Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Recipe Diva's Baking Journey...

Much to the dismay of those around me, I do not do a lot baking... I am definitely much more of a cook than a baker.  Not only do I not have much of a sweet tooth, but I can't just throw ingredients together and make a masterpiece .  You can't exactly sneak a taste mid-recipe and realize that you need to add a bit more baking soda.  When it comes to baking, I stick to the recipe!

Which leads to yesterday's purchase, Nigella Christmas: Food Family Friends Festivities.  I love this cookbook.  Nigella includes a combination of simple recipes with those holiday recipes that you can spend  half a day cooking.  She adds tips and personal stories, keeping an inspirational tone in the book.

I'm determined to become a better baker so I'm gonna start small and work my way up...  I think the pumpkin pancakes are calling my name, you can't go wrong with pancakes right?

On a separate note, I am LOVING the new cookbook stand that I picked up at Barnes & Noble.  It's sturdy, practical and looks great in the kitchen.

Stay tuned for The Recipe Diva's 12 Days of Christmas...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Thanksgiving Contribution

I don't think I have to call out the fact that I enjoy cooking, especially cooking for my friends and family.  That's why I was somewhat devastated that I couldn't contribute to our Thanksgiving feast.  Being that I was flying in, it wasn't really possible. 

I decided to contribute by taking charge of centerpieces and napkins!  A bit boring, but it definitely adds a nice touch to the Thanksgiving table setting.

I wish I could take credit for the centerpieces but instead I'll have thank Allie's Florist.  As for the napkins, here's a quick tutorial on how to create these easy napkin pyramids:

Fold the napkin diagonally with the point facing away from you.

Fold each side point up to the center point.

Flip napkin over keeping open side away from you.

Fold far open side toward you.

Flip napkin over keeping point toward you.

Pull napkin up into a pyramid and

You can definitely go for something much fancier but this was an easy fold with a nice presentation.  Anybody know of any folds that are a bit more exciting??

The Turkey Coma

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thankgiving!  I know that I have plenty to be thankful for this year so it's nice to have holiday that's set aside to give thanks with your friends and family. 

If your family is anything like mine, after the hearty meal, everyone is dozing on and off for the rest of evening.  Most people blame it on the turkey.  Turkey contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid with a sleep inducing effect.  Tryptophan can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin that produce a calming effect and regulate sleep.  While these factors are true, this myth might not be totally accurate...

Tryptophan really needs to be consumed on an empty stomach in order to trigger the body to produce more serotonin and make you sleepy.  The tryptophan has to compete with the other amino acids and protein that the body is trying to use. There's lots of protein in a serving of turkey and I sure hope it's not the only thing you are eating on Thanksgiving!!  In addition, many other foods contain as much or more tryptophan than turkey.
Realistically, you can probably attribute the post Thanksgiving dinner drowsiness to overeating, heavy carbohydrates, relaxation, alcohol, and the list goes on... 
That being said, if you are having trouble sleeping that night after all of your catnaps, you may want to head to the fridge for some turkey scraps and you might see more effect on an empty stomach.

Monday, November 23, 2009

G'day from Qantas!

As some of you may know, I just arrived back in the US after a LONG flight from Australia.  Although I am never looking forward to the flight, thanks to a lot of transcontinental traveling, I am always looking forward to the pre-flight brekkie!

Our One World Alliance status gets us access to the elite Qantas Lounge in the Melbourne airport.  Refering to it as a lounge is somewhat misleading...

Full service, gourmet food, top shelf alcohol and best of all
it's all ON QANTAS!

I ordered my usual - egg white omelette with herbed ricotta, sauteed spinach, roasted tomatoes, and wholemeal toast... obviously complemented by a glass of Veuve Clicquot!

Now that's how you say 'Happy Travels'... mate!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fresh Seasonal Salads

The weather definitely has an effect on what foods you crave; at least it does in my case.  In colder months, I tend to crave more savory foods - slow cooked meals, more meat, winter vegetables, soups...  In warmer months, I am usually look for something lighter - fruits, seafood, salads...

There's nothing better than a simple, summery salad on one of these VERY HOT days!  A staple for me that takes no time at all is your standard cucumber and onion salad. 

There are many different variations but making sure to marinate your cucumber and onion is a key step.  Combine vinegar, water, and sugar (I use a ratio of 2:2:1 respectively but modify as you please) until sugar is dissolved.  Peel and slice your cucumber(s) and onion(s) and marinate for 1-3 hours in refridgerator.

My mouth was watering at this point... but you have to let it marinate...

