Sunday, January 27, 2013

228/984 - Grilled flathead tail with fancy coconut and spinach rice

Degustation course number six!

This is just one of the recipes that features in the new rainbow book and not in the original. I followed the instructions until the part where I was supposed to remove the saucepan from the heat and place a tea towel under the lid. I had the tea towel part covered (pardon the pun) but accidentally left the heat on for the 10 minutes of absorption time. 

There was a shriek and possibly some utterances of "no, no, no!" when I discovered my rice still slowly cooking away. I nervously stirred it to see how bad the damage was and discovered that the bottom was only slightly brown, and in fact when I stirred it through it seemed to add an extra hint of flavour to the rice. I must have been due for some nice karma to come my way...

I packed the cooked rice away in the fridge and on the night of the feast used the microwave to heat it through while grilling the fish. It turned out light and fluffy, so definitely a recipe to remember when I need one that can be pre-prepared. 

Coconut and spinach rice may not sound amazing but this recipe was so fabulously good the birthday boy insisted on taking the leftovers home! The secret ingredient is definitely the dried shrimp, although I actually had to substitute this for shrimp paste because it was all I could find at short notice. The flavour was still amazing so obviously it was an appropriate substitution!

Monday, January 21, 2013

227/984 - Individual tomato and mustard tarts

Degustation course number five.

I had to be careful to balance all of the lovely seafood in this meal with a couple of protein free dishes. This little vegetarian number caught my eye and I decided to make individual tarts rather than one big one to ensure they would look as pretty as possible on the plates. I would have loved to have made the puff pastry myself, but given the amount of preparation I already had to do, I decided to take the sensible option and go for the packet variety. 

I wish I had taken a picture of my first attempt at baking the tart bases. Somehow I managed to end up with ridiculously puffed up discs covered in burnt dijon. My second attempt fared much better, after I made sure the bases were properly pricked and I turned off the fan inside the oven. 

I deliberately searched my drawers for a round cutter than would be just the right amount larger than the tomato slices. Except the cutter I picked wasn't a cutter at all and so I had to engage Trev to put some muscle into pushing it through the pastry.

I was very worried that these little tarts would not be appreciated by my guests, particularly as they were following the wontons sent straight from heaven. Thankfully the tarts were loved by all, the shallots imparting a delicate sweetness to the dish  that I did not foresee. 

More than halfway through the meal and so far so good!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

226/984 - Prawn mousse wontons with basil and burnt butter sauce

You know that feeling you get when you cook something and it tastes even better than you expected? 

This was the fourth degustation course and definitely my favourite by a mile. When I found the prawn mousse recipe I knew immediately that it would be a part of this special meal, and also that it would be stuffed inside wontons, given my love of Asian food. 

The prawn mousse itself was very simple to make, especially with a Thermomix on hand, though I did end up with much more than I actually needed. Given there were eight courses I was careful to keep the size of the serves modest, in this case with only three wontons per person. So once I had made 19 (one for testing purposes of course!) I was not quite sure what was to become of the half bowl of left over squidgy prawn mousse. I decided that mixing it with eggs and scrambling it would be a good idea as prawns and cream are both lovely partners for eggs. Trev and the boys gave it a huge thumbs up! 

The day before the big meal I decided it would be a good idea to try making my first batch of wonton wrappers. I figured it couldn't be too difficult and not too much different from making my own pasta. It turns out that it takes much, much longer, especially if you decide to hand roll it (why didn't I use the pasta machine?) and then become just a bit too obsessed with making sure each square was the perfect thickness and well, square. 

It was a lot of fun making them though and the taste was absolutely worth the effort. On the big night I cooked the wontons in the style taught to me by my lovely friend Venus who took charge of the dumpling cooking at my birthday celebration last year. You put a splash of oil in the pan and wait for it to heat. Gently place the wontons in the pan and add some water to create steam. Keep adding water as required to keep the steam going, and an occasional extra splash of oil. 

The result is gorgeous crispy wontons that are not heavy at all and are perfectly cooked throughout. Needless to say my guests were very happy after eating this dish, although I think we all wished I had made many more than I did.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

225/984 - Thai rose-petal and cucumber salad

Degustation course number three...

I was intrigued by the inclusion of rose petals in this salad and couldn't wait to make and eat it. On our trip to the Queen Vic market we stopped to pick the perfect little bunch of red roses for the table and for dinner!

This salad was strategically placed near the beginning of the meal so that my guests could continue to snack on it in between courses. I put it together at the last minute, heading back to the table to select the rose that would finish this pretty masterpiece. I wasn't alone in my fascination, my guests appreciated the drama of the moment too!

I am aware that eating flowers is not a new thing. I have certainly eaten flowers before myself, including lovely dried rose petals, but this is the first time I had eaten rose petals fresh, and certainly the first time I had included them in a recipe straight from the dinner table centrepiece.  

