Mexican-Themed Fish Bruschetta

Once again a Tuesday rolled though and I found myself standing in the kitchen wondering what to do with the stale end of weekend-loaf ciabatta. “Toast it and top it” is the inevitable answer. The result was a smash-up of Mexican and Italian which tastes of fresh and summer. I cooked this dish inside, but the bread and fish would both suit barbecuing. If you’re worried about managing the timing of this dish, I recommend (1) marinade the fish, (2) make the salads (leaving the yogurt on top to be stirred in as you serve), (3) slice the bread and oil it, (4) toast the bread, and (5) cook the fish. If you can manage 4 & 5 together, go for it. However, if you think you might overcook the fish or burn the toast, there is no shame in doing these one at the time. When serving the salads, drain off any juices so you don’t make the toast soggy. This recipe serves two hungry people.

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Salsa is basically chopped tomatoes with a few other bits in it. The trick to a good salsa is taking the care to chop everything up fine and evenly – especially the onion. Also, despite the fact it seems wasteful, taking the seeds out of the tomatoes will give you a much better final product. Use your judgement, however, if you are luckely enough to be using a home grown tomato variety like beefsteak as it is more flesh than watery seed. Removing the watery seeds is most easily achieved by quartering the tomato, running a knife between the seeds and the flesh starting at the end which was not attached to the stalk, and snipping off the stalk end of the wedge by turning your knife down to the board when you get there… one simple, elegant motion. Mix the following list of ingredients together, cover and refrigerate for about an hour to let the flavors combine.

  • 4 bigish sun-ripened tomatoes, watery seeds removed and diced finely
  • large handful of coriander (cilantro for the US based peeps) roughly chopped
  • juice to 2 limes (and a little extra lemon juice at the end if the salsa is not sufficiently piquant)
  • a couple of chillies finely chopped or a teaspoon of pre-crushed chili …I keep pre-crushed in the fridge because my skin reacts fearcly to touching chilli. If you don’t regularly chop up whole chillies, please take care. Use a fork to hold it down or gloves, and make sure you wash your hands throughly, with lots of soap, afterwards. One of my amusing kitchen memories was of a young chef who, despite being told to wash his hands after cutting up a bowl of chillies, did not adhere to this rule. Screams of agony were heard from the locker room shortly after. Leave the seeds out initially when you add the chili to he salsa. Taste the salsa. If it’s not hot enough, then add the seeds. if you have made it too hot, just add more tomato. 
  • small red capsicum finely diced (optional and not typically included in a salsa)
  • small red onion finely diced
  • salt and pepper to tase …dishes served cold often require more salt than those served hot. 

Fish is a favorite of mine in the summer – light, fast and tasty. But I tend to get into a rut and find myself always cooking it one of two ways: coated in panko crumbs and shallow fried or warped in foil with flavorings and baked. This marinade is a nice way to get out of a fish rut. You need a firm, white fleshed fish which is suitable for frying. I used filleted, skinless fish, but if you are up to making the skin on the fish crispy then leave the skin on. Wash two fillets, check and remove any remaining bones or scales, and cut into strips. Stir through the marinade described below, cover and set aside in the fridge for 1-2 hrs. When its time to serve, lightly fry (or barbecue) the fish in a little bit oil. Take care because small bits of fish will overcook very fast.

For the marinade: fry cumin seeds (1 tsp) and celery seeds (1/2 tsp optional), coriander seeds (1 tsp optional) in a pan until you can start to smell the cumin (i.e. until aromatic). Poor into a mortar and pestle, cool a little, then add about 1/2 tsp each of the following: cyan pepper, turmeric, milled black pepper, paprika. Grind all spices together until they are a mostly fine powder. Remove from the mortar. Crush a garlic clove with some salt in the mortar (the salt acts as a grinding agent) and add the spices back in along with enough lemon juice to make a lose paste.

Cucumber salad as presented here is not a raita, but follows the concept of a raita – yogurt + cucumber. The key differences is the additional spices and that when making a raita one should always remove the watery, seeded center of the cucumber before grating it, salting it and squeezing any remaining wateryness from it. I used whole, skin on telegraph cucumber (Lebanese cucumbers tend to have a tougher skin) cut into slices on a strong diagonal and then sliced into sticks. To this I added fresh mint leaves which were finely sliced, salt, pepper and a large spoonful of natural greek yogart. If you are making this in advance, do not stir in the yogurt until just prior to serving otherwise you will end up with a watery salad.

