Monday, 26 November 2012

a simple cauliflower soup

Hello, hello... I am now the happy owner of stick blender (also known as a hand blender or immersion blender). In truth, I operate a very minimalist kitchen and don't see the need for all sorts of fancy tools, but I have been yearning for a stick blender for a long time and now that I've got one, I'm lovin' it.

Smoothies... juices... dips... sauces... creamy soups! What's not to love? (Oh, and if it's fabulous for anything else, please do let me know in the comments... greatly appreciated.)

Let's just focus on the creamy soup aspect today. I'll be honest, my cauliflower soup recipe is going to be a rather vaguely instructive one, as I didn't really bother with any precise measurements. The good thing, though, is that it really doesn't need to be that detailed. It's easy. It's homely. It probably won't knock your socks off, but it's good and comforting and you may ask for a second helping. Or, at least, Simon did... after insisting he wasn't very hungry when I gave him his first bowl. As he went for more, I gave him a look, to which he reiterated and responded - "I'm not hungry, but it is so delicious..." Awwwww.

a simple cauliflower soup.

a simple cauliflower soup
(serves 4 as a starter or side... but we served it for 2 as a main on a not-so-hungry evening)

1 small to medium head of cauliflower, or 1/2 a head of a large one
butter, for frying - about 1 tablespoon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
water, or unsalted/low-salt vegetable stock - a few cups' worth, depending on size of cauliflower
salt, to taste
cream, to taste - I used about 2 tablespoons
balsamic vinegar and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Cut or pluck the cauliflower florets (I often trim the stem, chop it up and use it too) and set aside.
Over medium heat, warm up some butter in an appropriately sized saucepan, along with the garlic and onion. When the garlic and onion has softened, add the cauliflower, then pour in just enough water or vegetable stock to cover the florets. Turn up the heat to bring to boil, then turn to medium again, partially cover the saucepan and let it cook until the cauliflower is tender - times may vary, but for me it was about 15 minutes.
Puree the soup. (With a stick blender if you have one - yay! Otherwise, transfer to a blender and blend it in portions, then return to the saucepan.)
You can lower the heat at this point so the soup just gently simmers. Add water if you'd like to thin it out, or cook it longer if you'd like it thicker.
Stir in some cream and continue stirring until it becomes one with the soup. Add salt to taste. (Having cooked the cauliflower in water instead of stock, I used a spiced and herbed vegetable salt here to give extra flavour, but this is optional.) Turn off the heat.
Ladle the soup into bowls, then splash with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper - be as generous as you like. Then slurp it all up with a spoon.

lashings of balsamic vinegar and freshly cracked black pepper to add flavour and interest.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

la dulcita, fitzroy: empanadas and beyond

An assortment of empanadas at La Dulcita, with chimichurri (Argentinian garlic-parsley sauce).

Edit: Sadly, La Dulcita is no longer in business - it appears the owners have decided to extend their other business, Brother Burger, to cover that shop area as well. If anyone knows where else I can get awesome empanadas, please leave a comment!

I first got a whiff of Argentinian bakery-cafe La Dulcita (413 Brunswick St, Fitzroy) when, one day, I noticed an ad seeking staff for a new South American eatery. While the job was not for me, this was an exciting find! Lo and behold, it emerged several weeks later, just as Simon and I were leaving for our Sydney-Canberra trip, so I promised myself that we'd visit it, first thing, upon our return to Melbourne.

And so we did.

Simon and I are both baked egg fiends, so naturally we went for the Huevos Portenos - baked eggs with potato, chorizo, cheese, salsa and chimichurri... a combination of flavours that radiate warmth, comfort, and satisfaction.

Huevos portenos - baked eggs.

I was familiar enough with the concept of South American food to know of empanadas, but till then, I had never actually tried one.

So it stands to reason that we had to try ALL the empanadas. In any case, there were only three different flavours (beef & olive; chicken & corn; zucchini, capsicum and egg), and they were quite small.

The texture of the empanada was unique to me - there's an almost bread-like softness to it, with just a gentle hint of flaky crunch. All three were delicious, but it was the beef and olive empanada that really won my heart, falling apart in the mouth like a slow, savoury, sensational stew.

Cross section of beef and olive empanada.

Cross-section of chicken and corn empanada.

Cross section of zucchini, capsicum and egg empanada.

