sponge and I'd need to put 1 cup of the sponge into my bottle again. So like an afterthought I added 1/2 C water and 1/2 C flour more to the sponge after about 30 minutes.
I washed and sterilized the container in which I normally keep my starter as recommended by S. John Ross.
Because of the additional flour and water I added, I decided to give my starter more than 2 hours and left it for 3hours.
When my sponge was ready, I first put 1 cup of this into my glass container again and fed it with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and put it back into the refrigerator.
Before you start, please note that you must not preheat the oven in this recipe. Not sure why this is the case, but I think it might be a way to get one last rise out of your bread.
S. John Ross's Sourdough Bread
2 Cups Sponge
3 Cups AP Flour (add 1/2 cup at a time and you may not use all of it)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Tsp Sugar
2 Tsp Salt
Step 1: Mix the sugar, salt and extra virgin olive oil into your sponge and then start mixing in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. This is because flour varies in absorbency and the wetness of your sponge will vary too. The amount in the recipe is only a rough estimate and you should stop adding flour when you have a nice flexible dough.
Step 2: Let the dough rise in a warm place until it's doubled in bulk. Cover loosely with a cloth when doing this. One way to check whether the dough has risen is to poke the dough and see if it springs back. If it doesn't it has risen.
Step 3: Punch the dough down and knead it again. Then make a loaf and put it on oven paper on your oven tray. Cover the loaf and let it rise again until it's doubled in bulk.
Step 4: Put the tray into your oven set at 350F/176C. Do not preheat the oven. Bake your loaf for 30-45 minutes or until its crust is a delicious brown and it makes a hollow sound when you hit the bottom side of it with a wooden spoon.
Step 5: Let the loaf cool on a rack and wait for 1 hour before slicing it.
So was this easy or what? To be honest, I never would have become a sourdough baker had it not been for S. John Ross's site. This is because the recipes on the other sites were too complicated and precise for me and S. John Ross's site was a no nonsense, no frills version of sourdough bread that even a baking dummy like me thought I could handle. His explanation of how this whole thing works was so concise, clear and simple that I had a good idea of what I could do and could not do to keep the yeast alive without following everything to a tee. He kind of gave basic guidelines that sounded more like a elementary school chemistry experiment and I liked it.
I think that once you're comfortable with how to bake basic sourdough bread, you can become more daring like those Daring Bakers or all those wonderful bakers featured in Yeast Spotting and try to make something fancier, but I personally feel it's important to keep things simple when you make your first baby steps in the art of baking bread so that you don't get scared and not bake at all.
Note: The proofing took about 3 hours. The first rise needed 3-4 hours and the last rise needed 3-4 hours. However, the time required depends on your starter and temperature variables so making sure that your dough has doubled in bulk is the only way to know when it's ready.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Well, here's my Paper Chef Entry for this month. The ingredients were chosen by the lovely blog owner of Former Chef and were: chicken, almonds, corn and fish sauce.
Despite my familiarity with all 4 ingredients I was at a loss as to to what to do with them and spent a few hours surfing the Internet and leafing through some cookbooks and then I knew what I was going to do....but not entirely. So I admit to changing a few things while I was cooking.
Chicken with Almond Sauce with Gremolata & Crispy Corn Kernels
The Almond Sauce - Adapted from 'Cooking in Spain' by Janet Mendel
25 Marcona Almonds (blanched and skinned)
1 Slice Bread (25 g)
2 Cloves Garlic
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
10 Black Peppercorns
2.5 g Saffron Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
100 ml Dark Sweet Vintage Sherry
1/4 liter Water
2 Chicken Thighs
1 Bird's Eye Chili
Fish Sauce (sprinkle this onto the chicken when marinating)
1 Lemon (the juice goes into the marinade - the skin is used to make Gremolata)
Parsley (a bunch of it)
Maiz Frito (Crispy Corn Kernels aka Corn Nuts)*
Step 1: Marinate the chicken legs inside fish sauce, lemon juice, 1 bird's eye chili, rosemary, salt and pepper. Leave for about 30 minutes.
