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.

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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 :)


A Pork Day’s Night

Pork Chops on Creamy Polenta

Spicy Pork Ragu Rigatoni

Winter has well and truly descended upon us and with the cooler temperature comes the usual cravings for heartier meals. I’ve been more than a little slack lately and have mostly been using up the scraps in our freezer to make meals. I discovered some pork chops that I simply marinated in Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, some rosemary and salt and pepper. It was then baked then seared on a hot pan. The baking tray was deglazed with red wine and we got some killer gravy from that. The creamy polenta was made with some homemade chicken stock and lots of butter and cream cheese. I’d never been more excited to have polenta before.

The spicy pork ragu rigatoni was a recipe from Delicious magazine. I finally bit the bullet and subscribed to both Delicious and Gourmet Traveler. I’m glad I no longer have to pop by the newsagent for my monthly copies. I live right opposite one but I like to pretend that I’m so hard done by such a tedious task. I improvised the recipe, as I usually do, and I made it a lot spicier than Delicious suggested but I’m Malaysian, what do you want from me? It was 2 Tbsp of chilli flakes to the suggested 1 tsp. Pft, 1 tsp is something you can barely taste!

I’m currently down with my first winter flu of the year. I am grumpy and lethargic and I wish my immune system would buck up already. If you need me, I’ll be wallowing in self-pity in bed… where I’ve been for the past three days.


A Mash-y A-Fare

I type this as I’m splayed out on the couch completely paralysed from overindulging in food and guzzling my wine. In my current state, I’d probably give Homer Simpson a run for his money although I’ve just indulged in some seafood pasta (made from scratch), macarons and some sweet Lexia wine; not pizza, donuts and beer. Ahh, to be young and free.

Bangers & Mash

Bangers & Mash

I made this for dinner last week when the weather was chilly and it didn’t feel entirely wrong to indulge in something so heavy and sinful. Another recipe nicked off the Gourmet Traveller Cookbook; oner of my favourite cookbooks this year. Seriously, it’s an endless source of recipes!

Onion-braised Sausages with Paris Mash
Serves 2
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller Cookbook

Paris Mash
300gm potatoes, preferably Pontiac, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces
70ml pouring cream
40ml milk
55g butter, coarsely chopped

1. Combine potato and plenty of cold salted water in a lage saucepan, cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Uncover, cook until tender for 10-15 minutes. Drain well, return to hot pan and mash well (I recommend the OXO Good Grips masher).

2. Meanwhile, bring cream, milk and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, Gradually add to potato, mixing until smooth. Season to taste and keep warm.

Onion-braised Sausages
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 pork sausages (mine were from the Polish deli… a little too salty for my liking tbh)
3 thyme sprigs
100ml red wine
125ml chicken stock
Boiled peas, to serve

1. Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat, add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to caramelise, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a separate frying pan over high heat, add sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until browned; 3-4 minutes. Transfer to onion pan. Deglaze sausage pan with wine, then add stock.

3. Add to onion pan with thyme and cook, turning sausages occasionally, until cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Serve onion-brased sausages hot with Paris mash and boiled peas.

Dinner for two

Needless to say, we were very satisfied and stuffed that night. And Paris mash? Best type of mash there is. Of course, I’m still dying to try the famous Joel Robuchon mash to challenge this statement!

I do love a good bangers and mash. This was particularly good as I rooted around our alcohol loot and discovered a forgotten bottle of Montalto pinot. Not really being a red wine drinker, all red wine is only used for cooking in my household; as horrifying as that may sound to wine aficionados. Oh well, at least this one came to some good use, right? Fret not, the more treasured wine bottles (gifted by more worthy people) are safely ensconced in my little alcohol nook and will not be relegated to the dishonour of being used as a base for my onion braise.


