This is what happens when you lack good food decoration skills

The weekend before Christmas, I helped my friends make some Santa Strawberries. They turned out very cute and all that so I thought, why not make these for my own Christmas meal?

My lack of decorative expertise really showed, especially in the weirdly shaped “eyes” hastily cut out of a gummy snake. The little Santas ended up looking more like zombies, prompting the important eternal question: do these belong at Christmas time or would they be better served at Halloween?

Zombie Santas. Photo: Tao Lin

Zombie Santas are coming to get you. Photo: Tao Lin

Season’s greetings from “Pinchy”, the Christmas crayfish

It arrived on Christmas eve in a tightly sealed styrofoam box.

My scissors sliced through the billowing plastic and industrial strength tape surrounding the container.

I tentatively lifted the lid – but only a little – and promptly dropped it back down again. I had seen nothing.

I called my mum over to help.

We both glimpsed cautiously into the box when suddenly, she let out a small yelp of surprise.

I had received a text message, which caused a loud, sudden buzz to reverberate across the counter top. We both giggled ferociously.

Our laughter gave us the courage to throw the lid off, pull back the sheet filled with melted ice and uncover the greatly anticipated star of our Christmas – Christmas lunch, that is: a brilliantly orange and very much cooked crayfish.

I can’t explain the irrational fear I felt when first attempting to open the box and it doesn’t make sense to me why I chicken out at handling a once-living creature that still looks like an animal (spit roasts are a prime case in point). Whatever the reason, I couldn’t bring myself to drive a knife through the crayfish’s head to split it open so I asked Andrew to do it for me.

Being the endearing soul he is, he promptly named our little buddy “Pinchy”, before cracking open its head.

"I shall name him Pinchy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Pinchy."  Photo: Tao Lin

“I shall name him Pinchy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Pinchy.”
Photo: Tao Lin

Once he cracked open the crayfish, Andrew removed the mustard-coloured liver and some other soft gooey stuff before I brushed over the flesh with a mix of melted butter, a chopped red chilli, crushed garlic and grated zest of a lime (recipe by Nadia Lim). It then went onto a heated pan to grill, flesh-side down, for a couple of minutes before serving.

It was a surprise for my dad, who loves shellfish, and part of my Christmas gift to him. It was a nice feeling seeing his joy from something that is so basic and his enthusiasm in encouraging us all to enjoy the dish with him.

I hope everyone’s had such warm moments this festive season and a fabulously happy holiday!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

And so the festive season of eating too much begins…

Roast turkey, meat pie, oven-baked salmon, bread rolls, salad, chocolate cake, tiramisu. That was my lunch this weekend gone by and the start of some serious (over)eating.

My friends and I decided to do a shared lunch and Secret Santa. I was tasked with a main and dessert, both of which turned out pretty well. For the main, I made Guinness steak and mushroom pie and for dessert, tiramisu.

I’ve come to realise that pie takes a heck of a long time to make – much longer than it would take you to drive down to the local pub and order one there, and it would taste about the same too. However, I’m glad I made the effort this time because it turned out delicious. It’s based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for a boozy Guinness steak and cheese pie but I did my own thing with it by adding shiitake mushrooms.

Guinness steak and mushroom pie
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
About 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water overnight and cut into thin strips. Keep the water that the mushrooms have been in to top up the stew.
600g stewing beef
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
300ml Guinness
200ml beef stock
2 heaped tablespoons of flour
Puff pastry (I used store bought because I am terrible at making pastry)
One egg, beaten

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 190ºC. Heat olive oil over low heat in saucepan and gently fry the onions for about 10 minutes. Don’t let them color too much.
  2. Turn the heat up and add carrots and garlic. Mix it together before adding mushrooms. Stir together and add beef, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.
  3. Fry for 3-4 minutes and then add Guinness and stock. Stir in the flour and then top with the water saved from soaking the mushrooms.
  4. Bring to a simmer and then pour into an ovenproof dish. Cover with tin foil and place in oven for about 90 minutes.
  5. After 90 mins or so, remove from oven and stir. At this point I added more salt and pepper to taste because it tasted quite bland – it may pay to do the same but always check first!
  6. Place back in the oven for another hour or so the beef is tender and stew is thick.

