Brussel sprouts – what’s not to like?

I think that brussel sprouts get a raw deal (pardon the pun).  It must stem (ditto) from their use in English cooking when they were boiled to death. Or maybe they just weren’t very fresh to begin with.  Or perhaps it has to do with all those recipes for gratins and with bacon.  Or just a lack of imagination.  I love them.  Years ago when I was a very poor student I survived on a diet of brown rice and either broccoli or brussel sprouts with a dressing of tamari and tahini and the ocaisional addition of crumbled feta to break up the boredom.  It was, surprisingly,  a very good combination:  tahini and soy/tamari is a great foil to the somewhat bitter flavour of the sprouts.

These days I very rarely eat brussel sprouts but then again, I very rarely see them in the shops.  While we were in the UK recently I  came across them in markets being sold on the stem.  What a revelation.  I never knew they grew like that.

Although I have managed to get my family enthused about these tiny vegetables, it is not their ‘go-to’ ingredient. But I really like them – either dry roasted in a pan, or roasted in the oven with olive oil or finely shaved and used in a salad with a nice red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.   There are in fact many ways of serving this much-aligned vegetable.  Ottolenghi has a wonderful recipe for brussel sprouts and tofu (click here) and one with pomegranate and purple basil which is well worth trying (click here); the shaved brussel sprout salad with pancetta and poached egg – a classic dish on the menu of Sydney’s Fratelli Fresh – is one of my dishes of choice when there; and for a simple meal at home, I like to slice the sprouts then pan roast them and then add some olive oil, grated lemon rind (or even better, preserved lemon), toasted pine-nuts and chilli flakes.  For more substance, add either slices of grilled haloumi or crumbled goat cheese and finish off with a handful of chopped parsley.

My take on Cafe Sopra’s Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad
3-4 stems cavolo nero (if you can find baby cavolo nero, even better), finely sliced
100g brussel sprounts, trimmed and finely shaved (do this in a food processor with a slicing attachment)
1 spanish onion, finely sliced
6 slices pancetta
60g parmesan, grated
4 soft poached eggs
20ml balsamic vinegar
lemon vinaigrette (see below)
Place cavolo nero, brussel sprouts and onion in  a bowl and pour over ¾ of the vinaigrette. Mix well and leave to stand for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, either bake or pan fry the pancetta till nice and crisp.  Set aside.

Poach 4 eggs to just cooked (they should be nice and runny when broken with a fork).

Add the pancetta, parmesan and remaining vinaigrette to the salad.  Toss well to mix.  Top with poached egg and a drizzle of the balsamic.

For lemon vinaigrette
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
I garlic clove, finely chopped
4 tbls olive oil
salt, pepper
Place in a jar and shake till thoroughly blended.

Serves 4

Now I just have to figure out how to make this for just 2 people – you can only have so many leftovers :-(

Another week, another round of recipes to create

It seems my life revolves around food – cooking and eating.  Every day I think about what to make for dinner.  Maybe it’s my age, but these days I’m leaning towards lighter meals and less meat. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve eaten more than my fair share of food and my body is shouting “enough!!”

I now find myself searching for more interesting interpretations of salads and while Ottolenghi has produced some very fine books with delicious vegetarian meals, I find a lot of them tend to be on the labour intensive end of the cooking spectrum.  By the time I get home from yoga, I want something quick.   Quick is also the key to shopping expeditions:  I generally have 10 minutes before my yoga class to race into the shops to purchase my ingredients, so I can’t afford to have huge lists.  Nor can I afford to aimlessly wander the aisles searching for inspiration (something that is at times a challenge in Noosa – the tale of my frustrating search for instant polenta being a case in point).

So to this week’s eating. I have a bunch of kale in the fridge and some zucchini, brussel sprouts, cos lettuce, cucumber, coriander, mint, a pomegranate, a hot -smoked trout, haloumi, a jar of baby roasted peppers and in the cupboard: two potatoes, onions, preserved lemons, chick peas and a whole host of vinegars.  In the garden: sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, curry leaves, kaffir lime.  What to make?

The kale needs to be eaten as does the smoked trout. So here goes:

A kale and smoked trout salad with haloumi and roasted peppers.

