Category Archives: Recipes included

Prawns with Orzo, Tomato, Spinach and Feta

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
~ Federico Fellini

One of the nicest emails you can get whilst travelling and missing your kitchen is an invitation to sample recipes from a (then) soon to be released cookbook. Especially one with such yummy-sounding dishes as “Warm Salad of Lamb, Asparagus, Spring Onions and Pomegranate Seeds with Lentil and Black Olives” and “Rolled Baklava with Orange Syrup and Greek Yoghurt”… I had a hard time deciding what to ask for!

Ultimately, I decided to request for the recipe for the “Prawns with Orzo, Tomato, Spinach and Feta” (original recipe included below) since I like every ingredient in that title and had never cooked orzo before.

It was a pleasure to cook this dish, simple yet good-looking, fresh and full of wonderful smells. I used a deep wok and modified the recipe slightly to suit what we had in our pantry (less spinach than the recipe specified, and herbs from a tube as opposed to fresh) – and used more prawns as I couldn’t find larger ones at the supermarket. Though I am sure it would have tasted even better had I followed the recipe properly, I also like that the recipe is pretty versatile and forgiving!

We had it with a squeeze of balsamic glaze, both pretty on the plate and complementary to the dish (I recommend it). Three of us ate our fill last night and we had plenty left over, which incidentally made for a delicious lunch for me today!

    16-20 large prawns, peeled
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1 1⁄2 cups orzo
    2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
    3 shallots, finely chopped
    9 spring onions, thickly sliced
    1⁄2 cup chicken stock
    5 large tomatoes, roughly chopped 1 cup passata
    200g crumbled feta cheese
    6 cups baby spinach leaves
    Small handful of torn fresh herbs such as dill, mint and parsley
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Season prawns with salt and pepper.
    Cook orzo until done, toss in one tablespoon of oil and reserve.
    In a large heavy skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add garlic and shallots and sauté for a minute. Add the spring onions and prawns, sear quickly, then remove prawns to reserved orzo. Add chicken stock, tomatoes and passata. Continue to reduce the liquid until mixture has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
    Return the orzo and prawns, half the feta, and the spinach back into the tomato sauce and toss to combine. As soon as the spinach has wilted, scatter over the remaining feta, fresh herbs and glaze with olive oil.

Thank you, publicity team at The Second Black Dog Cottage Cookbook, for the chance to sample this winning recipe :-)

For more information on The Second Black Dog Cottage Cookbook, visit Phantom House Books or their Facebook page.


Spicy turnaround couscous

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.
~ Erma Bombeck

I owe a few things to my friend Matt: a heightened appreciation for crazy music, my big spice and herb library, and a moderate dislike of bright orange jackets, amongst other things. It is the spice and herb thing I am thinking of tonight as I write this post.

See, I grew up experiencing all sorts of food and flavours – one of the perks of growing up with a kitchen-whiz Grandma and travel-loving parents in Asia. Somehow, though, fresh herbs, dried herbs and all these wonderful things like cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika escaped my attention until 2008/9 (thanks Matt). Thereafter, I couldn’t get enough of them… well, most of them…

There was this one pretty spice, cayenne pepper, that I didn’t fancy quite so much. Probably because it set my head on fire a few times. While Matt continued to sprinkle it into a few dishes, I stayed clear of it and moved it to the back of the cupboard whenever I saw it hovering hopefully near the door. When I moved to Auckland last year, I gladly left it off the shopping list for the whole year.

Then this week happened: an army of germs descended on me like gnomes on gold – and I was in the mood only for unsexy vegetable soup and lemon + honey drinks. It hurt to blink and sleep eluded me… and one evening, in a fit of desperation, I threw open the pantry door and searched for something that would send the germs away. For some reason, there was cayenne pepper in there, and for a more bizarre reason, I reached for the red dust I had avoided for so long. I chopped up a few bits and pieces (spinach leaves, ham, garlic, onion, capsicum), threw it all into a skillet with 1/2 a can of tomatoes and shook in some cayenne pepper in a mad frenzy.

