Category Archives: Vegetables & salads

Chocolate and pear cake

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
~ Abba, Thank You for the Music

2.02am. Eyes sleepily open. Ears ringing with songs from Moulin Rouge. I have always loved this soundtrack, and one of my best memories is dancing to “Elephant Love Medley” on stage with P… but for some reason I have never watched the movie! K watched it with me tonight – I think she was surprised to learn that I hadn’t watched it, and (rightly) thought it was a wrong that should be put right.

It has been a really nice Saturday. I made a new friend G, we chatted at the charming Little & Friday (Newmarket)… which, by the way, you may like to visit on your next trip to Auckland. With mint-infused water, a spotless interior, smiley staff and a delectable selection of goodies like lamingtons resembling mini brown mountains caught in a snow blizzard, berry-filled bread and butter pudding and crisp, inviting savoury tarts – it’s hard not to fall in like within five seconds of entering the place!

I then caught up with one of my favouritest people in Auckland – M. As always, an illuminating exchange. M constantly reminds me of what is true, and real, and everlasting. I make it a point to keep friends who carry truth in their hearts and wear it on their lips – they are worth more than gold.

And this evening, K came over and we cooked together. Have I mentioned how much I love cooking with this girl??

We made lemon risotto, ratatouille and Al Di La’s Torta di Pere – adapted from Saveur, Molly’s recipe in A Homemade Life, and Smitten Kitchen respectively.

There were two half-full boxes of arborio rice in the pantry, which were both sadly infested with moving black dots…(!) So we thought it best to discard them… and K made risotto with normal long grain rice instead.

So I had not known that you could make risotto successfully with non-arborio rice, but we had a very yummy risotto tonight. Cooking mainly by sight, taste and instinct, K whipped up a dish soft, subtle, creamy, punctuated with the fresh flavour of lemons. When in doubt, she just added a little more pinot gris – a good thing to do when making risotto me thinks ;-)

Last time I made ratatouille, it was nice but all cooked in the oven – so this time I decided to try Molly’s recipe. I modified it slightly for quantity and presence/absence of ingredients in my fridge. A bay leaf, fresh rosemary needles and basil, dried mixed herbs, salt and pepper were the primary seasonings.

I really like how Molly’s recipe involves roasting the eggplant beforehand, then cooking all the vegetables in stages – it’s so easy to overcook vegetables especially when you are trying to cook one dish combining a few different types of them! So this was so nice to eat, because they were all cooked just the right amount – soft, but not soggy; lightly scented with the herbs; warm… mmm.

The cake. With such ingredients as dark chocolate, Bosc pears and brown butter, I think we would have eaten it no matter how it emerged from the oven (ok, I would have…)

So luckily I did not have to eat gobbledy gop by myself because, as it turns out, the mix became cake.

What emerged was, as K says, reminiscent of apple pie – but in pear cake form (and with the addition of dark chocolate which provided a rounded, subtle sweetness). We sliced it into slabs, like brownie bars, and ate them with dollops of Greek yoghurt.

For me it tasted like softly roasted, sweet pear cubes tangible against the smoky, mellow, creamy flavour of warm dark chocolate set on a cloud of disappearing cake. By that, I mean the cake was so fluffy that it was like a floating cloud, a fairy’s wand waving itself in and out of my consciousness as I ate.

You know those days when you crave a sizeable chunk of silky rich, calorie-laden, so-decadent-your-teeth-tingle chocolate cake?

This is not a cake for those days.

This is a cake for picnics on a grassy hill, for the moments when your eyes troll through the menu 10,000 times and still nothing sounds ‘right’. It’s a cake to accompany a musical, and nights of singing; a cake to eat whilst standing by the sink, or from the depths of a plushy couch. Most of all, it’s a cake to enjoy with others.

And now it is nearly 4am. Evidently, I am starting to get sleepy and tomorrow morning I will probably read through this and find an incoherent post with more than one typo – but you’re used to that, aren’t you? And you will forgive me, and go and make some cake? Good night world.