Hostess With The Mostess

Last weekend was one of my final weekends of freedom before things get really hectic and I become a sad student living in the library in sweatpants, glasses and unplucked eyebrows with horrible eyebags so I decided to host a little dinner party. Coincidentally it was a weekend where all my nearest and dearest were actually in Melbourne so it was basically the most perfect timing of the year. I’m surprised my apartment didn’t implode with the chatter and laughter ricocheting off the walls.

It was actually a pretty big event having people over for dinner. It’s not that we live in a barn or anything but we don’t entertain too formally so we don’t really need to care if we haven’t dusted in a few weeks and our couch has an unfolded throw over it because we usually need to keep our feet warm while watching TV. But we went all out for this dinner party: we tidied, scrubbed, dusted, mopped and cleaned the kitchen up so well that I almost felt guilty for having to cook in it for fear of dirtying it up again.

Then there was the menu planning. From the get go, the main two requests I fielded were for Crack Pie and some form of pork or another. You see, my friends are equally as crazy about pork as I am. With those requests in mind, I got to work.

References

References

The initial menu was really ambitious. It was going to look like:
Starters/Nibbles:
Prosciutto Ring bread
Rosemary Focaccia Sheet
Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse

Main:
Six-Hour Roast Pork Shoulders
Potato Gratin / Gratin de Pommes de Terre
Provencal Vegetables / Byaldi

Dessert:
Crack Pie

Unfortunately I was not the Superwoman I previously assumed myself to be, so I had to eliminate the items that I italicised. Anyway, maybe having those other two items would have been a slight overkill but I still really want to try making the Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps. It’s a recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook and it sounds so simple and delicious!

Then I had to go grocery shopping on a Friday with my trolley, which I usually detest because I find it so bulky. I had a really good time shopping though, as one of my favourite delis in Victoria Market doesn’t open on weekends so I was able to catch up with the proprietor, sample some cheeses (yum!) and talk a little bit about salts and butters. I found most of the proprietors a lot cheerier and chattier on Friday as well as the market was more pleasant to be in without the overwhelming weekend crush.

Vegetable loot

Vegetable loot

When my housemate saw all the vegetables unpacked, she joked, “Wow, is this FarmVille?”

Deli goodies

Deli goodies

Then there were the goodies from the deli like prosciutto and hot sopressata sausages (for the Prosciutto Ring bread), Comte, goat cheese and Parmigianno Reggiano, and of course, one of my favourite things to cook with, Lescure butter. If you’ve never tried French butter, you really need to. It’s a tad pricier but it makes a world of difference. I remember when I first had Galette des Rois, which my friend made after her stint in France, and I was blown away and the secret to the perfect creaminess of the galette was the French butter. H-E-A-V-E-N.

I really enjoyed cooking for the dinner party because of the new dishes I was trying out from the Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love this cookbook because of how approachable all the dishes are and how I look at them and just want to eat them. The dishes I chose didn’t come with pictures, unfortunately, so how it turned out is my assumption that I’ve done it right.

The Byaldi or Provencal Vegetables was described as a refined form of ratatouille and Keller said it’d go with anything so that drew me in immediately. As much as I love pork, I understand that with a meat-heavy meal you need a subtle flavoured vegetable dish to go with it and I so loved that I could cook it a day in advance as it was recommended for the flavours to be fully incorporated into the vegetables.

Uncooked Byaldi

Uncooked Byaldi

The fun part of this dish for me was getting to use my mandolin. I smartly used the finger guard as I was working pretty quickly slicing the vegetables. I know I’ve swooned about my mandolin before but can I just say again how useful it is?

Byaldi

Byaldi, out of the oven

Let me tell you why I love Thomas Keller’s recipes: the details. I fully understand why he’s one of the best chefs in the world because of the tiny little details that he pays attention to. I enjoyed making the dishes from his cookbook simply because it was so educational (hence the fun!). For the Byaldi I learned how to peel the skin off tomatoes and to make a sachet; both techniques are obviously important and will benefit me but no recipe picked off a food magazine would demand these details off you, or perhaps there’s an assumption that the home cook only wants to make “simple food”.