Toast is one of those magical transformations where stale, good quality bread can be given a new lease on life. I only toast on side of the ciabatta because toasting both sides often results in a product which would slice the inside of your mouth. Mix olive oil and crushed garlic, generously coat one side of cm thick slices of ciabatta, and grill (or barbecue) slowly until golden. In my oven I don’t use the top rack closet to the grill. This way the garlic has some time to cook before the bread browns.

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Wild-shot Rabbit Pie

I’ve been enjoying episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations lately. His attitude reminds me of why I love good food. Good food is equal parts of visceral living and connection – connection between physical and emotional, between cook and diners, between present and past. Smell and taste are hard wired into our brains and hooked into our memories more so than any other sense. When remembering a time distant lover it’s always the smell or taste that comes back first for me, followed distantly (if at all) by scattered recollections of sights and sounds. Bourdain often recounts similar experiences of memory and this is part of why he appeals to me. I also quite like the theme of No Reservations where good food doesn’t need to be complicated products of expensive establishments. Good food just needs to be true to the ingredients and the history of the people who make it, and this fits snugly with my own worldview that celebrates food cooked from scratch using techniques of my grandparents. Bourdain is also unashamedly omnivorous, but in a whole animal sort of way where all kinds and all parts of animals are celebrated. Although I admittedly suffer a little queasiness about offal, I enjoy eating meats other than the usual supermarket offerings of cow, sheep and chicken.

It’s with Bourdain’s perspective in mind that I’m posting a half recipe of wild-shot rabbit pie. This is a half recipe because there are no measureable quantities or exact directions, just some components and a process recounted. I must, however, start with an apology… due to the distractions of good company and a delicious bottle of Amisfield Pinot I clean forgot to take a snap of the final product. But rest assured friends, there was no limp pastry in sight.

The components of this dish were: one wild-shot rabbit; cumin, fennel and celery seeds; mushrooms, half an aubergine, bay leaves, garlic and an onion; stock (I used chicken). I broke my rabbit down into five parts so it would fit into the brazing dish by gently peering off the front and back legs. I fried the seeds by swirling in a hot dry pan until they give off a fine aroma, then ground them and rubbed them onto the flesh along with some salt and pepper. I caramelized each of the five rabbit parts in a heavy pan, deglazing with stock afterwards so as to reserve the goodness adhering to the pan after the meat has been removed. I used a cast iron dish that can be both sat the stovetop and in the oven so any golden goodness in the bottom of the dish missed by deglazing was retained (I am resisting the urge at this point to rant about how much I love cast iron cookware). There is something about the caramelization of meat that I find delicious. Lately with the advent if molecular gastronomy there has been a trend of water-bath or other low temperature methods of cooking meets. While I can see how these methods may preserve the tenderness and flavour inherent in animal protein, there is nothing quite like the sweetness, depth of flavour and aroma that comes from applying some decent heat (and a bit of extra fat) to meat.

Once the rabbit is sealed, I cooked the vegetable components down to the point of colouring and then put everything into a brazing dish. It is best to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Overcrowding the pan will prevent browning because there is too much steam. Take care not to singe the onion or garlic as this will leave a bitter note in the dish. For many years I was half hearted about sautéed mushrooms on toast. Then I discovered that those limp, brownish, wet almost spongy things that I had been so often served were miss-treated fungi. Sliced and placed sparsely into a hot plan with a generous splash of high flash-point oil (I prefer rice bran oil at this point, but anything other than olive or walnut), with a little salt and pepper, they will fry till rich and golden. I like to finish mine at the last moment with a little knob of butter and French tarragon before turning out onto a thick slab of toast. Nom.

After caramelization I placed all components back into the brazing dish and topped it up with stock until the liquid almost covered the rabbit. I wanted this rabbit to roast on top while it stewed underneath. The concoction was slid into medium heat oven (around 150°C) and brazed, turning the meat occasionally, for around 5 hours. At this point I took the rabbit from the oven and stripped the meat from the bones using a knife and fork, savouring strips from the back-straps as chefs treats. I added the flesh back to the gravy filled brazing dish cooked this mix for another hour or so. In the end the vegetables had formed rich gravy and the meat was so tender it just disintegrated on the tongue. It would have been possible to stop here, give in to temptation and consume this with thick slabs of fresh white bred to soak up the gravy. But there is something special about pie…

After removing from the oven, I left the rabbit rest a while on the bench. While resting I added a little water every now and then, as it appeared to soak up the juices as it cooled and I didn’t want a dry pie. Ideally I would have waited a day or so for the flavours to develop before making it into pie, but impatience got the better of me. Spooned into a puff pastry case (see the bacon and egg pie recipe for pie making tricks) the rabbit returned to the oven once more and was cooked until the surrounding pastry was crisp and golden. The rabbit pie was served with creamy mashed potatoes and a side of fennel bulb that had been sliced, sautéed and topped with fennel seeds and char-grilled lengths of spring onion.

