Archive for April, 2008

The Anzac Day Dinner Party

Posted in Chocolate, Cooking, Desserts, Dinner Parties with tags , , , on April 29, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

It’s nice having girlfriends at work, the kind with whom you discuss anything but work. They’re my lifeline whenever shit hits the fan. Even though we have our regular morning coffee runs and our lunch catch-ups, we’ve never really gone out together before, so over the long weekend last week, I invited the girls over to my place for a dinner party, which hopefully is the start of many more to come!

I have to admit I was pretty stressed out about the menu, which I didn’t decide upon till the very night before. It’s my first time cooking for a party of 5, I wanted to make things look pretty (we’re girls after all), but I also wanted to take this opportunity to try out new dishes that I’d never have a chance to otherwise. The catch was that one of them was vegetarian, and I wasn’t keen on doing a special vegetarian dish for her simply because 1. I was lazy, and 2. I didn’t want her to feel ‘left out’ from the rest of the group. So I did the next best thing of making all my dishes vegetarian, then made a separate dish of moroccan chicken kebabs and parma ham on the side of my starters. It worked like magic – everyone had a great time and my Vegegirl could eat almost everything!

The menu for the night

Starters
1. Antipasto of crusty Dench sourdough ciabatta, grissini, parma ham, olive oil
Jman spotted some lovely parma ham from the continental grocers a couple of days before the party so he grabbed them for me. It had this beautiful melt-in-your-mouth texture and was bursting with flavour without being too salty. This is one of the easiest starters to put together with the least fuss, so it was perfect while I focused on all the other dishes.

2. Salad caprese with buffalo mozzarella
This is another no-brainer that is always the crowd-pleaser. Ripened tomatoes, basil and morsels of delicate buffalo mozzarella is always a winning combination! Mmmm…

Mains
1. Feta, spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Truth be told, I had grand plans of making a spinach & ricotta ravioli from scratch. The Jman bought a wonderful pasta machine a few weeks back and I was eager as a beaver to put it to the test again. But then when I thought of all the work that it involved (and on my small kitchen benchtop), I decided it wasn’t a good idea after all. The last thing I need is to be stressed before a dinner party.

After poring over countless websites and cookbooks for the whole week, I finally settled on a cannelloni because it’s a communal dish that everyone can tuck into (a bit of mess makes dinner parties more fun), it’s easy, and it’s a nice change from the boring ol’ pasta. Most importantly, it was easy to do a vegetarian take on this one! I found a really nice recipe from Taste – nice because it had a bit of a twist to the filling, which included Greek feta cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. I also had some leftover buffalo mozzarella so I tore it up and sprinkled it over the cannelloni.

I made the filling early in the morning, piped them into the cannelloni tubes in the early afternoon, and by the time the girls arrived, dinner was ready without even breaking a sweat! Score!

2. Roasted winter vegetables
The Jman’s mom makes this on a regular basis and I absolutely love this. All I did was cut up some sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, leek, and zucchini (I parboiled the sweet potatoes and pumpkin for about 7-8 minutes until soft), tossed it in some olive oil, a dash of balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, then slid some sprigs of rosemary, oregano and smashed garlic. Bake in the oven for half an hour, then put it under the grill for another 10-15 minutes. Voila!

3. Moroccan chicken kebabs
A bit of an accidental dish, this one. I couldn’t decide what to do with the chicken thigh fillets, so I made things up as I went along with the help of the Jman.

4 chicken thigh fillets, cubed
1 tbsp coriander seeds (pounded till fine)
3/4 tsp cumin seeds (pounded till fine)
1.5-2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4-1/2 clove of garlic
A glug of olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Rind of half a lemon
Squeeze of lemon juice, to taste
2 tbsp Greek yoghurt

Mix all the ingredients together, and leave to marinate overnight. Skewer them whenever and bake in the oven. When it’s just about done, put it under the grill to brown and crispen up.

Dessert
No dinner party is complete without dessert. Vegegirl was supposed to bring a pavlova but couldn’t do so at the last minute. It was 2 hours to the party, I had some apples and rhubarb sitting in the fridge, so I did the most logical thing of making an apple and rhubarb crumble! The best bit about this dessert was serving it in the chef’s pan. I shoved the entire thing in the oven, and it kinda had an attitude to it. The portion was perfect, and served it up with some vanilla soy ice-cream, which by the way was a pleasant surprise.

N also came armed with her own arsenal of strawberries and the most decadent chocolate dipping sauce. Apparently, her chocolate sauce had dark chocolate, Toblerone, thick cream and Baileys in it. It was unbelievably wicked!

We had it with the De Bortoli pink moscato that T had brought and I can safely say that dessert was the best part of the meal (probably from the high that we all got after polishing off 3 bottles of wine), but by the time the girls went home, I was so stuffed I could barely move.

Unfortunately in my haste, I had neglected to take a picture of the food, so all I’ve got to my name now are pictures of dessert and starters…which I will post up another time. For now, you’ll just have to believe me that it was a great night.