Up close

For the potato gratin, the new techniques I picked up were the soaking of the potatoes before cooking them to remove the starch (so handy!) and how to tie a bouquet garni.

Bouquet garni

Bouquet Garni

The final dish itself was beautiful, although it didn’t photograph well. I forgot the final coating of thyme and Panko breadcrumbs but thankfully the taste of the dish did not suffer for it.

Potato Gratin

Potato Gratin

Another reason why I love Keller’s recipes is just how simple everything is. I remember the first time I flipped through The French Laundry Cookbook, I was surprised at how simple all the ingredients were but yet with the right combination of ingredients, he made them great.

For the main course, we had Six Hour Roasted Pork Shoulders. I made this recipe once before with a pork loin. It was a pretty massive meal of 2.7kg worth of pork and the entire apartment smelled like heaven while it was roasting.

Pork shoulders

Pork Shoulders

As Jacey said, “I wish we could bottle this scent.”

Melty goodness

Melty gooey goodness

For dessert, it was Crack Pie with some improvisations. The first time I made it, I mentioned that it was much too sweet for my liking and I adored the crust a whole lot more than the entire pie so I needed more crust. So with version 2.0, I doubled the cookie recipe for the crust and ended up with a lot more crust and extra cookies to snack on, and even extra pie crust that I ate out of the mixing bowl with my bare hands. Shh, it’s my dirty little secret!

Crack Pie

Crack Pie

I also upped the salt quantities in both the crust and the filling, and I reduced the amount of white and brown sugar in the filling by 50g each. I still think it could be a little less sweet but my darling friends who tasted my first batch loved this version a whole lot more too, and the ones with the sweet tooth all found it ideal whereas I personally could do with less sugar as well. I was just a little worried it’d compromise the texture of the pie but I could mess around and add more cream. No disrespect to pastry chef Christina Tosi, it’s just that I’m not a sugar junkie.

I hope everyone had fun that night but I definitely had the most fun cooking up a storm. I went to bed after the dinner party with my shoulders stiff and my legs achy from being on my legs for the better part of two days but it was still immensely satisfying especially when I got to bring everyone together to break bread (literally!).

I wish I had remembered to photograph the Prosciutto Ring bread but I forgot all about it. I have enough prosciutto and sopressata for another batch so I might make it again and photograph it then.

The great thing about my friends, apart from their crazy company, is how thoughtful and generous they are to me. Apart from the generous bottles of wines and non-alcoholic beverages,

Spoils

I got a box of macarons from Lindt Cafe (I had two for breakfast on Sunday) and a bouquet of flowers because once Stan came by and there was a vase of flowers on my dining table and he asked, “Who’s your secret admirer?” and I sadly admitted that I bought myself flowers as I hadn’t received flowers from guys in well over a year (oh the depressing timeline of my single life!). Imagine how tickled I was that Stan remembered that conversation and decided to gift me with flowers. Thoughtful little gestures warm my heart.

Of course the biggest pay off was the fact that everyone went home stuffed and happy. It’s what every hostess wants most out of a dinner party.


Contrast

It’s always fun to reminisce and reflect upon the past. I think I’ve always gone through life with a lot of conviction and belief in myself but in hindsight, it was a little misplaced. I’m glad to be rid of many of the labels I used to don with pride in my younger years. I can almost see my friends rolling their eyes and hear their exasperated exclamations of, “You are still young!” But you get my drift!

I used to be such a shallow, materialistic, emotional, irrational and impulsive person. Didn’t I sound like such fun to be around? I’m really glad to have shed off the side of my persona who thrived on material goods and shopping because I’m thoroughly embarrassed now that I was ever known as a “shopaholic”. Sure, my wardrobe was a lot more enviable and I repeated outfits a lot less but I think it says more about my character that I am able to see past the fluff of bullshit heavily doused with perfume!

