Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mushroom Linguine Recipe - Quick & Easy # 3

This has, of late, become my new favourite, stand-by pasta dish.  The minute I saw Nigella make this on her new "Express" TV show I knew I was going to make it - incidentally, when I say new TV show I mean new to us here in New Zealand, the rest of the world probably saw it 2 years ago!

But I digress.  As soon as I saw it I had to make it the very next day, and have been making it every week since.  It is incredibly simple to make;  requires just a handful of ingredients and a bit of chopping;  the only cooking involved is that of boiling the pasta;  the whole dish comes together in just the time it takes to cook the pasta;  and it is great hot or cold the next day if by some remote chance you have leftovers.

I've made a couple of small changes to the recipe, and I don't stick to any specific quantities or measurements - this is a real "handful-of-this-and-a-slosh-of-that" kind of recipe.  The original recipe called for including some garlic.  Since I didn't have any on hand the first time I made this, I just left it out.  To be honest, having now tasted it without the garlic, I don't think that the inclusion of it would be an enhancement.  The garlic doesn't get cooked, so I suspect that the raw garlic could overpower the more subtle flavours of this dish, and so I've continued to leave it out but you should feel free to add it if you choose.  The other little change I made is to add in a handful of toasted walnuts at the end - after all what could be better with pasta, mushrooms, lemon and parsley than toasted walnuts.  I like the little bit of extra texture that they add, and the smokey nutty taste works well with the "woodsy" flavour of the mushrooms.  That said, toasting and chopping walnuts is a little bit of extra work, so if you don't feel inclined to that just leave them out.

I do urge you to try this dish - it's great for a quick evening meal, and very healthy - mushrooms are low in calories, sodium and fat;  they are also rich in potassium (one medium portabello mushroom contains more potassium than a banana or glass of orange juice);  and are an excellent source of riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron and selenium.  Although this is a vegetarian dish I can tell you that the meat lover around here loves it too, and although I am giving you instructions here for feeding two people this could easily be increased to feed more.

Mushroom Linguine
Adapted from "Nigella Express"
Serves 2

linguine, about 250g
mushrooms (I used Swiss Browns), about 300g
1 lemon, juice and grated zest
extra virgin olive oil, about 1/3 cup
(this is a time when you need to use the very best quality olive oil you can lay your hands on)
garlic, 1 clove (optional)
thyme, fresh or dried
flat-leaf parsley
toasted walnuts, handful (optional)
parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt liberally, add pasta to the water and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms.

Mushroom Linguine 10, edited

Don't wash the mushrooms, but if any are particularly dirty just wipe them clean with a damp paper towel.  I don't remove the stems, but I do trim the woody ends off.  Slice the mushrooms fairly thinly.

Mushroom Linguine 9, edited

Put all the sliced mushrooms into a large serving bowl.  If using garlic, chop or mince finely and add to the mushrooms.

Mushroom Linguine 8, edited

Add the olive oil and lemon juice to the mushrooms.

Mushroom Linguine 7, edited

Add thyme and freshly grated lemon zest.  Sprinkle over some flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mushroom Linguine 6, edited

Toss everything together well.  Taste, and then adjust seasoning as necessary, also more oil and or lemon juice as necessary.

Drain pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water.  Add the drained pasta to the mushrooms and toss everything together.

Mushroom Linguine 5, edited

Add about half a cup of the reserved pasta water, a generous handful (or two) of freshly grated parmesan, and the toasted walnuts.

Mushroom Linguine 4, edited

Toss everything together well, adding a little more of the pasta water if necessary, until all the pasta is well coated. Sprinkle flat-leaf parsley over the top and serve with extra freshly grated parmesan on the side.

Mushroom Linguine 3, edited

A fresh green salad and some crusty bread would be great accompaniments to this.

For more great recipe ideas like this, I recommend:

Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast

Available from Amazon, Book Depository UK, and Fishpond NZ

I'm submitting this post to the Hearth and Soul blog hop, a place where you'll find lots of wonderful people who are passionate about great food and cooking from the heart - do go and have a look at what they're all cooking this week.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gabrielle's "Sticky" Lemon Squares Recipe

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares 1, edited

Well this is a first - I've never posted any "baked goods" here before.  Basically, this is because I don't bake!  There are two very good reasons for that.  The first is that anything I bake then needs to be eaten and, quite frankly, my hips just don't need that.   The second reason is that really my baking is never any good and, since by definition you would expect "baked goods" to actually be good, I tend to leave any baking to be done to those who are infinitely more competent in that department than me.

