Archive for the ‘summer food’ Category

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A cool change: heatwave cooking

February 17, 2011

Well, the first real heatwave of the summer hit us with full force on the first weekend in February. I have never felt so hot in my life as I was that Saturday, when the temperature where we were, at beautiful Killcare just north of Sydney, reached 42 degrees Celsius (that’s over 107 F) for most of the day. According to the weather boffins, it was the sixth successive day that the Sydney area had reached sweltering 30-plus temperatures, representing the hottest week in 150 years. Pheeeew….

Sharing a beach house with some friends would appear to be the best thing to do on such a weekend, but that Saturday even the sea breezes worked like an oven’s fan. We swam, once or twice, but the sand was so hot the only way to deal with it was to run, full-pelt, with shoes on, to the water’s edge or risk significant burns to the feet. Then it was a matter of staying in the water for as long as possible, then doing the bolt back across the sand to the car. Our strategy for the rest of the day was to lie around in our bathers, periodically standing under a cold shower and not drying off until the heat forced us back into the shower.

At one stage we were forced to dress and visit the very sweet Hardys Bay RSL club for their air-conditioning, and though the aircon was struggling mightily, it helped for a couple of hours – despite even the club’s fridges breaking down because of the heat, they made do with buckets of ice for drinks.  When we eventually made for home at around 6.30pm the car’s thermometer reported the air temp as a deliciously cool 37 degrees C!

Needless to say, not a lot of cooking took place that day. Luckily, very early that morning before things went crazyhot I had made a pea, cucumber, leek and mint soup, and left it chilling all day. We ate it late that night with cold cooked prawns plonked on top. I think it was possibly the only thing we could have eaten that day with any pleasure.

Not long afterwards, all four of us dragged mattresses and cushions outside to the wooden deck of our little house, doused ourselves from head to toe in mosquito repellent, set up two electric fans and pointed them at ourselves, and tried to sleep. Quite an adventure, and we provided much amusement for passing neighbours the next morning with our little war hospital on the front deck.

Then later that day, a cool change came gusting gloriously in, and we were saved.

What did you eat, if you were in similarly overheated dire straits that weekend? Or if you’re elsewhere in freezing climes, what have you cooked to fight the cold? Love to hear your extreme temp cooking stories.

Meanwhile, here’s the soup – try it next time it’s stinking hot.

Chilled leek, pea & cucumber soup with prawns

A cooling summer lunch or light supper. Unlike many cucumber soups, this one contains no cream but is quite filling. Serves 4

Ingredients

Olive oil

2 leeks, finely chopped

8 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled, seeded & chopped

½ bunch dill, chopped

1 litre chicken stock

½ can cannellini beans, drained & rinsed

1 cup frozen green peas

1 tablespoon chopped mint

12 cooked prawns, peeled (tails left on if desired)

Pepper & salt

Method

  1. Fry leeks gently in olive oil till softened.
  2. Add cucumber & dill and cook for a few minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.
  4. Remove from heat, add frozen peas – they will quickly soften & help cool the soup.
  5. Add cannellini beans.
  6. Puree soup with a stick blender or in food processor until smooth or desired consistency – can be rustically thick.
  7. Check seasoning – depending on the saltiness of the stock, salt may not be required.
  8. Cool and then chill in refrigerator for several hours. Can be served at room temperature, but is best served quite cold.
  9. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, top with three prawns per bowl and scatter chopped mint over the dish.

To make this for Vegos, obviously, just skip the prawns and use veg instead of chicken stock. Very refreshing.

 

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The Vine Intervention, pt 1

February 19, 2010

Till now, my appreciation of Vitis vinifera has been limited to a lifelong (and let’s admit it, rather passionate) love affair with the grape. I’ve admired the leaves from afar – on the plant – but cooking with them has never appealed. I know everybody loves dolmades, for example, but their vineleaf wrapping has always been way too slimy for my liking. Frankly I’ve found eating dolmades too often to feel like popping a big fat slug in the mouth. So the idea of using those vine leaves packed in oil – ugh.

