Saturday, 27 December 2008
Can Brussels sprouts ever be sexy? It's probably not something you'll have spent much time pondering, but you might be surprised to know that the answer is Yes!
Last Christmas, despite the absence of Brussels sprouts on any Christmas table in living memory, I made this Nigella recipe for "Perfect Sprouts" so that my dear Iranian friend G got the right idea about what's involved with Christmas dinner. I was mightily impressed, I have to say. Even with the teeny tiny brassicas available in Japanese supermarkets.
I thought I'd recreate the dish again this year in Australia, where there was a super-abundance of jumbo Brussels that could be had for a song.
It was a good plan, but I ran into a snag in that there was not a chestnut to be had in the whole of Melbourne! I tried the food court at David Jones (which seems more like a waste of space than an international food emporium. Japan does it better with its eyes closed.) I tried every supermarket in town, but nope, nai, nada, nyet. No chestnuts.
Then there was the pancetta. From my experience last year, pancetta seemed to be kind of upmarket bacon in a block. It was definitely not the chilli-hot rolled cured meat that Saffron Papa brought back from the local Bacchus Marsh supermarket. It was the same in all the shops. In Melbourne, it seems, pancetta is spicy! Subsequent research tells me that spicing is quite common, and the meat prepared in many variations from region to region. Still, it did make it harder to please Saffron Mama, who has a physical reaction to the mere mention of a black pepper never mind actual chilli in her mouth!
Undaunted, I substituted macadamias and pecans for the chestnuts, and kept the pancetta cubes nice and big for easy removal by those with more delicate palates. While the macadamias and pecans did not have the same meatiness as chestnuts, they did add a nice little crunch and an Australian touch to this Christmas treat. Reading over the recipe now, I see that I forgot to add the parsley this time. Not to worry. However, it ends up, I think that this recipe, from Nigella's Feast (which I don't own, but devoured cover to cover at Saffron Papa and Mama's), will be a Yuletide staple at the Saffron household from now on.
Nigella's perfect Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pancetta and parsley
1kg Brussels sprouts
250g pancetta, rind removed, cut into 1cm cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
250g vacuum-packed chestnuts
60ml marsala [Saffron: or sherry or Chinese cooking wine (Xiaoxing-jiu)]
large bunch parsley, chopped
1 Trim the bottoms off each of the sprouts, cutting a cross into each as you go, or at least a slash. This may not be necessary, but I can't not do it. Then tip them into a large pan of salted boiling water and cook until tender but still retaining a bit of bite, about five minutes or so depending on size. Just spoon one out of the water and test (without burning your tongue and thus ruining the whole lunch for yourself) to be sure.
2 Meanwhile, in a pan large enough to take everything later (or just drain the sprouts and use their pan, once you've drained them), cook the pancetta cubes in the oil, with the rind for more salty fat rendering, until they're bronzed and crisp, but not cooked to the point of having dried out.
3 Add the butter and chestnuts and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, press on the chestnuts to break them up a little. When they're warmed through, turn the heat up and throw in the marsala, letting it bubble away, fusing with the pancetta fat and chestnutty butter to form a glorious savoury syrup.
4 Add the drained sprouts and turn well, sprinkling in half the parsley as you do so. Give a good grinding of pepper; you shouldn't need salt, given the pancetta, but obviously taste to see. Decant to a warmed serving plate and sprinkle over the remaining chopped parsley.
As I mentioned at the start of this roundup, Saffron-Papa had already chosen a "big chicken" (in his parlance, of course) for our Christmas turkey feast prior to the Young Man and I arriving in Australia. Given that there were to be 12 around our table this Christmas, it was somewhat of a bigger bird than the ones I usually get in Japan! And as we all know, turkey has a bit of a bad rep for cooking up dry. However, using the advice of our good friend Nigella Lawson, as usual, our bird came out juicily tender, the meat falling off the bone.
