Tag Archives: dinner

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!

    Ingredients:
    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
    Method:
    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.

S.T.A.Y. on a Michelin star

But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Hello from Beijing! I’m here visiting my friend Jane – and we have been functioning on an average of three hours’ sleep a night, but we’re pretty happy.

Initial impressions of this city: DUSTY! BUSY! Dust descends daily on me like an army of microscopic aliens – and people are gruff, cab drivers especially so (though I guess I wouldn’t like to be spending my days driving random people around in Beijing traffic either). Personal space doesn’t appear to exist as a concept here.

Yet, for all its smog and busy-ness, Beijing possesses a tangible charm amid all the chaos – I feel safe on her streets and pleasure fills my pockets as I gaze at street stalls boasting luscious fruit and street food like jian bing; people playing chess under bridges; the beauty of faces on the subway, on bikes, at the market…

It’s been wonderful exploring Beijing via subway, ‘tin can cars’ and taxis with Jane as my personal unpaid tour guide ;-) I’ve loved everything from hearing Mandarin all around me, fumbling with my own questionable command of Mandarin, to meeting the people who make up Jane’s China world…

One highlight was going to S.T.A.Y. last night, a restaurant championed by Michelin-award-winning chef Yannick Alléno.

Does one need a good reason for a special dinner? Yes and no – the simple joy of a great friendship is reason enough for me… but on this occasion we also had Jane’s birthday to celebrate (she terms it as “the 26th anniversary of her expulsion from her mother’s womb”). We spent a few hours on Google trying to decide where to go, and when at last Jane rang them to make a booking our eyes held a matching gleam. :-D

And so it is that we spent an hour travelling via tin can car (see first picture), taxi and subway to get to S.T.A.Y. where we very happily stayed for three hours! We had an outstanding waiter and sommelier who made us feel at once like old friends and like royalty – and who arranged for us to have champagne on the house (for Jane’s birthday)!

We began our evening with a generous selection of amuse-bouches including: cherry-coloured radishes brushed with butter; cubed tomato with parmigiano (these held their shape on the plate but collapsed immediately upon meeting our tongues); fish fingers served with a paprika dip; a bread basket with butter checkered with creamy ham.

We opted for the four-course meal (with two options per course, RMB528 per person).

Course 1: both of us had spanner crab cakes rolled in sesame seeds, served alongside fresh broad beans and greens with a beautiful shallot/ginger/garlic sauce. This was a light course, and I enjoyed the way the individual sweet strands of crab meat mingled with the fragrance of the sesame seeds and the savoury sauce… mmm.

Course 2: Jane had the chicken consommé, a clear, refined soup with mushrooms and carrot – and garnished with toasted crostini spread with foie gras and chicken liver pâte. My cream of cauliflower arrived as a bed of crispy croutons, delicate seaweed strands and cauliflower to which the waiter added a warm, delicious cream…

Hmm… you’ll have to trust me on this, but it really looked much better in real life than it does here:

Course 3: The black pepper Angus beef fillet with cafe de paris and gratin dauphinois floored her… she was speechless for some time and I wondered if her face could split from smiling. When I took a bite of her meal, though, I understood :-) And I was well pleased with my red snapper with clams – the dish was awash with the sweetness of clam juice – and the zucchini, tomato marmalade and basil leaves added texture and flavour that was really complementary to the fish and clams.

Course 4: And finally, dessert – a stroll through Pastry Library wonderland! Here we were treated to a visual feast of treats in glass cabinets and left to select our sweet of choice. Jane opted for a vanilla tart, which arrived at our table topped with gold-dusted caramelised pistachio nuts – and I had a passionfruit cream-filled biscuit cigar reminiscent of a brandy snap, topped with a passionfruit/chocolate mousse and almonds. Of course, we were also given an additional complimentary platter of other sweets (including meringue cigars, mini pistachio balls, etc)… ah lovely staff.

As I ate, I thought “everything stands out but nothing sticks out”… it was a moving portrait of harmonious perfection, flawless yet welcoming. I loved the way food and joy met on every dish and meandered through our bodies and minds as we ate.

Something else I found remarkable – that they served such food and waited on us with such style as if it were everyday fare – as if this was the only way to eat. Special turned Ordinary… amazing :-) 2am now and I want to continue waxing lyrical about S.T.A.Y. but frankly, my mind is turning to custard with lack of sleep so I’m going to sign off for now!

I look forward to many more privileged years of being your friend, Janey! (And thanks for coming up with the somewhat clever title of this blog post).

S.T.A.Y. – 29 Zizhuyuan Road, Beijing, 100089, China – Phone: +86 10 6841 2211

Pan to plate in 480 seconds

What kind of scale compares the weight of two beauties, the gravity of duties, or the ground speed of joy? Tell me, what kind of ga[u]ge can quantify elation? What kind of equation could I possibly employ?
~ Ani Difranco

There’s something about home-cooked steak. You know? So quick and so good? Hot pan, big splash of oil, lovely sizzling noise when meat meets pan? Juicy eye fillet, quick shake of salt and pepper, runny yolk, savoury-sweet onion? Loud thoughts of “I am very happy right now” emerging from mind and mouth?

