Smell My Olive Pits

A blog dedicated to my love affair with all things food

Ramekin-ed dishes February 25, 2009

Filed under: Beef,Dessert,Soup — smop @ 6:26 am

Among some of the most valued virtues in life I see adaptability and versatility almost as most important. No matter where you are or what you do in life, you will inevitably be called to be different things to different people – a father, a brother, a son, a friend (ok, this is starting to sound like a eulogy). In my opinion, if ramekins were a person, then it would be the one to do it all!! (that or I just bought a few ramekins and went a little over board with them.)

It was a Saturday lunch and it was a three course meal – in ramekins! The below recipes are for 6 servings each, so unless you have 18 ramekins… as much fun as they are to make. Also, they are incredibly easy as well. Soup, pie and crumble: a wholesome three-hit combo (it even rhymes).

French onion soup with pastry top, served with cheese bread

Soup
Ingredients

  • 60g butter
  • 6 brown unions (approx. 1 kg), sliced into thin rings
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 9 cups beef stock (I used store bought stock, so I substituted some portions with water to taste)

Method

Heat butter in a large pot, add onion and cook slowly over low heat for about 30 minutes or until very tender and a deep golden brown, stirring often. Don’t rush this stage. Add the sugar and flour and cook and stirr for about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the stock gradually until the soup boils and simmer, partially covered for 1 hour. Ladle into ramekins.

Pastry top
Ingredients

  • rolled / puff pastry, thawed
  • Yolk of 1 egg

Method

Cut the pasty into squares or circles that covers the ramikins with a 2 cm overhang and put over ramikins. Prick a few holes in it with a fork, and brush with yolk. Place into the oven on 200C for approx 10 minutes or whenever pastry turns a golden brown.

Bread

Slice up a stick of French bread, toast the bread then top with grated Gruyere cheese (or whatever you have in your fridge that would toast well) and grill to melt. Serve immediately.

Shepherd’s pie

Mince
Ingredients

  • 850g lean lamb mince (if it were minced beef, it would make it a “Cottage Pie”)
  • 25g butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 tbp plain flour
  • 3 tsp whole grain mustard (or better still, 1/2 tsp mustard powder)
  • 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce

Brown the onions in butter, then cook lamb. Add mustard and Worcestershire sauce and mix through. Add flour. Spoon into ramekins.

Potato topping
Ingredients

  • 4-5 large potatoes, cooked (boiled) and mashed
  • 1/2 cup hot milk
  • 30g butter

Method

Mix all ingredient and season with salt and pepper to taste. spread evenly over the meat and rough up the surface with a fork. bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the topping is golden on 200C.

Rhubarb & ginger crumble
Ingredients

  • 1kg (or approx 10 rhubarb stalks, it might seem a lot but it does boil down)
  • 1 cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup soft brown / demerara sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 100g softened unsalted butter

Method

Preheat oven to 200C (which would already be at 200C, since you’ve been making the soup and pie). Cut rhubarb into short lengths (3-5 cm) and into pan with sugar, fresh and ground ginger. Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved, the simmer for 10minutes or until rhubarb is soft but still chunky. Don’t walk away as it will burn easily. Spoon into ramekins. Put the flour and brown sugar in a bowl, add butter and rub in with just your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the crumble over the stewed rhubarb and bake for 15-20 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

(if you’re tempted to make the all time fav. apple crumble then you can’t just substitute rhubarb with apple. Use 8 green cooking apples, peeled and cored, and cut into large pieces / wedges. Boil with 3 tbs water then reduce to low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in 2 tbs caster sugar. Crumble topping as above.)

 

Risotto with pumpkin and swiss brown mushrooms February 19, 2009

Filed under: Risotto — smop @ 7:30 pm

Sometimes I just itch to make something.  Not so much that I want to eat it, but I just want to make it – go through the process of preparing the ingredients, cooking it and presenting it.  I can’t really pinpoint why I have these sudden urges – they just come.  So it was a great thing that Becky came over for dinner the other night and picked having a pumpkin and mushroom risotto over rice and chinese veg.  I’ve been wanting to make risotto for a while, and have had the arborio rice and chicken stock staring me in the face in the pantry willing itself to be used.