A bit of a stuffing junkie, I like to stuff both the neck and body cavities with, usually, a cranberry and orange bread stuffing and a herb and nut one. I am rather attached to the cranberry and orange stuffing, which is my approximation of a recipe cited by Nigella in How to Eat, but plumping up dried cranberries with fresh orange juice rather than using fresh ones. I certainly wanted it this year, but I was willing to compromise (g) on the other one. Saffron-Papa, the co-chef of the day, chose a lemon and herb number, for which he chopped up a mountain of fresh herbs from the garden. I mention the herb garden again only because of complete jealousy at the parents' ability to use fresh herbs with wanton abandon. They have more than they can use, in fact, lucky devils!
Cranberry and orange stuffing
Zest of one orange and juice of 1-2 more
350 g dried cranberries
125 g butter
500 g fresh breadcrumbs
1 Zest one of the oranges and juice it and one more. Put the cranberries in a small, heavy based saucepan with the orange juice and zest. Bring to the simmering point on a moderate to high flame, then cover and simmer for 5 minutes. The cranberries should have plumped up, but if they are still not their full size, repeat with the juice of the remaining orange. Add the butter in slices and stir, off the heat, until it melts. I usually do this a day early, to make things easier of Christmas Day.
2 Add the breadcrumbs, or, if you made up the cranberry mixture earlier, reheat on a low flame until slightly runny, then add the breadcrumbs and the eggs, beaten. Season with salt and pepper and plenty of fresh grated nutmeg.
3 Either stuff into the turkey before cooking or make into individual portions in a muffin tin and bake for around 10 min, or until lightly golden, at 180 C. This should be done while the turkey is resting and the oven is free.
I can report that Saffron-Papa's stuffing selection was a resounding success. It was based loosely on another recipe in The Ultimate Christmas Cookbook. I include the original recipe here in case I change my mind about the herb and nut stuffing next year. Use your own judgement about the herbs you use and how much. Saffron-Papa used thyme, rosemary and marjoram, I believe.
Parsley, lemon and herb stuffing
Makes around 400g, enough to stuff the neck cavity of a 4 kg bird
115 g fresh breadcrumbs
25 g butter
25 g chopped fresh parsley
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 small egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and stir to combine them thoroughly.
For many years, I've been making a version of the Christmas pies in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat; basically augmenting a jar of Robertson's mincemeat with grated apple, citrus juice and booze, but this year, at the urging of Saffron-Papa, we made these super luxury pies based on a tart recipe in The Ultimate Christmas Cookbook, a book we come back to year after year. The number and amount of dried fruits in these pies make the recipe prohibitively expensive to make in Japan, but very doable here in Australia.
And the results were really far superior than anything you could buy ready-made. Unusually, the pastry contains ground walnuts and is scented with cinnamon, vanilla and a touch of sugar. It is very rich and moreish. It is very buttery, making it admittedly somewhat difficult to work with. However, I think a little extra flour would help with this. The mincemeat itself is far superior to a bought mixture. It has a nice blend of tart and sweet fruits, balanced with some lemon and green grapes. We loved them!
The recipe gives the instructions for pastry first, but it is best to make the mincemeat in advance and leave it to mature for up to 4 weeks. Though, making it that far in advance might result in reduced supplies as you will "have to" taste at regular intervals to see how it is coming along (g). If you are in a warm climate, it will be best to store the mincemeat in a container in the fridge.
Deluxe mincemeat pies
For the pastry
225 g plain flour
10 ml ground cinnamon
50 g finely ground walnuts
115 g butter, cold from the fridge and cubed
50 g caster sugar
2 drops vanilla essence
15 ml cold water
For the mincemeat
2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
225 g raisins
115 g dried apricots, chopped
115 g dried figs or prunes
225 g green grapes, quartered and seeded [Saffron: I only used half this amount]
50 g chopped almonds
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
30 ml lemon juice
30 ml port or brandy
1/4 tsp mixed spice
115 g soft light brown sugar
25 g butter, melted
1 To make pastry, put the four, cinnamon and walnuts in a food processor. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Beat the egg, vanilla essence and water with a fork, and add, together with the sugar, to the food processor mixture. Process until a dough forms. Turn out and kneed briefly on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Form into a flat disc, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 min.