I truly believe there is a gene for baking, and somehow I didn't get it.  My Mum had it - her scones were legendary, and her 5-minute chocolate cake (light as air) was so popular it would disappear in about as many minutes.  My Dad can also make a pretty mean batch of scones;  does great Belgian biscuits, shortbread and steam pudding; and every year makes me a beautiful Christmas cake.  But somehow in their coupling I got left out of the baking gene pool.  Maybe, when two parents have the gene they cancel each other out.  I dunno - whatever, I just didn't get it!

When I was at intermediate school (here in Kiwi-land that is for 11-12 year olds), the boys would get packed off once a week to the tool shed to do metal work and wood work, while the girls would do cooking and dressmaking .  I can still remember my family recoiling in horror whenever any of my baking attempts were brought home for them to try - scones as heavy as bricks, and my scone making hasn't improved one bit over the years.

There is something about the science of baking that I just don't get - as for all that measuring and weighing - and there is something about baking recipes that always seems just a bit incomprehensible to me.  I drool longingly over some of the sensational looking cakes, biscuits and pastries that I see out there in the blogoshpere, wishing that somehow the mysteries of the baking universe would reveal themselves to me.  It's as though people who bake belong to some kind of "secret society" that I just can't break into.

That said, I really do try on occasion (I can hear my Dad now saying, "yes, you're very trying!! - he means it in the nicest possible way, of course).  I've made fairly passable brownies from time to time and the odd fairly average banana cake.  So it was that last weekend I decided to make a banana cake for my partner, banana being his favourite and it being a rather belated "birthday cake" ... and, surprisingly, it turned out ... well, good - not perfect, but good.  But more about that in another post.

Anyway, all of that is a rather long-winded way of telling you that I got a bit of courage up after that effort, so when it came to choosing a dish this week for our last Bittman pot luck dinner over at I Heart Cooking Clubs, I felt I just had to bake something.  I was pretty sure that I was going to have a go at his brownies, which a few of our participants had tried previously, until I was scrolling through the Brownies and Bars section of the "How to Cook Everything" application on my iPhone - there it was Gabrielle's Lemon Squares, and since I love anything lemony (at least as much anything chocolatey, maybe even more) I knew immediately that I had found what was to be my contribution.

Let me tell you that these are not just good - if you are a lemon lover, they are divine.  The recipe is mostly straight forward, even for someone who is often confounded by baking recipes.  Though there are a couple of instructions that bewildered me slightly.  Firstly the recipe calls for making a kind of shortbread-like base and baking it (no problem with that), then a topping is mixed together, poured over the top and returned to the oven.  The instructions say to "bake until firm on the edges but still a little soft in the middle".  Now if that was a piece of meat I would know exactly what that should be like, but cake - I was wondering, "how far in from the edge should be firm?" "where does the edge finish and the middle begin?" "how soft is a "little soft"?" - you get the picture.  Anyway to cut a long story short, I think I could have cooked mine a little bit longer and not had quite so much "soft in the middle", hence the reason why I've called them "sticky" lemon squares.  That said the glory of these is that I don't think it matters too much - what you end up with here is a slice which has something like a shortbread base, a slightly chewy, cakey top, and a lemon curd filling - under-cooking it means that you just have a more gooey, curd-like filling, and that doesn't seem like such a bad thing.

The other instruction which is a little confounding to me is that the instructions say to store, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days - I'm not altogether sure what is going to happen to them in 2 days time.  I understand keeping them in the fridge with the lemon curd centre, but since I'm the only one who'll be eating them around here I'm hoping they'll last a little longer than 2 days.  Rest assured, though, these are exceptionally good, so if you have a few lemon-lovers in your house you might have trouble getting them to last till the second day.

I hope you'll give these a try - even if you don't have the baking gene, they are dead easy to make and maybe, like me, you'll feel inspired to try a little more baking.

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares Recipe
Adapted from Mark Bittman's
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For the base:
1 stick (113g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the topping:
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
grated zest of 1 lemon

extra butter for greasing pan
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F), and grease an 8" (20cm) or 9" (22cm) square baking tin (I used an 8").

Cream together the butter, sugar and salt (I used the food processor for this, since I don't have an electric mixer).  Then pulse in the flour - you will end up with a dryish mixture that resembles coarse, damp sand.

