Friday, July 23, 2010

rocket and pistachio pesto

Just becase you love food, doesn't mean you always find time to cook. I'm sitting here thinking about how one of my typical days in recent weeks might be represented in a pie chart, but I'll spare you that. That would just be another way to procrastinate - and it has already made me want to bake pie. At the moment, most of my day is spent reading and writing, a little bit is spent sewing and a very, very small amount is spent cooking and eating. Being in the middle (or closer towards the end, but it still feels like the freaking middle) of a PhD sometimes makes me forget about food; this is when I can't be bothered cooking for myself and I find myself considering the possibility of eating while I sleep via intravenous. But other times, I want to cook a whole Blumenthal buffet with multiple courses and towering translucent wobbly jellies from children's storybooks and Silky's pop biscuits. But there's no time for all that. There is time for pesto, however.

It's the middle of Winter here in OZ and buying a big bunch of basil would be wrong on two counts (flavor, price). And with pistachios sitting in the cupboard after that glorious muesli the other week, the way forward was clear - Tessa Kiros' rocket and pistachio pesto. All you need is a handful of pistachios, some garlic and parmesan, a handful of rocket (arugula) and a nice fruity olive oil. You whiz it up the first bits in your blender or food processor - or if you're smarter than me and have finished your thesis you can do it in a pestle and mortar - and add the oil to make a very bright green and sharp/sweet pesto.

I've made this pesto lots of times now and it is so good - I sometimes even make it in the summer when basil is plentiful, just to mix things up a bit. It is great through pasta, of course. But it's also (especially!) awesome drizzled over golden roasted hasselback potatoes half way through cooking; the potatoes come out with this insane gold-green crust of nutty, cheesy flavour, making them a perfect side with something like roast chicken or a substantial and impressive contribution to a vegetarian spread (Tessa even recommends leaving out the cheese for coating potatoes, making this vegan-friendly). I've mixed this pesto into salad dressings, drizzled it on pizza and dolloped in into soups before serving. I've eaten it with fresh ricotta on toast.

If you're short on time, make this. It's very good stuff.

rocket and pistachio pesto
From Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries

2 garlic cloves
60g (or 1/3 cup) shelled pistachios
60g rocket (or arugula)
40g parmesan cheese, grated
250ml (1 cup) olive oil

1. Crush the garlic to a lumpy paste with a little salt.

2. Pulse the pistachios in your blender to coarse bits. Add the rocket (I chop mine up a bit first) and continue to pulse until you have a relatively consistent, but coarse paste. Scrape this out into a bowl and stir in the garlic, parmesan and olive oil. Mix through well and taste for seasoning. Depending on the pepperiness of your rocket and saltiness of your cheese, you may want to add some salt (mine often needs a little to make it sing). You're done! If you don't use this right away, it keeps in the fridge for about a week, as long as the top is covered with a layer of oil.

Monday, July 12, 2010

bánh mì and bánh gan, or pork meatball sandwich and coconut creme caramel

Friday nights I'm usually home-bound; I'm tired after a full week of working and writing and I just want to sit on the couch with a glass of wine, watch Masterchef and eat something that's half-treat, half-comfort. Lately, my Mum has been joining me for Friday night masterclass action and last Friday night we had a casual Vietnamese dinner of bánh mì and bánh gan - and it was awesome, as you can see.

First of all, how good are meatball sandwiches? When we were younger, my brother and I became obsessed with them watching Point Break (2001); here's the reason. Though to tell you truth, I don't think I'd ever had one - except for those Vietnamese rolls with those delicious (lukewarm) pork meatballs that are probably a bit dangerous, but are so, so good. I was always tempted to ask for only meatballs, but they seemed so special that I didn't think this was a possibility. Turns out that making them at home was the answer.

These meatballs have so much flavour that they're killer snacks just on their own. But encased in those super-light Vietnamese/French baguettes and garnished with sweet vinegary carrot and daikon pickles, hot chilli mayo and fresh sprigs of coriander, these are near on perfect.

But what to eat afterwards? We tried not to be piggies and had smaller rolls for dinner, but only so we could fit this in. In another culinary triumph of Vietnamese/French fusion, I bring you bánh gan, or the coconut creme caramel - so perfect after something spicy. Half the milk or cream of the regular flan is replaced here with coconut milk, resulting in a pudding that is silky and refreshing and not too sweet. I also swapped the brown sugar in the custard recipe here for grated palm sugar and was very glad I did: the sweetness was even more subtle and nuanced than I'd expected. And these two dishes went down so well together that now I find it hard to imagine making one and not the other. Oh oh...

