Thursday, October 29, 2009

Magic Soup, By Tracey McGarvey-Gilbard 

Despite this challenge being in its infancy, I am already going to break the rules… but only slightly! Instead of chosing a recipe from one of my books I've chosen one that I made up and here's why .......

Sunday was my designated ‘challenge’ day for the week, but my chief recipe taster and I both had varying degrees of colds and therefore spent all day in bed convalescing. By Monday I was up and back to work but I still felt …. Blah….. My chief recipe taster was also still suffering so I thought we were both in need of the restorative qualities of a dish I call magic soup!

I came up with magic soup in the first year we moved to the UK. That year we caught everything that was going around and the symptoms seemed to be much worse than we were used to. (I’ve heard that this is due to Australia being so isolated, so when you arrive in the UK you are exposed to new bugs that you have not yet built up immunity to). After our third bout of illness, in desperation I threw all the following ingredients into a pot and hoped for the best… and it worked!! The ginger and chilli seem to work together to sweat whatever bug you have out of your body and the veggies and chicken seems to infuse ‘goodness’ throughout your system! We named it magic soup as is seemed to cure the ailment as if by magic!!

2-3 of the hottest chillies you can find/handle
3-4 chopped shallots (French) or 1 brown onion
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 knob of ginger about 5-7 cms in length, roughly chopped
2-3 cups of any green vegetables you like chopped into bite sized pieces. (My favourites are Asian greens like Pak/Bok choy)
Chicken – breast or thigh fillets (about 1 fillet per person), trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite size pieces.
Chicken or vegetable stock – about 1ltr for 2 people

Chop the chillies, shallots/onion, garlic and ginger and cook in some olive oil for a couple of minutes until fragrant then add chicken. Cook for a further 2-3 or so minutes until the chicken starts to cook (you want the chicken to remain white so you may need to turn the heat down if it starts to brown).
At this point you want to add the stock. Bring the soup to the boil and then turn heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. When the chicken appears to be cooked through quickly throw in the greens and cook for a few minutes more. You want the greens to keep their colour and remain slightly crunchy. If the stock needs more flavour I usually add a few drops of soy sauce to taste.

Once served its quite nice to add some more grated ginger and a few sprigs of coriander, or even tofu if so inclined.  

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marie Claire, Cooking.

For this weeks installment I made a choice from an old school favourite–Marie Claire Cooking, by Donna Hay. I’ve had this book for over 10 years (I reluctantly admit) however there is still much within that I am yet to discover!!The Marie Claire cookbooks, in my opinion, were my generations’ alternative to the Woman’s Weekly cookbooks. They are a staple in any cookbook collection, and when first released they featured updated recipes that included all the ‘in fashion’ ingredients, like sun dried tomatoes and coriander by the bucket load - reminiscent of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Loadsaherbs’ phase!! These were the books that saw Penne being replaced for handmade gnocchi, muffins for Friands and Vanilla essence for Vanilla pods! Despite their early 90s influence the recipes are still relevant and for this weeks challenge I’ve selected:Grilled chicken and Fig salad.

I chose this recipe as I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for figs. I like the look of them and love the way they can be used in either sweet or savoury dishes. They team well with cheese – especially goats, and also with cured meats like prosciutto and parma ham. However I’ve never actually cooked with them.

The recipe called for Char grilling or Barbequing chicken breast and aubergine. Since I don’t have a griddle pan I had to go for the BBQ option – and in a demonstration of my commitment to this blog I donned my ski jacket, wellies and head lamp and fired up the Barbie! (It may seem dramatic…. But it was COLD on Saturday night).

The recipe called for assembling a plate of Radicchio, topping with the figs, chicken and aubergine and then finishing with a dressing of lemon, honey and marjoram. Unfortunately, I came up against a little roadblock in that I could not find Radicchio and Marjoram anywhere, so had to settle for little gems and oregano. Unfortunately I think the harmony of flavours needed the bitterness of the radicchio to work and the little gems left the dish a bit ……. bland.

Interestingly, the dressing combination was also a little disappointing as when you mix lemon and honey its hard to get past that feeling that you are assembling a drink for someone who has a cold!

The meal looked great, and was a nice enough dish, however, was probably a poor choice for a cold autumn evening. Plus, I just couldn’t get past the dressing as an unfortunate combination of flavours. However my chief recipe taster and I both agreed that it would make an excellent headliner for a summer mezze ensemble, which included dips, pita breads and other exotic salads.

All in all we decided that the meal deserved 7 out of 10 – Not a bad meal… but a far cry from the amazing culinary experience I had hoped for….. oh well, I guess theres always next week….

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

And so it begins…………

For the first challenge in this series I let my ‘chief recipe tester’ select the kick off recipe. A carnivore at heart, he chose a Lamb recipe from Feast Bazaar, by Barry Vera. Having only purchased this book on Friday lunchtime I thought its selection was well timed!

The chosen recipe was simply called ‘Marinated Roast Leg of Lamb’ and clearly featured the trigger words that would spark my chief recipe taster‘s interest (i.e. Marinated and Lamb).