Step 2: Fry the blanched marcona almonds, bread and garlic in extra virgin olive until toasted, and then put them inside a food processor.
Step 3: Add the black peppercorns, saffron, clove and salt and pulverize everything.
Step 4: Add the sherry to make a smooth paste.
Step 5: Braise the chicken in a pan until golden brown and then lower the heat and make sure they're thoroughly cooked, then set aside. Use a strainer of some kind to remove some of the excess rosemary inside the pan because the sauce won't look pretty with too much rosemary in it. You also should remove the bits of chili in there.
Step 6: Add the almond mixture into the remnants of the juices and oils from braising the chicken along with the water and let it cook until it's nice and thick.
Step 7: Put the chicken back into the pan with the sauce and let it cook for 10 minutes or so and then serve.
Step 8: Make the Gremolata without the garlic - lemon peel and parsley only.
Step 9: Serve the chicken with rice. Sprinkle the plate with crispy corn kernels and sprinkle Gremolata all over to make it look pretty.
Note 1: I didn't make Maiz Frito but bought them. You can make them but my kitchen already looked like a war zone.
Note 2: This tasted good and I'd make it again except I'd roast the chicken next time. It was too much work frying it inside a pan. Then I'd use the juices from the casserole dish to make the sauce.
Note 3: You will have leftover almond sauce, because this part of the recipe is for 4-6 people. I've saved my lovely sauce in a container now and will use them with some meatballs that I'll be making later today. The sauce is absolutely lovely with rice.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Sesame seeds are an important ingredient in Japanese cooking which is generally very simple and uses very few herbs or spices. And because the composition of ingredients is very plain it's important to pay attention to detail to get that flavor really out there.
First you've got to toast the sesame seeds in a pan. When they start smoking and popping a bit they are ready - and then you've got to grind them in one of these to really release their aroma and flavor. My grandmother used to hand me the mortar and pestle and ask me to do this while I watched TV.
In the most basic vegetable dishes it's customary to then pour some soy sauce and sugar (brown sugar will do) into the mortar and pestle and mix it all up with the sesame seeds (Goma-Ae) and use this as a dressing for boiled spinach or boiled green beans. Another very basic dressing is made in a similar manner but with the addition of Tofu (Shira-Ae). It's ridiculously simple isn't it?
What I've made today isn't really typically Japanese as I've added some extra elements that aren't normally mixed together. I combined the flavors of Wasabi, Soy sauce and toasted ground sesame seeds together and added some canned tuna (I prefer leftover roasted Sichuan chicken or any type of roasted chicken, but there wasn't any today!).
Warm Green Bean & Potato Salad with Tuna in a Wasabi Soy Sauce Dressing with Toasted Sesame Seeds
4 Medium Sized Potatoes (or as many as you think you can eat)
12 Green Beans
4 Tbsp White Sesame Seeds
4 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Wasabi (or however much you dare to use)
Leftover Roast Chicken or Canned Tuna
Step 1: Peel and boil the potatoes until they're cooked and then cut them into bite sized pieces. Do use floury potatoes because this is how potatoes should be in this type of a recipe.
Step 2: While boiling the potatoes, toast the sesame seeds in a pan until they're smoking and popping a bit and then grind them inside a mortar pestle like this one to release its flavor and aroma.
Step 3: Prepare the green beans by snapping off the hard ends and then cut them into bite sized pieces.
Step 4: When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water and then put the green beans in there and parboil them until they turn into that nice bright green. Don't let them get mushy!
Step 5: Put the potatoes, green beans, leftover roast chicken (or tuna) into a bowl and toss with your Wasabi Soy Sauce Dressing and garnish with the toasted ground sesame seeds. If you omit the roast chicken/tuna it's pretty much suitable for vegans.
Note: The basic ratio for Goma-ae is 3:1:1 (Sesame Seeds: Soy Sauce:Sugar).