January 24, 2012

pinterest and potstickers

A few weeks ago, I finally joined the gang that is Pinterest.  I love it.  This newfound interest somewhat explains the lack of blogging (although the main reason for that is that Will is using my macbook for the Straddie project - more on that later) but the main thing about Pinterest is how damn cool it is to just be able to, with one click of the button, bookmark that awesome image/recipe/idea that you previously didn't have a good way of filing.  For an organisation freak, it's a dream come true.

Now, I love it, I spend a lot of time looking at stuff, but I also think I now waste less time looking for stuff.  You find people that like the stuff you do, and hey presto, at your disposal are images of all the things you want to look at!  Or make!  Or dream about!  Or cook!

Yes, cooking.  It's a veritable wealth of information, images that make you drool, that make you want to cook and then ideas for food that you never knew existed.  Hooray. 

So it was via Pinterest that I found this recipe.  It's for those delectable Chinese dumplings, which are dumplings when they are steamed but potstickers when they are panfried.  Do you know how much I love them?  A lot.  A potsticker is that perfect combination of crispy, chewy, savoury, juicy, bite sizedness and it comes with dipping sauce.  It's the perfect food for me.  And all those different fillings too!  So when I came across this cute little image of home made dumplings, I had to make them myself.  It seemed like madness what with time being so scarce but I wanted those little suckers so badly, I had to do it.

So I did.  I followed the recipe and shunned the food processor to hand chop everything except the pork which I did whizz in the Magimix, and the ginger, which I got out of the frozen stash of grated ginger I keep.  I didn't make my own wrappers since I thought this might be the bit I could really screw up and I wanted them to be at least half good.  So I bought pre made gowgee wrappers (for $1.90 a pack of 30, it seemed the sensible thing to do) and then sat and meditatively wrapped and crimped each one (and I made 75 in total), before laying them out on a tray, and freezing them for that quick fix.

The kids actually liked them.  We loved them.  They were crispy, succulent, flavoursome.  As I was filling them, Will and I kept commenting on how good the raw filling smelled.  The dipping sauce was the perfect accompaniment and they looked beautiful.  All up, about 90 mins of preparation and about 10 minutes to cook.  Worth every moment.  Happy to answer questions over technique but you know, it was easy.  Easier than I thought it would be and a very good investment of time.

You know, often you think you don't have time. Time to do anything. Now that I'm a working mother, I can't even fathom how I used to fill my days.  We feel so busy, we feel like there's no time, and especially not time to make home made Chinese pork dumplings. The truth is we do have time.  We aren't that busy, we just like to complain about it - lord knows I do.  But we should all make time to nourish our souls and learn something new, because that's what makes us feel good.  Happy Chinese New Year.

January 23, 2012

melanzane alla parmiagana

It's so good, I've written about it before.  It's arguably the best use of an aubergine I have ever come across and I've lost count of the times I've made and enjoyed this and every time, it gets that bit better.  It's straightforward, but grilling the aubergine takes time and patience and getting this bit right, I think, makes for a great dish rather than an ok one.  This is the recipe, except these are the changes:

1.  I use about 4-6 large aubergines, rather than 3.  I don't think 3 is enough to make a good, dense, aubergine rich dish, and like a good lasagne, I think you want lots of layers.  If you end up with a few too many slices of aubergine, eat them.

2.  I grill the aubergine long and slow so it's meltingly soft and golden.  I do it on the lowest setting on our barbecue, which means I can grill approximately 5 large aubergines, sliced about 1cm thick all in one go.  It's quicker, cleaner and I quite like standing at the barbecue slowly and methodically turning the aubergine slices until they are cooked to perfection (make sure they are as soft as can be).  I tend to do this the day before I assemble the dish, to split the work up a bit, but it's the only bit that's any work.

3.  The tomato sauce - Rather than one clove of garlic, I use three, and rather than one large onion, I'll use 1.5 or even two, very finely chopped and cooked slowly until soft and brown.  Cook the tomato sauce on a low heat for about 30 mins, or until you see a film of olive oil on top of the sauce which means (to me) that it's ready and your sauce will be very sweet and intense.  I like to be generous with the red wine vinegar and seasoning before blending the sauce until it's smooth.  Leftover sauce, if there is any, is great tossed through pasta with a bit of parmesan the next night (for the kids in particular for a quick mid week meal).

That's about it.  I top the assembled dish of layers of the aubergine, sauce and lots of parmesan with fresh  breadcrumbs, fresh oregano, torn up mozzarella and I bake it for about 40 mins.  Then, we eat it with warmed, crusty bread, cold butter and red wine. What we don't eat ends up in the freezer for the ultimate easy deluxe mid week dinner.

January 22, 2012

mushroom risotto heaven

This is fast turning into a diary of what we eat, but beyond looking after our boys, the grind of work and keeping house, enjoying the food we eat is what life seems to be about at the moment.  I've always been enthusiastic about only making what we want to eat and sometimes it can be a but cumbersome choosing to make what takes more effort than beans on toast (which is sometimes just what we fancy) but when we really feel like eating something, and in the absence of the long languorous dinners we used to enjoy, I think it's worth the extra effort to get it just right rather than settling for what'll do.  We have many pleasures in life at the moment, but for someone that eats every day, often three times or more a day, food is what fuels my every sense and I don't have the time or the inclination to eat anything except that which is cooked with love and enthusiasm.