The salad was more popular than expected! The freshness of the cucumber was obviously appreciated in between my other, slightly heavier, dishes. By the end of the meal the plate had been wiped clean. I was almost certain I would have at least a small serve left over for my lunch the next day. 

Not a bad thing to be wrong about really. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

224/984 - Rolled sardines with pine nut and currant stuffing

Degustation second course!

I know I have said it before, but I love cleaning sardines. Being covered in slimy bits and having perfect little fillets of fish at the end...surely that's what cooking is all about.

I checked with the birthday boy before putting sardines on the menu because they seem to have their fair share of detractors. He gave the OK and I am so glad he did! The last sardine recipe I made which can be found here was absolutely fantastic and I didn't think it could be topped. I was wrong.

Lots of fried yumminess went into this recipe - breadcrumbs, pine nuts, garlic. All great once they have been in a pan with a bit of oil. The bits that joined them in the blender were not bad either - a bit of parsley, a small mountain of grana padano cheese and some freshly cracked pepper.

This lovely concoction was rolled in the sardines and secured with toothpicks. I added a bit of extra oil to the mixture to help it stick together but still found it quite crumbly to work with.

I decided to bake rather than fry my little fish on the night of the feast as frying means watching the pan to make sure they don't stick and also turning them mid-way. Baking is so much easier and of course I wanted to relax with a glass of wine between courses. We stayed with the Monkey Bay Chardonnay for this course and it didn't take much coaxing to ensure the glasses were drained in readiness for the next.

This dish actually evoked groans of pleasure from the diners and even the littlest participant came back for his second and third little fishy parcel after telling me how much he did not like sardines!

The only thing that stopped the adults fighting him for them was the knowledge that there were six fabulous courses to come.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

223/984 - Allan and Michele's asian-inspired pumpkin soup

A friend of ours turned forty a little over a month ago and we were faced with the predicament of what to buy the man who has everything. This is a particularly special friend who is close to both myself and my husband and who always manages to buy the most spectacularly fantastic gifts to mark our special occasions. After much searching and thinking we finally settled on a gift that money can't buy - an evening with friends and a home made eight course degustation with matched wines. 

I had so much fun scanning my new rainbow book for recipes. With hundreds of new ones to choose from I was like one of my children with a Toys'R'Us catalogue, madly selecting things I liked and periodically letting out small yelps of excitement. Unfortunately I had so much fun I ended up with a list of near thirty recipes and had to spend quite some time paring it back. The criteria I had set was that each dish had to be fabulous, but also able to be prepared in advance with minimal effort required on the night. There is nothing worse than having people over for dinner and then spending the entire night in the kitchen! 

So after a few days of preparation and an early morning trip to the Queen Vic market, last night was the night! The first course was Allan and Michele's Asian-inspired pumpkin soup which I had made two days prior. On the night I simply needed to bring it to the boil and whisk in some coconut milk. Too easy.

As per Stephanie's suggestion I decided to fancy it up with the addition of one lovely little seared scallop in each bowl. Unfortunately the scallops sank to the bottom (I have no idea why I thought they would float!) but they were absolutely fabulous and worth the extra little bit of effort on the night, even if they didn't enhance the appearance of the presented bowls. 

Trev was in charge of the matched wines and this course was served with a New Zealand Chardonnay which we all agreed was a fabulous choice.

Stay tuned for an overview of the remaining seven courses! As for me, I am exhausted after a busy few days in the kitchen and think I will be saying hello to my pillow very early tonight. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

222/984 - Stuffed bush marrow with yoghurt sauce

222/984 - how impossible does that sound?! Forgive me as I get used to this new challenge total...

There were so many firsts with this recipe. Of course this is the first post of the year, but I also used the first zucchini from our garden, and to round out the trio of firsts, it was also the first time I had made a Stephanie recipe in a kitchen other than my own. 

We stayed at a friend's beach house this week and I couldn't resist dragging along my Cook's Companion and this whopper of a zucchini that was just crying out to be picked and eaten. Our garden is looking wonderful and I am looking forward to using many of the gorgeous little vegetables that are getting brighter and fatter by the day.

The holiday house we stayed in is very well decked out, but there are some kitchen implements that are just never going to be found in a beach escape where the majority of the guests choose take away meals over home cooked, and any cooking that is done tends to be on the barbie to keep the heat (and the mess) outside. Because of this the cumin for the filling was crushed with a knife (and not very well!) and the onion was diced finely rather than minced.
There was also a brief delay in proceedings when I made the yoghurt sauce and realised I was heating the house even further on an already sweltering 42° day. I put the sauce in the fridge and waited a couple of days for the heat to die down before proceeding. It didn't seem to harm the sauce although I am not sure if the consistency was altered.  

I really liked this dish although I really should have taken Stephanie's advice to fry off a bit of the meat to check the seasoning before putting it together. The final dish had a lovely flavour, but really could have done with more of it. I am sure it didn't help that my cumin seeds were only half crushed and the onion not properly minced.

But for a holiday dish I thought it was pretty good!