Risottos are one of those things I love to cook and eat.  I’m a bit particular with cooking risottos – the stock needs to be warm and that it is added in a ladle at a time (rather than all at once) and I believe in taking the time to watch over it over a stove (rather than put it in a rice-cooker).  Besides, it’s also a perfect excuse to sneak in some downtime while watching those arborio rice grains plump up.  Once I get all this right, I hope to make my own stock and pair them together.

I sort of made up the recipe and hoped that it would work, so the amounts aren’t exact but probably a good guide.

Risotto with pumpkin and Swiss brown mushrooms
Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 400-500g butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-2 cm cubes
  • 150g Swiss brown mushrooms
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 small glass of dry white wine (i.e. Chardonnay)
  • 800 ml chicken / vegetable stock (this is a rough guide, you may need to add more or less depending on how fast the rice cooks – I usually dilute it with some warm water)
  • Shaved parmesan to serve

Method

Try to do this in some sort of order that the pumpkin will be ready just when the rice is.  If you start on the rice first, and then whack in the pumpkin about 5 minutes after, it should be just about right.

Pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 200oC.  Place pumpkin on a baking tray lined with baking paper (makes it so much easier).  Drizzle about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over it and toss to coat.  Pop into the oven and cook for about 15 minutes.  Take it out and drizzle a bit of honey over the pumpkin and pop back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes.

Mushrooms

Slice thickly (0.5 mm ish).  Dust with a bit of cornflour (optional).  Saute in pan until cooked.  I do this about 5 minutes before the rice looks like it’ll be done.

The risotto

Warm the stock in a saucepan or in the microwave.  You want it to be lukewarm (not piping hot).

Heat a heavy base saucepan over medium heat.  Add about a tablespoon of oil and sweat off onions (this means that you want the onions to turn transluscent – avoid browning them!).  After a minute or two, add in the garlic.  Stir for a minute.

Add rice.  Toast for 1-2 minutes.

Add wine and let the rice absorb all the wine.

Start adding the warm stock, about 1/2 cup at a time.  I try to avoid stirring the mixture too much – just one or two stirs with a spoon, and then I just let it sit and shake the pan a bit.  Allow the liquid to completely absorb first before adding the second lot of stock.  Continue doing this until the rice becomes al dente. For me, this usually takes about 30 minutes but it depends (I believe) on the pan size to rice ratio.

Putting it altogether

When rice is done, fold in mushrooms and carefully fold in pumpkin; you don’t want pumpkin mash.  Top with some shaved parmesan (I didn’t have any) and cracked black pepper .

Extra notes

When I first started making risottos, I found it pretty hard to tell when it was done.  The best way to tell is by tasting it.  The first couple of times I was tasting from the 20 minute mark and thus have eaten my fair share of semi cooked arborio rice grains.  Nowadays, I gauge whether the rice is cooked by:

  1. The time I spend cooking it;
  2. If the rice grains look plump and opaque; and
  3. When I hear it ‘whistle’ and see bubbling – this is actually an interesting observation I made after cooking a couple of risottos, and it is when a risotto is ‘done’, it bubbles (in slow mo) like lava pools and makes a whistling sound.  See if it is like that for you – it hasn’t failed me so far!
 

Chicken salad February 12, 2009

Filed under: Chicken,Salad — smop @ 7:12 pm

Sorry for the lack of updates!  I have been cooking and taking photos, but have just been putting off the writing part.  So now, that I have still a couple more sections of my thesis to write, I decided it would be a good idea to blog.

These warmer days are seeing a comeback of the salads.  I love a good salad – the ideal salad is one that has a mixture of textures, and a balance of flavour and colour.  Often, the simpler the better it is.  For dinner, I usually make one with three different kinds of veg and some form of protein.  I don’t when I started having salads for dinner — it just sort of happened.  On the hotter days, I would put together a salad of spinach, rocket and beans in the morning, leave it in the fridge for the day so by the time I came back, I’d have something that would tempt my appetite on a warm evening; while in winter, I’d roast pumpkins / sweet potatoes / potatoes / carrots, throw them in with some salad leaves and grill a lamb steak or chicken thigh.  It was a quick and easy meal and I got hooked.

I started off using bought dressing for my salads, and sometimes I would try tweaking it to suit my own tastes.  After watching a lot of Jamie Oliver and reading food magazines and blogs, I ditched the Kraft / Paul Newman dressings,  bought some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and started experimenting with vinegarettes.  There is a heap of creative freedom with vinegarettes so long as you follow the 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar or lemon juice (just something acidic) – you can add mustard, honey, garlic, spices, etc … Earlier this year I started experimenting with natural yoghurt and in summer when mint, dill and basil are at their best, they make a delicious dressing (even if I say so myself!).

