Thursday, June 25, 2009

Easy and delicious garlic and tomato pasta.

I have recently been enjoying the perks of being unemployed during the uni break. These perks include such things as spending a straight five hours knitting, wearing pyjamas to approximately three pm and cooking indulgent lunches. This is one of those lunches. It’s a recipe that I’ve been making for a few years now. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t entail any onion chopping (who wants to cry at lunch time anyway?) It’s also super quick and cheap to make. There is no real set in stone recipe here, I tend to just chuck everything together. Nothing horrible should go wrong, however make sure to taste test it every now and then to check that you’re on the right track.

Garlic and Tomato Pasta.
- pasta
- a few garlic cloves (2)
- a can of tomatoes
- tomato paste
- salt, pepper, basil
- parmesan cheese

1. Get some water on the boil and cook your pasta. Doesn’t really matter what sort. I usually use plain old spaghetti but today I used farfalle (bows) and it turned out great. My favourite brand of dried pasta is Barilla with the blue packaging.

2. Put a pan on the heat with enough oil to just cover the bottom. When this is hot chuck in some crushed garlic cloves. I used two fairly large ones but it all depends on how much you like garlic. Turn the heat down a bit so that the garlic doesn’t burn.

3. Quickly, quickly, while the garlic is heating up, open a can of tomatoes. I use whole tomatoes and spend this time cutting them up and getting rid of the hard end pieces. However, if you were feeling particularly lazy I guess you could used a can of crushed.

4. When the garlic has been on for a while (before it turns brown!) add a few spoonfuls of tomato paste (around 1 tablespoon, I used two soup spoons.) Stir this around a bit and then add the whole can of tomatoes, including sauce.

5. Add some salt and pepper to taste. I also add some dried basil and maybe oregano. If using fresh herbs, add them at the end when the pasta is done.

6. Let the sauce simmer for a while, stirring occasionally. I just let it sit on the stove top until the pasta is done.

7. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, add a few drops of oil to it and stir it into the sauce in the pan.

8. Cover and let sit until you can’t stand it any more (a few minutes will do.) To fill the time, grate some yummy parmesan cheese.

9. Put the pasta into bowls, sprinkle on cheese, and you’ve done it, stud!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quick Roasted Vegetables

Finding cheap food that is also healthy and delicious when you have to come home from work and then do some uni work and then clean up and then and then and then...etc.. is not easy. But I reckon it's not impossible.

I try not to spend more than $5 on a home cooked meal for myself. But for much less you end up in plain noodle territory, which is cheap but not particularly nutritious. Last night's meal, however, came in at around $5 and was very satisfying. I cut up and roasted a whole heap of assorted (some new and some hanging-around-in-the-fridge) vegetables, seasoned with salt, olive oil, pepper, and freshly ground cumin.

Quick Roasted Vegetables

Assorted veges - I used zucchini, fennel, eggplant, garlic cloves & capsicum (but I also roast a lot of sweet potato, onion, and pre-cooked chickpeas)
Olive oil
Cumin seed
Something to go with it - I had a piece of cheap fish (Basa fillet).

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C.
Grease a baking tray and chop veges into bite sized pieces. Scatter on tray, sprinkle over freshly ground salt, pepper, and cumin seed to taste (you can use whichever spices you like. I love cumin). Dab with a bit of olive oil.

Put in oven around 20-30 mins or until done to your liking.

Serving suggestions: with a piece of fish, cooked with some oil and lemon, or another type of meat, or some sort of vegetarian substitute, or maybe some mashed potato...yum!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I haven't said anything in this blog about Michael Ruhlman yet, so now is the time. I was first introduced to his books with Charcuterie, a book my Dad bought and had made a few terrines and prosciuttos from. I like Ruhlman's approach to food - good ingredients, knowing the basics of how they work, and then making stunning but simple things out of them, with that 'i've made this from scratch and it's shit hot, eh?' effect.

I've subscribed to his blog, and I love his recipes and photos. Mostly the photos, they truly are food porn. The photo of his sliced duck prosciutto... I stared at it for a good 10 minutes. Then I went and did something else, and then I came back and stared at it some more.

I bought Ruhlman's latest book, Ratio, and have gobbled up each of its lovingly-written pages. Ruhlman really loves food and cooking, and that visceral feeling of getting your hands in it, that you never get from buying pre-made dishes.

Ratio is a fantastic book, and it's not one of those glossy, flip through and gaze and the beautiful images cookbooks full of gratingly arrogant photos of the chef, the chef and his blonde-haired children frolicking on the beach, the chef and his wife mid-embrace, presumably overtaken with passion after devouring one of his mind-blowing creations, the chef and his butcher friend blah blah blah kind of cookbooks. Sorry to digress, but I have to get you to understand what kind of annoying cookbook this is not.

