Friday, 29 February 2008

Chilli Con Carne

This is one of the easiest dishes in the world to make. I made it a couple of days ago - we're on a pretty tight budget at the moment, so budget dishes are the way forward. We'd bought a huge thing of beef mince in bulk, half of which became hamburgers and pasta sauce as described
in my last post. So with what remained I made chilli.

This is quick and simple and, as it happens, really good hangover food. ;)

Take a some mince, throw it into a pot with some oil. Let it brown a bit. Add some garlic and onion and some fresh chillis cut up according to taste. Throw in a tin of kidney beans, and a tin of diced tomatoes OR some tomato puree. Or both if you are so inclined. Throw in some herbs - fresh if youhave them, but the dry ones work too. Add some Worcestor sauce, or soy sauce.
Mrs. Balls Chutney is a fabulous addition if you happen to be in South Africa, or somewhere else that stocks Mrs. Balls. And then let it cook and simmer for a bit. I often throw in some cayenne pepper too, because I like it HOT, but that's up to your taste and how hot you like it.

Simple huh? What my dad calls a one-pot meal. You can serve it on rice, with some grated cheese on top (YUM!), or with bread. It's really good the next day on toast. It's a great dish if you are feeding a lot of people, and don't feel the need to feed 'em fancy. Good for parties where you want people to eat and mingle. Plus, like I said, the leftovers make killer hangover food. *grin* Add a couple of cooked veggies or a big green salad for the obligatory veggie stuff. And voila!

NOTE: Once I get my recipe books I'll be starting to do more experimental stuff. In the mean time, you'll just have to deal with my staples, k?? :)

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Home-made hamburgers.

I don't know about you, but I have never been a big fan of those cardboardy, tasteless hamburgers one gets at fast food joints. I like my patties big and meaty and full of goodness, and as a result, I tend to make my own. Because, frankly, mine are so much better. Plus it's easy, so why wouldn't you?

Here's what I do.

I take about 250-500g mince, depending on how many people I am feeding. I pretty much always make too much, to tell the truth. But that's ok, cos I use it. More to follow - keep reading!! You can use pretty much any mince that catches your fancy. I tend to use beef, cos I like me some red meat, and also it's fairly cheap, but I have been known to use venison and ostrich when I can get it.

Take the mince and pop it in a mixing bowl. Throw in a can of chopped/diced tomatoes. The canned ones, in this instance, are better than fresh ones, because they hold together in the patty better. Add an egg, and if you feel the inclination, some bread crumbs. The bread crumbs do help keep things together, but often I think they're more trouble than they're worth, unless you happen to keep those pre-crumbed thingies in your kitchen. Frankly, I think you can safely leave them out, though. Then throw in some salt and pepper and herbs of preferance. Rosemary works well cos it goes nicely with tomatoes, but you could also use sage, or marjoram or tarragon, which are my favourite red meat herbs.

Now comes the trick. You can totally leave this step out if you're budgetting, but I found this in an Italian recipe for meatballs once, and it really does add a certain panache to the taste: parmesan and parma ham. Seriously. Sounds nuts, but take a couple of slices of parma ham and cut it into little bits, and mix it into the mixture with some grated parmesan. HEAVEN!

Mix it all nicely together. I use my fingers, cos I like that hands-on approach to cooking - you can use actual cutlery if you wish. Plus you're going to have to get your hands dirty in the next stage anyway. If you wear rings, remember to take them off before doing this!

Now make balls of the meat mixture and plop them onto a plate covered in flour. Depending on how many you're feeding, you may only end up using half of the mixture. Don't despair! Pop the rest into a container and freeze it. It makes *really* good pasta sauce for those emergency "Oh God! what are we having today?" days.

Heat some oil on a frying pan. Make sure your patties are covered in flour and flatten them as much as you wish and pop them in the frying pan. Cover it with one of those handy anti-splatter items if you have one, cos they do spit a bunch. Now here's the trick. Leave them alone. Let them cook just like that for a good ten to fifteen minutes. If you try to turn them too soon, they will fall apart and become.. well... mince meat really. I always try to turn them too soon, so I know what I am talking about! The flour on the outside does hold them together to some degree, but really letting the bottom bit cook properly helps a huge amount. AFTER ten to fifteen minutes, turn them with a spatula and cook the other side. The cooked side should be really quite well browned. At this point you can dictate how red or not you want it, though I don't generally think rare mince is a good plan. Probably another ten to fifteen minutes is advisable.