And do you know, my sore throat disappeared shortly afterwards.

    Spicy turnaround couscous
    Recommended for remedying sore throats and related cold symptoms
    1/4 cup couscous
    Olive oil
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tbsp butter
    1/2 onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 capsicum
    Handful of baby spinach leaves
    100g ham, chopped
    1/2 can chopped tomatoes in juice
    Cayenne pepper – a very generous pinch, though be prepared to explode if you are not used to it
    Salt and pepper to taste
    In a skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and fry till fragrant, then add in the garlic, cayenne pepper and capsicum and fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and throw in the spinach leaves, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    In the meantime, place 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. Add in the salt and 1 tbsp of oil. Remove from the heat, add in the couscous, then cover and leave for 2 minutes. Uncover the saucepan, place it over very low heat, and add in a little more boiling water if the bottom of the pan looks too dry or if the couscous is sticking together. Stir in the butter, then remove from the heat again.
    Place the couscous in a bowl and spoon the cayenne-flavoured mixture on top of it. Mix well and serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Easy flour tortillas

Humo[u]r is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.
~ Mark Twain

Occasionally, food items march through my mind unsummoned and uninvited. And, once in my mind, they simply refuse to depart until I make them (i.e. create them in the kitchen).

This morning, while getting a drink of water, my eyes fell on the tub of mole rojo paste from Jian. I thought about that meal with a big smile on my face.

Thereafter, though, thoughts of tortillas bloomed in my mind like happy wild mushrooms… no other thoughts could chase them away.

And so it was that I made tortillas today for the first time. Trusty Google led me to this recipe, and I was happy to discover that they are in fact so easy and quick to make!

While the balls of dough sat in their tea-towel-blanket-bliss, I cut onions, smashed garlic, blanched green beans, heated up black beans. I dissolved a spoonful of mole paste in chicken stock, added a few squares of dark chocolate for good measure, and tossed the sauce all over seared chicken cubes and a few prawns. I combined the cooked beans with diced onion and tomatoes. I preheated the oven to 50°C so it could keep everything warm.

The tortillas were all cooked in under five minutes, and happily emerged reasonably round and flat, given that I shaped them with my palms and fingers (we don’t have a rolling pin yet).

Still can’t adequately describe the taste of this mole rojo… smoky and elusive as ever.

Love the addition of creamy avocado and zesty lime…

Here are the beans…

And this is what Fran and I had for dinner tonight. What did you eat tonight?

Hope you all have a fantastic week ahead :-)

    1 1/2 cups flour
    3/4 tsp baking powder
    ~40g butter, at room temperature*
    2/3 cup hot water
    Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and whisk till well combined. Add in the butter and hot water, then mix the dough with your hands.
    On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough by hand for around 5 minutes. Roll the dough out into a snake-shaped log and cut the dough into 6 equal portions. Shape each piece of dough into a round ball and cover with a tea towel. Let them sit for 20 minutes (this is a great window of time to cook the rest of your dinner).
    Place a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Do not grease the pan. Flatten each ball of dough into a nice large circle, with a rolling pin if you have one – otherwise just with your palms and fingers. Cook the tortillas one at a time, 20-30 seconds on each side. Your tortillas should have little brown spots on them.
    They taste best warm. I like stacking them on an ovenproof plate and leaving them in an oven at 50°C until everything is ready, so dinner arrives at the table warm.
    Yields 6 tortillas** – enough for 2-3 people.

* If the butter is fresh from the fridge, microwave it for approximately 20 seconds so that it’s still solid but closer to room temperature.

** The sky is the limit with toppings – minced meat, grated cheese, sour cream, smoky mole, spicy salsa, guacamole… in fact, given their similarity to roti prata, I think they would taste pretty good with a spicy Malaysian curry too.