Ratio is a text. Ratio must be read, not just looked at. It reduces the most simple recipe forms, for example bread, pasta, pancake, stock, mayonnaise, to simple, remember-able ratios that form the basis of cookery. And once you know those ratios, you can use them to make so many things. It's a simple concept but takes a bit of dedication and patience to get your head around. But it instantly wins people over. I was reading it on the tram and a young junkie couple (I know they were junkies because they were talking about how they had just had a good hit and couldn't remember what they'd done for the past 5 hours) asked me what I was reading. I explained it to them, and they were hooked on the idea. 'It's great that you are so into cooking' they said. When they got off the tram they bid me farewell and hoped I cooked some good dishes from my new book. Everyone I've told about it has been intrigued.

But does it work? Well yes, it does! I made another sweet potato Irish soda bread the other day, but this time without a recipe, just using the bread ratio instead. 5:3 / flour:liquid. I used 5 parts wholemeal flour to 3 parts buttermilk, a tablespoon of baking powder, and a mashed sweet potato. Mixed up into a dough and then into the oven for a hour and you have a bread-without-thinking bread. Wonderful.

Tonight I tried the mayonnaise, in preparation for dinner. I will serve it with a bit of salmon fillet and some steamed vegetables.

The ratio for mayonnaise is 20 parts oil to 1 part water (plus yolk).

Apparently, the water is the most important factor in the mayonnaise not breaking, not the yolk! I did not know that.

(From Ratio by Michael Ruhlman)

1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon water
2 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 cup vegetable oil (I used light olive oil)

Whisk together all ingredients except oil in large bowl.

Add a little oil to the mix, whisk well, and then keep whisking and adding the oil bit by bit.

The mayonnaise is finished when all the oil is incorporated and it is a thick, viscous glob.

Using this method, I didn't think it came even close to breaking. Easy as!

(If it does break, Ruhlman recommends starting with a clean bowl with a teaspoon of water in it, and whisking the broken mayonnaise into it bit by bit, until it comes together again.)

I added a bit of cracked pepper and 1 clove of crushed garlic.

A wonderful thing about Ruhlman's writing is that he de-bunks ideas of things you think are much easier to get from the supermarket. This mayonnaise does not taste a thing like supermarket mayonnaise, it is something else. But it's not difficult either. It just requires a more hands-on approach to feeding yourself. And I think, if you've got your finger on the pulse of everything you put into you, you are much more likely to be healthy and content.

Sweet Potato Dumplings

A few weeks ago, I had dinner at Otsumami - a Japanese restaurant in High Street, Northcote - with my boyfriend Andrew. We enjoyed everything there immensely - the buttery wild mushroom stirfry, the squid and ginger salad, the crispy kaarage chicken. But nothing blew us away as much as the sweet potato gyoza - little pan fried dumplings stuffed with the most silky, delicately flavoured sweet potato mash. They were beyond enjoyable, and beyond memorable - they were magical! We are planning to return just for them.

I attempted to recreate them myself. This time, whilst I was cooking, Andrew acted as my personal kitchen paparazzi, flashing away whilst I busyed myself mashing, wrapping and panfrying.

Sweet potato dumplings are somehow, more than just dumpling wrapper and sweet potato. They are smooth and tasty and light and crunchy - they are the gestalt of dumplings, much more than their humble ingredients would indicate.

We served these with some boiled korean sweet potato noodles (Yes yes, I know, we'll turn into a sweet potato in a minute) because we happened to have them in the cupboard. The noodles were tossed with a bit of chilli, soy sauce and sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds before serving.

Sweet Potato Dumplings

1 packet wonton/dumpling wrappers
1 very large sweet potato, or equivalent smaller ones
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce or fish sauce

Peel the sweet potato and chop into chunks. Boil in salted water until soft, then drain.

Mash the sweet potato with the ginger, garlic and soy/fish sauce. Mash until squashed, and then continue mashing with a fork until very smooth. You can attempt pushing it through a sieve for the finest texture possible - I began doing this and gave up as it was an incredibly slow process. But just make sure the mixture is smooth, and there are no chunks.

Place the dumpling wrappers on a smooth surface and paint the edges with some water to help the sticking process.

Fill each dumpling wrapper with a tablespoon of sweet potato mash and then fold over and press to form dumpling shapes (this takes practice but is very fun).

Once you have used up all your sweet potato mash, you can pan fry, steam or boil your dumplings. I chose to panfry them, in an attempt to replicate the delicious crispy texture of Otsumami's gyoza.

That's all there is to it really! These were delicious, but we will be returning to Otsumami soon because I'm sure there is magic in their little parcels of good.

Serves 2-4 depending on hunger and greediness. I ate way too many.