But joy of joys, these reservations are in the past, because this week I have discovered the joy of cooking with fresh vine leaves, and there ain’t no turning back. I love them. And now I’m plotting to somehow grow a vine here, for our own supply.

This new affair began when Mr & Ms Melba offered me some leaves from their gorgeously lush and laden vine, and mentioned a turkish vine leaf ‘pie’ Ms M had made. I had to check that out. And then the stars aligned, with Karen Martini’s incredible looking vine leaf recipes in last week’s Sun Herald.  Both these dishes are the business. I urge you to pluck a big handful of leaves next time you are in the vicinity of a vine, and try them. One other great thing about the leaves is, as I discovered by leaving a sealed plastic bag full of them in the fridge and then forgetting them for a whole two weeks, that they keep incredibly well. When I opened the bag it was as if they were picked minutes before. Amazing.

This post I’ll share the Karen Martini recipe, which I now understand is a variation on a traditional Greek dish (JMo, if you’re out there, can you confirm?), but was a revelation to me.  Next time, the pie.

Now the recipe below used packaged vine leaves, but was perfect with fresh. The only preparation I did was soak the leaves in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain and press dry in a tea towel, and cut out the hard stalk. We used nectarines in place of peach and it was delicious. Having never heard of saba, I used vin cotto as suggested. Di-vine.

Karen Martini’s vine-leaf wrapped haloumi with peach

1 large bulb garlic

olive oil

1 packet haloumi cheese, sliced into 8 pieces

8 vine leaves (rinsed, if packet, or fresh prepared as above)

2 ripe peaches (or nectarines), cut into wedges

1/2 lemon, juiced

3 tbsp saba, a grape must reduction (or vin cotto, or balsamic vinegar)

1. Cut the top off the garlic bulb, drizzle with oil, wrap in foil and roast in a moderate oven for 40 minutes or till soft. Allow to cool.

2. Smear each haloumi slice with the roasted garlic, then wrap tightly in a vine leaf.

3.  Heat 80ml olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook haloumi for 1 minute each side, till the cheese starts to melt, but not burning the leaf.

4. Arrange on a plate, scatter with the nectarine or peach and drizzle with the lemon juice and vin cotto / saba .

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In the pink: salmon Nicoise

February 15, 2010

I don’t know about you, but whenever I unwrap a salmon fillet these days it seems to have grown to twice the size it looked in the fish shop. So I’ve started cutting them in half after barbecuing – the easiest way to cook salmon, I find – and keeping half in the fridge for lunch.

Ever since I read in this book here that one of the major keys to preventing dementia (both Alzheimer’s & non-A) is to eat oily fish a couple of times a week, our salmon consumption has gone up. I know chefs turn their noses up a bit at salmon – all those early nineties menus full of pan-fried salmon on a lump of mash, I guess – and I’ve heard salmon described as fish for steak eaters (hmm, who could that be…?). And I see their point. I still love it though, and being a bit of a fish-cooking scaredy-cat, I find it durn simple to cook (these days, that is – remind me to tell you one day of the first time I cooked for my Neil-Perry-trained-seafood-restaurant-chef-brother-in law-to-be, chefbro Hamish, using a crap electric stove and oven in my old flat. He was very gracious at the overcooked, soggy pink slab he got – but what was I thinking!??)

Anyhoo, the other day I slung this little salmon nicoise salad together from leftovers and fridge staples. It pretty much only took as long to make as the egg took to hardboil (around eight minutes) – and, I have to say, was very fabulous. I used vino cotto instead of making a dressing, because I can kid myself that it’s got no oil (but I bet the sugariness of it cancels out that benefit…), but any dressing you like would be fine.

This made a big salad for one, but obviously you can mix and match quantities to suit.

Reckon it’s easy enough to stick in lunch for lazy people?

