Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recipe testing - Part 3

After sorting through recent photos I decided it was time for another recipe testing post. There are only a few months to go before Terry Hope Romero's new cookbook is due to be released now. Click here and also here to read my previous testing posts if you have missed them or feel like another look.

Out of the four dumpling recipes tested this is the only photo I have taken. I wasn't inspired to take any shots until receiving some gorgeous china from my mother in-law for my birthday late last year. These dumplings were stuffed with edamame and daikon which wasn't my favourite filling of the bunch but it was still tasty. 

This Morrocan bisteeya pie and carrot salad was a bold recipe test to conduct in my household as we aren't usually fans of sweet and savoury mixes. It wasn't very popular due to the sweetness as well as too many nuts for the man's liking which was a shame given the time it took to prepare. 

I was excited to see a Ful Medames recipe pop up for testing and this is definitely the best version I have made at home now. The toppings were so full of flavour which really made it shine!

Paella is something I have made a few times before and my previous attempts were blown away by Terry's recipe which included some tempeh (I'm slowly coming around to tempeh). I tracked down some calasparra rice to use in this rather than arborio which was really nice.

This Tom Yum soup was so delicious and had a wonderful balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours. It was Tom Yum indeed! 

We loved this Caribbean jerk tofu but weren't as keen about the rice and beans on the side. This was a pretty easy meal to whip up on a weeknight and it's made me keen to experiment with more Caribbean recipes.

It's been a really long time since I have gone to the effort of making a Thai curry paste at home. I'll have to get into the habit on a more regular basis as the fresh flavours in this green curry were so much nicer than the results of a jarred/tinned curry paste. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Green beans, tofu and chocolate truffles

Over the past week or so, I have enjoyed revisiting a few older recipes. The boys love it when I go through this phase as I always give them the chance to request meals that they cherish. My son (who shall be known as "the young man" from this point forward, thanks Cindy) surprised me with a request for a green bean and tomato side dish we all used to love but I have not made in recent years.

We watched Jamie Oliver make this side dish of beans and tomatoes on one of his TV shows a long time ago and were intrigued with the combination of these simple ingredients. When I tried the recipe, it became a household favourite that remained on regular rotation for many years. Jamie didn't include any herbs in his recipe and somewhere along the way I decided that I liked it more with some fresh basil which is how I make it these days. It is a fairly quick side to prepare with the only downfall being that it uses more than one pot.  

After deciding that I would appease the young man further by serving mashed potatoes with the beans and tomatoes, I wanted to include a bit of protein to round out the meal. I purchased a grill pan towards the end of last year on the spur of the moment as I had been thinking about buying one and found one on sale. It has been a fabulous tool for making tofu bacon but I hadn't put it to the tofu steak grilling test yet.

It took a while to decide on a marinade for the tofu as I wanted to use one with lighter flavours rather than something that would be too overpowering or spicy. After going through several cookbooks, I finally settled on making a teriyaki marinade from Vegan Planet. The man and young man can either love or hate tofu so they eyed their steaks off with initial scepticism but after tasting it they declared that the tofu was excellent as was the rest of the meal.  

Valentine's Day is not usually a celebratory event on the calendar in our house but this year we cheated and had an indulgence on some delicious assorted truffles. It was purely because I was the lucky winner of this adorable box of Sjaark's vegan chocolate truffles thanks to Mandee of Cupcake Kitteh. If you would like the details of some online stores where a range of Sjaark's chocolates can be ordered from, head over to this post at Mandee's blog.

Teriyaki pan-grilled tofu (Adapted from Vegan Planet)

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
350g firm tofu, drained and pressed

Whisk together the soy sauce, orange juice, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and ginger. Cut the tofu into 3 thick slices, place in a shallow dish and cover with the marinade. Allow the tofu to sit for about an hour, flipping the slices over after about 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan and spray lightly with olive oil. Cook the tofu for about 3 minutes on each side or until slightly browned on each side.