For the pastry lid I took out a sheet of pastry, laid it over the top of the stew, folded the sides down to make a bit of a crust, sliced the top with a sharp knife, brushed it with the egg and popped it back in the oven for about half an hour.

When I was looking for a tiramisu recipe, I quickly came to the realisation that most recipes for the fluffy Italian dessert use raw egg. Considering I didn’t want to unwittingly give my friends food poisoning, I looked semi-hard for a recipe that doesn’t use raw egg. I trawled through some Google results and found one using cooked egg yolks. You can find the recipe here: http://www.askchefdennis.com/2011/04/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/ and trust me, you will love it. I had heaps leftover after lunch and I found the tiramisu actually tastes even better once it’s been in the fridge for a day. Not sure whether that’s because I wasn’t so stuffed when I ate it a day later or if it’s actually legitimately better.

I’ve been tasked with making Christmas lunch on the actual day again this year. So far, I have a crayfish. More ideas?

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

 

Another MKR “inspirated” experiment

Call me slow but yesterday I realised aioli, that creamy white-ish dipping sauce you always see accompanying chips at a bar, is essentially just mayonnaise plus garlic. I have never been a huge fan of aioli, despite everybody around me seeming to love it, and after making it yesterday I’m no more or less of a fan, although I now have a greater appreciation of what it is.

Along with my cordon bleu and spaghetti frutti di mare from last night, I made a prawn and squid salad, which was noticeably devoid of any greens apart from avocado. The inspiration for this came from our ever-copious amounts of frozen prawns and this recipe from the last season of My Kitchen Rules (eagerly awaiting for the next season here, by the way). The team that made this received rave reviews from the two judges and it looked pretty darn tasty too.

Luke and Scott's zesty prawn salad from season 4 of MKR. Photo: Yahoo!7

Luke and Scott’s zesty prawn salad from season 4 of MKR. Photo: Yahoo!7

I did a couple of things differently: I didn’t have any chillis or peanuts, I omitted the salad greens and grapefuit, I used lemons instead of lime and I added squid. I also didn’t put as much love and attention into presentation as these guys did, hence the lack of my own photo and cheating use of one taken from the website.

For the aioli, I actually used 2 egg yolks instead of 3 (not enough eggs in the house!) and it did end up a bit runny. To remedy that, I added in mustard powder, which worked to a certain point but this was enough to get it to a consistency that I was happy with. In turn though, it did make the aioli taste something more like honey mustard but it still tasted pretty good.

Overall, it was well-received and there were quite a few mussels left over from the spaghetti so we dipped those in the aioli. Tasted great!

Note: For those who don’t know, the “inspirated” reference refers to one of the contestants on MKR, Jenna, who said a number of “inspirating” things, including: “I’m feeling really inspirated” and “I find that inspirating”. Here’s a blog post for your entertainment.

Righting past wrongs

When I was in high school, I was inspired to make cordon bleu. Escaped filling, pink chicken, an epic fail.

I never ventured near the thing again until yesterday, after deciding my deadly cordon bleu trial of past was probably long enough ago for me to safely try it again.

It’s not hard to find a cordon bleu recipe online but after yesterday’s success, it’s become one of the few things I’ve made so far that I am confident enough to replicate without searching up a recipe. The one that I did end up following came from allrecipes.com: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chicken-cordon-bleu-i/

Instead of using bread crumbs though, I adopted my little alternative from when I made crispy oven baked chicken wings and used crushed cornflakes instead. I had some egg white left over from a chilli lime aioli I was making (which turned out more like a honey mustard mayo, but more on that in a later post), and so after I had rolled up everything in the chicken and skewered it together, I rolled the meaty package in some flour, then in the egg whites and then in the cornflakes.

