Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lentil and Vegetable Soup

There is nothing so hearty as a rustic soup for a cold night, when you may or may not be in recovery from the previous night's festivities, and in need of sustenance to revive your broken body. The kind of night when you're happy to sit at home and watch the Vicar of Dibley on telly, and pretend to do some work, then go to bed early.

This is that soup.

  • 400g can of lentils
  • large carrot
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • onion
  • garlic
  • parsley
  • thyme
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • lemon juice
  • bread and butter to serve

Cut all your vegies down into smallish bits. Rinse your lentils thoroughly - seriously, the more you rinse them the less you'll fart tomorrow - and drain them. Meanwhile, if you are using powdered stock as I have, prepare this now in a jug, using boiling water. Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a big pot, and add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Stir and soften for about 5 minutes. Add the lentils and stir for another minute or two.

Add the stock to your pot, and bring to the boil. Finely chop the parsley and thyme and add these, and lots of cracked pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with buttered crusty bread and eat it on the new couch, in front of the telly, next to the heater.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cabbage and Tofu Dumplings

I have never met anyone who doesn't love dumplings. In Melbourne, dumplings is usually synonymous with low-rent Chinatown asian dumplings. However Leanne gave me A World of Dumplings last year, which reminded me that dumplings are really just dough with stuff, and feature in just about every cuisine in every continent. I will be delving into pierogi's soon. Watch this space.

But this weekend dumplings meant Asian dumplings. I took inspiration from a recipe for Korean dumplings, and their half-moon structure, and then just went and added whatever I felt like to them. And this happened largely because I was at the supermarket and I hadn't checked the recipe closely. So here's what I used:

Ingredients (dumplings)

  • Tofu
  • Cabbage (about 1/4 head)
  • Chilli
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Spring onions (about 5)
  • Mirin
  • Salt and pepper
  • Wheat-based dumpling skins
  • Oil for frying
Ingredients (dipping sauce)
  • soy sauce 
  • fish sauce 
  • rice wine vinegar
  • chilli
  • sesame oil
To make the dumplings, chop the cabbage quite thin, and throw all the dry ingredients in your mixer. Don't bother chopping the ginger and garlic more than roughly, the mixer will take care of it all. Reflect for a moment on how much you love your mixer.  Mix until crumb sized, and add a splash or two of mirin. Mix through again.

That was the quick and easy part. Now you need to construct your dumplings. This is the slower easy part. Enlist the help of anyone who might be milling around, hoping to eat your dumplings later. Because you read The Little Red Hen as a child, and it really spoke to you. Also because making dumplings is fun, and you know ace people who are always willing to help out.

Assemble everything you'll use: your dumpling mix, dumpling skins, a plate lined with baking paper so they don't stick, a little finger bowl of water, and a tasty cold beer.

Take a dumpling skin. Place a small teaspoon's worth of filling in the centre. Dip your fingers in the water and wet the edges of the dumpling skin. Take two sides of the skin and pinch together over the filling. Seal it across into a half moon. Crimp the edges and pinch them together firmly - this will help seal the dumpling and it also looks fancier.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a non-stick pan on a medium heat, and brown them on both sides.

Then mix up your sauce by throwing everything in a bowl.

Dip your dumplings in your sauce and forget entirely that you were going to serve some Chinese greens with them. Turns out the two hungry men you're feeding wont mind. Also, it turns out that one packet of dumpling skins will turn into enough dumplings to feed three people on a Saturday night. It also turns out that beers mixed with Stone's ginger wine isn't gross at all, and is a great dumpling accompaniment, and will assuredly get you feeling a little silly. Cheers for that, Grover!

PIE! (made with Rhubarb and Raspberries)

This weekend I had an essay to write. So I made a pie. A scrumptious pie with light crumbly pastry and tart spicy fillings. And it made Winter seem ok yesterday, when I had two pieces. And also this morning when I had some more for breakfast.

