Friday, June 30, 2006

Mushroom fest

I tried out Jamie Oliver's Baked Onions and as he promised they were "smashing, pukka, the absolute dog's kahunas!!" I don't know if I'd be violating copyrights by putting the recipe in here, but the basic idea is you boil some big fat yellow onions, then hollow them out. You take the pulp and mush ‘em up with some cream and your favorite herbs and cheese, and stuff that back into the bulbs. Then you wrap the lot with pancetta if you can get it, or if (like me) you can't then just some nice streaky bacon. You bake these babies, and the onions come out all sweet and cheesy and herby and they just majorly kick butt, man!

Went scouting for mushrooms at the local market & grocery store. No gourmet shops for me. I wanted to know what could be had at short notice & on a budget. What else is there besides the common canned champignon (aka button) mushrooms? Funny fact I learned about champignon mushrooms: Wikipedia says, "while this specific mushroom is sometimes called simply champignon in the English-speaking world, this word means "fungus" in general in French, including all mushrooms, toadstools and even fungal infections." Yummy.

Too bad we don't have porcini mushrooms here. What I found were some fresh oyster mushrooms and some big meaty shiitakes. I also found packets of dried 'shrooms I couldn't quite identify. After soaking 'em I realized they were shiitakes too. I'd occasionally chanced upon some enoki mushrooms but none today. In any case they would've been nice for variety but would probably not have added much flavor as the shiitake was bound to overpower everything else. I roughly chopped up my finds & sautéed them in some butter and plenty of garlic and herbs. Served this up on top of some baked polenta and the beautiful onions.

Herbed Mushrooms on Polenta, and Baked Onions

While the onions and the polenta were baking I wondered what to do with the extra onion + cheese + cream that I couldn't stuff back into the onion bulbs. I had some extra champignon mushrooms, too. I minced and sautéed the ‘shrooms and put them in the cream with some ground beef. Quickie cannelloni filling. The cannelloni just caught the tail end of the other stuff's cooking time, and didn't quite make it to the table as early as I would've liked, but Mama, Papa, Sarah and I still found tummy space to dig into it before the baked onions completely disappeared.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Curry Night

I finally got my curry fix hehehe. Last night was curry night, and for that we had reinforcements. Margie & Steph came over to help us prepare this largely Indian feast. Steph & I made a sambal of mussels, and Aloo Gobi (a fragrant, mildly-spiced dish of cauliflower, potatoes, peas & tomatoes).

Sambal of Mussels, and Aloo Gobi

The veg was a great foil for the truly evil masala curry that Margie and Ace had whipped up. Not everyone can dig wickedly hot curry and so Ace & Margie also made a milder batch as a special consideration. We went cross-continent for the side dishes: good old muttabal, and Ace roasted some of the leftover onions, and there was plenty of cucumber mint raita as our "fire extinguuisher" hehehe. And then there were dried figs and dates for dessert so we started the meal in India, and ended it in North Africa hehe. We were all cross-eyed but happy by the end of it.

Evil Curried Chicken, Muttabal, and Cucumber Mint Raita

There's already talk of doing a Moroccan night next time. That has got to be some of the craziest cuisine ever! Olive oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, coriander, turmeric, caraway, saffron, olives with the pits left in, and plenty of chilli. You mist it over with lemon, sometimes a handful of fresh mint, then you toss on some almonds or whatever nuts, and dried dates, sultanas, or just plain old raisins. It's insane, and I love it! Oh, and you gotta have couscous. Maybe I'll do a reprise of my fish fillet and couscous in a bag.


Cooking in a bag

The French call it En Papillote, the Italians call it cartoccio, and it's got to be the wildest (& easiest) cooking methods ever. You basically chuck all your ingredients into a bag & bake it. What this means is that minimal fat, if any is needed since all the ingredients, sealed tightly in the bag, steam in their own juices, mingling the flavors. You get this natural, healthy sauce from cooking your meat or fish in the same bag as your veggies & herbs. It's amazing. The bonus is that there's hardly any washing up after (just toss the used bags into the wastebasket).

