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Archive for May, 2008

I’m becoming Queen of the zippy Meal.  20 minutes to make dinner?  Not a problem!  A great tip to keeping things simple but tasty is to have some fresh herbs handy, to throw in right before serving.  There’s not a lot springier/summery than fresh herbs is there?  A resounding No!  Again, with all things simple and fast, the best quality ingredients you can lay your hands on the better.  If you’re having your pasta sans all-covering tomato-based sauciness, make it the best pasta you can get, fresh if possible.   A great dish eaten al fresco with a glass of Pinot Grigio next to the tulip bed.

Penne with Broccoli, Peas and Tuna

oh, and capers too.

olive oil for frying
1 large brown onion, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ head broccoli, florets chopped
½ cup peas
1 Tbsp capers
1 tin whole/chunk tuna in water
fresh parsley and rosemary, chopped
olive oil, fleur de sel and Parmigiana for serving

penne

– heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan.  Sweat onions and garlic until starting to caramelise.

– Add the broccoli and peas and cook for a minute until colour of broccoli brightens.

– now add tuna and capers, cooking until heated through

– remove from heat. Stir in herbs and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt chunks and a shaving of cheese.

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It always amazes me how quickly us humans adapt to new conditions in our lives (willingly or not) and form new habits to accommodate new problems. It also amazes me just how much of what we do on a day to day basis is, in fact, habit. I woke up a few days ago and realised that I had gotten into the habit, due to our fluffy new circumstances, of waiting until after 8pm to decide what to have for dinner. Not a convenient time to begin experimenting with exciting new ideas, and definitely not a good time to decide to take a duck breast out of the freezer. Looking back, the last while’s dinners have consisted of out-the-can and sauce-in-a-jar kind of dinners, with a fresh salad thrown on the side to ease the guilt of not having enough veg on the plate. Well, I’m trying to put that habit behind me again and take the time to think about what I’m putting onto my plate and down the hatch. We are what we eat, and I don’t feel like being Beans-on-toast any more. Not only did I actually remember to take the duck breast out the freezer the other day, I even had a vague idea of what I wanted to do with it. Something sweet yet sour, something with a big Asian edge, although undefined as to provenance of said “Asian” and something with sweet potatoes. Something a little, well, square for a change.

*apologies for the shoddy photo quality.  Sometimes one is so busy trying to make one’s chopsticks stand still, one forgets to check one’s ISO.

Duck Breast in a sweet/sour sauce
with Broccoli, Water Chestnuts and black sesame
and fried sweet potato

for the marinade/sauce:
1 clove of garlic, minced
½ tsp fresh, grated ginger
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp Chinese five spice
¼ cup grated apple (use crisp, green apples like granny smith)
juice from ½ small lime

about 500g duck breast, fat removed, thickly sliced
1 Tbsp oil for frying

for the broccoli:
1 tsp veg oil
3 spring onions, thickly sliced
½ head of broccoli, chopped
1 can (8oz/230ml) water chestnuts, drained
3 tsp black sesame seeds

for the sweet potato:
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 Tbsp sesame oil
peanut oil (or veg oil) for frying

-first, mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and add the duck breast. Let marinade for as long as you can (I only left mine for 40 mins and it was great)

– par-boil the sweet potato for about 5 minutes until almost cooked, but still very firm

– heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan on medium. Add the duck and it’s marinade and cook gently until done. You should end up with a juicy sauce. Set aside, cover with foil to keep warm.

– meanwhile, heat the sesame and veg oil for frying the sweet potato and fry, turning occasionally until tender and slightly browned.

– stir fry the spring onions, broccoli and water chestnuts in the duck breast pan. Add the sesame seeds after 5 minutes and cook for another minute or so.

– remove sweet potato and drain before serving.