Oeuf cocotte

One needs something to believe in, something for which one can have wholehearted enthusiasm.
~ Hannah Senesh

Once upon a time, I thought that making oeuf cocotte was fussy and “much work for little return”. Now, I make them occasionally and each time I am always surprised by how simple they are to prepare, how (deceptively) fancy they look and how comforting they are to eat.

Just chop up some of your favourite veges, herbs, bits of ham or anything you like to eat with eggs (and that will like being in the oven)… sometimes I like to first sear some tomatoes with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a bit of muscovado sugar.

Then dot the bottom of a few ramekins with butter, throw in your veges/ham/whatever, crack an egg on top and crown the lot with some cheese. Place the ramekins in a deep baking dish, and fill the baking dish with hot water till it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins.

Bake them for a few minutes, then serve as breakfast/lunch/a light start to dinner. Easy, huh? I think so too.

The recipe I include below documents the way I made it recently, but you can make delicious variations with ham, bacon, mushrooms… some recipes I have come across also use cream. This is a versatile dish that lends itself well to some experimentation!

    Oeuf cocotte
    1/4 onion, diced
    1 clove garlic, smashed and finely chopped
    3 tomatoes, cut into 4-8 small wedges
    Handful of cooking spinach, roughly chopped
    1 large pepper or capsicum
    3 eggs
    1 heaped tbsp feta cheese, diced
    1 tbsp parmesan shreds
    1 tbsp butter
    Olive oil
    1 tsp balsamic vinegar
    1 level tsp brown sugar
    Preheat oven to 200°C. Boil some water.
    Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet set over a medium-high flame. Once the oil is warm, add in the onion – sauté till golden brown and fragrant, then throw in the garlic, capsicum and tomatoes, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Stir for a minute or two, till you can see the skins on the tomatoes begin to collapse gently.
    Place a pat of butter at the bottom of each ramekin, and add in the spinach, cooked vegetables and feta cubes. Roughly level the surface of the vegetables, then crack an egg into each ramekin. Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
    Put the ramekins into a deep baking tray and fill the baking tray with hot water till the water level reaches halfway up the side of the ramekins.
    Place the tray into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes.
    Yields 3 servings.

Other yummies of late: (1) a particularly delicious chocolate fondue involving, I found out later, mascarpone added to the warm chocolate mix. Mmm! (2) a generous and very tasty chicken sandwich at Willow Glen in Gordonton. (3) my sweet brother’s “brownie cake” (midway between brownie and cake). Cute imagining him in the kitchen, probably looking very serious the whole time. (4) farmers’ market salad leaves. Crunch crunch crunch.

P.S. Happy Waitangi Day!

Wake up and smell the cookies

I love reality. I love the world. I love the smell of it. I love it.
~ Andrea Corr

Bake these soon, won’t you? Preferably in the black of night. With the brightest lights in your kitchen switched on – and no competing smells in your kitchen (i.e. well after dinner time). Eat some* till two in the morning. With company, so the blinding temptation to eat them all doesn’t engulf you and make you very ill indeed.

* Slip the remaining “some” into a container, and leave them in a safe place. Away from prying eyes, teeth and fingers.

Your oven will sing with maternal pride as the little balls of dough stretch and change and become ready for consumption. The cookies will lead you into a happy drunken stupor, as your eyelids take on the world-slicing powers of a kaleidoscope and show you tiny identical wedges of cookiecookiecookie.

Your nose may tell you it never wants to smell anything else ever again.

When at last sleep clutches at your eyelids and happy brain, you will find that you sink into a deep spell of sleep and the richest of dreams…

* And in the way the best dreams go (when you wake and wish it weren’t just a dream), you’ll find a hidden stash of cookies in the morning that smell just like the ones in your dreams. You can still dream your Sunday away.

Thanks Kath for the recipe! :-)

I’m also submitting this entry for Sweet New Zealand, hosted this month by Arfi at HomemadeS by Arfi. Click here to join in the Sweet NZ fun!

