Monday, 29 October 2007

How to make a Meat-Man eat Chickpeas

Chickpea and Roasted Pumpkin Soup

Quikong is a proud meat lover. How do I know this? Well firstly, he has a name for his grill/BBQ ("the Black Stallion"). Secondly, when we were looking for a new apartment, the top priorities for him were - it has to be by the water and the porch has to be spacious enough for his Stallion. In his defence, he does enjoy vegetarian foods and now that I think about it, half of the meals we cook at home is vegetarian. However he always gives me a tortured look on his face when I say that I am making chickpea-something. So how did I manage to convince him that chickpeas taste good? With this soup which blew him away. I served the soup with a beautiful rye bread I bought from a sourdough bakery.

Verdict: Quikong finished a big bowl of it and commented a few times how much he enjoyed it. He even said, “you should make this again.” The only problem now is that I have to share my soup with him....hmmmm...

October 1st was World Vegetarian Day. Do visit the World Vegetarian Day website to find out more about it. I am submitting this recipe to Margot over at Coffee and Vanilla who is hosting Vegetarian Awareness Month for all of October.

For this recipe, I used Japanese pumpkin (also referred to as a squash in North America. Learn more about pumpkin/squash here). I always tend to buy this particular variety because it is less watery than other types, with drier, sweeter flesh and has an excellent nutty flavour. The natural sweetness intensifies when roasted. Despite it being spring in Sydney, pumpkin/squash is plentiful because we can get them all year round. Kevin of Closet Cooking made delicious pumpkin risotto using Japanese pumpkin last weekend, so do head over to have a look. He also explained how you can make pumpkin puree as well as toast pumpkin seeds (skin on).

Japanese Pumpkin

I also rediscovered pepitas or hulled pumpkin seeds when I had dinner at Eva's place. She recommends toasting it lightly (I toast it in a frying pan) before serving it. Toasted pepitas add another layer of flavour as well as texture to the soup.

Pepitas - Raw Hulled Pumpkin Seeds

Chickpea and Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Adapted from Donna Hay’s "Off the shelf – Cooking from the pantry"

2kg (4lb) pumpkin
6 cups (2.5 pints) vegetable stock
1 tbsp oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 small fresh chilli, chopped
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey
1 x 400g (14 oz) can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
Fresh coriander, roughly chopped (or shredded basil)

To serve:
Pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
Chopped chilli (seeds removed) & coriander

- Cut pumpkin into large wedges (leaving skin on). Place it in a baking tray and roast pumpkin at 200° C (400° F) for about 40 minutes or until soft and golden.
- Heat oil in a large saucepan and sauté onions, garlic, cumin and chilli over medium heat till onions turn soft.
- In two batches, scrape the pumpkin flesh into a food processor with 1.5 cups of stock and cooked onion/garlic mixture and blend till smooth.
- Place the pureed pumpkin mixture into the saucepan. Add the mustard, honey, remaining stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chickpeas and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Just before serving, stir through coriander (or shredded basil) and garnish with toasted pumpkin and chilli, if desired. Serve with grilled bread. Serves 4.

Friday, 26 October 2007

8-arms, 3-hearts and a Recipe

Yet again, I am amazed at how much I am learning since I started this blog. Since it's BBQ season down-under and I've been wanting to post this simple yet tasty grilled baby octopus recipe, I thought I better get to know this creature a bit more. So vegetarians or those of you who are not fans of consuming 8-legged creatures, you can skip the recipe, but these octopus facts just might come in handy in a trivia ;-)

- A baby octopus when born is as big as a flea and is on an average 2-5 inches in length.
- It is a nocturnal creature.
- It has a soft body and an expert at camouflaging.
- It has 8 arms (ok, we all know that. But did you know that if it loses one arm, it can re-grow it!). AND although it has 8 arms, it tires easily in a struggle. This is because the oxygen carrying component in its blood called hemocyanin is copper based. It is therefore not very efficient in carrying oxygen through their systems.
- It has two eyes, one on each side of its head – it has very good eye sight but cannot hear.
- I admire the mother octopus – she goes into a dark cave and lays up to 1,00,000 eggs. She hangs up the entire bunch of eggs from the ceiling and keeps guard over them day and night and does not go out of her den. She starves herself and dies probably even before the eggs are hatched.
- The octopus has a very well developed brain. The baby octopus learns by itself (well, I guess that makes sense because their mom might be dead) and also from one another.
- It has three hearts.
- Octopuses are carnivorous creatures. Although octopuses have a hard row of teeth, they do not chew their food. They inject a toxin into the prey in order to paralyze it and soften their flesh.
- (I like this part) They bite the prey to kill it then take it to the den for a leisurely meal (I like leisurely meals too!).

