Monday, May 28, 2012

A few of our favourite things

Miriam: Now that the weather is colder, the first thing I do in the morning, or as soon as I get in the door at night, is pop on my slippers. So snuggly and warm.  I bought this pair last year from NZ Nature.  At the time, they were around $100, which I thought was quite expensive.  However if I worked out the cost per hour of wear, they'd probably be one of my best value purchases!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A few of our favourite things

Becs: The Taste Bistro stall at the Christchurch Farmer's Market has been serving up some delicious food lately.  Chef Alicia cooks up a storm and the ready-to-eat meals are the sort of unpretentious/tasty/slow-cooked comfort food you would make at home if you had the time and/or budget to have the oven on for hours and hours. My favourites include the slow-cooked pulled pork sandwiches and the incredible braised oxtail or lamb shanks. The homemade bread and salads are delicious too, often it's a chickpea, barley and seasonal veg concoction, and service is always provided with a smile. Unlike the scorn dished up by a well-known Christchurch chef peddling fancy tacos at the market. I should have known better than to order at the end of the morning when more fat than meat appeared to be on offer, but didn't expect my request for less flab to be met with such contempt. (Sorry to brickbat as it's not our thing but arrogant chefs rile me!) Note - the photo above is pinched from the CFM facebook page - I never get a chance to photograph the food as it is tucked into pronto.

Libby: I've never been a fan of tonic water. I always felt it ruined perfectly good gin but this Quina Fina (you say it "kee-na fee-na") is very drinkable. It's only very gently bitter and not too sweet - perfectly balanced. I like it on its own with lots of ice and lemon. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

A few of our favourite things

Becs: Last week Mum and I made a trip down to Dunsandel to visit the talented Honey Anderson...cook and gardener extraordinaire.  Honey has a woodfired pizza oven in her garden, handbuilt by a visiting WOOFer, so we had the treat of cooking our own pizzas for lunch.  They took barely a minute or two to cook, and were beautifully crisp.  I went home with cuttings of raspberries, blackcurrants and rhubarb for my new garden, as well as some of Honey's elderberry preserves. Of course, a pizza oven is now on my wish list...however the size of my patch plus the price tag of the ovens available commercially may put a dampener on this!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A is for... arancini

I took these delicious arancini to a potluck dinner where you had to bring a dish starting with the letter A. It's a reasonably limiting theme, the letter "A"... a flick through a few favourite cookbooks offered up recipes involving artichoke, asparagus, apricot and apple of which only apple is in season. After a bit more creative thought I decided on arancini with arrabiata sauce... double points for two dishes starting with A!

These are time-consuming but not difficult to make. Once cooked they can be set aside and reheated in the oven until the cheesy centre melts when you need them. Same goes for the sauce - make in advance and warm a little before serving.

Don't be put off by the cooking method - deep frying is surprisingly fun! And fast! All you need is a saucepan and a litre of cheap-ish vegetable oil like canola. It's worth investing in a candy thermometer to make sure you get the temperature right the the exterior seals as soon as it hits the oil. If it's not hot enough they'll just soak it up. If immersing food into a pot of bubbling fat concerns you, be reassured that if you get the temperature right and drain them properly, you'll have almost as much oil at the end as you started with.

A little mozzarella goes a long way in this recipe. It seems like a tiny cube when you're shaping the arancini but once cooked it melts into a delicious goey centre. A little ham or prosciutto stuffed in with the mozzarella would make these arancini even better  - although it has a gorgeous gooey texture, mozzarella is reasonably bland so a little saltiness from some ham would be perfect.

Arancini with arrabiata sauce 

Makes 25-30

For the risotto...
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion finely diced
2 cups aborio rice
A splash of white wine
2 litres hot stock - chicken or vegetable
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Heat a heavy-based lidded pan over a medium-low heat, add oil and onion, cover and leave the onion to soften for 10 minutes or so. Stir occasionally and make sure the onion doesn't catch on the base of the pan. Add a splash of water if needed.

Turn up the heat to medium-high and add rice. Stir and toast for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of wine and let it reduce. Turn the heat down to medium and gradually add the hot stock. Add about a 1/4 cup at a time and let the rice absorb it before adding more. After about 20 minutes all the stock should be added and the rice cooked (but with just a little firmness to it).

Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Leave to cool. To speed this part up, spread the risotto out in a shallow pan and refrigerate.

To shape into balls...
4 eggs
2 tablespoons of milk
2 cups breadcrumbs
150g mozzarella, in 1cm cubes
lots of oil

Lightly beat two of the eggs and stir through the risotto. Once thoroughly mixed, scoop up 2 tablespoon-sized amounts of risotto and using wet hands, shape into a ball. Press your thumb into the centre of the ball, place a cube of mozzarella into the indentation and cover with rice and make it look nice and round.

I used a mashed-potato scoop to scoop up the mixture and it was the perfect tool for the job - it made sure all the arancini were the same size so they cooked evenly. A big spoon would be fine if you don't have a mashed-potato scoop in your kitchen drawer.

Once you have a tray-load of risotto balls it's time to crumb them. Whisk the remaining eggs and splash in the milk to make an egg wash. Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Dip the arancini into the egg mixture then roll in breadcrumbs. Pat them on to cover well. Once you've crumbed all the arancini, leave them to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, or until you're ready to cook them.

Now for the fun part... deep-frying! I used a litre of canola oil in a medium-sized saucepan and cooked 3-4 arancini at a time. You want the oil to be at least 10 centimetres deep. Heat the oil over a medium to high heat until it reaches 180 degrees Celsius (it's definitely worth investing in a thermometer for stuff like this) using a slotted spoon, gently place 3-4 arancini into the hot oil and leave them to bubble away for 4-5 minutes. If they're browning too fast or slow, adjust the heat accordingly. Once golden brown, remove from the oil onto paper towels to drain for a couple of minutes. Eat straight away or reheat in the oven before serving.

After cooking cool and strain the oil back into the bottle to use again. Or just to store until you figure out how to get rid of it.Whatever you do, don't pour it down the sink! And it pays to label the bottle "old oil" so it doesn't inadvertently get added to a carrot cake or similar!

I served the arancini with arrabiata sauce - a tomato sauce with a bit of a chilli kick.

The sauce...
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
chilli flakes (to taste)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a small pot over a medium heat. Add the garlic and cook gently for a few minutes. Don't let it brown. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes to reduce a little. Add a few shakes of chilli flakes (go easy to start with, you can always add more later). Once cooled, process briefly in a food processor or with a stick blender for a smoother sauce. Season with salt, pepper and extra chilli flakes to your taste.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A few of our favourite things...

Libby: This funny-looking contraption is a tea infuser! I've been using it lots to make loose-leaf herbal tea by the cup. It's very handy at work when I just want to make a cup, rather than a pot of tea. You just squeeze the handles to open the scoop, trap lots of tea leaves inside, then place in your mug and pour over boiling water and leave it until it's how you like it. I bought mine from t leaf T in Wellington but you can pick them up from kitchenware shops too for about $6-$7.

Miriam: Yet another favourite thing that started with a recommendation from Libby. This Scanpan Chef Pan has fast become one of my most favourite kitchen items. It's non stick (but you can use metal utensils on it), it goes from element to oven, and it's so versatile; you can make a stew or a pancake in it.  Since buying it at Moore Willsons a few months ago, I also now receive emails from Libby with recommendations of good dishes to make it, like this delicious pumpkin dish, or this chicken, leak and peer salad Bec's posted on the blog last year.  I can't believe I've gone all these years without this pan; now I couldn't do without it!
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