Thursday, September 23, 2010

Seafood risotto sans the seafood

While it tasted delicious, there’s no getting away from claggy seafood risotto that doesn’t have much seafood in it.

Seafood risotto sans the seafood

Did you ever notice how Masterchef contestants almost never make risotto? That’s because it’s so easy to stuff up. I love making risotto. It’s so simple and rustic, and despite the Emperor’s comments to the contrary, I find stirring a risotto for 15 minutes therapeutic, rather than boring. I’ve made risottos many times, and as long as the rice was cooked and it tasted nice, it never bothered me whether it was right or not. You know, cooked the right way, had the right consistency. Then I saw ‘Jamie does Venice’ on TV last week. I love Jamie Oliver; I’ve got a few of his cookbooks, read his column and recipes in delicious. and follow him on Twitter.

But watching his Venice episode of ‘Jamie does…’ enlightened me about risotto, and not in a good way. Or rather, it did, but it made me realise that I wasn’t cooking it properly. Firstly, Jamie, the Venetian ‘risotto king’ he visited, and most other cook books say that risotto should only take 15-18 minutes to cook – and I mean once the cooking of the rice gets going, not from beginning to end. I always think that my risottos aren’t done in less than 20-25 minutes. That means my risotto must be either overcooked or I don’t have the heat up high enough; it’s probably a combination of both. And then there’s the consistency. Despite my best efforts my risottos always end up claggy. Like Clag glue. I guess that’s where the term claggy comes from! But Jamie had a great simile for what consistency risotto should be like. He described risotto as having the consistency of molten lava – ‘like Vesuvius oozing out’.

Seafood risotto in The Silver Spoon
That’s a great description. But my last attempt at risotto certainly wasn’t anything like oozing Vesuvius. Admittedly, I made this seafood risotto from The Silver Spoon before I saw Jamie’s helpful tips. It’s a Saturday at home, looking at what to make for a night in. I suggest risotto. The Emperor likes risotto, but gets bored of my favourites, porcini mushroom or leek and asparagus. Flicking through The Silver Spoon I come across seafood risotto – looks simple enough. Having done our food shop already at our regular supermarket, we decided to visit the Woolworth’s in the city, where we have to go anyway to pick up a new Apple Mac Mini. Our old one was electrocuted.

My friends know my opinion of my local Woolworths – it’s akin to a Communist Soviet-era supermarket, with a small variety of products and an even smaller variety of brands for each product from which to choose. Woolworths’ own Select brand I refuse to buy – they’re like the State-sanctioned products you imagine Soviets or people in East Berlin having to buy. So I was therefore not very surprised to find that the only seafood in the city Woolworths available to use in my seafood risotto was prawns. 

Seafood risotto sans the seafood
I bought them, only to find when I got home that prawns are about the only seafood not in The Silver Spoon’s recipe. So it now became prawn risotto. But while it tasted pretty nice, this risotto was a tragedy. Not only was there no seafood to speak of, I followed the recipe and put the prawns – or ‘seafood’ – in at the beginning of the cooking process. So you can imagine how rubbery and tough the prawns were at the end. And of course, Clag glue springs to mind when I think of consistency. But that’s why I have Jamie to learn from. The Emperor is keen for me to make this again, so watch this space.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lazy Sunday cooking

Because pancakes and choc chip cookies are hard to stuff up.

Lazy Sunday cooking

Not that pancakes or choc chip cookies are particularly hard or a challenge to make, but it is nice to know that when you want to make them on a lazy Sunday, they turn out just how you want them to.

I love making breakfast on a Sunday morning. Emperor D is quite partial to pancakes, and I’ve found a fool-proof recipe from domestic goddess Donna Hay. They’re so easy to make – butter, flour, sugar, eggs, milk, buttermilk – why on earth would you buy one of those shake’n’bake things where you add water? Urgh.

Pancakes, coulis and marscapone
So here is my effort from Sunday morning a couple of weeks back. I add a dollop of marscapone cheese (sometimes with a drop of vanilla in it) and usually raspberry coulis. I was making the coulis for awhile – which again, is pretty simple by just reducing frozen raspberries in a saucepan with some sugar – but when you can buy some pretty amazing coulis from Providore, why bother? My patience on Sunday mornings only goes so far. Occasionally, when I’m feeling quite wicked, I’ll make caramel sauce with it. But I have to admit, I haven’t done that for awhile. Emperor D on the other hand is easy to please; he tops his stack with traditional maple syrup – the real stuff from Canada that costs $10 a bottle. It is pretty good though.

