Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Sushi Fun

I can't remember exactly when it was that I decided that I loved sushi, but it was certainly a life-changing revelation. I am actually very lucky that sushi is relatively healthy otherwise I may be the size of a house by now. I have to confess that I am not the most adventurous sushi fan - I tend to stick to salmon, tuna and prawns, but I am happy with that and do not have the desire to hunt down and sample octopus, eel or whatever other strange things they sometimes use in sushi. I have tried some weird and wonderful sushi int he past but I find that the simple salmon, tuna and prawn combos are without a doubt my favourite.

Cost of eating out was really the main reason that I decided to make my own sushi. As much as I love it I do not relish the size of the bill that tends to accompany a sushi feast at my nearest yo-sushi. The limited availability of really amazing, good-quality sushi was also a contributing factor. The only sushi place I know of that is local is that Yo-Sushi in the Trafford Centre, and although their sushi is servicable, it is far from the standard I am used to from the Cape Town Fish Market restaurants in my beloved South Africa. Oh how I miss the avaiability and quality and AFFORDABILITY of South African sushi! I cannot be completely ungrateful however. If it were not for these limitations I would have left it to the highly-skilled experts and never would have attempted to make my own sushi, so I supppose it is a blessing in disguise. And although my sushi may not always be as geometrically perfect and beautiful as that of a professional sushi-chef, its not bad, and it tastes fabulous - so I make no apologies!

We buy our sushi-making bits and pieces from Tesco. Despite the fact that I am no huge fan of the supermarket uber-chain, they sell a range of great sushi ingredients from the wasabi paste to the pickled ginger, mirin and rice wine vinegar. All that the amateur (or even the expert) sushi constructor could possibly need. it is also very, very well priced compared to sushi ingredients from any other supermarket and has the most complete range.

Sushi rice is easy to make. It is the short-grain rice cooked for the specified time on the packet, and then dressed with mirin, rice wine vinegar, salt and sugar. All the instructions care on the packet and it is really idiot proof. once you have the rice all you need are the seaweed sheets and your chosen filling and a lot of patience while you master the art of rolling. I know that officially I am supposed to use the rolling mat to roll my sushi but I've never been able to get on with it, so I just roll by hand, but that is just a personal preference. so, if you haev ever even toyed with the idea of making sushi, I recommend giving it a go. Its fun and delicious and so rewarding!


Monday, 29 March 2010

Daring bakers Challenge No. 2

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

I have never made anything remotely like this Orange Tian before so it was certainly a first! The marmelade in particular posed some rather unique challenges and although it did not set as stiffly as I would have liked due to my lack of pectin, I was very happy with the taste of the result and will certainly be using the leftovers on my morning toast! That will tech me to try and be clever and use a concoction of 2 different marmalade recipes so that I could try and use the orange's natural pectin rather than just adding some from a bottle! I did however enjoy the whole marmalade making process, despite the ratehr substantial mess it made. My kitchen smelled like oranges for 3 days afterwards which made me smile whenever I walked in the house - nature's air-freshener at its best!

The Pate Sablee part of the challenge was smooth sailing thanks to the excellent recipe provided by Jennifer. I am always a little scared of pastry, mainly due to its reputation of being the downfall of even the most experienced of baker, but this time I was cool calm and collected while it mixed, chilled, rolled and baked. As for the cream, that was whipped up in no time pardon the rather lame pun!)

Roll on next month's challenge!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge No. 1

I do love a challenge and when I saw the recipe for my very first Daring Cooks challenge I could not help but smile. The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

I am already a huge fan of risotto as my previous blog posts will attest to, but I had never made my own stock from scratch before. It is not a difficult task but something new and certainly worth the effort. The trick to a risotto I have found it to keep stirring. It sounds silly and simple but It certainly makes a difference. It is not a difficult step in the process but to keep up your motivation to constantly stir a dish for 20-25 minutes requires some concentration and dedication. Other than that your imagine is really the limit when it comes to flavouring your risotto. Last night's was a tomato and prawn risotto which was a first time combination for me as I normally stick with butternut or mushroom, but it was fantastic and made for a pretty good picture for my blog post. I have to say thank you for Jel's help with this one, his strong arm kept up the stirring and made the risotto delectably creamy. Roll on next month's challenge!


