Boo-yeah(!)-baisse

I am ashamed to admit that the last few times I’ve even logged onto WordPress was to remove spam comments. It’s also the most traffic action my blog has seen lately. I feel a rant coming on about these stupid comments and what I can do to make them disappear but I’ll save it for another day. Although, if you have any advice on how to handle this pest problem, feel free to share.

I wish I had a more solid excuse as to why I’ve been MIA but between two major festive seasons (Christmas and Chinese New Year), finishing up my studies, relocating back home and just taking a break from real life, I can’t say I’ve been up to much. I’ll admit I’m getting a little bit stir-crazy without much purpose in my life, which is probably why I’ve decided to tiptoe back on here and update. Thankfully for you (and me!), I have lots of backlogged pictures. I pretty much never stay out of the kitchen for too long anyway so that’s never going to be a problem.

Bouillabaisse

I think there was a time when I was watching way too much Top Chef and got really fixated on making a Bouillabaisse. Of course I’d never had it before in my life but what does one do in this instance? Use Epicurious!

I stumbled upon this recipe and with some augmentation, like the omission of the lobster, I pretty much got everything I wanted.

You will really appreciate having a fresh loaf of baguette to go with this amazing hearty soup. I may have gone a bit crazy with the butter that was spread on the baguette too. Sooo good. Surprisingly, it was very, very filling and we ended up with so much leftovers that we froze the rest up to be had later.

If you’re wondering what on earth that round lump thing in the soup is, it’s the rouille and this is the thing that elevates the soup to a whole new level. I beg of you, do not forgot this important component to the dish!

And if you can’t already tell from the pictures, I kind of overcooked the fish. By the time we reheated the soup to have again the next day, most of the fish had dissolved. Oops. I am horrble at cooking fish. Just as well I’m not too crazy about them.


Pistou Pizzazz

Salmon with Pepper and Beans and Almond Pistou

In a recent effort to eat healthier and cleaner, I made this for dinner. I resorted to my favourite recipe search engine, Epicurious, and found this recipe.

As usual, I made a few augmentations due to what I lacked in the pantry. I omitted the dill and sugar snap peas and went for chives and green beans instead. I can’t recommend this dish enough. It was so delicious and so healthy!

The pistou was what did it for me. It was crazy how fresh and addictive it was. I ended up using the leftovers for wraps that I would make for lunch or even just snacking on it by the spoonful. I know, it’s bizarre but gosh darn it, it was good.

Actually, I have a feeling I’ll be making the pistou again. It just goes with everything and it’s so flexible that I could just mix and match the ingredients as I pleased. I could use pine nuts or pecans, I could swap the herbs for thyme or parsley, I could put shallots and garlic in there as well. The possibilities are endless!

(Yes, I’ll be posting more now! I have so many backlogged entries!)


Americana

My closest friends know that I have an obsessive personality. I’ve gone through the Top Chef obsession, the Twilight faildom, and most recently I’ve been pretty caught up with Game of Thrones (does anyone else watch this? It’s SO good!) and Southern food. This is probably because I have two really close friends in America and we love talking food, especially when I’m chatting with Jasmine. With the aforementioned Top Chef obsession, I was always curious about this biscuits, gravy, chicken fried steak, collard greens, BBQ, “soul food”, etc phenomenon that had professionally trained chefs drooling and sometimes really cranky. So after a night of too much discussion on Southern food and too much time browsing Epicurious for recipes, I decided I just have to make myself a southern meal one day.

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Southern fried chicken, biscuits & gravy

That day was yesterday.

I should say that the first thing one should know when thinking about Southern food is all notions of dieting, healthy eating, a trim waistline and especially a fear of pork/lard have to be thrown right out the window and absolutely forgotten. Dismissed and never to be brought up while you’re chowing down on glorious, sinful food.

I even whipped out my deep frier for the first time in years! It ended up using a lot of oil but it was worth it because I love that I didn’t have to deal with painful oil splatters, a greasy kitchen floor or uneven cooking. Deep friers are such handy appliances. Look at that gorgeous golden colour!