  • 1 piece cooked salmon, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 5 anchovies, roughly chopped
  • 1 hardboiled egg, quartered
  • 1-2 tomatoes (I used a few I’d roasted; they shrink a lot so used more)
  • lettuce leaves
  • a couple of teaspoons of vino cotto (or balsamic & oil dressing)
  • next time, I’d add some green beans
  • salt & pepper

Method: Chuck it all in.

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Getting figgy with it

January 25, 2010

About mid January each year I start stalking the grocery shelves for figs.

I’m not sure what it is about figs that just gets my blood fizzling – the textural feast, perhaps? The soft, creamy interior with that slightly powdery skin? Or maybe it’s just that I pretty much always eat them with prosciutto, and that ol sweet/salty flavour bomb is simply irresistible. And then there’s the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder factor; with such a relatively short season, their arrival is cause for celebration and one is simply obliged to make a fig festival of the fact each year.

On Saturday I saw the first display in our grocer’s – of local figs that is, not Californians which have been there for a while, priced at something like four bucks each – and so of course I pounced on a big punnet of squat, heavy little beauties. That evening, before we had a chance to eat them, we went to dinner at our friends Mr & Ms Lilyfields’, and were served a fig salad so delicious that I was compelled to try to replicate it immediately the next day.

Ms Lilyfield used the classic combo of prosciutto, soft cheese & figs (I’ve used gorgonzola and other blue cheeses before – and oh, my it’s good) but she chose that amazing Persian feta, to which she added the lovely, slightly bitter, sharpness of radicchio. The finishing touch was a drizzle of luscious caramelised balsamic vinegar.

As I say, we loved it so much we tried a similar thing ourselves the next evening, and it was fantastic. So here’s my made-up copycat version. You gotta be careful not to overdo the sweetness in this, specially with the dressing. You can buy caramelised balsamic (I was given some of this last year and it is gorgeous stuff), but it’s also very simple to make. Oh and I reckon this salad would be incredible with labneh too; that’s my next plan.

Ms Lily’s luscious
fig salad with caramelised
balsamic dressing

– 1 punnet fresh figs

– 4-5 slices prosciutto, torn

– radicchio leaves

– basil leaves

– marinated feta cubes

– ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

– 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)

  1. Cut figs into halves or quarters and brush with a teeny bit of olive oil.
  2. Grill these on a tray with the prosciutto for a few minutes until the figs are warmed & the prosciutto crisp.
  3. Meanwhile, simmer the balsamic vinegar and sugar in the smallest pan you have, and gently reduce it till it’s thick and syrupy.
  4. Arrange the radicchio leaves in a bowl (or, more glamorously, on separate plates for each person) and drizzle with good olive oil.
  5. Top with the figs, prosciutto and add as much feta as you like – about three tablespoons is probably plenty.
  6. Gently mix these and the leaves together with your hands, add the basil and drizzle the lot with the balsamic syrup and season.
  7. Stand by for groans of delight.

Of course there are lots of other things to do with figs, including just popping one in your mouth for the pleasure explosion – I’m keen to hear your faves. Any fig festival contributions to share?

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Seeing red: my tomato crop

January 22, 2010

Just because I’m feeling proud, here is a picture of some of our home-grown Roma tomatoes.

Since this photo was taken last week, our harvest has zoomed along, and there are bowls of Romas everywhere. Gotta love a glut – it makes a girl feel sooo agricultural.

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Loaves and fishes: my list of miracle foods

December 15, 2009

Okay, I know Christmas isn’t strictly related to that particular miracle (reminds me of the time my heathen brother-in-law demanded of my mother what the hell Easter eggs had to do with Jesus being born in Bethlehem anyway…), but one of the things I really like Christmas & New Year holidays is the tendency toward spontaneous and sprawly gatherings over food.

You know the kind of thing, two people for lunch turns into ten, and an instant party ensues. But to make that kind of thing fun it’s gotta be stress free – so here’s my list of good stuff you can pull out at the last second for lunch or picknicky dinner, or take to a friend’s place to blast off their Christmas stress.