2 Mix all of the mincemeat ingredients together in a large bowl.
3 Roll out pastry to a thickness of 5 mm and cut out circles for bases and stars for lids. Place the pastry circles in the lightly oiled holes of a muffin tin and fill with mincemeat. Top with pastry stars and chill for 30 min.
4 Preheat oven to 180 C. Place baking sheet in the oven to preheat. Place the muffin tin on top of the preheated baking sheet and bake the pies for 15 min, or until golden brown. Cool slightly before removing from the muffin tin. Serve warm or cold.
Of course going totally vegetarian is not in the cards for us. I love my turkey, and go to some lengths to ensure a turkey dinner for us at least once a year, even at home in Japan. Visiting my family here in Australia this year made that as easy as pie. In fact Saffron-Papa had already sussed out a good bird before we even arrived!
But I was open to new ideas (please!) for the vegetable portion of the Great Feast, and this is it! While you still have the same old roast root veggies, here they come with a big twist: the sweetness of honey (suggested as a substitute for the original recipe's date syrup: sorry, not in this small town) and tart tamarind. And that is just the cooking juice! After the veggies are roasted up nicely but still a little crisp, they are anointed with lemon juice and zest, finely chopped raw garlic and basil! Mwow! There is enough going on here to keep even the most jaded palate (that would be mine) interested!
I was lucky enough to have lots of fresh thyme and basil straight from Saffron-Mama's well-tended herb garden. It is amazing how much more flavour herbs have when they're plucked right before the using. If I had more sunshine in my (postage stamp-sized) back garden in Japan, I would love to grow my own too, but alas...
So without further ado, here is the recipe, almost as it was found. My one addition was the butternut pumpkin. It's an Australian thing, I know, but a good addition, I feel, especially as we were not having a separate pumpkin dish. I also wouldn't bother about lining your oven tray with cooking paper: the juice soaked right through in my case, and I had to fish it out, in rags, with tongs. That's just one step too much at Christmas for me! Other than that, this is sublime and much too good to keep only for Christmas!
1 tbsp seedless tamarind paste
70ml warm water
1.5kg (net weight) mixed root vegetables (any combination of carrot, parsnip, celeriac, swede, parsnip, unpeeled sweet potato, peeled butternut pumpkin)
3 large red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
90ml date syrup
75ml olive oil
12 sprigs fresh thyme
1½ tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g fresh basil leaves
1 Preheat the oven to 210C/425F/ gas mark 7. Whisk together the tamarind paste and warm water, set aside for 20 minutes, then pass through a fine sieve [Saffron: this won't be necessary in the case of tamarind paste].
2 To prepare the vegetables, cut them into chunky wedges (1cm at the thick end), or halve the long roots widthways and then cut each half again lengthways, the fat part into four and the thin into two.
3 In a large bowl, stir together the root vegetables, onions, honey, tamarind mixture, 60ml olive oil, thyme, salt and some pepper. Use a roasting tray large enough to take everything in one layer. Spread the vegetables inside and roast for 40-50 minutes, until they are crunchy yet tender. Taste them - they may well take a little longer.
4 Remove from the oven, stir in the garlic, lemon zest and juice, the remaining oil and most of the basil (save a few leaves to garnish), then taste. Add salt and pepper if needed, transfer to a serving bowl and dot with the reserved basil leaves. Serve warm.
Friday, 26 December 2008
Moroccan inspired, rather than derived, this delightful recipe comes from an unexpected source. I bought Barbecue Bible for Saffron-Papa's birthday some years back after lusting over it for many months myself. I still find its mouth-watering photography and yummy-sounding recipes very enticing, but due to space restrictions at the Saffron household, am content to refer to Saffron-Papa's copy whenever in Australia.