A meal of such epic proportions required guests so I asked Tessa and Jason over for dinner. Tessa asked if I needed anything, but as I was strictly sticking to an Americana themed menu, I told her she could supply the drinks. So she brought us sangria! Mmmm. Tessa is the queen of sangria. This was such a good jug of potent deliciousness. We still have some leftover which I’m sure my housemate and I will dispose of safely.

If you’re wondering what exactly this is, I’ll be kind and redirect you right to the recipe. It’s called Chicken Biscuits. Now, I have absolutely no clue what this was meant to taste like, especially the biscuits. I’ve asked numerous friends and I think they all told me it resembled scones but more buttery. I’ve had some dreadful scones in my lifetime so I wasn’t really excited about the idea of scones with my fried chicken. But then I made this biscuits and the moment they were fresh out of the oven, I tore into one and widened my eyes in surprised pleasure. It was flaky on the outside but the inside was pleasantly fluffy. And yes, there was a certain sort of buttery flavour to it that added to its magic. Before dinner rolled around, Jacey and I had managed a biscuit each. Plain!

Let’s talk about this gravy for a while. When I heard gravy, I was thinking of your typical deglazed pan. Then I saw this recipe (which you should click HERE for), I knew it would be spectacular. First of all, SAUSAGE. Looove sausage. And bacon drippings? Hello, sold!

I’m going to go a little off-track and ramble on about some TV show I was watching the other night about raising pigs and slaughtering them and the contents of a supermarket sausage vs a butcher’s sausage and why the price difference is there. I bought sausages from the deli in the market today but I had underestimated my portion by about 100g so I had to run to the supermarket and get some pork sausages. When I tore off the casings of both sausages, I was appalled to see the difference in colour. I wish I had taken a picture now. The sausage from the market was a gorgeous red with not much fat in it and you could see herbs in the mix but the supermarket sausage was pale, a light pink, almost like the colour of chicken. There was SO much fat in there as well and the texture of it was so disgusting; soft and sticky. The butcher’s sausage was firm and didn’t just all out of the casing like guts from a cheap horror film.

Now, although the idea of bacon drippings set my heart aflutter with keen anticipation, I decided it was just ridiculous to buy bacon to render the fat and discard it. I also have a handy tub of duck fat just sitting in my refrigerator for when I want to make roast potatoes (mm!) so I thought, “Hey, I could up the ante on the fat. I’ll make it with duck fat!” and so I did. And it was glorious. Oh the smell of duck fat as it permeates through the air is heavenly. Plus, I loved that it wasn’t a dark, unforgiving taint the way bacon drippings tend to be. I played fast and loose with the recipe too, I think I doubled the flour and the milk. I just went with the texture and taste (and volume!) that felt right.

Before you think me a terribly unhealthful hostess who didn’t provide any sort of colour for her dinner guests, I actually made a really delicious salad. Unfortunately for me and you, salads don’t tend to photograph too well, especially not this one. Also especially when I don’t have a salad bowl and in my haste, I ended up using a metal mixing bowl. All class.

The salad was something I took off the September issue of Delicious. It’s a watercress, fennel avocado, tarragon salad with goat’s cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. I pretty much doubled the salad recipe for four of us but we actually wiped the salad bowl clean. Despite the fact that we were pretty much struggling to finish our dinners!

New York Cheesecake

For dessert I figured it was absolutely necessary to end with a great American dessert: the New York Cheesecake. It was mainly for selfish reasons because I’ve been craving cheesecake for a long time. I hate to admit this on here because I will sound like the biggest snob you’ve ever met, but I hate buying cakes in Melbourne because I don’t think Melburnians know what good cake is. The places I often get recommended to serve dry, too sweet, too ordinary, subpar cakes. They look pretty but they taste like flavoured sawdust. However, when I have a craving for a cake, it’s really annoying to think that I can’t fulfill that craving by just walking out the door and handing money over to a proprietor and getting what I want. I’m always met with disappointment and then I’m fueled with the need to fix my problem by making the dessert I want, and splendidly too.
(Ps. I’ve had some really good cake in Melbourne too, though. Always seems to be of the chocolate variety, though. Burch & Purchese and Le Petit Gateau have made me a happy camper so far)

Long story short: I wanted cheesecake. I had to make it.