Milk and cookies is such an American thing (come to think of it, so are pancakes), but every time I make Donna Hay’s Chocolate Chip Cookies I feel like I should have a big glass of milk with it. I'm one of these people who love milk by itself, by the way – as long as it’s really cold.

Chunky chocolate goodness!
I’ve made these so many times; they really are a simple classic. These have coconut in them, which I love, so they’re even more decadent. Again, they’re made with simple stuff – eggs, flour, coconut, brown sugar, vanilla, butter, and chocolate. The chocolate part is the key, as you can add milk or dark chocolate in either big massive chunks (my preference) or in little buds.

My favourite thing with these is, just after they’ve come out of the oven, I let them cool for a couple of minutes and then sneak a couple while they’re still warm; the chocolate is all gooey inside. Oh, yum! Then, once they’ve cooled completely, I love to get a burst of chocolate when I bite in and hit a chocolate chunk. Oh, and don’t forget the milk.

Lastly, you might have noticed that on the top of this post, I’ve added the word Trusty. That’s part of my new rating system – Triumph, Trusty, and Tragedy. I think they speak for themselves. I’ve updated my old posts with the ratings too, so check those out and keep a look out for what I rate my efforts in posts to come!  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Betty makes pizza

On the borderline with Triumph - but the base just isn't quite there.

Betty makes pizza

Betty combines the ingredients
into a dough...
Okay, so I’ve named my glorious, bright red Kitchenaid stand mixer. In my first post, I mentioned that she should have a name like Memphis Belle, but I’ve decided she needed something simple, old fashioned, yet sassy, so I’ve named her Betty. I’ve got no idea why, but I think the name suits her.

Anyway, Emperor D and I have been getting into the habit of staying home Saturday nights. Instead grabbing some takeaway, I’ve been digging out some recipes that I just wouldn’t have the time or patience to cook during the week, especially the slow-cooked stuff. One Saturday I made a great veal osso bucco, which slowly baked away in my oven until it came out all fall-off-the-bone tender.

It’s no longer the dead of winter here, so
 ...and then she kneads it in a 
third of the time!
 instead of the hearty slow-cooked stuff, last Saturday I decided to make something that still takes a bit of patience – pizza. When it comes to pizza, I have a great mentor and someone to live up to in my dad; he’s a great pizza maker. This is probably by virtue of him having to work two jobs in the mid Eighties, when I was a kid, to make ends meet. Well, thank God for the recession back then, because the second job he took was first delivering, then making, pizzas.

I’ve made pizza before, with varying degrees of success. But one thing I did learn off dad was that after the dough is kneaded, it needs time to rise. I remember a well-oiled mixing bowl sitting for hours on the kitchen bench, with a tea towel over the top of it, underneath which the dough would be slowly rising.

Emperor D's pizza

So, not long after lunch I start making pizza dough. Actually, I shouldn’t take credit for this – Betty made the  dough. I just put the ingredients together in the bowl and gave a gentle stir to get things going. Betty is just brilliant; first she gathers all the ingredients together to form dough. Then the recipe says to knead the dough for ten minutes. Betty giggles at that – she can do it in a third of that time with her dough hook attachment. After just three minutes, the dough comes out all smooth and elastic-y. I think I love Betty. Then the dough sits on top of my washing machine in the laundry all afternoon (my kitchen faces south and is freezing in winter), while it gently rises.

After a few hours, the dough has tripled in size. Emperor D and I preheat the oven, prepare our toppings and roll out the dough into rustic-looking (read, couldn’t get a round circle) shapes. I spread some leftover home made pizza sauce (tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, fresh and dried herbs) over the bases and we stick our toppings on.
My pizza

When I was a kid, I only ever wanted bacon and cheese on my pizzas, no matter how hard my dad tried to get me to put something else on them. Sorry dad – I’m now 30 and still only want cheese and bacon on them, but I’m a bit more sophisticated these days and add herbs and chilli flakes. I find when it comes to pizzas, the simpler the toppings the better. Emperor D adds capsicum, onion, olives and some bacon and ham to his. After baking in the oven for around ten minutes, they come out sizzling and golden. The base? Not bad, but I think I might have rolled out the pizzas a little too thin. Next time, I’ll have to have more dough for the same size bases or make fewer pizzas. Homemade pizza – what a great idea for a Saturday night spent in.