In terms of consumption, all parts of the baby Octopus can be eaten except for the eyes, mouth area and the viscera. It can be eaten raw, deep fried, stewed, boiled and pickled. See here on how to "clean" the octopus.

"Cleaned" Raw Baby Octopus


Thai-Style Grilled Baby Octopus

500g baby octopus, cleaned
1 tbpsn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbspn Thai sweet chilli sauce
1 tbspn Fish sauce
1 tbspn light soy sauce
2 tbspn lime juice
2 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped

Toss the octopus through the marinade (except for coriander), cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours (if possible - this allows the flavours of the marinade to enter the flesh of the octopus and it also acts as a tenderiser). When you are ready to cook the octopus, toss in coriander. Sear the octopus on a very hot BBQ plate until just cooked.


Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Getting back into the swing of things.

A very nice blogger (with a wicked sense of humour) recently passed on this award to me. Katie - thank you so much! While I am resigned to the idea that I will never get an award for my food photography skills and I am definitely not breaking any records for creating original recipes, it's, well...very nice to be appreciated in such a way.

"This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded, please pass it on to 7 others who you feel are deserving of this award."

Hmmm.... only 7??! My partner can testify (in exasperation) that while I am flexible in adapting recipes, generally I don't like breaking rules (could be my Singaporean upbringing...), but I will this time. I've been through a very rough patch the last few weeks and it's been so encouraging to know that fellow food-bloggers have a big heart.

I would like to thank each one of you for taking the time to drop encouraging and supportive e-mails and comments. Katie, Amanda, Wendy, Lydia, Kelly M, Anh, Valli, Aimée, KJ, Veron, Deb, Lynn, Belinda, Tigerfish, Carol, ValentinA, Eva, East Meets West, Sunny, Kelly-Jane, Patricia, Truffle, Susan, Toni, Kate, Cynthia, Half-Baked, Rosa, and Shaun, you are all very nice bloggers. :-)

I am looking forward to sharing a few recipes I've tried recently. Eva and I finally got our act together and we just joined the Daring Bakers, so I will definitely be baking. While I don't think that I will be back in full swing anytime soon, I am definitely back! I am looking forward to dropping by all my favourite food blogs and catching up with all the posts I missed.

Have a nice day!

Monday, 8 October 2007

An Angry Baker

Omenakakku (Finnish Apple Cake)

I've been feeling really annoyed, irritable and even angry. I think it's a combination of having too much on my plate (and I don't mean food), feeling like I cannot accomplish all that I need to at a standard that I want them to be and two deadlines coming up close together. Even looking at all the inspiring blogs doesn't seem to help because I feel guilty that I am not spending that time on my research. (Dear fellow bloggers, you will probably not see many comments from me till next weekend, but I look forward to catching up on your cooking and baking after I get a few things out of the way).

Today, I was telling Eva a dear friend and a food blogger, about all this and she remarked that she cannot imagine me acting this way because I am usually calm. Unfortunately, the person who got the brunt of my cranky mood has been my partner, Quikong. This makes me feel somewhat guilty because he has been very patient and understanding. And he's done most of the cooking for the last two weeks because of this. He is really a saviour because it's tough for me to go through such challenging times without my family around me.

When I am in a fiery and agro mood like this, I like to run. But I get back home too late these days, so I baked instead. I usually bake when I am in a giving and loving mood. But I can be an angry baker. Bread would normally be a good way to let off steam because all that kneading is a good way to get rid of all the nervous energy. But I am so short of time so I wanted to bake something quick and stress-free. Thankfully, Wendy's Omenakakku (Finnish Apple Cake) recipe came to the rescue. Her original recipe can be found here.

My adjustments: I used low-fat sour cream, added 1 tsp vanilla essence and 1 tsp ground cinnamon in the batter. I also tossed the apples (granny smith) in cinnamon sugar. Use the best quality butter you can find.