[Edit] Recipe as follows:

    Al Di La’s Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake]
    Recipe adapted, with a few modifications, from Smitten Kitchen
    Ingredients:
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 eggs, at room-temperature
    115g unsalted butter
    1/4 cup muscovado sugar
    1/4 cup caster sugar
    3 Bosc pears, peeled, in a small dice (next time I will dice them smaller than I did this time)
    3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used Cadbury’s 70%)
    Just a quick initial note: if you can find a cake partner for this one, do – unless you are a whiz at multi-tasking (I am not). You will see why once you get into it!
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Oil and flour a 9-inch springform pan (we used a square tin with a removeable base).
    Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside
    Using an electric handheld mixer, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick – approximately nine minutes (it should take around five minutes with a professional Kitchen Aid). It should resemble velvet custard.
    While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium-sized skillet (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty/like caramel (about 6 to 8 minutes). Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes as necessary, to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
    Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
    Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir (we just switched to a normal whisk at this stage), and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.
    Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 minutes, or a tester comes out clean. Make sure it is fully done before you take it out – if the top is overly brown and it is not cooked in the middle, put a sheet of foil over it and bake till it’s done.
    As mentioned above, we ate it slightly warm with dollops of Greek yoghurt and it was very good. Possible variations include barely whipped cream with a drop of almond extract in it, or buttermilk ice cream, as listed in the original recipe. Enjoy!

[/Edit]

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La zucca magica

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Winter + oven =

It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption.
~ Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert

I chanced upon this delightful post by Chef Millie and it sounded too delicious not to make.

So last night I made a slightly modified (to suit what I had in my pantry) version of this roasted pear, leek and chicken salad – and… tonight, I made it again (admittedly again modified to suit what I had in my fridge). I don’t think I have ever cooked the same thing twice in a row when cooking for others – but try it and you may just decide to make this for dinner every day for the rest of the week. Or month? ;-)

I actually felt a little guilty when John, Fran and Heather complimented me on this dish because it was really so easy. There is no real need to measure anything, and ingredients can be substituted. Everything goes into a baking tray, which goes into an oven – and you can read a book or take a shower then sit down for dinner and have just one tray to wash afterwards. Magic!

Last night, I roasted leeks, pear wedges and chicken breasts and plated it individually atop a bed of baby cos/romaine lettuce with toasted Turkish bread on the side.

Tonight, I baked yellow capsicum pieces, pear wedges, half a leek and chicken thighs and placed the tray on the table for everyone to help themselves. Along with this I toasted ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper on each slice, and served up bowls of Nigel Slater’s pumpkin, tomato and cannellini bean soup for us all. I still had a bottle of sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from Mindfood magazine so that found its way to the table too…

Main modifications with this recipe: I used different parts of the chicken; smeared wholegrain mustard on the chicken and left out mustard seeds; added in rosemary last night, thyme tonight; changed the goats’ cheese to feta; used more garlic. I also left out the step at the end to heat the fat on the stove and deglaze with red wine vinegar, even though it sounded divine – purely to save time, will have to try it next time!

So I already knew that chicken + mustard + herbs + salt + pepper + oven is often bound to please, but baked leeks and pears together? – a revelation for me. The leeks went slightly pink and so sweet and melting; and pears – they are a total pleasure to eat raw, but when cooked – they are like a golden crown, a fancy something. I really like cooked pears – they make a meal special, somehow. Oh, and fennel seeds – I wish I had discovered them sooner. Now I have to actively restrain myself from this wild urge to spray them liberally on everything…

Penne con la zucca

People ask me: “Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?”… the easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.
~ M. F. K. Fisher

Penne con la zucca. I love it. Everything about it. Its name, for one – “zucca” (Italian) sounds so classy and exciting – everything its English equivalent, “pumpkin”, is not. I don’t know about you, but the only time I’ve thought the word “pumpkin” sounded remotely exciting was when I was a kid reading “Cinderella” – and even then, it only got to be her coach for a few precious hours.

I discovered this magic recipe for penne con la zucca through the equally magic Google today, while looking for ways to dress up my pumpkin wedge for lunch. I hadn’t read even half of François-Xavier’s post before I ran into the kitchen with my laptop…

The rain coursed down the kitchen window like a slow tear running down a woman’s cheeks as I wiped my wet eyes (from working with a potent onion) and chopped the pumpkin into clumsy matchsticks.

It was very easy to cook, even easier to eat… the epitome of comfort. I like it best when food makes you at once alert and entirely caught offguard… this did exactly that for me.

Think warm, soft and caramelised pumpkin strips; sweet, lightly browned onion; wintry cinnamon and nutmeg; melting parmesan flecks; fresh black pepper and pasta al dente. It reminded me of a monkey’s wedding. Abstract, I know :-)

I modified the recipe a little, omitting the cream, adding garlic and cinnamon, and I loved it. I have no doubt the original version of this recipe is delicious too! This dish took around 30 minutes to cook, including preparation time.

On his blog, François-Xavier says that penne con la zucca is one of his “10 best pasta recipes”… I think it may just become one of my favourites too.

Happy Easter, everyone!