Risotto with saffron and cavolo nero

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.
~ May Sarton

Risotto, the making of – in past tense:

Made steaming chicken stock in a deep saucepan with two salty cubes and two cups of water. Chucked in nine forest-green cavolo nero leaves. Left the greens to simmer in the boiling stock for seven minutes, or maybe eight. Took out the leaves and set them aside.

Swirled a pat of butter and a spot of olive oil in a skillet on a flame. Watched the butter and oil sigh and meander around the pan in shimmering golden dribbles. Added in half an onion, diced. Stirred the onion through to fragrant-hood. Added in a cup of arborio rice, a pinch of saffron, two bits of lemon peel, a sprig of rosemary… gave it all a stir.

Added in wine in stages. Added in warm stock in stages. Stirred. Stirred some more. Stirred till my arm felt even heavier than my eyelids.

Chopped the cavolo nero leaves. Added the chopped leaves, a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sliver of butter to the rice in the final minute of cooking.

Dished up three portions, complete with salt, pepper and wispy yellow shreds of parmesan cheese.

Heute haben wir für Euch eine Linzer Torte

I’ll obey them in the winter when the doctors say to me
I must give up ham and spinach, and obedient I’ll be.
To relieve my indigestion in December they can try,
But there’s none of them can stop me when it’s time for cherry pie.
~ Edgar A. Guest, The Milwaukee Journal, 1935 May 29

In a previous job, we hired a sweet intern Susanne who once brought in a delicious linzer torte to share. She gave me her recipe before she returned to Germany, but somehow I never got around to making it… for three whole years!

I was most delighted to rectify this linzer torte situation today with my friend Gudrun, who showed me how to make it with a recipe she got from her friend. (Incidentally, Gudrun makes yummy treats in the form of design goodies too – she made the header on my blog!) :-)

Just for fun, here is a rough step-by-step guide to making linzer torte:

First, you reduce some hazelnuts to a fine grind (we used a blender)…

Next, measure the flour and other ingredients (oh kitchen scales – what a luxury! I think I should consider getting some.)

Make a mini volcano with the flour, placing everything else in its centre (we did this, the photo below is lying…)

Then you need to be harsh and furious, attacking everything with a knife or two. Certainly a new move in my baking repertoire!

When the butter and dry ingredients have mingled for a while and gotten to know each other a little better, knead the dough with your hands till you find yourself with a lovely mound of nutty, sweet-smelling dough. It should be moist but not elastic/sticky like bread dough. Nutty bits may fall off – that is okay. Just gather it all in a bowl and put it in the fridge to chill for a while. The dough will be easier to work with when cold.

In the meantime, grease your cake tin (or in our case, one cake tin and two muffin trays).

Let your pastry cutter go skating in the flour across your benchtop (strictly optional).

When the dough is nice and cold, take it out from the fridge. Lightly flour your benchtop/rolling pin, and roll approximately 2/3 of the dough into a thin sheet. You may wish to roll it in between two sheets of baking paper if it’s all too sticky. (A note here: we found the dough quite fragile, so we rolled out the dough for the muffin trays before lining them, but used a combination technique of rolling and patting the dough to get it into the cake tin).

Line your muffin trays and/or cake tin with dough, and add in spoonfuls of jam.

Use the remaining dough to decorate your linzer torte. We cut little stars out for the muffin-sized linzer torte, and strips for the cake-sized one (photos below).

Lay the little stars on top of the muffin-sized jam beds and dot the doughy bits with egg yolk… (a note here: we ran out of egg yolk for the second tray of muffin-sized linzer torte, and there was a marked difference in colour between the two trays of baked linzer torte – refer to the photo near the top of this post. I can’t decide which I prefer, but I think our free range eggs are very yellow…).

This is what we did with the cake-sized one:

We rolled the dough for the strips in between two sheets of baking paper, cut it into strips with a pastry cutter, then carefully attempted to place them nicely on top of the prepared base in the cake tin.