Leave salad at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.  I added salt, pepper, dried oreganos and tomatoes.  I used vine-ripe tomatoes but it would be great with some halved, sweet grape tomatoes.  Feel free to add whatever fresh herbs/veggies you desire!  Makes a great delicious and healthy snack!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Mezzaluna

Named after it's shape, mezza (half) luna (moon), this curved knife usually has a handle on each end and creates a rocking motion while it is chopping.  It is great for woody herbs when you need a very fine chop.  I picked one up a few months ago.  I don't use it too often, but for the right dishes, it can save a lot of time and effort!

While this is by no means a kitchen necessity, it definitey comes in handy!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crazy for cupcakes!

Cupcakes have been around since before I was born, but as I'm sure everyone has noticed, these tasty little treats are quite trendy lately.  They come in all different flavors and colors ... but no one can deny the appeal of the cupcake, both visually and in your tummy.

They are popping up everywhere - showers, cupcake shops, weddings, and for me... CHURCH!!  Which brings me to the beautiful duo below...

You definitely don't see the parishioners jetting out after communion at Mt. Carmel!  We are lucky enough to have a culinary genius that has mastered the art of the cupcake amongst us...

These images of perfection are HOMEMADE!

Michael, our resident cupcake chef will often add a sweet ending to mass surprising us with the these delicious treats.  I've never seen someone make more beautiful cupcakes, topped with anything from glitter to butterflies!  Little does he know... I am going to try to ambush him for a lesson!

Any good cake recipes or tips to share?  I've never dabbled in this field...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The art of the crisp...

Although some tend to avoid it, cooking fish with the skin on gives it great flavor!  For me, the crispier the result the better.  Here are a few tips for getting that perfect crispy skin...

Choosing your fish

The fillet should look bright with translucent fresh. The skin should look moist and fresh. Never choose a fish that looks dry or has any cracks in the flesh. Fish should smell like it came from the ocean but should not have a sharp ‘fish smell.’

This is one reason it’s good to have a relationship with your fishmonger. He can always give you a good recommendation of what is fresh and a good buy.

Preparing your fish

Although the scales have been removed, ensure that the skin is totally free of any remainders by scraping it with the edge of a knife.

Thoroughly dry the skin and flesh with a kitchen towel or paper towel. Press any remaining water out of the skin by running the back of a knife against it, repeat this procedure until the knife is no longer collecting water. To draw out even more moisture and get that REALLY crispy result, pour sea salt onto plate and press fish into it skin side down. Leave for 15 or so minutes and repeat the procedure using the knife to remove collected moisture.

Score the skin with 1 inch long cuts diagonally along the length of the fillet about ½ an inch apart. This will prevent curling and keep the fillet flat in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. You’re now ready to cook the fillet!

Cooking your fish

I find it is best to sauté then roast in the oven; however, simply sautéing will do the trick just fine! Cover the base of your saucepan with olive oil and heat to medium high. Add the fish skin side down. You may want to weigh the fish down with a small plate to make sure skin is pressed into pan. Cook until the skin is golden and fish is starting turning from translucent to opaque, 2 or 3 minutes depending on thickness of fish. Turn the fish over and remove from the heat. Let the residual heat in pan finish cooking the fish. Serve the fillet skin side up with whatever accompaniments you like!

I topped my crispy-skin snapper with a mediterranean salsa of chopped tomatoes, red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I served it with smashed potatoes and a salad of shaved fennel, rocket (arugula), and orange segments dressed with a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. Delicious!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nothing like the salty sea air to wet your appetite!

It was a beautiful and slightly overcast morning, a bit cooler than it has been the past week or so.  Perfect running weather!  I decided to go for a run along the beach just down the street.  There was a slight breeze coming in off the ocean and it was one of those mornings where you could just smell the SEA.

It reminded me that I need to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that we have to enjoy all of the fresh seafood pulled right out of the Pacific!  I'm thinking that I'd like throw a whole snapper on the barbie, but we'll see what's available!

I'll definitely be heading to the market to pick up a fresh catch from my favorite seafood monger.  The results will be posted tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pork Skewers with Thai Dipping Sauce

Australian cuisine is heavily influenced by both Asian and Indian cuisine.  Since living here, my appreciation (and tolerance!) for spice has gone way up!  Ingredients which us North Americans may find somewhat exotic are readily available here.  I've enjoyed experimenting with these ingredients and styles.

My previous boss's wife is from Thailand and we have been lucky enough to experience her traditional thai cuisine, it's delicious!  She has shared some recipes with me and Glenn continues to replenish my supply of hot thai chiles, which brings me to last night's dinner.

Using some of these delicious (and hot!) chiles, I decided to make grilled pork skewers with a thai style dipping sauce accompanied by coconut rice.  It was fantastic!  It took me a couple tries to come up with a sauce that I was satisfied with but I think the end result was great!  See below for the recipes:

Thai Pork Skewers
  • 1 kg pork, cut into cubes*
  • wooden skewers
  • 1/2 c. soy sauce
  • 1/2 c. oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, leaves and stems chopped
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 thai chiles, seeded, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Dipping Sauce:
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp palm sugar
  • 2 thai chilies, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp shallot, chopped
  • handful cilantro, chopped
* I prefer to get pre-diced pork from the butcher, makes life much easier!