I found the recipe in my new favourite cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook. All the accolades and praise that has been bestowed upon this book has not done this book enough justice. I don’t know how much more I can praise this book and promote it to friends and family short of buying everyone a copy for their birthdays. If you’re one of those people who hates cookbooks without pictures ( I am sometimes this person too actually), this may be a tough one to follow through with. But then I sat down and just read through the book and I marveled at the well thought out layout, the recipes and the brilliant serving suggestions (they hook you up with other recipes in the book that will go with the dish! Dinner party menu solved!) and I got over my need to see pretty glossy pictures beside every recipe. I have an overactive sense of imagination anyway, it was starting to get blunt in my old age.

Anyway, the cheesecake recipe is called Junior’s Cheesecake and it is wonderful. I messed up because by some fluke, my conversion of ounces to gram came up 100g short and I was too lazy to jump out of the apartment for a brick of cream cheese… I actually made the cake with less cream cheese than was called for. Hey America, how about getting on board with the metric system, huh? I was nervous about it because I was afraid it would be too watery, or it wouldn’t taste creamy enough but thankfully, it was fantastic!

My one gripe is the loose biscuit base without flavour. If you’ve noticed in the picture, there are biscuit crumbs everywhere. The recipe called for crushed graham crackers, patted into a buttered pan base. I was hesitant but thought hey, might be worth giving it a shot and now that I’ve done it, my advice is never ever do this to a beautiful cheesecake. When I make this cheesecake again (and trust me, I will), I’ll be doing the crust the delicious way with melted butter, sugar and a pinch of salt then patted down and either baked or frozen to set. Other than that, the cheesecake was wonderful. It was fluffy and light and just creamy enough.

If you can’t take my word for it, I’ll just quietly tell you that after spooning the batter into the pan and popping the cake into the oven, I brought the mixing bowl over to Jacey to let her have a little bit of batter left in the bowl. She loved it so much that I had to leave my bowl and spatula with her as she polished it clean! She also had a slice of cheesecake all to herself for dessert. And may I quote her praise, “This may be the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.”

Next up from the Southern food recipes I browsed: Fried Oyster Po’ Boys! Mmm!


Winging It

Baked Wings with Creamy Polenta

The other day I was browsing Coles and they had some crazy special on chicken wings. I think I got a kilo for $5 or something silly so I of course bought it. Then realized I didn’t know quite what to do with it. And so I made this.

I don’t have a recipe per se, it involves a Herbie’s rub, which my lovely friend Fleur gifted to me all the way from Sydney and a random concoction of honey, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and I think dried oregano. I think. It was then baked in a 180˚C oven with all the marinade poured over. You end up with some pretty awesome gravy that goes excellently with the polenta.

I have a newfound appreciation for polenta. Especially the creamy variety. It tastes the best with cream cheese but I don’t always have that on hand so even a tiny bit of butter works. Mmm. This was some good stuff.


Pasta Mania

I’ve just noticed how many different pasta dishes I have backlogged so I thought I’d just lump them all together in one post. It must be because I’ve been quite lazy these days and pasta is really quick to make and you can make it any way you want it with whatever you have in the pantry and it’s always really cheap! Win-win.

Chicken Fettucine Alfredo

I had the strangest craving for a Chicken Fettucine Alfredo for the longest time and just had to make it. It’s really strange because I don’t think I’ve ever had it (it’s such an American dish!) but somehow I had to have it. I used this recipe but left out the tomatoes and sour cream and used more milk instead. In the end, my sauce was pretty watery but on the plus side, it was way less disgusting. You know how when you have something too creamy and you can’t have too much of it cos it grosses you out after a few bites? This wasn’t a problem with more milk instead of cream. Also, my tip is don’t use the San Remo fettucine. It was all stuck together and utterly disgusting! Gah!

Oh, and a tip: add nutmeg. It’ll make it so much better.

Tuna and Chickpea Pasta

Another really easy dish and as you can tell, I ran out of just one type of pasta so I had to mix it up.