It was A LOT harder than it looks. You need confident and graceful fingers (Gudrun has them – I’m working on it).

Finally, everything was ready to go into the oven. We baked the muffin-sized ones for around 30 minutes, and the cake-sized one for the recommended 45.

The house smelled lovely and sweet… we took the baked fruits of our labour out of the oven when they turned golden and left them to cool.

After baking all afternoon, it was time for a snack. Gudrun’s red cabbage was soft, comforting and gently scented with notes of cloves and nutmeg – amazing!

We went for a walk.

And then we had afternoon tea with N and H.

Complete with coffee, tea and cream.

Yes, it was every bit as good as it looks here. Perhaps better.

The original recipe is as follows (I typed this from a printed sheet and I don’t speak/read German, so please forgive any errors):

    Linzer Torte
    250g Mehl
    1 TL Backpulver
    250g Margarine oder Butter
    250g Zucker
    150g Haselnüsse, fein gemahlen
    1 EL Kakao
    1 EL Zimt
    1 EL Rum
    1 Messerspitze Nelkenpulver
    1 Glas Himbeermarmelade (250g)
    1 Eigelb zum Bestreichen
    Mürbteig herstellen…
    In der Mitte des Mehlbergs eine Mulde graben und alle anderen Zutaten drauf geben, mit zwei Messer zusammenhacken/mischen – dann mit den Händen weiterkneten. Wichtig: alle Zutaten sollten gut gekühlt sein, sonst bricht der Teig beim „Basteln” leicht.
    2/3 des Teigs zum Boden verarbeiten und in eine gefettete (oder mit Backpapier ausgelegte), runde Springform legen und mit Marmelade bestreichen.
    1/3 des Teigs für 1cm breite Streifen (Gittermus-ter siehe Foto – den Außenrand nicht vergessen). Diese Streifen vorsichtig oben drauf geben und mit dem Eigelb einpinseln.
    Bei 160°C für 45 Minuten backen.
    Und Guten Appetit!

And this is the recipe in English, I have added in a few notes.

    Linzer Torte
    (Note: we used 1.5 times of everything so we could make one cake-sized linzer torte and 12 muffin-sized ones)
    250g flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    250g margarine or butter (we used unsalted butter, cubed)
    250g sugar
    150g hazelnuts, finely ground
    1 tbsp cocoa
    1 tbsp cinnamon
    1 tbsp rum (we used brandy)
    1 pinch ground cloves
    250g raspberry jam
    1 egg yolk, for brushing the top (you may need 2 if you make as much as we did)
    Preheat the oven to 160°C.
    Make the pastry:
    Pour the flour onto a clean benchtop, or on a large chopping board if you don’t have a metal bench like we did. Make a well in the centre, pour all the other ingredients into the well, then use a knife or two to chop/mix it all. Once you have everything looking pretty fine and well mixed, knead it with your hands. Place the dough into a bowl and chill it in the fridge – we only put ours in the fridge for 15 minutes, but it could do with longer so it doesn’t break when you work with it later.
    Press 2/3 of the dough into a greased (or lined) round springform pan (and two muffin trays if using), and spread jam across the bases. The sides will rise a little during baking, so you don’t need to make the edges too high.
    For the cake-sized linzer torte: cut some of the remaining dough into 1cm-wide strips (we made slightly wider strips so we didn’t have to lay as many strips across the top – it was rather fragile)! Carefully lay 3 or 4 strips across the linzer torte, then another 3 or 4 strips at a 45 degree (or in our case, almost 90 degree) angle to the other strips. Brush the rim and dough with egg yolk. We used a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out stars for the muffin-sized linzer torte, but you can decorate these however you wish.
    Bake the cake-sized linzer torte for 45 minutes, and the muffin-sized ones for around 30 minutes – or until the dough is nicely golden and your house smells heavenly.
    Serve with thickened cream, coffee and tea – Und Guten Appetit!

Danke Gudrun!