1) Soak wooden skewers for atleast 30 minutes to avoid burning.  Combine all ingredients for marinade and marinate pork for 1-4 hours in refridgerator. 
2) Combine all ingrediens for dipping sauce and let sit at room temperature while pork marinates
3) Skewer pork cubes and grill over high heat until slightly charred on outside and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.
4) Garnish with fresh cilantro if desired and serve pork with dipping sauce

Coconut Rice
  • 1 1/2 cups long grain rice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • large handful cilantro, leaves and stemps chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • salt to taste
1) Combine rice, water and milk in large sauce pan and bring to boil
2) Cover and reduce heat to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until almost all liquid is absorved
3) Let sit and steam for atleast 5 minutes.
4) Fluff with fork, stir in cilantro and onion, and season with salt to taste.

Try experimenting with some new ingredients and let me know how it goes!  You'll get used to their flavors and how to make your own new combinations!

When your neighbor gives you lemons…

Make Lemonade!!!

Since moving into the new house, we had been admiring our neighbor's lemon tree over the fence. This massive lemon tree was adorned with some of the largest lemons we had ever seen.  As luck would have it, we met her just before she had commenced tearing up her entire yard and starting from scratch, even the beautiful lemon tree! We were sad to see it go, but within the next hour, we had a hand-delivered bag of these beautiful lemons sitting on our counter.

Being that it’s 94 degrees out, I think it’s quite obvious where these gems are going… there’s nothing more refreshing than an ice cold glass of lemonade to cool you down!  To put together this simple thirst quencher:
  • 4-6 lemons depending on size
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 cups water, divided
1) Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved completely.  Let cool.
2) Firmly roll the lemons to release juice.  Cut in half and juice into pitcher.
3) In the pitcher, combine lemon juice, simple syrup, and remaining water. Stir. Adjust water to taste. Chill and serve over ice.  Throw in some sliced lemons for presentation.

Like I said... it's 94 degrees so no time for pics!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grill Happy!

I’ve spent the last few days moving from a high-rise condo in the heart of the city to a house near the beach in Port Melbourne. I must say, I’m enjoying the change…

While I loved the luxury living in the city, it’s so nice to have fresh air, plants, a backyard… AND A GRILL!!! For our first night in, I took full advantage… I decided to do a spice rubbed pork tenderloin topped with a grilled peach salad and accompanied by a grilled vegetable salad and chipotle potato/parsnip mash. This dinner was obviously inspired by my recently acquired access to a grill but also by your blog comments and an attempt to use up the veggies in the fridge!

Spice rubs are perfect for pork that you are going to throw on the grill.  You can use whatever you find in your pantry and the combinations are endless.  There is no right or wrong when you're making a mixture according to your own preferences.  Some of my favorite spices to combine are cumin, oregano, any kind of pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, dry mustard, chile powder, brown sugar, and the list goes on! Depending on the taste you are going for, create your own combination! You can also make enough rub to save for later uses.
I scoured the pantry and created a spice rub of roughly equal parts paprika, ground black pepper, onion powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne powder and salt. I then butterflied a pork tenderloin and generously rubbed with the combination of spices.  I grilled until slightly pink in the center as pork has a tendency to dry out if cooked too long, maybe five or so minutes on each side depending on the thickness of your loin.

Pork goes great with fruit so I decided to offset the peppery grilled pork with a sweet grilled peach salad.  I halved and grilled a couple of peaches.  When cooled, I sliced and combined with thinly sliced onions, chopped mint, chopped cilantro and a dressing of lime juice with a splash of sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt.

The combination made for a delicious, fresh and summery main dish.

After digging around the kitchen, I found an eggplant, a red pepper, an onion, and 2 banana peppers.  I sliced, seasoned, oiled, grilled and tossed these with some fresh greens and a dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. 

Thanks to your feedback from my previous blog, Chipotle Peppers... Take 2!, I finished this meal off with a smoky potato and parsnip mash.  Being that I only had a few potatoes to feed four, I added an equal amount of parsnips.  Another very easy recipe!  Peel and boil the potatoes and parsnips until they are very tender.  Combine with adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, the amount of sauce varies depending on the how much a kick you'd like!  Add cream or whole milk and season to taste.  I also slightly caramelized and finely chopped about a half of an onion to add a sweet bite to the potatoes and they turned out great!

I'm looking forward to many more dinners on the grill!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How many bruschetta variations can we come up with?