This was an exotic choice, coupling natural yoghurt and a mixture of fresh and dried spices, and included Saffron threads (which I love), garam marsala and freshly grated ginger. Preparation was minimal – score the lamb, mix the spices into the yoghurt and marinate for 3 hours.

The original recipe called for a leg of lamb that weighed between 1.8 and 2kgs. As there were only two of us we chose a small (600g) lamb shoulder roast that had been rolled and tied. We untied the roast and flattened the meat in an effort to maximise the effect of the marinade thus resulting (hopefully!) in a more flavoursome end product.

We placed the meat and yoghurt mixture in a snap lock bag and popped it in the fridge for just over 2 hours. A late start to preparation meant that we had to shorten the marinating time and as the meat had no bone and was dramatically smaller than the once called for in the recipe the cooking time was shortened to just over an hour.

A note from the author assured us that when served with a simple accompaniment ‘the flavour of the lamb would be enjoyed to the fullest’. Therefore we prepared broccoli and cauliflower that had been flash fried, first with a small amount of boiling water and finished off with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt in a hot pan.

The result was highly rewarding without being overly complicated. The meat was perfectly done, the marinade was subtle, enhancing the lamb rather than overshadowing it. The vegetables were fresh and complimented the dish well.

So The inaugural recipe was a great success and a lot of fun to execute. With generous amounts of motivation compelling me I cant wait until next weeks challenge!!!

Until then ……

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cook Book Challenge

Some girls buy shoes, others buy handbags…

Me – I buy cookbooks.

I’m obsessed.

I have a shelf full of them and not a week goes buy without me wandering into a bookshop or browsing Amazon for the next addition to my family of books. 

It’s important to point out though that this isn’t an indiscriminate obsession. I’m very selective. I believe in good chemistry and occasionally love at first sight. The book has to make in immediate impression, but also has to have at least a whisper of practicality.

Like any good antipodean I have a fairly healthy collection of Woman’s Weekly cookbooks, and like most people my age I also have a smattering of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Bill Granger and Marie Claire. There are books with Pictures and a few without (although I’m very visual… so pictures of what my efforts are supposed to look like at the end are very helpful.. and quite often necessary). Some were gifts and some I made traveling family members lug here from Australia in dribs and drabs (thanks mum and sis!).

I also boast an impressive collection of food related magazines and articles that I have kept over the years. To add to this just recently I have cultivated an enthusiastic interest in a few great food-blogs (see links).   

However, there is one serious drawback with this obsession. Just like the woman who is obsessed with shoes but doesn’t have enough events at which to show them off, I have a comprehensive collection of recipes that I am yet to use. I mean seriously – what’s the point of having all these books if I haven’t yet experienced their delights!!

So with that I have decided to start my own Cookbook Challenge. For the next six months (October 2009 to March 2010) I am going to select a recipe from one book, magazine or food related internet site each week to cook and I will record my efforts here for all to read! This challenge is primarily about putting to good use my wonderful collection of recipes, while sustaining a hobby that will keep me occupied during the deepest darkest months of the English Autumn/Winter!

Hope you enjoy ……… see you next week!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Day in Paris.....

The first time I went to Paris it exceeded all my expectations. It was ornate and stylish and it overwhelmed me with its sophistication and charm. I’ve been there a few times now and it never fails to please. On Saturday we went for the day. The reason for the trip was threefold. There was a wedding anniversary to celebrate, a sister to farewell and a friend to Bon Voyage.

The day started with brioche, brie, strawberries and prosecco on the Eurostar (my chief recipe taster admitted a slip up when he selected the Italian variety of sparkling wine instead of Champagne!). Popping the cork barely a minute after we left St Pancras station the day was off to a good start.

We walked everywhere, in part due to the fact that no euro coins and long lines at the Gard Du Nord Metro station made it virtually impossible to get Metro Tickets. However, the late summer sun shone so brilliantly it lit up the delights of this exquisite city making it a complete pleasure to meander around.
The day featured a couple of favourites for me. The Musee d’Orsay is a favourite gallery, not only because it houses such a vast range of impressionist paintings but also because of the beauty of the building itself and its impressive views of the city. We ate 2 of my favourite desserts – Chocolate Éclairs and Pear and Almond tarts, and then we made our way to Rue Cler – one of my favourite Parisian streets.

I stumbled across Rue Cler by accident a couple of visits ago. I was the tour guide to three of my friends who had never been to Paris before. In an effort to find somewhere to eat after visiting the Effile Tower I inadvertently steered us towards Rue Cler, and thus started a love affair between me and this wonderful stretch of Parisian life. It boasts fresh fruit and vegetable markets, flower stalls, wine merchants and a range of charcuterie, fromagerie and boulangerie that make you want to spend all your euros on groceries. My favourite thing to do on Rue Cler is sit at one of the many cafes and drink wine while discussing inspirations and motivations in life…. Actually, if I’m honest, this is one of my favourite things to do anywhere. However in Paris on Rue Cler it seems so much more ........ gratifying.

The day progressed quickly and before we knew it we were once again on the Eurostar sipping Verve Clicquot while basking in the glow of a very successful day out. As the train sped along I was lulled into a champagne induced slumber, and I couldnt help but daydream about my next visit to this fair city!