As much as I wish to still be 18 some days, I’m grateful for the subtlety and maturity the past few years have graced upon me. Besides, I’m not too resentful yet for I still get carded sometimes so I must still look wide-eyed and innocent ;) For those of you who still think of me as the girl with a massive headband on her head and dressed in expensive frocks and always overdressed for the occasion; that girl is no more. I almost wish someone had prodded me those years ago and said, “Did you know you’re kind of ridiculous?” I’m pretty sure my family did but I probably pranced away on a rainbow-coloured cloud of indignation, leaving a trail of glitter in my wake.

I guess I just had some growing up to do. I no longer flounce around in ridiculous dresses, I no longer wear bows pretending to be a life-sized present, I no longer waste my time browsing online stores, I don’t even drink expensive cocktails anymore (beer and gin+tonics are perfect, thank you!). Best part is I love Low-Key Adult Sophia a lot more than High Maintenance Princess Sophia.

(Okay, I probably diverted my money to food, but I still spend WAY less than I did when I was shopping. A designer dress gets me three or four fantastic meals and those meals are more memorable than a dress that if worn once and photographed in, I have to keep in my closet for another 6 months until people forget I own it. A degustation meal at Ezard is pretty much on par with one dress from Sportsgirl, did you know? How crazy is that?! I’ll take Ezard over Sportsgirl, please! The benefits of being a reformed shopaholic is that my closet is bursting with pretty dresses that are unworn because I never had the occasion to wear them as I was too busy being broke and thus only ate at cheap student places – oh the irony!)

Carbonara

Carbonara

I speak of my past because I revisited a dish I used to make a lot many years back. I don’t know why I stopped but I was feeling lazy today and this was the dish that came to mind as it’s relatively effortless. I used to make this so often that I don’t even need the recipe to make it anymore, but I Googled to find it for those who need precise measurements (I come from ‘a pinch of this’ sort of measurement style).

Spaghetti Carbonara
Serves 1 rescued-from-the-wild-ravenous person, or 2 medium eaters
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat

1/2lb spaghetti
4 oz pancetta or bacon, diced, fats separated from the meaty bits
2 tsp olive oil
4 Tbsp white wine (confession: I used 1 cup today because I’m a little boozy like that)
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Powdered nutmeg (I ran out so I swapped for cinnamon – it worked!)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
A few Basil leaves

1. Bring water to boil, salt liberally, and cook spaghetti until al dente (my go to time is 11 minutes on low-medium heat).

2. Combine the egg and egg yolk in a bowl, whisk them together gently with a fork. Add a few dashes of nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper and combine. Add in the freshly grated parmesan and combine well. Set aside.

3. About 5 minutes into cooking the pasta, heat oil in a deep pan, then add in the fatty bits of the diced pancetta/bacon. Fry until crisp, then add the meaty dice. Fry until properly cooked and crisp.

4. Add in the white wine and reduce until you’re left with about 2 Tbsp of delicious combo of wine and rendered fat juices. (Or if you’re like me and threw in a cup of white wine, watch the whole thing turn into a flambe and panic about setting off the smoke alarm and then proceed to go, “WOW! COOL!” Accidental flambes are fun.)

5. By this time, your pasta would’ve been cooked so drain that into a colander and turn off the flame for the pan. Throw the unsalted butter into the still-warm pan, add in the pasta and toss with the diced meat and its gorgeous juices until the spaghetti is well coated.

6. Pour in the yolk mixture and stir together until well combined. The heat from the just-cooked pasta and your still-warm pan will cook the egg just enough for it to be safe to eat.

7. Serve on a plate and shred some fresh basil leaves for a hint of delicious aroma with your very sinful pasta dish.

Carbonara flashback

Carbonara flashback from 2006

I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve been making this dish for a while now.

It’s funny how things and people evolve through the years, isn’t it? I used to be such a stickler to the recipe but now I just wing it completely confident I’d make it delicious, even missing the nutmeg.

This is my favourite kind of carbonara, not the creamy white sauce versions that people seem to love. Does anyone else find those versions of carbonara absolutely revolting and overwhelming? I only know one restaurant that makes that sort of carbonara that I can stomach, and the restaurant is all the way back in Malaysia, unfortunately (I’m talking about Dave’s in 1 Utama).