When we paid at the counter I decided to get a few of the sweet pastries for takeaway. They were pleasant enough, though having been kept at room temperature all day in the bakery, I suspect they could be exponentially better if I had warmed them up a little in the oven before eating.

Sweet pastries from la dulcita.

Verdict? I'll be back to further explore the La Dulcita menu. They have some tasty looking quiches (featuring goat cheese, no less) that I'd like to try next time; and, of course, I look forward to immersing myself in more empanada goodness.

La Dulcita on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 12 November 2012

strawberry cordial / strawberry soda, with a hint of galangal

homemade strawberry cordial + sparkling mineral water = homemade strawberry soda.

I don't use galangal very often. I should. They're fabulous in so many Asian recipes, with their mystical aromatics - a little woody, like pine or cedar; a little spicy, like ginger yet not quite.

When I bought a large chunk recently, I was too lazy to use it in a traditional Asian dish, which tends to be a little more work. Instead, gazing upon the punnets of springtime strawberries sitting pretty in the fridge, I decided to make a strawberry galangal cordial. With, of course, a strawberry galangal soda to follow.

So gloriously red. So seductive.

Of course, a pure strawberry cordial, and the ensuing pure strawberry soda, is amazing with its pristine fruity flavour. You may omit the galangal to do just that. But on those occasions when you're feeling a little bit experimental, and you don't think you'd mind an exotic frisson of mystery in your refreshing strawberry drink, well... why not try it with a hint of galangal?

strawberry and galangal.

strawberry cordial / strawberry soda, with a hint of galangal (if you like)

250g strawberries (1/2 lb), hulled and halved
5cm galangal (2 inches), peeled and thinly sliced (use a sharp knife as they can be tough and fibrous)
1 cup water
1/2 cup raw sugar

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil, then simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, mashing up the strawberries with a fork towards the end as they lose colour and soften. Let the mixture cool then strain through a fine sieve, pressing down on the strawberry pulp with a fork or spoon to extract as much liquid and flavour as you can.
This cordial will keep in an air-tight jar or bottle in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.*
To make strawberry soda, simply pour in some cordial into a glass, then top up with soda water or sparkling mineral water, plus ice.
Bonus round: You may also add this cordial to freshly boiled hot water to make a soothing strawberry galangal tea. 

*I sterilise my jars by washing them thoroughly and then letting them sit in boiling water for a couple of minutes.

strawberry galangal soda.

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Monday, 5 November 2012

recent delights: spring, antojitos & cocktails, quinoa

Here in Australia, we're currently enjoying the last few weeks of spring, and summer is almost within reach. Almost.

flowers in spring.

With only about two months left of this year, I am once again struck by how fast time has been speeding by. Each year that passes now seems to be infused with a stronger sense of urgency. Simon and I are talking more about hopes and dreams for the future: thinking about doing things differently, thinking about embarking on new projects together.

And by the way, while, as yet, it is mainly just a hobby for Simon, I've been hassling him about getting his photography out there and it's starting to yield results already. He recently won a contest with this absolutely stunning photograph of pigeons at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. So proud!

Gateway of India.

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What else has been going on? I was invited to be a guest at the launch of Senoritas' late night menu and new cocktail list recently, where I was introduced to "antojitos", Mexican street snacks which translates literally as "little whims" - how poetically cute! Simon and his DSLR came along for the ride. I've included a few photos below; if you would like to see more, feel free to hop over to my Facebook page where it's under the Media / PR Events photo album.

Being greedy we tried almost everything that was on offer, except for one of the cocktails. Some highlights of the night: Chicharrón de Puerco (crunchy pork crackling served with guacamole and salsa), Chocolate Dia de Muertos (dark chocolate ganache with guava jelly and chilli), and the El Pimento cocktail (who knew capsicum could be so tasty in a sweet alcoholic drink?).

chicharrón de puerco (crunchy pork crackling) at Senoritas.

chocolate dia de muertos ("day of the dead" chocolate) at Senoritas.

cocktails! at Senoritas

Señoritas on Urbanspoon

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Also, I figure it is time to tell you more about how quinoa has been taking over my life this year. In fact, it's kind of a staple these days. I've been cooking quinoa more often than I cook rice - a pretty big deal coming from someone with an Asian background! It takes just 15 minutes and it's so easy to throw a few things together to make a full meal. Admittedly, I haven't done anything particularly precise or exciting yet, but when I do I'll be sure to share a recipe with you all.

a simple quinoa dish.

What are some of your recent delights?

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