Tuna and Chickpea Pasta
Serves 3-4

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 large can of tuna (drained)
1 can of chickpeas
1 bottle of tomato passata
Lemon juice
Pasta (amount up to you), cooked until al dente

1. Heat some olive oil up in a pan, add onion and sweat the onions.

2. Add the tomato passata, tuna and chickpeas. Leave a while to simmer until the chickpeas are a little more tender. Season to taste.

3. Scoop sauce up over the pasta, then squeeze some lemon juice over the top to finish.

Bacon, Anchovies and Broccoli Pasta

This is one of my favourite spontaneous pasta dishes ever! Just have to remember to go really light on the salt when making this, though.

Bacon, Anchovies, and Broccoli Pasta
Serves 2

5 garlic cloves, diced
2 rashers of bacon, diced
1 broccoli floret, cut up and blanched in hot water for 2-3 minutes
2 anchovy fillets
Handful of Panka breadcrumbs
Pasta of choice, cooked until al dente

1. Heat oil up in a pan, then add in bacon. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, then add in the garlic and anchovies. The anchovies will melt so keep stirring so that it coats everything.

2. Add in broccoli and breadcrumbs. Quickly toss to coat everything together. Season to taste.

3. Add in pasta and mix everything together. Serve immediately.


Easy Breezy

Pork & Fennel Sausage and Spinach Pasta

I’m pretty sure this dish was something I created on a whim when I was starving, too lazy to head out to get groceries and was desperate to use all that was left in the refrigerator. It turned out to be pretty spectacular (if slightly greasy!) so I guess the recipe is worth sharing.

Pork & Fennel Sausage and Spinach Pasta
Serves 2

2 pork & fennel sausages, cased removed
1-2 handfuls of spinach, rinsed and drained (or dabbed dry with a paper towel)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
Sliced fresh chilli, or two teaspoons of dried chilli flakes (optional)
Pasta of choice, cooked until al dente
Olive oil

1. Heat up olive oil in a frying pan, then add in your garlic and cook until lightly browned.

2. Add your sausage meat and mince it up as it cooks to separate it.

3. Add in your cooked pasta and stir until thoroughly mixed. Season to taste, and add in the chilli if using.

4. Turn off the fire, then throw in the spinach leaves. Gently stir through and serve immediately.

Pretty fantastic for a quick weekday meal.


Overdoing It

Wow this backlog of blog posts is a bit overwhelming. I don’t even know where to begin anymore! All I can say is, there’s a lot of pork!

Pulled Pork on Crispy Polenta

First there was Pulled Pork, which I made in a slow-cooker with root beer and a bunch of spices like cloves and aniseed but I really didn’t like the taste of this dish. I hated the crispy polenta as well. it really didn’t compare to my creamy polenta and the root beer kinda killed the flavour of the pork for me. I must get a different recipe and try that one out.

Chickpea and Tomato Salad

The salad however, was brilliant. It was a really simple thing I threw together. Chickpeas, cherry tomatoes and some finely diced parsley. Try it, I swear it’s one of my favourite salads ever.

Pork Meatloaf

I don’t really remember where I got the recipe now or if I just consulted a basic meatloaf recipe and made it Sophia Style. It was basically pork mince, spicy pancetta, spicy salami, homemade breadcrumbs, carrots, celery, spring onions, shallots, garlic and red wine. There was ketchup on the top before it baked as well and I served it up with thyme Paris mashed potatoes. It was goooood. Pork overload!

Roast Pork Sandwich

Then there was that time we made roast pork and there was plenty of leftovers and I knew I had to make a sandwich with the leftovers. I sauteed the apples in a little bit of butter, sauteed some onions, spread some amazing chutney on the bread, topped it with some pancetta and baked the entire monster. The bread was heavily buttered too, of course. I think I brought some over to Joyce and let her eat it before we had a massive dinner, too. We’re such gluttons. But they don’t make such crazy sandwiches in restaurants!

There are a few more pork dishes which I think I will save for proper entries with actual links to recipes. If I can still remember them, that is. I have a huge list of food I want to make this coming week too so that’ll be really fun to update you guys on. I’ll be back! Promise :)