Jam-packed with fruit and aromatic spices and bursting with the zing of lemons, this recipe makes a lovely dinner, whether cooked outdoors or in. The chicken is skewered in the original recipe, but you could just as easily grill or pan-fry it, as the mood takes you.
Fruit and nut couscous with chicken
1 kg skinless chicken breast fillets or leg
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground paprika
4 tsp lemon juice
8 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 tsp each ground cumin, cinnamon, pepper and ginger
125 g dried dates, chopped
125 g dried apricots, finely chopped
125 blanched almonds, toasted and chopped
1.2 l vegetable stock
375 g couscous
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
salt & pepper
seeds from half a pomegranate or a handful of dried cranberries
fresh coriander sprigs
1 Cut the chicken into long thin strips, place them in a shallow dish and add the olive oil, garlic, spices and lemon juice. Stir well, then cover and leave to marinate for 2 hours.
2 To prepare the couscous, heat half of the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion, garlic ans spices for 5 minutes. Stir in the dried fruits and almonds and remove from the heat.
3 Meanwhile, pour the stock over the couscous, cover with a tea towel and leave for 8-10 min, until the grains are fluffed up and the liquid absorbed. Stir in the remaining oil and the fruit and nut mixture, add the lemon juice and coriander and season with salt and pepper to taste.
4 While the couscous is standing, cook the chicken for 4-5 minutes on each side over medium coals, until charred and cooked through. Serve with the couscous, garnished with pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries, lemon wedges and coriander sprigs.
Monday, 15 December 2008
In Just Over 24 Hours, I'll be jetting my way back to Australia for the first time in 2 years. Ostensibly it's to spend time with the parents and do the Christmas thing like a good daughter, but it will be so much more than that this time, what with graduations and ruby wedding anniversaries and who knows all what!
But Christmas, as always, is going to be the big one. With all the preparations in the mad trip lead up, you'd probably think I was mad trying to squeeze in one more cooking class at ABC before we leave. I mean I've not even done half the Christmas shopping yet!
Fortunately or unfortunately, the stomach just about always rules the mind in my case, so it was off to learn some more morsels of Osechi ryori, the traditional foods eaten for luck and wealth in Japan at the New Year.
Last year (technically the beginning of this year (g)), I had my first go at Osechi, choosing bites that most appealed to me. It turns out that I chose mainly from the 1st layer of the 2-tier festive box. As luck would have it, ABC was offering selections from the 2nd layer! (They've cleverly set it up so that you need to go two years in order to get the full compliment of recipes (g).)
From bottom left we have tori no matsukaze-yaki, baked seasoned chicken mince cut in the shape of a hagoita, the wooden paddle used to play the Japanese New Year's game of hanetsuki. We topped ours with white poppy seeds and aonori or green laver.
Next is datemaki, a fish-enriched egg pancake that is rolled on a special mat to give it a distinctive zig-zag pattern.
The white and pink ovals are kamaboko, a kind of steamed fish paste. This is eaten year round, but it's red and white colouring makes it an auspicious addition to the New Year's spread.
Crustaceans of all kinds are used in Osechi and the particular one chosen often depends on what the budget is. At ABC, we opened the bellies of some large prawns, sprinkled them with salt and sake, topped them with white and black sesame seeds and cooked them in the frying pan. Ebi no onisudare-yaki, easy and delicious.
The white "blob" in the front right of the top photo is not a bun but a small Japanese turnip called kabu. We cut into the flesh to make the petals of a chrysanthemum, then marinated the whole lot in citron juice and vinegar. I thought the flavour could have been stronger, but it turns out that these are usually left to marinate for a day or two, rather than the 20 or so minutes our lesson permitted. I also thought it would be nice to have yellow chrysanthemums, maybe painted with some gardenia (kuchinashi) dye, perhaps.