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares 7, edited

Press the mixture into the greased baking tin, and bake for up to 20 minutes, until it is just starting to turn golden.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the topping.

Beat together the eggs, lemon juice and sugar, until colour pales and mixture is slightly thickened.  Add the flour, baking soda and lemon zest, and mix to combine.  Pour the filling over the already baked crust, and bake until firm around the edges and still a bit soft in the middle - about 30 minutes.

Cool, dust with sifted icing sugar, and cut into squares.

Store covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.

Gabrielle's Sticky Lemon Squares 3, edited

Come on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs, and see what everyone else is bringing along to our pot luck dinner. Next week is our last week of cooking with Mark Bittman, and then the following week we begin six months of cooking with Giada de Laurentiis.

How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food 

This post is also submitted to the Tackling Bittman Giveaway at girlichef - she's giving away a copy of Bittman's "The Food Matters Cookbook" - entries are open until 31 January.

Sweet New Zealand Badge

I'm also giving this post a second lease on life by sharing it at Sweet New Zealand.  This is a monthly blog event created by the very sweet Alessandra Zecchini, and which I am pleased to be hosting this month over here.  This is an opportunity for all Kiwi bloggers (whether you are living in New Zealand or overseas), as well as for non-Kiwi bloggers living in New Zealand, to connect and share some of those sweet treats from your kitchen.  You may submit as many entries as you like, and old posts (just like this one) are fine too.  You can find a round-up of the first month's special treats on this page of Alessandra's blog, and a round-up of last month's entries on this page of Alli's Pease Pudding blog.  I hope you'll come back and visit me at the end of the month for a full round-up of all the entries.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers in Cream Sauce Recipe - Cooking Italy # 11

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers 1, edited

You already know that I love pasta, and big bowls of rustic, flavourful, family-style meals, but I don't think I've mentioned here before that I have a big weakness for sausages.  Whilst, as I've told you in previous posts, I like to keep my intake of meat fairly minimal, I can't imagine ever leaving sausages out of my diet.

One of our assignments back in February (okay, so I'm slow) for the Cooking Italy group was Marcella Hazan's Pasta with Sausages and Cream Sauce from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  I really liked the idea of this dish, but I also knew (despite the fact that others in the group had tried it and loved it) that I was going to have to make some changes to Marcella's original version in order to satisfy our palettes.

The original recipe called for "sweet sausage, containing no fennel seed, chilli pepper, or other strong seasonings".  Well, that definitely was not going to cut it for me - so rule one broken, and I used these Sicilian-style sausages from Peter Timbs Butchery - they were slightly spicy (not excessively so), contained fennel seeds, and were in my opinion just what I was looking for in this dish.

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers 5, edited

The second change I made was leaving out the onion that the recipe called for, since we pretty much don't do onion around here.  Instead I chose to add some red and yellow peppers.  I loved the texture and colour that these brought to the dish, and I thought that the sweetness of the peppers was a nice foil to the spiciness of the sausages.

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers 6, edited

Then, instead of using regular pouring cream, I used some creme fraiche.  I love the "lemony" tang that this adds, and also creme fraiche is such a forgiving ingredient to use - it doesn't take any thickening and never splits or curdles.  Because, I'd used the creme fraiche I left out the parmesan cheese that was called for - I just didn't feel it needed it.

I will definitely make this again, since it went down pretty well here.  It makes a great family style meal, and was perfect for a coolish evening.  Was I happy with the changes I made?  Yes, absolutely.  Would I make any other changes?  If I'd had some on hand I would definitely have added some chopped, flat-leaf parsley at the end, and I think next time I would add a sprinkling of chilli flakes as well to give it a bit more "pep".

If you would like the original recipe, you can find it here on Angela's blog (Spinach Tiger), or read on for my version.

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers in Cream Sauce Recipe
Inspired by Marcella Hazan's
Click here for printable copy of this recipe
Serves 4

500-600g sausages of your choice
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
olive oil
250g creme fraiche
400g pasta shapes
(I used farfalle & gnocchi-shaped pasta)
flaky sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Set a large pan of water over high heat and bring to the boil.  Once it has come to a boil, salt liberally, add the pasta to the pan, and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, remove the casings from the sausages - just run a sharp knife down the full length of the sausage, peel off the casing and discard - it will come off very easily.

Core and de-seed the peppers, and cut into pieces - roughly about 2cm squares.

Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large skillet, set over high heat.  Add the sausages to the hot oil and using a wooden spatula break the sausages up into smallish pieces (about the same kind of size as the pieces of pepper).

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers 4, edited

Once the sausages have started to brown and are almost cooked through, push them to one side and add the peppers to the pan.  Sprinkle a little flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper over the peppers and continue cooking until the peppers have softened and started to caramelise, and the sausages are completely cooked through.

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers 3, edited

Add creme fraiche to the pan, and stir until the creme fraiche has completely dissolved and warmed through, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

Pasta with Sausage & Peppers 2, edited

Set aside about a cup of the pasta water, then drain pasta and add to the sauce.  Toss pasta through the sauce until completely coated, adding a little of the reserved pasta water if necessary.

Serve, family style in a large bowl or platter, sprinkling some freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley over the top if desired.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking [Hardcover]

Do visit my Cooking Italy page to learn more about the group (maybe you'd even like to join in - you don't have to have a blog to join the group and cook along with everyone else), find links to other members of the group, and links to all the Cooking Italy recipes I've cooked so far.

I'm submitting this post to Hearth and Soul blog hop - do visit and have a look at some great food submitted by wonderful people who really do cook from the heart.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mystery Food Photos - Random # 6

I do have a new photo for you this week - unfortunately no mystery since, if you can read Spanish (or actually, to be more precise, Catalan), you will know immediately what it is.  But before I come to that, I thought I would give you a bit of a round-up of all the mystery photos I have shared with you in case you missed any of them.

Photo # 1 - pistachios - photographed on the island of Paros, Greece

Greece 259

I think this was my favourite photo of them all, and this was the one that stumped all of you.

Photo # 2 - carob - again photographed on Paros

Greece 218, edited

Some good guesses for this one, and Natalia at gatti fili e farina got it right.

Photo # 3 - gooseneck barnacles - photographed at La Boqueria market in Barcelona

Barcelona 143, edited

This one really got your interest, and there was all sorts of wild and wonderful guessing going on, with one anonymous reader guessing that they were in fact barnacles.

Photo # 4 - liquorice (or licorice, depending on where you come from) root, again photographed at La Boqueria market

Barcelona 123, cropped & edited

This one attracted lots of very good guesses, with even-star, Elizabeth and Alaskan Dave Down Under all getting it right.

Photo # 5 - razor clams - once again, photographed at La Boqueria market

Barcelona 134, edited

Okay so you guys really know your clams - Natalia at gatti fili e farina, Joi, Heather at girlichef, Natashya at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, Alex at A Moderate Life, and Rhonda all got this one right.  (Why not go and visit these great bloggers - they obviously know a thing or two about food!)

And now to today's photo.  I guess it won't come as any surprise to you that this was once again photographed at La Boqueria market in Barcelona.  Well, I make no apology for that - after all, you just don't see stuff like this at Peter Timbs Butchery in Edgeware!

La Boqueria 10, cropped & edited

As I said earlier, this is no mystery as such, since things are quite clearly labeled - but the real mystery to my is why on earth anyone would want to eat some of this.  Personally, I quite like a bit of offal (that is, liver and kidneys), and I get that it is truly honouring the animal which has given its life for your sustenance by eating every part of it, but I'm not ashamed to admit that there are just some things that I'm just a bit squeamish about.  In this photo are:  lambs' heads (on the left), bulls' testicles (centre front), bulls' gullets (on the right, directly behind the kidneys).  This vendor also usually has bulls' penises, but they were all out on the afternoon I was there (no doubt they're so popular they sell out of those by lunch time)!

I would love to know - which was your favourite photo in the series, and what food or animal body parts make you feel squeamish?

I really enjoyed bringing you all these photos, and I am immensely heartened by the interest that you all showed in this series.  Although some of these items are somewhat more exotic (and not necessarily available everywhere), it was a very salient reminder to me of how far removed from the source of our food we can become when we buy packaged ingredients at the supermarket.

I care passionately about eating food which, as much as possible, is made from scratch from natural ingredients;  food which is made slowly, with passion and with love;  food which is fresh and seasonal;  food which is prepared simply and not messed about with;  food made from ingredients you know, understand and can identify - not ingredients which have sesquipedalian (I sooo love that word) names you can't pronounce - really, who wants to eat calcium disodium ethylenediamintetraacetate (yummo!)?  That said, I'm not super woman - I don't have the time to spend in the kitchen that my grandmother may have done, so keeping it real means that I do take some shortcuts in the kitchen.  Whilst I like to make my own pasta on occasion, most of the time I buy store-bought, dried pasta.  Likewise bread - yes I do make my own sometimes, but mostly I buy a good artisan loaf from a local baker.  I like making my own jam, but can't be bothered too much with preserving so I use tinned tomatoes instead of bottling my own.  I often fall back on a jar of curry paste or tin of cannellini beans.  And I eat more than my fair share of ice cream and chocolate - both of which are health foods as far as I'm concerned.