The other day I came  across a recipe for a kale and smoked trout salad that looked very appetising but when I read through the list of ingredients it seemed that everything was thrown without consideration of how all the ingredients would actually taste together.  Kale, smoked trout, haloumi, roasted chickpeas dressed in olive oil and smoked paprika, chimichurri (an Argentinian sauce traditionally used for bbq meats), pomegranate, yoghurt-tahini dressing, and poached eggs.  Overkill? The maxim ‘less is more’ had clearly never been heard of, so while it looked good in the photo, I’m sure it would have tasted … well, how to politely put it: much like those piles of food that people heap on their plates at buffets.  Lacking a flavour profile with too many conflicting tastes and textures.

So here is my version of the salad:

  • 1 bunch kale leaves, trimmed and torn into bit sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup coriander leaves, torn (or roughly chopped)
  • 1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves, torn (or coarsely chopped)
  • quarter segment preserved lemon, finely sliced into strips
  • 1/2 jar baby roasted peppers, sliced into strips
  • 1 hot-smoked trout, flaked
  • 1 block haloumi, sliced and dry seared then cut into strips

and for the dressing, I opted to mix:

  • 2 tbsp tahini,
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt, pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

There are obviously many variations on this dish.  You could just as easily use chick peas and haloumi (but omit the trout); or trout with poached eggs (omit the haloumi), or trout and pomegranate and maybe some lovely little tomatoes, but never ever, everything at once.

As for the brussels sprouts  – they’re for tomorrow’s meal.   Oh, and there’s tofu too.  I’m starting to get inspired.

Mum’s cooking lamb!

It’s Sunday and I’m cooking lamb.  I’ve been out of action for a number of days – struck down by a particularly nasty bout of  gastro and ‘flu which left me feeling like even lifting a cup of tea was too much effort. As for food, the best I could do was nibble on the occasional dry biscuit and have sips of weak black tea with honey (ah, poor me). Finally though I have crawled out of my nest of doona, pillows and blankets and managed to regain my appetite.  And then some. Yesterday I took things easy and shredded some poached chicken into some rice cooked in chicken stock with ginger and accompanied with fresh plain yoghurt.

Despite its seeming blandness it was actually really tasty and moreish and so my thoughts have turned to another great meat and yoghurt combination.  Feeling like something more substantial (but really I suspect it’s just that I think it will be the perfect accompaniment to my yoghurt & herb salad)  I have decided on  a slow cooked shoulder of lamb.

Generally I find lamb too rich and fatty, but cooked this way – and allowing the lamb to get cold so that you can remove all the fat –  makes it less so. This is a recipe I got from Karen Martini and I think its probably the best (and easiest) roast lamb ever.  I do like Ottollenghi’s Lamb Shawarma but it’s a longer process and I’m a fan of the quick cook. Plus I know I always have the necessary ingredients on hand. I probably only make this a couple of times a year, and usually only when there are enough people around for it to be eaten (devoured) in one go. It’s always a success.  So much so that any leftover lamb seems to be always taken away by guests.  Now that’s a compliment.

I prefer to start this dish a day ahead so that you can put it in the fridge and then next day its easy to get rid of all the solidified fat.  Then all you need to do is heat it up before serving.  But it’s equally do-able on the day – its just such a tedious process to get rid of the liquid fat while leaving behind the juices.  Surely someone has invented a device for this purpose?

Ingredients

  • 2kg shoulder of lamb (bone in)
  • 2tbsp flaked salt
  • 1tbsp black peppercorns
  • 8 sprigs rosemary – stripped and finely chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 120ml (about 12/ cup) white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup water

Heat oven to around 160 degrees.
Smash garlic cloves with the  back of a knife and place in a mortar along with the peppercorns, salt and rosemary.  Pound until paste-like then add olive oil and dried oregano.
Spread the lamb out into a ceramic baking dish – I like to butterfly it and I also remove the excess fat from the top – and rub the mixture into the flesh.  Massage it well then drizzle the vinegar over.  Pour the water into the bottom of the dish.  Cover with foil and put into the oven for at least 2 1/2 hours.  I have a very crappy oven so it takes about 4-5 hours for my lamb to cook.  You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to fall apart.
Take it out of the oven, and if you’re serving it soon, skim the fat off and return to the top shelf in the oven.  Boost the temperature up to high – around 220 degrees – and cook the lamb for about 5 minutes, letting it become nice and brown and crispy.
To serve, squeeze over some lemon juice.  It’s really that simple.  I generally serve it out of the dish it’s been cooked in. 