Accompanying all this was a different version of Ozoni to the one I made last year. In Eastern Japan, this soup is made with a clear soy-based broth and grilled square-shaped pounded rice cakes (mochi). The filling recipe offered by ABC was in the Western Japan style, which is miso-based, and contains round mochi that is heated in hot water.
Traditionally, Osechi is made over the last few days of the year (in the midst of a top-to-bottom "spring" clean of the house, no less), and eaten cold over the first few days of the year. Having a hot soup would be essential to stave off the cold in the old days.
As it was we, too, did not finally sit down to eat until after 9:40 pm, so we were all starving. Surprisingly, despite the late hour, each one of us was well contented after finishing what we'd made.
In the end I went with this one from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food, my all-time favourite cookbook. With a simple tomato sauce, the real flavour in these show-stopping meatballs is in the meatballs themselves. With aromatics like the fiery chilli and garlic paste harissa, garlic, mint, cinnamon and rose, you know you're in for a treat! Made per the recipe, the chilli paste is more warm glow than burn, but feel free to up the harissa if you like.
One interesting technique I learned from this recipe was to blast the meatballs in the oven for a short time before putting them in the sauce. This serves two purposes: (1) the meatballs get browned without the need for turning and inevitably misshaping them, and (2) the excess fat runs into the oven tray rather than your sauce.
The Young Man adored these and asked why we don't have meatballs more often. Well no need to ask twice; there are several dozen meatball recipes in Book alone, and more than enough time to try each one!
Claudia's Tunisian meatballs in tomato sauce
For the meatballs
600 g mince lamb, beef veal (or pork if it is not an issue with you) or a mixture
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2-3/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander (cilantro)
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp rosebud powder
1/2 tsp harissa, optional
For the tomato sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
oil to fry
1 kg tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 800 g can of tomatoes, or a mixture of the two
salt and pepper
2 tbsp tomato puree
1-2 tbsp sugar
1 Mix the ingredients for the meatballs and kneed to a soft paste. Make little balls or ovals the size of a small walnut. Place the balls on a baking sheet and roast them for 7 minutes in the oven at 230 C, until slightly coloured.
2 To make the tomato sauce, fry the garlic in a little oil until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, tomato puree and sugar and simmer for 15 min. The put in the meatballs and simmer another 20 min. Serve with rice.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
If you've visited here before, you won't need me to tell you that dessert recipes are not front and center (g). The truth is, I'm a savoury person at heart. I have basically been making he same two cakes (banana bread and pavlova) for as long as I can remember. Why change a good thing, right?
But we made some really yummy chocolate cupcakes at my cooking class this month, so the Young Man's 14th birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the recipe some legs as a full-blown birthday cake.
It was rather experimental, given that I'm no baker and that the recipe I had was for four! But some Net research gave me the confidence to give it a go, even without a backup in case of disaster. Don't you love the adrenalin of the kitchen??!
Well, it turned out to be a bit of a comedy of errors. Everything was going well, but a conversation going on with the YM at the side distracted me enough to forget to add the cream to the chocolate before folding that mixture into the meringue. Actually, the cake was in the oven (!) before I saw the full container of cream still on the counter. Then instead of quadrupling the cream in the original recipe, I multiplied it by 6. And had the oven set too high! But the kitchen gods must have been smiling on me, as the cake turned out beautifully for all that, and we all agreed that the extra cream, which gave it a luscious smoothness, was a good innovation.
Whew. With my confidence back, I reckon I'm going to give this a go with some walnuts in it next time. Or would that be trying my luck??
Classic chocolate cake
120 g milk chocolate
120 ml whipping cream
80 g butter or margarine (unsalted)
4 eggs, separated
120 g sugar
4 tsp plain flour
80 g cocoa powder
Fruit (berries would be my choice)
Icing (confectioner's) sugar to dust
1 Sift flour and cocoa powder into a small bowl and set aside. Lightly oil a 20 cm springform cake tin. Preheat oven to 170 C.