    Ingredients:
    Penne pasta, or any short, tubular, dry pasta – 1 serving
    1 tbsp butter, or 2 tbsp olive oil
    1 large onion
    2 cloves garlic
    350g fresh pumpkin (approximately)
    Parmesan cheese (I used grated)
    Nutmeg (fresh if possible, I used packet)
    Cinnamon
    Black pepper
    Method:
    Peel and cut the onion in half, then slice thinly. Smash, peel and mince the garlic cloves. Set aside.
    Peel the pumpkin and remove the soft flesh and seeds in the middle. Chop into thin matchsticks.
    Heat the butter in a skillet, add the onion and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the chopped pumpkin, and mix.
    Lower the temperature to medium-low and cook for approximately 20 minutes until the onions and pumpkin are well soft. Adjust the heat as necessary. When it is nearly cooked, add in the cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Mix and leave aside.
    In a very large pot, throw in some salt and pour in some water – bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in the penne and cook for a minute or two less than the cooking time stated on the box or packet.
    Drain the pasta, replace it in the hot saucepan and add in the pumpkin sauce. Mix well – the heat from the saucepan and sauce will finish ‘cooking’ the pasta. Add in the parmesan and extra seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Salad with feta, olives, capsicum and beetroot

I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart.
~ Pope John XXIII

Dinner with Mandy, Paul and Ben

Reality is an acquired taste.
~ Robert Fritz

On the menu last night: champagne risotto, pan fried baha with lemon and herbs, and vegetables.

Mandy made a mini hill of sliced capsicum and mushrooms, and we cooked these with garlic, onions and olive oil. I loved how bright and happy the vegetables looked on the chopping board!

Tessa Kiros’s champagne risotto sadly fell under the category of ‘acquired taste’ for Mandy, Ben and Paul – oops! – personally though, I still see potential in the pure, arresting taste of champagne-treated arborio rice mingled with the comforting qualities of shallots, parmesan and butter – and think a small serving of this works well as a prelude to seafood :-)

We used baha fish last night – first time I’ve come across this white fish. It was fresh and light in flavour and cheap at the supermarket – a nice bonus! I just heated a knob of butter in the pan and pan fried the fillets with dried tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper… finishing them with a squeeze of lemon at the end. Simple.

Pasta spirals with leek, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella

If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.
~ Edith Wharton

Hi. Cooking inspiration levels have been low, as you may have picked up from the lack of cooking posts on this blog – but a crack of sunshine rained down on me at my first walk to the supermarket here. I came home and made something that was not scrambled eggs or yoghurt in a bowl! Also, I bought my first ever tub of buffalo mozzarella and I fear there may be a repeat of this incident in the not-so-distant future :-O

Tonight’s dinner was simple, but nice nevertheless – and I do feel better than I did yesterday… cooking must do for me what shopping does for some people! I now look forward to hosting a dinner party or something sometime soon…

Anyway, my eyes are hurting from a long day of staring at the screen at work… so bye and hope you are all having a great Monday there!

PS. My friend Rosie has started a yummy blog! Yay! Go check it out

    Pasta spirals with leek, mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    2 cloves garlic
    100ml white wine
    1 leek
    2 flat mushrooms
    1/2 lemon
    1 tsp sugar
    Dried basil
    Chilli flakes
    Buffalo mozzarella – however much you want, sliced into circles
    Tri-colour pasta spirals, or pasta of your choice
    Salt
    Method:
    Heat a saucepan of water over medium-high heat, and add in a few teaspoons of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add in enough pasta for you.
    Meanwhile, smash, peel and chop the garlic cloves. Separate the leaves from the stem of the leek, discard the leaves and slice the stem into rings. Clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth and slice them. Zest the lemon half and retain the lemon for use later.
    Dribble some olive oil in a small skillet, set it over medium-low heat and swirl the pan around to spread the oil around the base. When the oil is sufficiently warmed, add in the garlic – watch it sizzle. Once you can smell the garlic, add in the leek rings and white wine and saute for 2 minutes. Add in the mushrooms, a spoonful of sugar, a shake of chilli flakes and the lemon zest, and continue to fry – adjust the heat if necessary. Add in a pinch of dried basil, rubbing it between your fingers as you go. When the vegetables are cooked and the wine has nearly evaporated, squeeze in the lemon juice and turn off the heat. You can add in the buffalo mozzarella at this point, though I chose to decorate my plate with it instead!
    When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and put it on a plate. Add the vegetables and buffalo mozzarella (if you haven’t yet added it into the pan), and serve immediately. Great with a shivering glass of white wine!
    Yields one serving.