Bánh mì - Vietnamese meatball sandwiches
Adpated from Bon Appétit Jan 2010

For the hot chilli mayonnaise:
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chilli sauce (I use sriracha)

For the meatballs:
500g pork mince
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Thai basil (or regular basil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot chilli sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

For the sandwiches:
1 cup julienned or coarsely grated carrots
1 cup julienned or coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 10-inch-long baguettes (preferably from a Vietnamese bakery)
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
About 16 large fresh coriander sprigs

1. To make the hot chilli mayonnaise, stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Cover and chill.

2. To make the meatballs: line a baking tray with plastic wrap. Gently mix all meatball ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands, roll scant tablespoons of the meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover and chill.

3. For the rest of the sandwich, toss the first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to make the pickles. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat sesame oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs and sauté until brown and cooked through. This should take around 15 minutes - be careful not to burn! Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

5. Cut each baguette in half, not quite all the way. Spread hot chili mayo over both cut sides of rolls. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs and pickled vegetables (drained), jalapeños and coriander to taste. Eat over a plate, as these can get gloriously messy.

Bánh gan - coconut creme caramel
Adapted from Good Taste 2007

225g (1 cup) white sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) water
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
375ml (11/2 cups) milk
6 eggs, lightly whisked
100g (1/2 cup, firmly packed) grated palm sugar sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

1. Preheat oven to 160°C. First make your caramel. Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil, without stirring, occasionally brushing down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water, for 3-4 minutes or until beautiful golden. Watch out, because this burns easily at this stage! Pour the caramel mixture evenly among eight 160ml (2/3-cup) capacity ovenproof ramekins. Set aside for 5 minutes or until set.

2. Whisk together the coconut milk, milk, egg, grated palm sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Scrape in vanilla bean and whisk again to combine. Strain through a fine sieve into a jug. Carefully pour this over the caramel mixture in the ramekins.

3. Place the ramekins in a large roasting pan. Boil your kettle and pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes or until the custards are just set. Transfer to a baking tray and set aside for 1 hour to cool. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight to chill.

4. To serve, run a flat-bladed knife around the inside edge of the ramekins and carefully turn onto serving plates. I didn't have any on hand, but recipe suggest sprinkling with toasted shredded coconut and lime rind to serve.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

cranberry, pistachio and cinnamon toasted muesli

There's Julie London on the stereo and I've just put the lid on a big freshly-toasted jar of this muesli. It's sitting on my kitchen bench - and it looks totally ace. Next to it, I've got a litre of fresh milk slowly turning into yoghurt. Now I'm going to sit down and polish my halo. Making this muesli to get me through the week ahead makes me feel virtuous, but eating it is something else - cause this stuff is like crack. I'm totally addicted.

I love toasted muesli so much, but I'm not about to pretend that chowing down a big bowl of this constitutes a particularly healthy start to the day. However with some restraint (booo!), I think this can be part of weekday breakfasts. It is packed full of nuts and linseeds and sunflower kernels and cranberries, so it is very nutritious. After drizzling the whole thing with maple syrup and baking it though, I dare say this is a not a low-calorie affair. But I love about 1/4 of a cup of with good yoghurt and some berries - and I'll gladly have a little of anything over none at all.

I'm not sure if making muesli at home is actually any cheaper than buying it, but I'd like to imagine that it is. In any case, it is a million times better than buying it from a store, because you can put whatever you want in and leave out all those bits that spoil your otherwise favourite muesli. I adapted a basic recipe I found in delicious. magazine years ago, so I'm sure you can put anything you fancy into this and it will still be the bomb. Don't care for cinnamon (what?!?)? Add some shredded coconut. Replace the maple syrup with more honey, or use pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower. Take out the cranberries, add apricots, or dried apple, or...goji berries (?) or chopped dark chocolate (dear lord!). The world is your oyster - at least at breakfast time.

cranberry, pistachio and cinnamon toasted muesli
Adapted from delicious. magazine 2007

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flaked almonds
3/4 cup sunflower kernals
1/3 cup linseeds
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbls grapeseed oil
2 tbls honey
3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place syrup, honey and oil in a small saucepan over low heat until combined and runny - about 2 minutes.

2. Combine oats, almonds, linseeds, sunflower kernals and cinnamon in a bowl. Toss until the cinnamon is all the way through the mixture. Spread this on your baking tray, then drizzle with warm syrup mixture.

3. Bake for around 12 - 14 minutes or until toasted and golden, stirring once during cooking. A note: I leave mine in longer because I like a more golden, more toasted finish - around 18 minutes all up. Just keep your eye on it! Remove and cool to room temperature.

4. While this is cooling, combine the cranberries and pistachios in a large bowl. Add the cooled oat mix (which should be crispy and looking awesome, and stir until well combined. Store your muesli in an airtight container at room temperature. Recipe says for up to 10 days, but I know I've kept mine longer and it's fine.
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