Tasting Notes:
~ I've already made this twice since Wendy posted the recipe so that's testament of how much I enjoyed this cake. The cake was perfectly moist without being too buttery. The sour cream is probably responsible for that (look here for baking with yogurt, which also results in moist cakes that are lower in fat).
~ What increased the moreish factor of this cake is the mingling flavours of the apples with cinnamon.
~ It had just the right amount of sweetness.
~ A plus point for me is that this cake also freezes well. When I don't give away my cakes, I like to freeze them for "emergency" situations. My only regret is that I didn't have enough apples when I baked the cake that you see in the photos, so I used more apples the second time round.

This recipe is a keeper. Thanks for sharing this recipe, Wendy!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Do you Pesto or Pistou?

Spaghetti tossed with Basil Pistou and Asparagus

I enjoy both cooking and dining out. Trying out new restaurants is a hobby of mine that I wish I could indulge in more in the future when I complete my research project and can then go back to work full-time (did I just say that I was looking forward to working full-time??!!).

One of the reasons that I love about eating out is that I discover new things all the time and it inspires what I do in my own kitchen. A few weekends ago, we were in the Blue Mountains for an engagement party. We had lunch at a lovely courtyard bistro there. As usual, I carefully perused the menu and this caught my attention: "Organic Vegetable Soup with Garlic Pistou, served with a side of soughdough baguette". Hmmm... never seen that word “pistou” before. So of course I had to order it. When my soup arrived, I discovered that pistou looked and tasted very similar to pesto. The soup was perfectly complimented by the pistou.

After some research on the internet, I discovered this interesting article “Pistou and Pesto: Basil's Last Stand” by Kate Heyhoe. I enjoyed reading this article because she discussed both pesto and pistou. I learnt that pistou is a French sauce from Provence similar to pesto, but without pine nuts and Parmesan. Kate explained that the basic French pistou traditionally uses only basil, olive oil, garlic and salt. I think this is great for vegans and also those allergic to nuts. Kate also has a recipe for Soupe au Pistou, a famous soup in French cuisine, some may refer to as a Provencal version of minestrone.

Freezing Pistou & Pesto:
For those of you who are heading towards cooler months, freezing pistou may be a good idea. You can always add in pine nuts and Parmesan later if you wanted to have pesto instead. Susan of Food Blogga wrote in this post that her husband, Jeff, made a good suggestion about how to freeze pesto while retaining the green colour - stop the oxidation process by covering the top of it with olive oil.

After having my first taste of pistou, I was craving for it. It’s warming up in Sydney (20 bushfires recorded last weekend), so I wasn’t keen on making soup to go with the pistou. Instead, I wanted to prepare a pasta dish that still tastes good at room temperature. I also wanted to use asparagus. Asparagus is currently in peak season in Australia and the prices will soon go as low as $1 a bunch.

Spaghetti with Basil Pistou and Asparagus

250g thin (no. 4) spaghetti
Basil pistou (recipe here)
Asparagus, sliced diagonally into 4 & lightly steamed
Handful of semi-dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
2 rounded tbsp capers, drained & halved
salt & freshly cracked pepper
Optional: roughly grated Parmesan cheese

- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid.
- Drain pasta and immediately toss it with the pistou and all other ingredients (except for cheese, salt & pepper). If the pasta seems a bit dry, add some of the reserved pasta liquid or add more olive oil.
- Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper if needed.
- Serve immediately as it is or with some parmesan cheese.

This pasta dish is versatile because it can be served at room temperature. If serving later, cover with cling film to prevent the dish from drying out. Quikong suggested using grilled cherry tomatoes instead of the semi-dried ones. This pasta was perfect for a spring picnic. To take this dish up a notch, I served it with grilled scallops.

I love scallops, especially those with roe on. If you want to know more about how to buy and cook scallops, have a look here. The roes can be of different colours and it does taste slightly different. I prefer the darker orange coloured roe because it has a richer flavour. See how pretty they are even when they are raw:

Raw Scallops

Grilled Scallops

8 raw scallops, with roe on
1 garlic clove, crushed
Dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt & pepper

- Toss all the ingredients together. Scallops require very little salt, so don't be too heavy handed with the seasoning. Let it marinate in the fridge for 20- 30 minutes.
- On a hot grill, cook scallops till they turn opaque. Scallops should be very slightly undercooked.
- Devour!

This week's PPN # 32: It's been a while since I participated in Ruth's Presto Pasta Night, so thankfully I remembered to take photos of this meal. Ruth, I hope you enjoyed this post :-)