Before saying goodnight I would like to say a quick word of thanks to Ellersie Meats – a wonderful butchery providing a wide range of meats and great service, and the source of this particular rabbit.

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Baked Feta Nested in Leeks

This evening I made one of those shake the fridge meals in order to avoid a trip to the market and happened on a combination that I just had to share. Feta, leeks and fennel seed – amazing and simple.

All you need is 1 block feta, 1 leek, small teaspoon of fennel seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of celery seeds. Slice the leek in half lengthwise and wash the soil from the upper part. Slice leak thinly and saute until just soft with the seed’s and a little oil. Cut the feta into about 1 in cubes and put on a greased ovenproof dish. Top with the leeks and bake for 15-20 minutes at around 180 degrees Celsius. I agitated the leek nest a couple of times to make sure the edges didn’t scorch during cooking, but other than that its pretty low care.

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Vegan Barbeque – Warm Asparagus Salad and a Fresh Start for Summer

Summer has all but arrived here in Rotorua and I feel inspired to get back to my blog. However, the dynamic has changed somewhat; I no longer have a full kitchen or more than one to cook for on a regular basis. So this summer will be focused on quick, easy cuisine mostly cooked on the barbeque and, more often that not, vegetarian.

To kick off this summers theme I have an easy warm asparagus salad served on garlic crustini… the ultimate barbeque dinner for one in under 20 minutes.

For the crustini…
Slices of cheobatta or other flavoursome white bread
2 cloves of garlic crushed
4 tablespoons of olive oil

mix the olive oil and crushed garlic together. Brush this mix lavishly on both sides and sprinkle with sea salt.

For the salad…
1 dozen spears of young green asparagus
a capsicum
a handful of young spinach
olive oil

The asparagus spears have a woody section at their base. Remove this by taking each spear by either end and bending it until it breaks. It will break at the top of the woody section. Place spears into a bowl and cover in boiling water. Rest like this for a few minutes until their colour brightens. Drain and dress with olive oil and seasoning ready for the barbeque.

The capsicum I used is one that had been char-grilled yesterday and left in the fridge under oil. You can use fresh sliced capsicum, but it must be cooked for much longer than the asparagus. Slice the capsicum and, if already char-grilled, add to the asparagus. If not, keep separate and pop the capsicum on the barbeque well before the bread and the asparagus. 

Saute the vegetable mix on a hot plate while toasting the bread on open gill side, moving the slices regularly to avoid burning. When the asparagus is cooked to the point where it still has a little crunch (this will only take a couple of minutes), remove the vegtables from the BBQ and toss with young spinach. There should be sufficient oil in the the the BBQ’ed vegtables that the salad does not need further dressing. Serve salad mounded on top of the crispy bread.

There are of course limitless variations on this theme. I have recently made these barbequed crustini topped with grilled zucchini, field mushrooms, asparagus, halumi and a fresh cherry tomato salad. Quick, easy, fresh and seasonal – go mad.

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Absence

Due to significant domestic disturbance I have been taking a break from Foodscratch. However, I intend on being back on form providing recipes from a new (all be it much smaller) kitchen soon. Hugs, IC.

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Decadent chocolate brandy cake

I made this cake for a chocolate loving friend’s birthday last weekend. It is a deeply decadent, double layer, dark chocolate brandy cake filled and iced with a whipped dark chocolate ganache. The cake itself has a light texture and therefore makes a nice contrast to the ganache. The recipe is based on a rich chocolate rum cake recipe by Alison Holst (as published in Alison Holst: The Ultimate Collection). The recipe below makes one layer so double it for 2 layers. A single batch makes a low cake that would be suitable as a dessert for 6. Making two batches and assembling as a double layer makes it a spectacular offering. This recipe is designed to be made in a food processor. However, it is possible to make it without one (alternative instructions are included). Apologies for the absence of a nice picture of the final product, by the time it was iced the party had started and I was partaking in liquid celebration in a form that dinoysus would approve – not conducive to posing cake for pics.