So, I make no apology for this turning into a food diary.  And this next recipe is something else.  I love a good mushroom risotto but in all the years I've been cooking it, I've never managed to replicate that full-on, earthy, almost meaty flavour that you get in the restaurants.  Until now.

We had more field mushrooms than we knew what to do with, so I decided it was time to learn how to make a decent risotto, the oozy kind that you don't want to stop eating.  Even before finding the recipe I wanted to try, I knew I needed good stock, so I started with the homemade chicken variety, a few organic chicken wings, carrots, onions, fresh bay, thyme, parsnips, parsley, peppercorns, celery, plenty of water, simmered gently for a couple of hours.  This may seem like a lot of work but it's truly the easiest thing to make and having home made stock means you don't have to use the over-salted supermarket kind, which I fear is made with unhappy chickens and no love whatsoever.  I'm no chef but I know that home made stock, and you can make litres of it at a time, is probably one of the most useful things to have on hand, frozen into 250ml or 500ml tubs. (That, and frozen breadcrumbs made from fresh bread.)

So, stock made, I then searched for a recipe that came with a picture that looked like what I wanted to eat.  I found this one.  I followed it pretty much to the letter except I only had those big portobello mushrooms - none of the fancy kind - and more than the recipe needed, but I threw them all in (about double what was needed) and used plenty of stock, butter and salt (my stock was unsalted), parmesan and parsley and in 40 minutes, we had the perfect mushroom risotto.  (My only criticism of the recipe is that it said 'serves 4'.  Well I did 1.5 times the quantities suggested by the recipe which was enough for a big meal for two.  The original recipe would never have been enough for four.)

The key?  I'm no expert but I'm sure using good stock is important, and plenty of it too.  I reckon you want the risotto nice and oozy, so you probably need more stock than you realise (and this recipe was almost spot on with how much you'd need but I still used a tad more), don't skimp on butter and salt (good general rules for life, I think).  Keep stirring (it's not that big a deal to stand at a stove for 30 minutes), apparently the stirring is what makes the starch ooze from the rice, and don't let it get dry at any point.  Eat big platefuls, off your lap, in front of the tv while turning to your husband every few minutes and saying 'mmmm. best. risotto. ever'.

January 7, 2012

a visit from my mother-in-law

It doesn't happen often, as she has an enviable life of endless parties, weekends in Sydney and travel to faraway places, but when my mother-in-law does visit, it's always really nice and it's a perfect excuse to bake.  Here's our attempt at the London Cheesecake, by Nigella, topped with raspberries because even I need a bit of freshness on all that cake.

It was good and all, pretty damn good for a first attempt and even now, at 7am I could eat a slice, but I'm still on the search for that smooth, velvety, sweet, light slice of perfect cheesecake.

January 5, 2012

dots on new year's eve

On New Year's Eve, we made another trip to the GoMA.  I love it there.  This time to see the Look Now, See Forever exhibit by Yayoi Kusama, not that we knew that's what we were going to see, we just got the train there (mainly to entertain the boys) and walked over to the gallery in the rain, to find some awesome stuff.

Like this exhibit, The Obliteration Room.  It's a totally white room, white everything, couches, dining table, coffee tables complete with cups and saucers, computers, bookshelves, even a working white piano.  As you went in, each child was given a sheet of stickers to stick anywhere, ANYWHERE!  So much fun.  As you left, you had to check the soles of your shoes for little stickers to make sure you didn't trample them all over the rest of the gallery.  The GoMA.  It's a seriously cool place.

January 1, 2012

the year in review

I went back to work after giving birth to my littlest boy and to my surprise, loved it, I joined a gym and kept it up, we had visitors from England, we broke a fridge, we bought a new camera and took a million photographs, we edited our photos and backed them up responsibly, we realised we need a holiday but didn't have the time to take one, we escaped the floods but friends weren't so lucky, I baked a cheesecake and made a pavlova, both for the first time, we lost a baby and cried and cried, we learned our son is crazy for puzzles and our other son is a cheeky little devil with a naughty streak that is adorable, we watched movies, so many movies, I watched my husband become an actual architect, I used my KitchenAid way more than I thought I would, I Skyped my parents every week, sometimes twice, I missed them terribly, we didn't always try a new recipe every week but we always ate good food, I loved watching the royal wedding, missed England and her countryside, visited the GoMA at least twice, we still haven't managed to get out to dinner but we had an awesome party for Will's birthday, we decorated our garden with 800 fairy lights, we said goodbye to Sue, but hello to Emma and Clasein, I had the most awesome birthday week EVER and ate at my favourite restaurant with my favourite person, we visited a zoo, our house was a zoo, I discovered patience, then lost it again, I became a little more like my mum, we ate McDonalds for the first time in years and regretted it, I got to know my sister as my friend and lamented the years we spent apart but realised it's better late than never, our boys' birthday parties were awesome and it didn't rain, we didn't send Christmas cards this year, but I've been good at keeping in touch with those I love, we became really good at doing the kids' packed lunches in about 10 minutes, and kept on top of keeping house, I worried about how I'm doing at work but found out they think I'm ok, I playdoughed, painted, tidied, read to my sons, our boys started sharing a room together, we only broke a few baubles this year, I wished I had read more books and had more haircuts, we had Christmas at our house with my friend Kate, I learned the names of lots of vehicles, we repaired our lawn and now our garden looks fabulous, I got cross with my boys more often than I would have liked but always ended the day with kiss and a cuddle, I started and ended the year very tired.  But so happy.

Come on 2012.   I know you are going to be great.
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