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Okay. I’m sorry for the awful pun. Although, I know that once you taste this scrumptious little mound of deliciousness you’ll forgive me in an instant. I’ve been holding on to this little gem for a while now, not because I didn’t want to share, but because it somehow, as things occasionally do in the manic digital mayhem that can be our lives, got lost in the ether, so to speak. Having finally surfaced from wherever it is that pear puddings go to holiday, I’m finally getting around to sharing it. This pudding seemed to be thwarted at so many points in it’s short life at it’s time in the lime light. Having been originally made to appear as a piece de resistance at the end of one of more decadent dinners the ever fabulous Mr P and I hosted, it was politely refused it’s place of glory when a second dessert appeared, as if by magic, in the hands of one of our guests. Not having been the first time a guest has brought a dessert to the table (and let me tell you, what a dessert it was! A pear pudding knows when to gracefully bow out to superior forces) I was well versed at organising a suitable Sunday Tea for the consumption of said pudding. However, a pear pudding’s prime not being as long as Madonna’s, a new set of Tea Guests were sadly disappointed with a somewhat dry, if tasty, bit of pud. Not to be out done, Pear Pudding was dutifully recreated to it’s original glory and enjoyed by all. I love a happy ending, don’t you?

Having the visual idea in my head of what I wanted my pear pudding to look like, but no recipe to follow or adapt, I did the next best thing and combined a couple of different recipe’s. I used the basics from a Women’s Weekly Pear Tart Tatin (from their New French Food cookbook) to caramelise the pears and a basic pudding recipe for the rest (thanks grandma). Best served with clotted cream.

Caramelised Pear Pudding

for the caramel pears
3 large Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored
90g butter
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup cream

for the pudding batter
½ cup butter, softened
⅓ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon

– slice the pears length ways into 1cm (½”) wide slices, keeping their peary shape. Keep the middle, pear shaped slices whole and chop the remaining bits into cubes. You need about 10 of the pear shaped slices for the sides of the pudding basin.

– heat the butter, sugar and cream slowly in a large, heavy based saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pear slices and chopped bits to the caramel and bring to the boil.

– simmer over a low heat, turning the pears every so often, for about 25 minutes, until the pears are tender. Remove from heat, drain pears from caramel, reserving sauce.

– preheat the oven to 350˚F and grease a 500ml pudding basin

– for the batter, beat the butter and sugar until creamy.

– beat in the eggs, one at a time.

– sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Add to the egg mixture and mix until just incorporated.

– stir in small, chopped pear pieces

– line your greased pudding bowl with the pear shaped slices, alternating head to toe. Us two slices to line the bottom of the basin. (chop up any remaining pieces and add to pudding batter.)

– coat the pears in half the reserved caramel.

– fill the basin with pudding mixture and top with the rest of the caramel sauce.

– bake in the middle of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes (checking often after 25 mins) until set in the middle.

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You know the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemon aide”, well my philosophy in life runs in the same vein: When the banana’s of your life turn black, make banana bread.” Which is my way of saying, when life’s being a little rough with you, eat cake. Also, it ties in rather neatly with my Waste-not-want-not upbringing. For a change, however, it being The Season of Great Changes and all, I eschewed all things expected and made something a little crazier. When asked to provide, and I quote, A Simple, No Fuss (with a pointed raised eyebrow, Ms Vickers) Dessert for an evening of screaming and gasping over the new series of Battlestar Galactica, what better remedy to such an unnatural request than brownies; and with those last two, very black banana’s staring at me from the bottom of the dusty fruit bowl, what else could I do but provide Banana Chocolate Brownies? These turned out to be a bit drier than my normal brownie recipe, which I usually diligently obey Nigella’s instruction on, but that made them just perfect with a big, yummy scoop of banana ice-cream.

*note: I put a cup of walnuts on top of the mixture before baking to make a walnut-like crust, but go ahead and mix them into the batter before baking. Ditto with the white choc chips, or go super wild and use dark choc chips for extra punch.

Banana Chocolate Brownies

adapted from The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

80 ml butter (⅓ cup)
185g dark chocolate, chopped (I used a mix of 60 and 70%)
150ml sugar (⅔ cup)
2 eggs
Heaping, oozing ½ cup mashed, ripe banana (the blacker the better)
2 tsp Vanilla
150ml flour (⅔ cup)
1tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
¼ cup white chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, broken up

– pre-heat oven to 350˚F

– line an 8″ square baking tin (or equivalent)

-in a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt chocolate and butter. Let cool a bit, then whisk in the sugar.

– in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the banana and vanilla. Add to the chocolate mix.

– whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, sift into chocolate and mix well.

– scraped into baking tin, top with nuts.

– bake for about 30 mins until set in the middle. Remove from oven, top with white chocolate chips and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting.

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