A place where you'll find many like-minded souls, wonderful people who all share a similar food philosophy is the Hearth and Soul group.  Previously, known as the Two for Tuesdays blog hop, the group has had a name change and refocus of definition to better reflect what food means to its contributors. Why not hop over and see what it's all about.  I am contributing this post to the group, and you can see all of this week's contributions here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 1, cropped & edited

At I Heart Cooking Clubs we continue cooking (for just a few weeks more) with Mark Bittman, and our theme this week was "Damn, that's Sexy!"  An opportunity to cook (or have someone cook for you) the food that really turns you on.  What's your idea of sexy food?  Chocolate - goes without saying; some fresh fruit - almost any berries, mango, figs, pomegranate, papaya; certain seafood - oysters, scallops, lobster, and crab would all be on my list.  Also high up on my list of "sexy" is having breakfast in bed, and staying in bed until midday - even if you're on your own.  In fact, in my opinion, treating yourself to something special when you're dining alone is the ultimate indulgence (you may have read some of my earlier posts about solitary pleasures here and here).

But I digress.  It's been a funny old week here in Christchurch, and this morning seemed like the perfect time for a bit of self-indulgence - time for a big sleep-in, make a bit of breakfast, and retreat back to bed for a couple of hours.  Mark Bittman's Caramelised French Toast from How to Cook Everything seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  I also took some frozen raspberries out of the freezer to make a warm berry compote to accompany the french toast - now, you can't tell me that's not sexy!

First, you need to start with good, day-old bread - I'm sorry but Tip Top sandwich sliced simply will not do.  I used this Honey Vienna loaf from Vic's Bakery - it has a beautiful chewy texture, and the little bit of sweetness makes it perfect for things like bread puddings and french toast.

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 7, cropped

Cut bread into thick slices, and soak in a shallow "bath" of beaten eggs, milk, vanilla essence and sugar.

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 6, edited

After a couple of minutes of soaking, turn bread over and sprinkle the top of the bread with brown sugar.  Soak for a couple of minutes longer.

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 5, edited

Meanwhile, heat butter in pan over medium-high heat, and when the butter is melted and hot add the slices of bread to the hot pan, sugared side down.  Now sprinkle the other side of the bread with brown sugar.  Cook until the bread is nicely browned on the bottom, then flip over and brown the other side.

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 4, edited

While the bread is cooking, put raspberries into a microwave-proof dish and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Stir, add sugar, and microwave on high for a further 2 minutes.  Stir.

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 3, edited

Remove browned toast from the pan to a warm plate and serve immediately, with raspberry compote on the side or spooned over the top.

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote 2, cropped & edited

Caramelised French Toast with Raspberry Compote Recipe
Adapted from Mark Bittman's
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

Note:  The original recipe quantities below are for 4 servings - my notes in blue are my adaptations I made to serve one person

2 eggs (1 large free-range egg)
1 cup milk (1/3 cup milk)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar (1 teaspoon sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
brown sugar
butter for frying
8 slices bread (2 slices bread)

For Raspberry Compote:
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon sugar

Break eggs into a shallow bowl.  Add milk, salt, sugar and vanilla extract, and beat lightly to combine.

Cut bread into thick slices, and add to the "eggy bath".  Allow to soak on one side for a couple of minutes.

Turn over and sprinkle thickly with brown sugar on the top side.  Soak for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, heat butter in pan over medium-high heat, and when the butter is melted and hot add the slices of bread to the hot pan, sugared side down.  Now sprinkle the other side of the bread with brown sugar.  Cook until the bread is nicely browned on the bottom, then flip over and brown the other side.

While toast is cooking, put raspberries into a microwave-proof bowl, cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Stir, add sugar, and microwave on high for another 2 minutes.

Remove browned toast from the pan to a warm plate and serve immediately, with raspberry compote on the side or spooned over the top.

Eat alone or with someone you love!

For other great Mark Bittman recipes visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs or get the book:

How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food