Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tomato and basil soup

 Some foods are so ubiquitous in their processed form that it's all too easy to get away with not making them.  Tomato soup is just such a food.  But if you always opt for the comforting tin you're missing out, because homemade tomato soup is so quick it takes about the same time, and is wonderfully delicious.  It's still insanely cheap if you're down your last pennies, and has a tangy robustness that a tin just can't give you.  And since today is the last day of Winter, it is absolutely the day for soup!

  • tomatoes
  • powdered stock
  • basil leaves
  • shallot
  • garlic clove
  • cracked pepper

Chop up your garlic and shallot.  Don't be too precious about it, you're going to blend the crap out of them in a bit.  Put the kettle on to boil. Fry the garlic and shallot in a bit of olive oil on a medium heat.  Quarter your tomatoes and throw them in and fry for a minute or two, stirring them so they don't burn.  Add three cups of boiling water and a three teaspoons of stock powder, and six or seven basil leaves.  Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Take your barmix blender and whizz the soup until it's all smooth. That's it.  You just made tomato soup and the News hasn't even got to the weather yet.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fish tacos with black bean, corn and zucchini salsa

I hankered after fish tacos for about a week before I got around to making them.  I ended up having them on a Friday night when Leanne was coming round for dinner.  Apart from being a goal-kicking dinner at the best of times (healthy, tasty, colourful and you eat it with your hands!), this was a great option for a weeknight (when I rarely get home before 7pm) as I was able to prepare much of it in advance, and the rest was a breeze to whip up in about 20 minutes. 

Of course making fish tacos required also preparing the full gamut of taco accompaniment so for me this meant:
  • Taco shells
  • Fish
  • Spicy capsicum and tomato sauce for the fish
  • Black bean, corn and zucchini salsa
  • Chipotle sour cream
  • Guacamole
Honestly, all these things were so remarkably easy to put together and they complemented each other a treat.  Here's the blow by blow.

Ingredients - Fish Tacos:
  • Small soft corn tortilla shells
  • White fish fillets (I used rockling)
 Spicy Capsicum and Tomato Sauce:
  • 2 large red capsicums
  • 3 large red tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Verjuice
  • Coriander
  • 1 lime
  • Chilli powder
Black Bean, Corn and Zucchini salsa:
  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • Small tin of corn kernals
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini
  • 1/2 spanish onion
  • Coriander
  • Olive oil
  • Lime juice
  • Salt

Chipotle Sour Cream:
  • Sour cream
  • Chipotles in sauce
  • 2 ripe avocadoes
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/4 spanish onion
  • lemon juice
  • garlic
  • splash of olive oil
To prepare in advance

If you're using dried beans, prepare these ahead of time.  Whether soaking or cooking them, the danger is losing a lot of the nutrients of the beans in the excess water.  So to combat this I came up with a plan to cook them by absorption.  First I soaked them in about a cup of cold water for about 30 minutes.   Then I put them over a high heat and brought them to a simmer, in the same water they'd soaked in.  I left the on a low heat about 40 minutes (until they were soft but not mushy), and checked them regularly - at least every ten minutes - adding a quarter cup of water when they were looking dry and in danger of burning - until they were ready and all the water has been absorbed.  They sucked all their goodness back up into themselves! Winning!

At the same time I prepared the sauce by seeding the capsicums and putting them in a pot with the tomatoes and two garlic cloves on a medium heat, with about a quarter cup of verjuice.  I wanted a thick sauce so I decided to not add any water - the tomatoes produce a lot of liquid when cooked.  I added a decent spoonfull of chilli powder and simmer them on a low heat, stirring occassionally, until they were all squishy. 

Then I threw in a big handful of coriander (stalks and all) and added the zest and juice of 1 lime and a pinch of salt, and whizzed them all up with my bar-mix blender until a smooth paste was formed.  Pop the sauce in a bowl in the fridge until you want to zap it in the microwave and use it.  This made so much sauce we also used some to make nachos and then a spicy pasta a few days later. 

Prepare 20 minutes before eating

Take your fish fillets from the fridge and cut them into thin, boneless strips.  Massage some olive oil into the skin, sprinkle with a little salt and cracked pepper and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take your cooked black beans from the fridge and put them in a large bowl.  Chop your zucchini and spanish onion into tiny pieces and add them to the bowl with the drained corn kernals.  Squeeze over the juice of one lime and a large handful of chopped coriander, olive oil and add a generous pinch of salt.  Toss.  That's it. (This also made so much salsa we had the rest on nachos with the sauce the next day and it was craptastically delicious).

Make your guacamole by mashing up your avocadoes with smashed garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.  Finely dice the tomato and quarter of spanish onion and mix these through with a pinch of salt. Da Na!

Make your chipotle sour cream by taking one big saucy chipotle from your tin (which you can find in Melbourne at Casa Iberica in Fitzroy) and chopping it into rough chunks and stirring it through a small tub of sour cream until it looks all marbled and pretty.  This will blow the minds of your fellow diners, and your own, and for good reason.

Now it's time to get your taco bits together.  Heat a griddle pan on a high flame.  While it warms, zap your tortillas in the microwave and then place them in the oven on a low heat to stay warm.  Grill your fish on a high heat about 5 minutes each side, if the pieces are small.  Because you've rubbed them with oil there's no need to add further oil to the pan.