Ingredients (filling)
  • I bunch of rhubarb, trimmed and cut to 1 inch chunks
  • frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • spices for fruit poaching (cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and ginger the non-negotiables)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • water
Ingredients (pastry)
  • 250g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 4-5 tablespoons iced water
  • 450g flour
  • caster sugar (i just threw it in as an afterthought - probably about 30g worth, but you could use more)
Now pie is not for a hasty gastronome. No, it is for a gastronome who is tied to the house because she has to write an essay. Because you want to let that pastry chill at every opportunity (minimum two hours). I chilled mine at every stage in the process. I started it at 3pm, by the time we ate the pie it was 9pm. Got that? Also, let it be said that having a kitchen as freezing as mine is in Winter is a real perk when making pastry.

But time aside, pastry is super dooper easy to make, as long as you know what you're shooting for. Start by putting all your ingredients in the fridge or freezer for at least 30 mins. Then, take your butter, flour and sugar and put them in a mixer.

Leave a smidgen of butter aside for greasing your pie pan later. Pulse the ingredients until they starts to resemble course crumbs. Add the icy water little by little, until you've added about 5 tablespoons worth. Don't over mix it, this is imperative. It shouldn't take to long. Tip it out onto a floured surface and smoosh the mixture together into two mishapen balls. It will stick together if you apply a bit of pressure.


Prepare your filling. Put everything except the raspberries in a saucepan. Add water so that it's about 1 inch deep in the bottom of the pan.

Bring to the boil, stirring regularly so that the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat once the rhubarb starts to soften an get a bit mushy, and once the mixture is getting thick. The rhubarb will continue to soften in the heat of the mixture. Leave to cool on the stove top.

While your fruit is cooling prepare your pie pan. Then take one of your balls of dough and roll it gently onto a floured surface. And be patient (not like me), roll it out slowly, incrementally, to keep it even and prevent it from splitting and from being overworked. Roll it to about 5mm thick, because pastry is super yummy and you don't want to skimp.

Line your pie pan, keeping any scraps, and once again, chill it in the fridge.

Once the fruit mix is cooled to close to luke warm, add your raspberries and mix through. Leave to cool thoroughly.

In an hour or so,  once the fruit mix is room temperature, prepare your pie completely. First, take your remaining  ball of dough and roll it out. Then pour your filling into your pie base, remembering to place your pie chimney in the centre*. Cut a small slit from your rolled out pastry to fit over your chimney and lie the top over the dish.

Trim the edges and then press the two pieces of pastry together, crimping with your thumb, to seal the pie.

Depending on the size of your pie dish you may want to keep your remaining pastry - it can be frozen for up to 3 months and save you lots of time later. Otherwise, you can roll it out and cut decorations from it, because that essay still isn't finished and it seems like a good use of your time. Then dust the whole thing with sugar, because you're not sure you made the pastry sweet enough, and it sure as hell can't hurt.

Chill, until about an hour before you want to eat it.  Bake it for 20 minutes in a hot oven (200-210 C degrees) and then for another 30 minutes at 180 C. If your oven isn't fan forced you may want to leave it in another 5 mins or so.

Then consume with vanilla ice cream with your boyfriend and dinner guests, and again for breakfast the next day, and again and again until there's none left.  Call your trash-talking friends and announce you are ready for a pie off, whenever they're feeling game. Sit back and feel smug. Then remember your essay.

*A pie chimney or pie vent allows steam to escape from the centre of the pie, as the filling heats in the oven, thus preventing leakage out the sides, and stopping the pastry from going soggy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Not Quite Borscht

I'm at home with an ear infection and I am bouncing off the walls. I would be bored except that I actually have homework I should be doing. But I'm lethargic enough to only do it in 20 minute bursts. The upside is, it's raining and freezing outside, the heater is on, and I had all the ingredients in my house to make borscht ie I will not be taking my slippers off or getting properly dressed at any stage today.