Ta-da! Home made burgers.

If you're really adventurous you can make home made buns to put them on too. I do that sometimes, when I'm feeling energetic. Making buns with whole-wheat flour quite effectively lowers the GI and general fatteningness of the whole dish, if you're concerned about that sort of thing. And they're easy.

A cup (or so) of flour, some yeast (I use the instant packets and it works fine - don't listen to the yeast snobs!! ;), a table spoon of sugar and some salt. Add enough warm water to get it doughy. My very smart sister's advice is have a cup of tea or coffee about forty minutes earlier and use the cooled left-over water in the kettle. It's normally just about the right temperature. Knead it merrily for a bit. Leave it for about an hour to rise, covered with a warm, damp cloth. Roll the dough into balls and place them on a baking tray, covered with the same damp cloth, and leave them for about another half an hour. This is a good time to make the mixture above. What? so I'm not chronological? Presumably you'd read this whole thing before making them anyway. Shush.

They should rise up some more. Take the cloth off and bake them for about 30 mins on 180 degrees C. (I dunno what that is for Americans, I'm afraid...)

And that's homemade hamburgers. Believe me, much tastier and better for you than anything you could get at a fast food joint, and really not that hard to do. Enjoy the scrumminess.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Quail in Rose Petal Sauce (with a starter and dessert)

In her 1989 book, Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel created a heroine whose emotions transferred into the food she cooked. The book contained recipes for various interesting Mexican dishes. The most intriguing of these, to the 16 year old me who first encountered the book, was Quail in Rose Petal Sauce. In the story, if I remember correctly (it has been many years since I read it), she and the great love of her life had just consummated their love (illegally since he was, or was going to be, married to her sister). The result of this frame of mind while cooking the dish meant that her (other) sister found herself overheating and ended up riding off naked on the horse of a passing soldier. My details may be wrong, since I am recalling this from a great distance of years, but the general impression remained. Since reading the book, which was my gateway into other magic realist writers like Garcia Marquez, Allende and Rushdie, I have always wanted to make this provocative and exotic dish.

Recipes for it can be found all over the web. A quick google of the name of the dish will provide you with countless variations. I ended up making it totally differently to every variation I could find, for the simple reason that I couldn't get hold of some of the ingredients. All the recipes I found required chestnuts as a base for the sauce, but you try finding chestnuts in a New Zealand supermarket. I have no doubt you can get them somewhere, but I couldn't, and I had a small time-frame!

So what follows is how I did it - I broke many rules, and I am sure the dish that resulted was, while not dissimilar to the original, probably not suitable for purists. It was, however, incredibly delicious.

The first challenge was finding the quail. I was happy to settle for any kind of small bird, but I wandered the aisles of the supermarket in vain. Eventually, I went and asked the nice butcher man. And he said, "Yeah. I think we have those. Hang on a minute." He led me to the frozen food section, and sure enough, hiding under the duck, were four little quails, all nicely vacuum packed. I thanked him profusely, and with great glee. For, you see, it was in honour of our second wedding anniversary that I had decided to make this exotically exciting dish, and plan B was just not as cool.

I gathered up the rest of the ingredients, which were less difficult to find (with the exception of the elusive chestnuts, but I made a New Plan) and headed off home.

On the selected day, I defrosted my precious little quail, rinsed them and patted them dry. I had, that morning, picked six roses out of my garden. (A note: if you make this, make sure you use roses that you are sure haven't been sprayed with pesticide. Poison has been known to ruin the romantic mood!) I picked the petals off, and washed them carefully, making sure to take any critters (one little caterpillar and two incy wincy spiders) back into the garden. (Luckily I am not one of those women who go hysterical at the sight of bugs - they are evidence that the roses were not sprayed!)

I tore up a few of the petals and mixed them in with some olive oil, which I left to stand until it was time to cook. They probably stood for about four hours, for those who care about these things, but I imagine if you really wanted to make proper rose oil you'd need to leave it for several days. I just liked the concept. *grin*

Then I made the dessert. I had, while looking online for the quail recipe, come across several other recipes involving rose petals. The dessert I made was one of these. Scoops of cream cheese placed inside rose petals and dribbled with chocolate. The recipe said white chocolate, but I am afraid I am enormously prejudiced when it comes to chocolate, believing beyond rational explanation that the darker the chocolate, the better. So I used dark cooking chocolate instead. They were actually really quite lovely - the tartness of the cream cheese combining with the sweetness of the chocolate delightfully. I imagine, for those with a sweet tooth, that it would work really well with little scoops of icecream or yoghurt too!