I also used mozzarella instead of Swiss, only because I had mozzarella already and didn’t want to waste it. Instead of ham, I used bacon.

To accompany the chicken, I also roasted some potatoes and my favourite type of sausage, chorizo. I did intend on making a gravy with some chicken stock but I ran out of time and thought it would be fine without a sauce, which it was.

It was sometime before placing the chicken in the oven that I realised a huge mistake I had made in my first cordon bleu attempt: I had tried to cook it on the frying pan. How embarrassing!

At the same time, I was making a spaghetti frutti di mare for my parents, which also turned out amazing thanks to a fantastic recipe. I did take some photos but none turned out good enough to post up, however DO check out the recipe and try it out – you will not regret it if you’re a seafood lover. Just a quick note: I didn’t use clam or fish stock as the recipe called for. I had some chicken stock already so I just used that (cue heavy intake of breath from food snobs everywhere). I didn’t have actual clams either – the seafood I used were mussels, squid and prawns. It was really, incredibly easy to make as well; definitely another keeper, hurray!

Crispy cordon bleu with roasted potatoes and chorizo. Photo: Tao Lin

Crispy cordon bleu with roasted potatoes and chorizo. Photo: Tao Lin

 

 

Ribs…again!

Since I’ve already done two posts on ribs, I thought I’d just post up the links to the recipes I used for my latest experiment: spicy oven-baked pork ribs.

For the dry rub: http://billbrady.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/fathers-day-favorite-barbecued-pork-ribs/

Note: I would normally try to get this dry rub onto the ribs the night before, although I marinated the ribs this time for about 2 hours before I started cooking – tasted great!

Also, those a bit wary of spice but who still want that “kick” should maybe halve the amount of chili and cayenne, or omit one of those from the mix.

For the sauce: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Sticky-Spicy-Ribs-234660

I set the ribs on top of a water bath (oven tray + tin toil + water + oven rack + ribs) and then wrapped the entire tray in tin foil. That goes very carefully into the oven at 200 (celcius) for about 2 hours. After that, take off the tin foil on the outside and baste the ribs in the sauce. I basted each side twice over an hour.

For some reason I get such intense cravings for ribs so this will definitely not be my last post on ribs!

Short and sweet

It’s all over. The constant stress about story ideas, the 8am morning lectures, trying to convince people to talk to student journalists. But also getting to know everyone in my course, whining/laughing/sighing over the lack of story ideas, due dates and unreliable sources while quaffing drinks or staring bleary-eyed at an over-lit computer screen, the heartwarming camaraderie – it’s all over.

Last Friday was the final day of my journalism course and yesterday was my first day in full time employment as a reporter. So far, I’ve done vox pops (horrible, soul destroying things), a couple of interviews and I have an ever-growing list of things to do and follow up on. So far, so good.

Unfortunately my cooking and food blogging suffered a lot during this past month or so. The last thing I made was banoffee pie and I can’t find the recipe I used for it. I do remember, though, the basic recipe was pretty much the same regardless of where the recipe came from. The major difference I saw was that some people bought caramel straight from the store while others boiled condensed milk in the tin.

I used caramel straight from the store and made the base out of crushed digestives, squashed together with melted butter. I stuck those in the fridge while I cooked(?) the caramel with some more butter until it was smooth. After refrigerating that for a solid couple of hours, I placed sliced banana tossed with lemon juice on top and finished it off with lightly whipped cream. I added in about half a teaspoon of coffee granules to the cream as well.

I’m fairly certain the recipe I followed called for sugar to be added to the caramel – WHAT?! I understand this dessert is meant to be really sweet but it seems heart-cloggingly criminal to add even more sugar into something that is already incredibly sweet. On the plus side, it didn’t take long to make.