So borscht. The pink soup. It should be boring; the name basically has the word 'bore' in it and the ingredients are far from glamorous. It was a staple of Russian peasants for generations. And Russian peasants weren't known for their good times and joviality. No, they were miserable. But sometimes life is tricksy - see I for one would choose borscht over caviar any day of the week. Because borscht is hearty and wholesome and tasty. It is perfect food for the sick and grumpy who are on a budget. And perfect for Winter.

  • Butter for frying, preferably unsalted
  • Onion
  • Left over fennel you found in the fridge (not traditionally in borscht, but tasty!)
  • Beetroots (several big ones or 4-5 smaller ones)
  • Cabbage (about a quarter head)
  • Beef stock - one litre 
  • Tarragon
  • Lemon
  • Yoghurt for serving

Prepare all your ingredients before you start. I don't always do this, but the beetroot will stain your hands and anything it touches, and since everything is going to be sliced in the exact same way, which is to say, thinly, it's easy to knock it all off at once.

Keep the onion and fennel seperated from the cabbage and beetroot; you'll want to soften the onion and fennel in your pot before adding the rest of the vegies. And you'll want to soften them in butter.

At this point you'll start feeling better from the smell alone. Once the onion and fennel are softened (about 5 minutes) add everything else. It will look enormous. It will look like too much food. But once the cabbage and beetroot start to heat up and wilt, they will squish right down.

Stir gently, as the vegetables down the bottom will be wilting nicely and you want to even that out so that there's room in the pot for your stock. You can make vegetarian borscht using a vegie stock, or just water, but to me a traditional borscht has beef stock. The beefy flavour offsets the beetroot really well and makes the whole thing seem extra hearty. In a perfect world you would use home-made stock, and so would I. But we're not perfect, we're busy working people who have ear infections. So we use the liquid stock we bought at the supermarket. I don't espouse one brand over another, Campbell's was just the one I happened to buy (it was probably the cheapest that didn't have artificial flavourings). Once you've added the stock, throw in a generous shake of dried tarragon and stir in.

Cover your pot and bring to the boil, then simmer 10 - 15 minutes. It wont need much longer than that.

Once you think it's about ready, add juice of half a lemon (or to taste) and you can add salt if you want, although I didnt. If your stock is halfway decent you wont need it. Serve it with a scoop of natural yoghurt.* Your borscht will be hot pink and steaming and delicious, so steaming and delicious in fact that you will not be able to photograph it clearly. Oh well. Consume.

* When you're serving, be sure to spill some all over the bench you cleaned only this morning. I did. Everything will be pretty in pink for the next little while AT NO EXTRA COST. Bargain.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Teriyaki Chicken

Okay, first up, I apologise for the quality of the photo. Second, I want you to take the following:

  • soy sauce
  • rice wine vinegar
  • mirin
  • ginger, finely grated
  • garlic, finely grated
  • sesame seeds
  • Chicken thighs
Mix them all up in a bowl. Don't fret about quantities with the liquids,  just make sure you lean heavily on the soy.

Then marinate the chicken in the sauce for a while. Preferably at least an hour in the fridge.

Once the chicken has marinated, place it in a baking tray and bake in the oven on about 180 degrees C.  Bake for about 30 minutes, occasionally basting with the sauce to keep it from drying out. When its done, take it out of the oven and slice into one inch pieces.

You can serve the chicken with whatever you want, but if you're like me and hopelessly addicted to carbs, and trying to not eat them absolutely all of the time, cook some greens.  I had beans and bok choy in my fridge, so that's what I used.

The best, easiest way to cook your asian greens is simply to steam them in a steamer with some sliced garlic for about one minute. Serve with the chicken, and scoff right down. It's tasty, easy, and really good for you.

NB This makes a very thin, glossy teriyaki sauce. If you prefer a thicker sauce, add a mixture of cornflour and water to thicken it to your taste.