Classically the packets are made with parchment paper. You can substitute tin foil, but you'll have to handle it with extra care as foil punctures easily, and you don't want to use foil if you've got acidic mixtures in the food, like tomatoes sprinkled with vinegar, as the foil may react with it. Parchment paper isn't that much more expensive, and you'll find it in the same grocery section as the foil. Go with the'll make you look oh so gourmet hehehe.

You serve each person his own packet on a plate, and they cut it open or you cut it open for them. Watch them ooh and ahh when the amazing aromas come steaming out. You could conceivably make bigger bags for more people but getting the cooking time right might get a little tricksy.

Here's something I did with fish & couscous but really, you can put just about anything in a bag. The key is to have food that's gonna give off some moisture, and to cut up the food into reasonably small pieces so they cook all the way through. Seafood pasta lends itself well to this method, as would sliced meat or chicken on rice or whatever, I should think.

Fish Fillet & Couscous "En Papillote"

  • couscous (How much, you ask? Well I don't know, how much do you wanna eat? The spices here are enough for 6 packets, each containing about a cup and a half cooked couscous)
  • zucchini and carrot, shredded
  • a good-sized onion, chopped
  • 1 lemon, shave or grate the zest off, then slice thinly
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • as many fish fillets as you have people (the spices listed are for roughly 6)
  • as many bay leaves as you have fish fillets
  • chopped or sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Cut a 10-inch sheet of parchment or foil for each guest, and put a fold down the middle. In a bowl, plunk together the couscous, the broth, the veggies, zest from your lemon, the spices, and half the salt. Feel free to give it a splash of white wine. Stir it around a bit to blend. Divide the mixture among your paper packets (Just spoon it onto the middle). Place the fish on top and sprinkle with the pepper & remaining salt. Top with a lemon slice, a bay leaf, and toss on some almonds. Fold the packet up (making sure it's well sealed), put them on a baking sheet and bake for maybe 15 minutes. Serve with some crunchy salad.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

I am trying to decide what to cook for supper, and I don't want to have to go to the market. This is always a fun challenge, cook with only what you've got handy. Bonus points if it's a new recipe. It's going to be a little tough today though because after several such sessions this past week I've nearly cleaned out the ref. Oh there're still spices galore, and this & that, but hardly any more meat or veggies, fresh or canned.

I'm torn three ways: 1) test a new recipe Italian so I can use it for the next Dine&Jam; 2) whip up some of that curry I've been craving for days; 3) go with that homey potato meat pie I dug up 5minutes ago that I already have all the ingredients for (options 1 & 2 will require me to cheat a little & buy a couple of things from the grocery store). Ah but the Italian is practical, as I do need something new for Dine&Jam, but I really do need a break from Italian cuisine. The curry is calling to me. Cumin: check. Turmeric: check. Coriander: running low after last night's Thai dinner, but check. No yogurt, and no mint. Or lemons. Pakoras would be great, but nothing to fry. I can buy bell peppers easy enough. But again, no yogurt, and no time to make some. Buying it all ready-made is fine, but such a waste. I think I will have to go with the pie (which is starting to sound really good, actually. Ah but a fourth option: I've got plenty to make mexican with, specially with these newly-ripened avocadoes. But no tomatoes for salsa, so scratch that. Pie it is.

Sorry, no photo. I'll post the recipe soon.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dine & Jam 5: Independence Day Special

It is possibly one of the simplest pastas I have ever served at Dine&Jam, but Pasta Supremo - a spanish-sardines pasta sauce that I paired with kesong puti toast - still had lips smacking at Dine & Jam 5 hehehe. Mama's take on the traditional chicken pastel - dubbed Gallina Independencia - provided the yummy (and tummy-bursting) option.