Decadent Chocolate Brandy Cake

Preparation Time: 10 min mixing, 30 min cooking, 1 hr cooling, 20 min icing
Specialist Equipment: food processor, cake mixer

Ingredients

Cake (x by 2 if making a double layer cake)
75 g good quality dark chocolate (I recommend a high quality 60 % coco chocolate)
1 C caster sugar
1/4 C  boiling water
150 g soft unsalted butter
3 free-range egg yolks
1/2 C sour cream
1.5 Tbl brandy
1 C plan (pastry/cake) flour
1 tsp baking powder

Filling/Icing – Chocolate Ganache
250 g chocolate
200 g whipping cream
brandy

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Clip a sheet of baking paper into the base of a spring form baking tin (this ensures a clean removal) and lightly grease the bottom and sides with either butter or spray oil. If you do not have a spring form tim, still line the bottom and sides of whatever tin you have with baking paper.

Break the chocolate chunks and place with the sugar into a food processor. Process on high speed until the chocolate is finely chopped. Add boiling water and process until melted and combined. If you do not have a food processor, grate your chocolate, add with your sugar and boiling water over a double boiler arrangement, and fully melt the chocolate before moving onto the next step. When melting chocolate in a double boiler, the water in the bottom should not be boiling otherwise you risk heat damage and splitting your mix. Once the chocolate mix is made remove from the double boiler and proceed with adding the reaming ingredients as per the food processor version below using a cake mixer to combine instead.

Add the softened butter and process the until smooth. Add egg yolks, brandy and sour cream, and process again. Transfer the mix to a relatively large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and carefully fold the wet and dry ingredients together. Your aim here is to combine the ingredients without knocking air out of the mix. You can find a demo video of this technique here.

Spoon the mix into your lined tin making sure to fill all the way to the corners of the tin. In the cooling cake pic below the cake on the left was not filled all the way into the corners, so it has a rounded edge instead of a nice corner like the one of the right. Gently flatten off the top of your cake and and place into the preheated oven.

Cook for approximately 30 minutes or until a small knife or skewer inserted into the centre comes away clean. The original recipe recommends cooking until the cake springs back when pressed. These cakes are not terribly springy, so testing in this manner may lead to overcooking. Cool the cakes for at least 1 hour. You can fill the gap by making the ganache.

To prepare the ganache, take the chocolate and chop it into small pieces 1/2 cm diameter or smaller. I use a large cerated knife to do this (seems to be more effective than a straight edge) or you could do this in your food processor. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the milk, stirring regularly, until it is just boiling. Tip this milk over the chopped chocolate. Allow to stand for a few minutes without stirring then stir gently until the mix is smooth. Add a couple of capfulls of brandy to the molten chocolate and allow the mix to cool to room temperature. When the mix has cooled beat with an electric mixer until the ganache becomes lighter in color. If the mix is over beaten it will split and have a gritty mouth feel. If this happens put the mix over a double boiler and heat gently to re-melt and start over.

Assemble the cake by spooning 1/4 of the mix onto the lower half of the cake, spreading it nearly to the edges and placing the upper half on top. Coat the cake with the remainder of the mix. By this stage I wasn’t too fussed about the final finish, but if I was I would have used a pallette knife or long straight edge knife dipped in hot water and long smoth motions to get a smooth finish.

This ganache can be used unwhipped if you want a dark shinny finish. This makes a nice icing, but not a great fill. If you would like to try using unwhipped you will need to chill the cake first. Brush any crumbs from the chilled cake and cover with a thin layer of room temperature ganache. Return the cake to the fridge and chill until this shell has firmed. Apply a thicker second, and final, coat and again chill. This finish will be much heavier, but very decadent. Any left over ganache can be chilled and turned into chocolate truffles.

 

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The best thing about autumn: hot cross buns

One of the odd things about living in the southern hemisphere is that we celebrate traditions adopted from the opposite hemisphere at what seems like inappropriate times. Even though Christmas is in the peak of summer here, Santa still wears a fur trimmed coat and people spread around fake snow – so wrong. However the pagan spring equinox celebration of Easter, with its chocolate and spiced buns, suits an autumn equinox well. I made the first batch of the season yesterday and was pleased with the result. I used a recipe posted by Wild Yeast, leaving the fruit peel out and adding a little more spice. Cookistry offers some great advise for converting mixer recipes to hand kneed here. The buns came out lovely and light, and mouth wateringly good. My piping bag was MIA so I piped a couple of crosses with a plastic zip-lock bag, but gave up after putting my thumb through the bag thus leaving most of the buns without their hot crosses.

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