Green beans with tomatoes (Adapted from Jamie Oliver)

250g green beans, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes
10-12 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Place the beans in a saucepan with some salt and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 7 minutes or until the beans are tender. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the garlic. Fry for about 30 seconds or until the garlic is sizzling, then stir through the tomatoes. Cook for 15 minutes, the tomatoes should be completely soft and broken down after this time. Stir through the green beans, basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A milestone celebration

Our son's 18th birthday was last week! Wow, it makes me feel old to be the mother of an adult but I am actually quite a young parent as I gave birth to him just after turning 19. On his actual birthday, the three of us went to a favourite local restaurant (which I must bring my camera to next time so I can post about it) and then we hosted a family party on the weekend. It was a great night that was thoroughly enjoyed by all, including the birthday boy.

During the month preceding the event I perused many recipes for dips, finger foods and sweets and pre-cooked a few freezer suitable items along the way to keep myself organised. I actually had to stop at one point because my freezer was full to the brim of baked goods so I couldn't squeeze another item in. The photo below was taken after clearing out the freezer on the morning of the party, pictured are samosas from Terry Hope Romero's recipe testing, pinwheels, sausage rolls from where's the beef and oven baked falafels.

I chose a selection of dips and daringly made a couple that I hadn't tried previously, one of which turned out better than the other. As my mum is seriously allergic to all nuts I decided to keep them out of everything apart from the sausage rolls and changed this Mexican layered dip around to suit. I started with a base of refried beans and layered it with guacamole instead of cashew cream, then topped it all off with chopped tomatoes, olives, spring onions and coriander. This was a big hit, especially with my niece and brother in law.  

A hummus variation with roasted red capsicum, olives and smoked paprika that I made last Christmas, a spiced carrot dip which I wasn't very fond of, and a Moroccan broad bean dip called bessara were the other dips I made to go with pita bread. The bessara was quite similar to hummus although it had a deeper earthier flavour. I stumbled across this dip when I was searching for recipes that used dried broad beans a while ago as I accidentally purchased broad beans when I meant to buy Egyptian fava beans for ful medames.

For sweets, I made a carrot semolina halva from recipe testing and rocky road from Green Gourmet Giraffe minus the nuts. I also made a chocolate cake and frosting from The Joy of Vegan Baking which was decorated with choc-mint balls (see top photo).

Now that the party is over and with recipe testing finishing up soon, I aim to get back into a more regular blogging routine. That's the plan anyway!

Bessara (Moroccan broad bean dip) (Adapted from this recipe)

200g dried broad beans
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 heaped teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
fresh chopped parsley, for garnish

Place the broad beans in a bowl and cover well with water. Allow to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain the beans in a colander and rinse well with fresh water. Place the beans in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered for about an hour or until the beans are tender.

Drain the beans in a colander and allow to cool then place them in a food processor with the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper. Pulse for a few minutes, scraping down the sides every so often, until it becomes a thick smooth paste. Add some additional water if you prefer a thinner consistency.

Transfer to a bowl and garnish with parsley. Bessara is traditionally eaten warm, I served it at room temperature which was fine.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Weekday smoothies

Life has been extremely busy recently as I've been planning and cooking for an upcoming party this weekend, participating in another round of recipe testing for Terry Hope Romero and enjoying the company of interstate friends last weekend. I only have time for a quick post this week, but you can be assured there will be several posts to follow about the party food next week.

Smoothies became a part of my Monday to Friday ritual around the same time this blog was created but I haven't posted about them yet. Throughout my life I never enjoyed various cereals or muesli for breakfast and was generally happy to nibble on a couple of slices of toast. That all changed when the man began to purchase smoothies on a semi-regular basis. I questioned why he should pay for something at inflated prices when I could easily be whizzing them up at home for a fraction of the cost.

So I began making smoothies for the man and decided that I quite liked them too! I fluctuated with various combinations before we mutually agreed that pineapple and blueberries are our favourite base fruits. A third and sometimes fourth type of fruit is added which provides subtle differences in the overall flavour of the smoothie. The most common supplementary fruits I use are banana, mango or other type of berries. Ground flaxseed is always included to provide us with some Omega 3.