The other day I felt like something light for dinner, so a salad it was.

The veg

I like the peppery taste of rocket, sometimes I add baby spinach or a mesculan mix.  I have an aversion to iceberg lettuce.  If you’re using onions, the Spanish onions (the red ones) or white onions are preferable; and make sure to slice finely – nothing worse than a mouth full of onions and then onion breath.  Phwoar!  Add carrots, capscium (according to Martha Stewart, red caps with 3 knobs on the bottom are better for salads as they are sweeter; 4 knobs are better for cooking), mushrooms, roast veg … whatever!

The protein

This time it was 2 chicken thighs. I cooked it in the easiest way I know how to cook chicken (and also my favourite way) — there’s nothing to wash up, uses hardly any oil, and is extremely versatile.  This was actually the first thing I did first so I could use the cooking time to make the salad and dressing.  It’s all about being efficient!

Preheat oven to 180oC.  Line a baking tray with foil and then baking paper (hence the no washing up part).  Take the chicken thigh (breasts are too dry for my liking but if you like it, go for it), spray with olive oil and sprinkle any form of spice on both sides.  This time I used a Southern blend spice, but I’ve used Cajun, Moroccan, mixed herb, garlic salt, lemon pepper…

Pop in the oven till done (15-20 minutes depending on the size of the thighs).  Cool slightly then slice.

Allow the meat to cool slightly before adding it to the salad mix otherwise you’ll have wilted salad leaves, unless of course that’s what you’re going for.

Dressing

I hardly measure out the amounts of things I use which makes it difficult to write up – but basically it is (roughly) 3 parts oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar, a semi crushed garlic clove, salt and pepper and chili flakes.   Let the garlic to infuse into the oil until the chicken is done, and when ready, discard the garlic clove, give the dressing a quick mix and pour over the salad leaves.

I could write up the other dressing recipes I use, but I think the fun part of making salads is making the dressing – taste and adjust and you’ll eventually find the right combination for your own tastes!

 

Spring onion pancake February 4, 2009

Filed under: Chinese,Savoury — smop @ 4:04 pm

I must’ve mentioned before how one of my ‘things to do in life’ is to learn how to make dimsims.  Of all the things that I would really love to learn how to make are har-gau, char siu bau, chiu-chow fun gwo (as my Mum loves them), ma lai go and those sesame balls filled with red bean past.  I’ve yet to attempt them, partly because they’re all labour intensive or require equipment that I don’t have.  The things that I have tried are egg tarts, the various types of pastries, other types of buns and now, the spring onion (or scallion) pancake.  I came across a recipe for the spring onion pancake a while ago, bookmarked it and forgot about it.  It only came back to me when I was clearing out my fridge and saw half a bunch of spring onions looking like it needed to be used.  It’s a simple recipe — the only downside is that it isn’t fast food.

individual

Spring onion pancake
The recipe can be increased, decreased.  I halved the original recipe and ended up with one pansized pancake, and I ate it all, and enjoyed it.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/4 cup of warm water + more (if necessary)
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Salt
  • Sesame oil

Method

Make your dough by adding the warm water to the flour and incorporating well.  You want the dough to be come off the sides easily but be barely sticky but not rock hard, so add more water as you see need be.  Cover with a damp tea towel and let sit for 30 minutes so the dough can relax.

After resting, roll your dough out to about 5mm thin. If you’re doubling the recipe, divide the dough into two pieces first before rolling out.

Brush with sesame oil and sprinkle lots of salt over it.  Add the spring onions (up to you!).  Pick up one end of the round and begin rolling it into a tight little cigar.

to be rolled

Pinch the ends, then twist the dough into a snail.  Let it rest for about 10 minutes.  Then roll it out to the thickness you want (I’d say 5-10 mm thin).

rolled again

Heat a non-stick pan and add oil — enough to just slightly coat the entire pan.  Enough oil makes it crispy, and really, if you don’t make it crispy, what’s the point of this then?

uncut

Slice and eat while warm.

sliced1

And just a photo to show the layers.

layers

It’s a wonderful snacking food.  I ate it all while watching the Saturday Night Live vids of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.  Hee-larious!  And it was an afternoon well spent.