:-D

We had this meal three weeks ago, and I can still taste it

Some people have a sixth sense, and some are duds at it. I believe I must have it, because the moment I stepped into the house I felt a trembling along my skin, a traveling current that moved up my spine, down my arms, pulsing out from my fingertips. I was practically radiating. The body knows things a long time before the mind catches up to it. I was wondering what my body knew that I didn’t.
~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

It was like paprika occupied the wind and blew itself into my face, and dark chocolate took the shape of a willowy man and stood up to hug me. The limes were as sweet spring showers, the tortillas like warm fluffy blankets fresh from the dryer. It was smoky and mysterious, and I easily imagined the sound of foreign chants; of a mortar and pestle in use; of singing. Each bite further led my mind’s eye towards a secret chamber, towards the charred base of a solid black pot, towards a flickering flame…

The memory of this meal has been hovering on the brink of my consciousness for about three weeks now, ever since we ate it. Jian came back for a visit from the good US of A and cooked chicken mole for his family and I, you see, that was a treat to eat. Delicious food and amazing company – what’s not to like?! We sat at a table adorned with platters of chicken, mole paste, warm tortillas, fluffy rice, beans, salsa, cilantro, lime wedges – and had fun assembling our own mole parcels. I loved it, and was especially struck by how elusive the mole paste tasted, and by how beautiful and different everything tasted when they were combined. It was difficult to think about what I was eating in words. Suffice to say, the food was very delicious, tickled my imagination and made me smile :-)

After we had our fill of mole, Jian brought out a very pretty pastel de tres leches (or “three milk cake”) and we hastily commanded our stomachs to make room for dessert…

It looked to me like a sunny island in the middle of a white lake, and tasted like a cross between cheesecake and bread and butter pudding. Sweet, soft and decadent… mmmm!

Jian gave me some mole base and a few Mexican chocolate pellets which smell very exciting (gracias Jian!) and I certainly look forward to experimenting with them soon* :-)

* Though a little part of me would rather just eat Jian’s cooking, he is very talented in the kitchen.

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.

Magic, fairies and lamb

In order to make art, we must first make an artful life, a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel.
~ Julia Cameron

On Sunday, Tracey and I had brunch at a cafe with a cool blackboard (and food, but that was second to the blackboard that day). Nestled amidst the menu specials were these chalky scribbles: “magic happens” and “fairies do exist”. ‘Cept the letters were flipped horizontally so that you could only read these properly when you gazed into the mirror on the other side of the wall.

And you know what, magic doesn’t just happen in stories, and fairies don’t always look like Tinker Bell. Magic comes in the way of fairy lights in January and vanilla/candy-floss-coloured sunsets, and fairies manifest in the form of amazingamazing friends, bus drivers, baristas (and you lovely readers of course! ;-)).

This week has contained some stressful moments, but it has also certainly involved magic and fairies.

See, today I was at the bus stop and a bus driver with kind eyes stopped his bus (which had “out of service” flashing at the front), asked me where I was going, and took me to town… for free. With the door wide open, so the wind rushed through my hair and the sun fell on my face. He did not know how beautiful he made my morning…

And when I went to buy a cup of coffee this afternoon, the smiling barista asked if I wanted a chocolate fish or marshmallows (as is the case if you happen to get a mocha in New Zealand) – or a chocolate fish and eight marshmallows (not usually the case even in New Zealand)… seriously, EIGHT?! Sweet hmm? (and not just literally).

I could mention a few other things too… but that might take all night, and I unfortunately need to go to bed soon. Something to do with being a responsible working adult and all.

Just quickly before I climb into bed though, I wanted to mention my dinner last night. I was quite pleased with it, firstly because I had it following a good swim and 45-minute walk in summery goodness, secondly because it tasted so good, and thirdly because I was generally happy that I had rediscovered the joys of swimming (or at least, attempting to swim)… the last time I swam, I was 12. Time flies, doesn’t it!

Dinner: I heated some oil in a skillet, threw in some chopped garlic and ginger, seared a few lamb chops, and added in a few prunes and apricots, half a sprig of rosemary from G’s backyard, salt, pepper and a dribble of leftover white wine… and had it with two-week old farmers’ market salad (yes, so good is this market – the greens were still crisp) and a slice of crusty bread. Juicy lamb, gently sticky-sweet prunes and apricots, crisp greens and bread that tasted like a hug… a jolly good meal to end the day with. :-)

Right, good night. May you all have a magical Thursday!

Perfection

Perfection
is not
– straight edges
– symmetrical circles
– right angles
– sparkling silver

Though there is a time and place for them, too

Perfection
is when
you don’t notice
– how straight a line is
– how round a circle is
– how eight minutes pass in 480 seconds
– green bits in your teeth till later
– that you haven’t slept since 4 in the morning

Because you are too busy being happy

The sort of happy that stays with you for hours, not minutes
and is not tied to things or places

Maybe just to people, the way they laugh, the way their eyes are kind and deep

Maybe just to the memory of that meal – the way the food made its way past your senses and into your soul, and made you feel

Alive

Maybe just to the crazy feeling that your toes are giggling, laughing to themselves under the table

Perfection
cannot
be adequately spun into words
or learned
or taught
or practised

Only recognised.

Pictured: salmon, ricotta and spinach ravioli with tomatoes; pork saltimbocca with roasted vegetables; tiramisu – thank you Ms Gudrun for cooking such a beautiful meal for us and for hosting a perfect evening!