To Market, To Market

Posted in Markets with tags , , on April 28, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Essential Ingredients
Spaghetti Vongole with Scallops

[A backdated post]

There’s something about stepping into Prahran Market that makes one go wild with excitement. I’m not sure if it’s got to do with the air in the market, or the excellent quality of the products, but I always step out of the MARKET with a huge hole in my pocket. It’s a culinary snob’s haven in there!

Being at Prahran Market makes you want to settle for nothing less than the best, the freshest, and the most top quality products. In any case, if I wanted a bargain, I wouldn’t be at Prahran; I’d be in Victoria Market or even Footscray. And after all, if you are going to cook up a pack of $7.50 bronze-cut spaghetti (which I’ve read all about and have been bubbling with curiosity ever since) with fresh vongole and wild mushrooms that cost you $2something each, what is an extra $5.75 for a bottle of porcini mushrooms (in fact, that’s really cheap!) and hey, while you’re at it, you might as well get some of that white truffle oil you’ve been longing for for the longest time? It’d go ohsowell with that $7.50 bronze-cut pasta and those wild mushrooms that cost you $2something each.

And while we were hanging around Essential Ingredient (for the truffle oil and porcini mushrooms and bronze-cut spaghetti), my eye spies some ramekins hidden in an obscure corner that I’ve also been contemplating for a long time. At $2 for a ramekin (the ones I’ve seen cost somewhere between $3-6), I grabbed all 5 of them that were left in the basket plus 2 smaller ones for good measure – they were the only ones of their kind that were left. The ceramic is thick and heavy, which means that it retains heat well and would be perfect for my souffles, which, surprise surprise, I’ve been itching to make for a very very long time as well.

Feeling all guilt-ridden, we decided to do a quick round at the vegetable section and boot ourselves out of the market before we spiral out of control as we’re already headed for our own destructions, but lo and behold, what should appear before us but a chocolate specialty shop – Monsieur Truffe. I go on to pick my fruit and veges while the Jman makes a beeline for the said chocolate specialty shop. By the time I’m done with my fruit and veges, I look across the hall and see the Jman chatting away with the shop owner/chocolate connoisseur. So I made my way across and joined them in their little tete-a-tete about chocolate (it almost sounds romantic eh?). I am pleasantly surprised. This guy certainly knows what he’s talking about. He’s French, for one, and “French” and “chocolate” go like wine and cheese. He talks about cocoa beans the way coffee snobs talk about their coffee; he talks about the different blends of chocolate that he uses, how one is fruitier than the other which makes that the perfect kind of chocolate for things like mousses and ganaches, because “the chocolate speaks for itself”, he quips in his classic French accent (or “ekk-sont” – truth be told I was imagining Gustav at the back of my head. Heh!). “A good quality chocolate has character; you may not like it, but at least it’s got a personality of its own.” Ahh, these pearls of wisdom.

What’s more, this guy makes his own chocolate blends. He buys them from the well-known suppliers and melts them down into his own little blocks. Even MORE respectable, he makes his own chocolate truffles. No more of that commercialised Koko Black nonsense (even though it’s still really good chocolate) – this guy who knows the world about chocolates makes them himself. Res-pekt. I am a pauper by now but I still go ahead and buy myself a box of 6 truffles that leaves me $7 poorer. Later on the Jman tells me that truffles are one of the easiest things to make (I have to admit I was part shattered), but I tell myself that I did the noble thing of supporting a little start-up specialty business like his, and I really want this guy to succeed.

So even though I went to the market with the SOLE intention (excuse the pun) of buying fresh sashimi fish for the sushi pigout with my brother and the Jman tonight, I walked out of the market with that and a taro (that’s another story altogether), fresh fruit, vegetables for the week, 3 of those $2somethingeach wild mushrooms, $7.50 bronze-cut pasta, a bottle of cheap Semillon for the pasta, scallops, 2 bottles of porcini mushrooms (they were, after all a very VERY good buy), brined green peppercorns, white truffle oil, and a box of chocolate truffles. Not to mention I leave the place a hundred bucks poorer. Oh, and two bunches of champagne and lavender-pink roses which were too cheap and pretty to resist.

Like they say, life is like a box of chocolates. I just hope mine’s like a box of Valrhona Guanudja truffles.

The pasta, by the way, was excellent. I can see why these pasta snobs swear by bronze-cut pasta. When done al dente, it is worlds apart from the $2 San Remo ones or even the $3 Barilla ones – even where Barilla is the snob of all supermarket pastas). Why, it’s probably from a different planet, galaxy, universe altogether! Mindblowing it was!!! The bite was perfect, what the Chinese folk would call “Q Q” as unglamorous as it may sound. We had vongole and scallops in the white wine sauce, together with a hint of saffron and a tiny pinch of chillipadi just to spice things up. We finished it off with a few drops of truffle oil and ooohlala!

I’m back home now, very satisfied albeit very guilty. I’m now researching on souffles. Because it’s BANZAI! night tonight, and because I have ramekins on my kitchen benchtop eager to be baked in the oven, I have decided to make a matcha souffle tonight, topped with adzuki paste. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some important business to take care of – making my adzuki paste.