And to accompany:

My yoghurt salad/dip:
Place yoghurt into a salad bowl then add a couple of handfuls of fresh rocket, a handful of chopped dill, spring onion and thinly sliced cucumber that has been sprinkled in salt and allowed to drain in a sieve. Add salt and pepper and that’s it.  Simple but perfect.

Enjoy.IMG_1626

Measure for measure – now you’re cooking

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I read lots of recipes – for me they’re like mini novellas; short stories that fire my imagination. I have some favourite recipe books – Ottolenghi’s Plenty, Karen Martini’s Where the Heart Is, and (embarrassingly) Bill Granger’s Bill’s Food – though I must say in both my defence and Bill’s the recipes in his book are really good – easy and delicious and I would recommend them to anyone starting out on their cooking journey. Then there are some long-time treasures such as David Thompson’s original Classical Thai Cuisine  and Luke Nguyen’s My VietnamStephanie Alexander’s original A Cook’s Companion is a never ending source of information and inspiration and then there are all the issues of Gourmet Traveller – dating back to the 90s but now in digital format on my iPad.

Mostly though I just make it up as I go along. I generally follow a new recipe to the letter and then next time tweak it. Improvise. Sometimes this happens because I haven’t read the recipe properly and forgotten to buy some of the ingredients; other times it’s because I’m cooking from whatever I have to hand and the recipe is just a guide. This is where my saviour Google comes in: what flavourings/how long to cook pork belly? Within nano seconds I have a whole list of recipes for pork belly. The problem then is to sort through all the dross and find exactly what you want.

My other source of recipes (because sometimes I just can’t think of what to make) are the  ones in the Saturday papers. Often they provide great inspiration and Neil Perry’s recipe page in The Sydney Morning Herald’s magazine is usually very do-able.

But sometimes, sigh, recipes can be really exasperating. When, for instance, a recipe calls for 40g of rocket. Really? 40 grams? Who measures rocket? It’s like specifying 15g mint leaves. What is that? Why not just say: “a handful of rocket”? (which, by the way is around 40g). And what’s 15g of mint or coriander?

Now I know that real chefs are very precise in their measurements – after all, they need to ensure that every dish that goes out is exactly right; that each time you have a certain dish its exactly as it was last time. Consistency. There is no room in a professional kitchen for improvisation when cooking for patrons.  I’ve seen chef’s working in concentration on plating up – its quite a thing to see – such precision.  But for the home cook?

I’ve been cooking long enough to be able to gauge by eye and feel. I know that 50ml of lemon juice is roughly 1 medium lemon and that 250ml is about 1 cup. I would much prefer a recipe stated 1 tsp rather than 5ml. (Up until very  recently I only had a measuring jug that had increments of 50 ml so trying to guage what 25ml was – let alone 5 – was rather haphazard).  And after all, cooking is an art, not an exact science (unless you’re Heston Blumenthal) and we all have different palates.   When I’m cooking Thai or Vietnamese dishes I always go by taste.  I don’t even bother with tablespoon measures.  I know approximately how much fish sauce and palm sugar to put into a nuoc cham and always, I taste and adjust.  Of course you could buy all those little sets of measuring gadgets but my kitchen drawers are already cluttered with too many utensils and besides, it’s just one more thing to wash.

So, just to make things easier for those who have no idea how much 10ml lime juice is, here’s a rough guide to some of the things that have perplexed me in recipes:

  • 5ml = 1 tsp
  • 20ml = 1 tbs
  • 75ml = roughly 4 tbs
  • 250ml = 1 cup (just your standard  teacup)
  • 120ml is almost half a cup
  • 40g = 4 tbs
  • 40gm coriander is a small bunch of coriander (just the leaves)
  • Half a lime is about 1 tbs (20ml)

Should you have any measuring tips, do let me know. Happy cooking.

 

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