Anyway, that done and put in the fridge, I set the scene. I laid a couple of blankets down in front of the fireplace, and placed a bunch of candles around the lounge. When my man came home from work, I set him to making a fire in said fireplace while I cooked the food. He had strict instructions he was not to come peeking around the kitchen.

I threw the rose-petal oil into a saucepan with a good dollop of butter for good measure, and browned the quail in that. Then I added a good measure of red wine (the original recipe called for sherry, but I didn't have any, so red wine it was) and some salt and pepper and some garlic, covered the saucepan and let it simmer on a medium heat for about fifteen minutes. Then I turned them (spitting and spattering oil and red wine all over me!) and cooked them covered for another ten minutes. While they were bubbling away merrily a got out a plate and liberally covered it with rose petals. When the ten minutes had passed, I took the quail out, plonked them on the rose petals and stuck them in the oven to keep warm.

To the pan juices I added some more torn up petals, some honey, some anise seed and two plums, cut up into small pieces. (The recipe says you should blend this all together with the cooked chestnuts I didn't have, in the blender I don't own due to the whole moving continents thing. Blender must be bought sometime, but at this point, I don't own one. So I didn't. Didn't seem to harm the outcome though, so there you go.) I added some water cos there wasn't much liquid going on, and a touch of cornflour to thicken it and left it simmering away merrily while I quickly made the starter (fried prawns in garlic and chilli).

We ate the prawns while the sauce thickened, and then I presented my masterpiece. I took the quail out of the oven, poured the sauce over it, threw some slivered almonds over them and a few more rose petals for good measure (six roses was really more than I needed. I would have had enough with four).

We ate with our fingers (quail are fiddly), sauce dripping from them. We scooped up rose petals drenched in this sinfully delicious sweet, aniseedy sauce studded with almonds, and stuck them into our mouths, giggling the whole time. It was, truly, gorgeous. Tasty, rich without being too rich. The flavours married really well, the liquoricey tang of the anise seed with the sweetness of the honey and plums, and the dark rich undertone of the red wine.

Plus, in my not-so-humble opinion, eating with your fingers always makes food taste better - adds an extra sensory layer to it all. We ate the whole meal with our fingers - the cutlery lay untouched.

Following this with the lightness of the cream cheese dessert worked really well too. We had some strawberries and cream too (they were my backup in case the cream cheese thing was awful). All in all, a *very* successful meal, eaten by fire light and candle-light, making for a wonderfully romantic evening.

I recommend it the next time you really want to wow your loved one. :)

Saturday, 23 February 2008

She cooks?

Yes, she cooks.

I have this plan. I have a bunch of recipes books, which, at the moment are in transit from England, but which should be here sometime towards the end of March. My plan is to work my way through them, cooking all those weird and wonderful recipes which most people ignore as being too odd, or too complicated. Actually, I plan to cook every single recipe in every single book I own. Within reason - I may have to alter ingredients sometimes, since it's tricky to get things like ostrich or kudu steak in New Zealand. Hm. If and when I run out of recipes, I will go looking for strange and exotic things to cook.

Do you have a weird recipe you've been longing to try, but are worried it's gonna suck? Send it to me. I'll give it a shot and let you know how it turns out.

For example, last night, for our two year anniversary, I finally cooked something I have been wanting to make since I was about sixteen and read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel for the first time: quail in rose-petal sauce. And it was awesome! But more of that in its very own post, methinks.

See, I love food. I love cooking strange and wonderful things. I love experimenting with food. And I like to write. So why not marry these tendencies together. I once caused an accidental email overload for my email list (this was before I had a blog of any kind) by discussing an incident involving me trying to make ravioli from scratch, without the benefit of a pasta machine. I don't even know if I still have a copy of the 'ravioli incident', but I'll see if I can find it somewhere, and if I can, I shall post it. These are the things legends are made of.

Welcome to my kitchen. Try to avoid the flying mayhem.