Italian bruschetta (pronounced "brusketta") is an extremely simple dish and with fresh bread and quality olive oil, you CANNOT go wrong.  The original recipe is defined as grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper; however, nowadays you are more likely to see some variation of this recipe, usually involving tomatoes.  If I have fresh, ripe, tomatoes on hand, here's my "go-to" version:   


• 1 narrow Italian of French loaf of bread

• 1 clove of garlic, cut in half

• 5 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped

• 1 ½ tbsp EVOO, plus more for drizzling (optional)

• 2 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar

• Small handful of basil leaves, chopped

• S & P to taste

1) Cut ¾ inch slices of bread on a bias. Places slices directly on hot grill for 1-2 min on each side until lightly toasted.

2) Combine chopped tomatoes, EVOO, balsamic vinegar and chopped basil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste… not enough salt? ADD MORE!

3) Rub toasts with cut side of garlic and top with tomato mixture.

4) If you love EVOO as much as I do, add a finishing drizzle to your bruschetta and eat immediately!

While this is a pretty basic version, there are unlimited variations of this versatile appetizer.  I made a hearty grilled eggplant and goat cheese bruschetta just recently that was both delicious and filling (sorry no pics)!  You can add all differents kind of veggies, herbs, cheeses, beans, and the list goes on! 

Throw a few variations onto a large platter and you have a perfect appetizer for entertaining.  Trust me, you won't hear any complaints!!

Now I need your help... does anyone have any unique variations on this classic recipe?   I promise to try out a few of the most original and appetizing and report back!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Simple Sides

Anyone that knows me knows how much I love veggies.  They are healthy, delicious, and very easy to cook (if they even need to be cooked at all)!

When making veggie side dishes, I like to keep it simple.  The vegetable should be the star of the dish.  Being that it's springtime here in Melbourne, asparagus is in season and quite abundant! 

It was Melbourne Cup Day and we had been out all day yesterday, so I didnt have a lot of time to put into dinner. I grabbed the asparagus that I had picked up at the market and few slices of  prosciutto from the deli to pull together this quick and easy side dish.

Take a few spears, wrap with a slice of prosciutto, and throw into a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.  No need to add oil as you have the fat from the prosciutto. 

You could serve this dish as is but I decided to whisk a little lemon juice into some good quality olive oil and drizzle over the wraps before serving.  I also gave it a few turns of the peppermill as I tend to do...


Monday, November 2, 2009

Aussie Brekkie

You won't find a Denny's anywhere around here!

A typical Australian breakfast, or 'brekkie' as they say here is quite different from the American version.  I LOVE the Aussie rendition.  Although these poached eggs on toasted ciabatta, roasted tomatoes, avocado, and baked beans will set you back about fifteen bucks as opposed to $4.95, it's worth every penny!  I feel much more satifisifed after this hearty and healthy breakfast than the greasy, budget bacon and eggs that you might find at a 24 hour joint!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chipotle peppers... Take 2!

I wanted to make a healthy salad to go with a 'Southwestern' themed meal. I decided to throw in a chipotle pepper for an extra kick. Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are perfect as they have a rich smokiness to add another layer of flavor to the spice. They are actually smoked jalepeno peppers and the adobo sauce is a combination of pureed tomatoes, oil, vinegar, onion, garlic and spices.

  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 lime
  • large handful of fresh cilantro
  • 1 chipotle pepper from can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce*

1) Halve cucumber lengthwise and scrape out seeds, slice into half-moons. Peel carrot, halve lengthwise, and slice. Halve onion and thinly slice. Toss cucumber, carrot, and onion together.
2) Juice and zest lime. Finely chop cilantro and chipotle chile smothered in adobo sauce. Combine cilantro, chile, and adobo sauce with lime juice and zest to make dressing.
3) Toss cucumber salad with dressing and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
* I love the brand La Morena

I definitely underestimated the power of the chipotle. The salad was delicious but a bit TOO spicy, especially when paired with a spicy fish dish. When the sweat was beading up on my nose, I decided that I had all that I could take and would throw the leftovers in the fridge.

Around lunchtime the next day, I took a little nibble and realized the flavors had married beautifully. I decided to throw in some quinoa and canned tuna to tone the salad down and make a healthy lunch.

I like to boil then steam quinoa as I think it gives it a nice fluffiness. Always make sure to rinse the quinoa first. A few run throughs in a fine sieve will do the trick. Boil 1 cup quinoa for 12 or so minutes and drain into a fine sieve. Steam over a pot of boiling water, covered, for about 4 minutes and this should give you a nice, fluffy, dry texture. Throw in some tuna, torn cilantro, salt and pepper to taste and.... Voila!

Perfect healthy lunch, snack, or side dish! Any other ideas on how I could have fixed this fiery salad?
Do you have any good cooking stories about turning a mishap around?


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