Sugar enthusiasts, this is most definitely one for you.

Cavities guaranteed: banoffee pie. Photo: Tao Lin

Cavities guaranteed: banoffee pie. Photo: Tao Lin

Lovin’ it: Homemade burgers

It wasn’t long ago that rainbow figurines of my childhood frolicked in their eternal happiness everywhere you looked in my house: on my tiny white book shelf, on the ledge from which my curtains hang and even hiding in the grass in my garden. I’m embarrassed to admit that those plastic dalmatians, mermaids and Looney Toons came with two chewy pieces of bread, a slice of pickle, sometimes processed cheese and something that was meant to be meat, all wrapped up in the most famous golden arches in the world. Yes, that’s right, many of the toys from my childhood came from McDonald’s Happy Meals.

For as long as I can remember, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC have always just been down the road from my house. There used to be a Pizza Hut restaurant as well but that closed down when I was in high school and a Carl’s Jr has recently risen – and flourished – in its place.

For a time when I was at primary school, it was a regular occurrence having reheated pizza and deep fried chicken for breakfast on Sunday mornings. And to respond to what you’re probably all thinking, no I wasn’t a particularly fat kid. I did athletics and gymnastics, and I was also blessed with a hyper-speed metabolism. But I know this doesn’t make eating all that fatty food any more acceptable.

I don’t blame my parents for letting me eat so much fast food. When we look back on those times now, my mum always says the same thing: “We didn’t know any better”. Neither of my parents eat much junk food now and they’re two of the fittest “older” people I know. They went swimming every single day for about two decades and have only recently started cutting that down (getting older, and stuff).

Despite the questionable quality of food I sometimes ate during my childhood, it still didn’t put me off burgers in the long run. But, I’ve moved on from tiny squashed McD’s cheeseburgers to burgers that tend to be more hearty, more fresh, made with more love.

My dad works for Tip Top Bread, which makes the burger buns for Carl’s Jr here. He’s allowed to take two bags of bread home from work each day and a couple of weeks ago on Friday night he brought home several Carl’s Jr burger buns. I knew immediately what I wanted for dinner. My parents don’t eat meat so I decided to make a fish burger for them and a beef burger for myself and Andrew.

I used tarakihi, which is a white fish, marinated for a couple of hours in lemon juice and garlic, then seasoned with salt and pepper. This was fried in the skillet. For the beef, I seasoned mince with salt, pepper, garlic, onions, dried oregano, paprika and dijon mustard. This was mixed with a lightly beaten egg, refrigerated for about an hour, and rolled into balls, which were flattened into patties when I cooked them on the skillet.

There were also salad greens, gherkins and melted cheese in the burgers but something I feel quite proud of is the sauce I made. I couldn’t decide what sauce to use for my burgers and consequently I spent a very long time looking around on the internet. Surprisingly, nothing really caught my attention until I chanced upon this link: http://americanfood.about.com/od/keytipstechniques/r/secsauce.htm

Big Mac sauce. I love Big Mac sauce! At least, I remember loving Big Mac sauce. Thinking more healthily though, I decided not to follow this recipe but instead adapted one of my own using greek yoghurt. I actually found another Big Mac sauce recipe here, if anyone is interested.

Here’s what I used for my sauce:

1/2 cup natural greek yoghurt (full fat)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
4 tsp diced gherkins
1 tsp vinegar from the gherkin jar
1 tbsp minced onion
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt

Mix it all up, dollop it on and top with a toasted bread bun.

Served with oven-baked fries, these burgers made for no left-overs and a meal that disappeared before anyone had the time to say, “I’m lovin’ it!”

Lemon garlic Tarakihi fish burgers. Photo: Tao Lin

Lemon garlic Tarakihi fish burgers. Photo: Tao Lin

Beef burgers. Photo: Tao Lin

Beef burgers. Photo: Tao Lin