I wonder what this dish would look like a few more years down the road. Most of all, I wonder what I’ll be like. Even more pleasant, I hope!


So Porking Good, Part Deux

The weather in Melbourne has finally shifted into gear for spring and I’m getting ready to set aside my flannelette PJs for skimpier cotton options. As much as I have adored everything about winter, I am ready for spring.

This past weekend has been so good to me that I’m typing this with a satisfied little smile on my lips. I kicked it off with a Sophia Day, which is my favourite type of day. I wandered around Dymocks picking up novel after novel compiling another killer wishlist to add to the Book Depository but nevertheless was seduced by the words of one particular book that I had to bring it home with me immediately.

The rest of my weekend was a blur of delicious morsel after delicious morsel, and the fact that I surfaced from my food coma to type this is a testament of my strength but please pardon me while I wear elastic banded bottoms for the next two weeks. It was well worth it though, being surrounded by amazing company and beautiful food.

Momofuku Pork Buns

Momofuku Pork Buns

Perhaps one of the reasons why the weekend was so good was because we launched into it with a fantastic dinner of steamed pork buns on Thursday night. It was one of those fantastic meals where I didn’t believe I had made what I was eating because it tasted too damned good to be true.

The recipe is from the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang whose name is almost eponymous with pork, to be honest (a man after my own heart!). The recipe is available here because I am way too lazy to ever type that out.

It was pretty labour intensive for a weekday meal but if my insane persistence on making everything from scratch results in a luscious meal, you best believe this is a madness worth ignoring.

It started the night before, where a 2kg slab of pork belly was cleaned and skinned. I tried asking my butcher to remove it for me but he gave me an incredulous look that can only be described as, “Are you fucking kidding me?” that I had to do it myself. His exact words to me were, “But pork belly is not pork belly without the skin!” I hear ya, man, I hear ya. But the fat would still be left on – just the skin that’s gone. He still gave me that strange look that I had to admit defeat and allowed the pork belly to suffer at the hands of my meagre knife skills.

And by suffer I truly mean I need to apologize to the pork belly for it was skinned unevenly. Forgive me, fellow pork lovers. That was sacrilege. It was then rubbed with salt and sugar, wrapped up and abandoned in the fridge. The next day it was unwrapped and all the juices that the salt drew out was poured away.

Pork belly

Poor uneven pork belly

It was then chucked into the oven while I went about the most labour intensive part, making my own buns. I definitely could have bought them but where’s the fun in that? All that labour also yielded us with 50+ buns so really, I’m not complaining.

Dough

Steamed bun dough

I also pickled the cucumbers but that was so easy and quick that I forgot to photograph it.

Then the pork belly emerged from the oven and it had to rest before it was sliced into.

Roasted pork belly

Roasted pork belly

Jacey and I circled the pork belly like vultures, impatiently staring at the clock. Slowest ten minutes ever.

But golly, it was gorgeous on the inside.

We steamed the buns and had our set up ready.

Side note: My mum saw this picture and asked, “Why are your buns so shiny?” *immature sniggering ensues* But in all seriousness, I have no clue. Life’s Greatest Mystery #90480. Report back on findings, please.

At this point, it was getting pretty late and I was afraid Jacey was going to strangle me out of frustration because the smell of the roasted pork belly had permeated through the entire apartment and the sounds of our growling stomachs were becoming embarrassingly audible.

Steamed Pork Buns

The buns were spread with hoisin sauce, luscious pieces of pork belly were placed within along with a few slices of pickled cucumber and thinly sliced scallions.

Then it was total silence. I think we were trying to process the party in our mouths but our brains simply weren’t catching up. I think we managed some faint “mmmmm”s.

We obviously had enough for leftovers and the next day I tried some with a few dots of Sriracha chilli sauce. Oh, man. That’s all I have to say.

Life can be so ridiculously porking good.