Some are old summer holiday faves, and some gleaned from these pages this year. Most of this stuff can be bought in advance and shoved in the fridge, freezer or pantry to pull our for miracle-working when requried…

  • Oysters – of course! Buy them unopened a few days before Christmas and keep in a bucket with a wet towel over them in a cool place – they keep for a couple of weeks.
  • Glazed ham – leftovers, for weeks. Mmmmm.
  • Chutneys & pickles – years ago the Empress introduced me to the killer recipe for Christine Manfield’s eggplant pickle.
  • Smoked salmon – or Virginia & Nigella’s cured salmon! – w creme fraiche and/or salmon roe & sourdough
  • Smoked trout –  keep a couple in the freezer and pull them out any old time
  • Cooked prawns, green salad, mayonnaise
  • Bread – keep a supply of sourdough in the freezer
  • Green salad, nicely dressed with good oil & vinegar
  • Chickpeas – of course! Chuck em in a bowl with bottled roasted capsicum & marinated feta or labneh, or try these ideas
  • Baba ganoush & Steph’s beetroot dip – plus packets and packets of rice crackers
  • Quinoa salad or citrus couscous (make a huge batch – both of these keep forever)
  • Lots of luscious, ripe avocado – buy a heap of those rock hard ones now to have softies on hand for later.
  • Lots and lots and lots of ripe tomatoes
  • Devils on horseback – everybody loves them! And you can keep sealed pancetta & pitted prunes on hand for months…
  • A couple of fillets of salmon in the freezer and a couple of spuds can yield a heap of salmon patties for a crowd.
  • Peas! I am never without a huge bag of frozen peas in the freezer. Actually there will be a new post on peas coming shortly…
  • Eggs – chuck a few halved, hard-boiled eggs in a green salad with some chunks of fresh, cured or smoked salmon and you have a delicious twist on nicoise.
  • Labneh – mmmm.
  • Quiche – if you have frozen shortcrust pastry in the freezer, a quiche takes about fifteen minutes to throw together and another twenty to cook. Fast and fab.

Okeydokes, that’s Santa’s (or Jesus’s?) list of magic expandable food for now – but you must have lots of things to add …

*Oh, and today’s Christmas Excess Antidote is courtesy of www.kiva.org– I absolutely love this site. At the click of a mouse you can provide a micro-loan (as little as $25) to someone in a developing country who’s making a go of things with very slim pickings indeed. I love it so much because your loan just keeps on giving – you can either get the money back (though what kind of a person …) or choose that it goes to someone else in the chain. Perfect!

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Finding a cure – my first Twitter recipe

December 7, 2009

I try not to hang round on Twitter too often, as whole days can whiz by while I’m distracted by shiny baubles, but sometimes you can find gold there – like this easy wasabi & sake cured salmon.

It’s my first Twitter recipe – I’ve been resisting actual Twitter recipe providers, as I don’t think I’d ever get my head around all the acronyms they’d need to jam any decent recipe into 140 characters.

This is basically gravlax without the dill, with a Japanesy twist. Virginia, a brilliant web designer and food blogger, tweeted that she was making this dish, and I asked her for the recipe.

It’s so simple she could tell me with just a few tweets, but she also tells me it’s a Nigella Lawson original, so I also Googled around to find it available here, called ‘gravlax sashimi‘.

But if you can’t be bothered clicking away, just read on – preparing the whole thing takes about ten minutes max, and then it’s just a matter of waiting for the cure.

The recipe here says you can leave for up to five days, which I did because we were out for a couple of nights in a row after the third day. Yesterday I unveiled and sliced the salmon up and it is delicious.

It’s like gutsy-flavoured smoked salmon, and very silky, with the faintest wasabi tinge in the flavour. Too good. I am going to make batches of it to have on hand for Christmastide nibbles …

1. Mix 1 tbs wasabe, 3tbs caster, 1.5tbs sake, 3tbs salt into a paste.

2. Smear over both sides of a 500g salmon fillet.

3. Cover fillet & dish closely in cling wrap (tucking round the fish) and leave for three days, weighted with cans or jars or something. ‘Slice thinly and serve with other awesome things,’ as Virginia says.