2 Break up chocolate and place with the butter or margarine into a medium bowl. Melt slowly by placing in a larger bowl of hot (50-60 C) water. When melted, add cream and egg yolks and stir until smooth.
3 Beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks form. Add the sugar half at a time, and beat on high until stiff peaks form.
4 Add 1/3 of the meringue mixture to the chocolate mixture and blend well. Add the remaining meringue and fold in only until the mixture becomes marbled. Sift the flour and cocoa mixture again into the cake mixture and fold in until just mixed.
5 Pour carefully into prepared cake tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes with crumbs on it. Cool for 5 minutes in the tin before removing.
6 Just before serving, decorate with fruit and dust with icing sugar .
Marrying pears (Japanese nashi in my case) with persimmons and pomegranates (two of my very favourite fruits) as it does, I was always going to fall for this crisp seasonal delight, but to then smother it all with with a citrus dressing?! It was all over.
I wouldn't say that this was a huge hit with the Young People at the party, who were too involved in playing to be much bothered with the food, but we mums more than made up for it. I made various substitutions from the original recipe. The only thing that I left out altogether was the pecans. I ran out of those a while back, but they are on the shopping list for our Christmas visit to Australia, so assuming we still have persimmons and nashi in January when we get back, I might give this another go then. Maybe with Nigel's 3 citrus dressing.
Autumn harvest salad with persimmons
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (apple vinegar in Japan)
1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard (or regular Dijon plus 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds)
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 head of interesting lettuce (a bitter kind, for preference)
1 small bag of baby leaf salad
1 sweet persimmon, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1 nashi, peeled and cut into thin wedges
1 handful sultanas or raisins (soaked in any remaining orange juice)
1/4 cup pomegranate arils (the edible red pieces of the fruit)
1 For the vinaigrette, shake all ingredients in a small jar and set aside.
2 In a large bowl, toss the lettuce, baby leaf, persimmons and pears. Pour half of the vinaigrette over salad and toss until coated. Add sultanas and pomegranate arils. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.
I've gathered quite a few recipes for Middle Eastern dips on Saffron and Lemons in the last year, but it dawned on me that hummus, the mother of all meze dips is not here! How fortunate, then, that I had an opportunity to whip up some for the Mediterranean burgers I was making for the Young Man's birthday party.
This version is from Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food, where we learn that hummus does not have to contain tahini, as most of the tubs you'll find in Australian and other supermarkets tend to. The word hummus itself means chickpeas, but since this is a near ubiquitous use for the little beans around the Arab-speaking world, it also refers to this sharp, smooth dip. If you make a version with sesame paste in it, it is known as hummus bi tahina (humus with sesame paste). So there you go!
This makes enough for a big party. You could halve the recipe for a smaller gathering, but it keeps for around a week in the fridge (and probably in the freezer, though I haven't tried it). We had this with some of Auntie H's world-famous light-as-air bread, and with macadamia, basil and sun-dried tomato pesto on chicken burgers. Yum! Oh, and mixed with some strained yogurt, this made a lovely dressing for slowly pan-fried carrot medallions, and probably steamed broccoli, too.
Claudia Roden's Hummus
250 g chickpeas
salt and pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 large cloves garlic (crushed), or to taste
50-90 ml fresh lemon juice
50 ml olive oil
good pinch of cayenne (optional)
parsley, olive oil and paprika to garnish
1 Soak the chickpeas for a few hours or overnight in cold water. Drain and simmer in fresh cold water until really soft, which usually takes more than an hour, adding salt towards the end of the cooking time. Alternatively, pressure cook for around 6 min under low pressure. Save the cooking water.
Cool a little and put in a food processor with enough of the cooking water to achieve a soft cream. You must add the flavourings gradually and taste often, it should be distinctly sharp. You can leave a few chick peas whole to use as garnish
Serve with sprigs of parsley, a sprinkling of paprika and a dribble of olive oil.