Monday, 8 March 2010

Cake & Biscotti

So last weekend we were invited over to a friend's house for dinner and I was pondering what to bring as dessert. I browsed through my cake book that my dear mom gave me at Christmas and my eye fell on a Coffee/Ginger dessert-style cake. I love coffee, and ginger and a cake combining the two seemed like a great idea so I went for it. Now in the all too perfect picture of the cake in the book, it looks like a reasonable sized cake to cut in half. I don't know if my version did not rise as it should have or if I knocked some of the air out while folding, but when the cake came out of the tin and I saw what I had to cut in half, my stomach did a bit of a back-flip. But I had my darling man to the rescue. I voiced my trepidation for the challenge ahead and he managed to whip up an ingenious cake-cutting guide in no time at all. This cake-cutting gadget consisted of 2 wooden rods, coincidentally about half the height of the cake, placed in a 'V' shape on either side of the cake that guided my knife so I did not go off center and ended up with a perfect cut. I was super impressed and could not stop grinning. Who needs those pricy kitchen gadgets? Not me! So after filling and icing and decorating the cake I was fairly happy with the results, but I cannot say that it was my best ever creation.

(it never looks like it does in the book!)

This weekend the order of the day was Biscotti. I had read a post on my favourite foodie blog 'Smitten Kitchen' about Biscotti and as I had not made any for a few months I thought I'd try my hand at the Chocolate Hazelnut ones posted on her blog. I love the super crunchiness of biscotti and how they are butter-free and thus slightly more guilt-free than regular biscuits. They are the perfect dunkers as they will rarely go soggy and end up falling in your coffee/tea/milk and these hazelnut/chocolate ones are not too sweet or rich, they are just perfect. Have a go at the recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Here is a warning though, the dough is super, super sticky, so flour your work-surface very, very, very well or it might get even more messy than it should be. This recipe makes quite a lot of biscotti so have a few greased & lines trays ready for the dough-rolls - mine barely fit in my 2 biggest trays!

Monday, 1 March 2010

A love affair

In the last few weeks I have re-discovered risotto and this discovery has led to a passionate love-affair. I do honestly love risotto. It is a quick and simple dinner but it is so tasty and so impressive, I have even managed to impress myself which is not easily done at all! This version of this seductive dish was a mushroom and blue cheese risotto. The mushrooms I used were chestnut mushroomas and I added some porcinis too (the dried type soaked in warm water to re-hydrate) for a little depth of flavour and class. I did not like mushrooms when I was a kid and was wondering about that the other day while creating this mushroom masterpiece. I'm not sure what about them I didn't like. I think it may have been the somewhat slimy texture they always seemed to have, and also the earthiness of the flavour. The flavour is something that I have grown into but I'm still not a fan of slimy mushrooms. I prefer them to be cooked until browned and not cooked until snail-like and slimy. The bit on mushrooms in Julie and Julia made me laugh - 'Don't crowd the mushrooms or they won't brown' - and how true it is, I just wish i has a bigger pan to cook them in so they didn't get crowded all the time! Some non-slimy, browned mushrooms in a white wine risotto with a little Dolce Latte blue cheese - yum!

This weeks food strategy is uber-healthy. I have been cooking rather indulgent and butter-and-alcohol-laden dinners lately and although I love them immensely myself and Jel are both in dire need of some light and healthy fare. (I am not counting the chocolate cake I plan to make on Wednesday night for a colleague's last day in the office) Light is the order of the week and I do plan to stick to it as the trousers are certainly feeling a little tight around the waistline at the moment - even more motivation to head off to the gym tonight.