I call them our weekday smoothies as we consume them throughout the working week. The man takes 500ml off to work in a jug which leaves me with 250ml and enough room in my belly for a slice of toast.        

Weekday smoothie

1/4 - 1/3 pineapple, roughly chopped
1/4 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
1 small banana or 1/2 mango or an equivalent amount of other various fruit
1 cup (or more) soy milk
2 tablespoons whole flaxseeds

Place the pineapple, blueberries, banana/mango/other fruit in a blender with about a cup of soy milk and blend until no chunks of fruit remain. Grind the whole flaxseeds in a coffee or spice grinder until it becomes a powder. Add the ground flaxseed to the blender and pour in additional soy milk up to the 750ml level mark on the blender. Blend again briefly, then pour into glasses and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tomato and chilli relish

When it comes to making preserves, I am a complete and utter novice. You could say that I was a virgin in this department until a few days ago. Over the years, I have had the best intentions to utilise some of my various home-grown produce into jams, relishes or chutneys although I never managed to get around to it.

My mother and mother in-law are old hands at making preserves and always pass on a jar or two of their various wares. I discussed tomato based recipes with my mother in-law last weekend who showed me a great pile of old recipes she had been collecting over the years. She offered to lend me her book full of clippings and at the end of the evening, I forgot to take them home with me.

I took this as an opportunity to look through my own cookbooks and stumbled across a Tomato and chilli relish in an old Charmaine Solomon cookbook published by Family Circle in 1991. It sounded like a perfect recipe for me to try, especially as I had several home-grown chillis ready to use as well as a bounty of tomatoes. My chillies are quite small but they have a decent amount of heat, I have learnt that a little bit goes a long way.

I haven't taken any photos of my tomato plant this year as I am rather ashamed of it's appearance. It was neglected for a period and the leaves started to brown, ironically it has produced the most perfect fruit of any tomato plant I have grown. The bowl in the picture is holding 1.7 kg of beautiful ripe fruit, I only used 1 kg of these in the relish as we have been enjoying the tomatoes so much in salads, sandwiches and various other ways.

Charmaine's recipe called for 3 kg of tomatoes so I made a third of the quantity and also altered a couple of other things along the way. The tomatoes were supposed to be peeled first which I didn't bother with, I forgot to measure the salt so might have used a bit less and I also doubled the amount of curry powder as I felt it needed more after a taste test.

As this was my first relish attempt, I was astonished with the amount of sugar that went into it. After I added the final ingredients and had a taste, I was certain that it was going to be way too sweet. When the relish was bottled and cooled down, I nervously gave the man a spoonful to sample and was relieved when he declared it to be a good one. He loves a good relish so I was interested to hear his opinion. I was pleasantly surprised upon tasting the relish as the sweetness had mellowed throughout the cooking and cooling process.

The recipe filled three small jars and one slightly larger jar (total of approx. 950ml) and could easily be doubled or tripled to suit your needs. The amount of chilli and curry powder could also be increased or decreased to suit your personal taste.

Tomato and chilli relish (Adapted from a Charmaine Solomon recipe)

1 kg ripe tomatoes
2 medium brown onions
2-3 teaspoons salt (should be 3 teaspoons based on the recipe)
2 bird's eye chillies
300ml brown vinegar
250g raw sugar
1/4 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon turmeric

Chop the tomatoes and onions and place them in a large non-metallic bowl sprinkled with the salt. Allow it to sit for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Drain the tomatoes and onions in a colander, then place them into a large saucepan with the chillies. Combine the sugar, plain flour, curry powder, mustard powder and turmeric in a bowl and add enough vinegar to make a thick paste and set aside. Pour the remaining vinegar into the saucepan and simmer on medium-low for 45 minutes.

Stir the paste into the saucepan, bring to the boil and stir until it becomes thick. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Spoon the relish into warm sterilised jars and seal tightly.