Heat up your bowl of sauce in the microwave and serve everything! Taco shells can be wrapped in a pretty tea towel or cloth to keep their warmth.  Assembling the tacos gets messy pretty quickly but is also awesome fun.  Add tobasco or extra chilli if so inclined.  You can eat heaps and because they're not fatty or greasy you will still feel amazing afterwards. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chocolate mud cupcakes with coffee frosting

My Dad turns 60 tomorrow.  It's not an insignificant birthday, and requires some not-insignificant treats.  Now my Dad likes his treats rich, and he really likes coffee flavoured things (like custard and cream, for example).  So I scouted around for a few different recipes and concocted these for his birthday get-together tonight.  And dear me if they aren't phenomenally scrumptious! (I had to taste-test one... quality control and all that).

  • 250g butter
  • 200g dark cooking chocolate
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee
  • 1/2 cup Kahlua (or liqueur of your choice)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup self raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 250g butter
  • 2-3 cups icing sugar
  • two tablespoons strong coffee 
  • vanilla essence
Heat the oven to 160 degrees.  Put the water, coffee, Kahlua, butter and chocolate in a saucepan on a low to medium heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the butter is melted.  Turn off the heat and add the sugar, stirring fast until it's dissolved.  Insert your finger into the mixture and suck the gloop off.  At this point you can reflect that you've created the most delectable gloop ever.  If you're not sure, repeat the finger licking procedure a few more times.

Leave the mixture to cool for five minutes, and while it cools, sift the flours and cocoa.  Shake the dry ingredients into the wet mix in thirds and whisk thoroughly.  Then add the two eggs and whisk these in as well.

Pour into your patty pans and bake for 20 minutes.  Then leave to cool on a rack.

Prepare the frosting by putting the room temperature butter, vanilla essence and the hot coffee with a half cup of icing sugar.  Cream the ingredients and add the remaining icing sugar half a cup at a time.  Fill a piping bag with the frosting and decorate your cooled cakes.

Decorate them with chocolate coated coffee beans, and prepare to be your Dad's favourite (if only) daughter.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Roast pumpkin and mushroom risotto

My gorgeous gentleman friend is out of town.  He is a man of many charms, however one point of contention between us is PUMPKIN and another is MELTED CHEESY BUTTERY THINGS, both of which he doesn't like.  I know, right?  I must really love him.  Obviously, in his absence I am indulging in both of the above in the best Wintry form I can think of: risotto. 

Obviously risotto is one of those meals that, once you've nailed the baseline, you can take in whatever direction you want.  However one technique I have learnt (from the aforementioned absent pumpkin-hating gentleman) is that of preparing your star ingredients and adding them right at the end, so that they don't go soggy or mushy.  We've made gorgeous risottos with chilli powder dusted roast cauliflower, but tonight is all about the pumpkin and the cheese, with mushrooms as well because a) I have them and b) who doesn't love mushrooms.  My man insists that risotto must be firmly yet tranquilly stirred pretty much the entire time it's on the stove.  My own rule of thumb when making risotto is to use leek rather than onion - it's a gentler, greener and a subtler flavour - and to use butter and cheese as much as possible whenever he isn't around.

  • 1/4 Queensland blue pumpkin (or whatever alternative form of pumpkin you can lay your hands on - just let it be known that Queensland Blues are hands-down the best)
  • 1 bag of white-capped mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 leek
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 2 cups aborio rice
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 50 grated mozzarella
  • 50-100g grated parmesan
  • cracked pepper and salt
  • olive oil and butter
So start by heating your oven to about 190 C and chopping up your pumpkin into bite-sized chunks.  Toss it in oil, salt and pepper and put it in the oven.  Next roughly chop your mushrooms, and finely chop your leek and garlic and put the 1.25 litres of water on to boil in the kettle to prepare your stock, if you're using the powdered variety.

After about 10-15 minutes add the mushrooms to the baking pan (the mushrooms will dry out much faster than the pumpkin so it's good to give the pumpking a head start).  Heat a large non-stick low and wide pan to a medium heat.  Once the pan is warm add a pour of oil and a small knob of butter.  Yes, that's right, oil AND butter.  That's how I roll when sir is away.  Sautee the garlic and leek until soft then add the rice and toss through until evenly coated in the oils.

Add the wine and some cracked pepper and stir with requisite tranquility until largely evaporated, and then do likewise with a splash of the stock (about 1/7th).  Pour some of the wine for yourself.  Drink throughout.  Chop your dried porcinis and scatter them through the rice.  You don't need to pre-soak them, they're going to soak up all your stock and wine.  Continue to add the stock in small batches, mixing it evenly through the rice.  The pan should be hot enough that the liquid simmers within 20 seconds if you stop stirring.  After your third or fourth batch of water (about 25 mins) turn the oven down to about 150 to keep your pumpkin and mushrooms warm but not burning.  When not stirring, grate your cheeses.

You'll need to taste test regularly (awesome) to see how the rice is progressing.  The interstitial liquid will start to get thicker but should never get gluggy.  When you reckon the whole lot is about 99% done, add the mushrooms and pumpkin and fold into the risotto gently, so as not to break up the pumpkin too greatly.  Finally, evenly sprinkle both your cheeses over the top and fold these in as well. 

If you're not sure which cheeses to use, go with your guts.  The parmasen is awesome with the mushrooms, and the mozzarella adds a springy, stringiness that I really love, but a creamy fetta or goats cheese would also work well with this combo.