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Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta

My husband and I like to go to a little Italian restaurant around the corner from where we live (well, more like in the next suburb to be exact). The other day we were heartbroken to find out that the restaurant would be moving. We said that we needed to go there as often as we could so as to enjoy their food until the big move. One of the specials on the menu were these zucchini flowers stuffed with a prawn and scallop mousse. Of course we ordered the dish! How was it? It was fantastic. Crisp batter and a beautifully light mousse.

Do you remember how my Mom, aka the blog monster, thinks she is part owner of this blog? Well now there’s my husband as well, who I like to think of as the aspiring blogger. The other day he came home with a packet of zucchini flowers and said he would stuff them like the dish we ate a few nights earlier. He said he planned to make a vegetarian version with ricotta and some fresh herbs from our garden.

So he prepared the zucchini flowers all by himself, the only advice I offered was for him to stuff them using a piping bag instead of a spoon. But I pretty much left him alone in the kitchen. A few minutes later I heard a click from the kitchen… then another click… click … click…

Curious, I went to have a look, to see my husband taking photos of the zucchini flowers with his iphone! I knew then and there I created another blog monster! But hey, if he keeps churning out dishes like this one, it will definitely be worth it!

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta, Herbs and Pine Nuts

Serves 4
These zucchini flowers are a nice vegetarian dish. The ricotta mousse was delicious with the chopped herbs and the pine nuts added some nice texture to the dish.

  • 8 zucchini flowers
  • 250 grams ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 25 grams pine nuts, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed fresh herbs – basil, parsley, and mint
  • salt to taste
  • 160 ml ice cold water
  • 100 grams tempura flour
  • oil for shallow frying
  1. First remove the yellow stamens inside the zucchini flower by pinching it off.
  2. Make the ricotta mixture by combining the ricotta, egg, pine nuts, fresh herbs and salt to taste. Place in a piping bag.
  3. Pipe the ricotta mixture into each zucchini flower, making sure not to overfill the flowers. Twist the edge of the flowers to seal.
  4. Make the batter by combining ice cold water and the tempura flour. Mix lightly, around 5 to 6 times, making sure not to over mix the batter, it should stay lumpy.
  5. Heat the oil and dip the zucchini flowers into the batter and then carefully lower into the oil. Shallow fry the flowers for around a minute in each side until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve with lemon wedges and sprinkle with salt prior to serving.
Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta, Herbs and Pine Nuts

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta, Herbs and Pine Nuts

Trissalicious then

When I was growing up, my idea of beauty was to have long healthy hair. It must have been a case of wanting what I didn’t have because for as long as I can remember, I grew up with short hair. When I asked my Mom if I could grow out my hair, she said that it would look messy and be hard to manage. I still remember one day, (I still had short hair at this time), out of nowhere I found ONE strand of shoulder length hair out of my boyish hairstyle. I had no idea where it came from but I recall just stroking that one strand of hair for the whole day. “If only the rest of my hair would catch up!”, I thought. You can’t imagine my disappointment when at the end of the day, that one strand finally fell (maybe from over touching?)

In any case, when I was old enough to decide that my Mom couldn’t stop me from growing my hair, I vowed never to cut it. Through the years, I would break that vow and each and every time, I would regret it. I always felt that I looked too much like a boy and my roundish face wasn’t suited for short hair.

So what changed? A few years ago I read somewhere about a program to donate hair so that wigs could be created for cancer patients. You see, when I was six, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was given six months to live. One of the first things that entered her mind was that if she died, she hoped that my Dad would marry one of her unmarried sisters so that he would someone to take care of him. That’s the kind of person she has always been – thinking about others before herself. My Mom was also refused to let cancer beat her. She was so tough that she would even drive herself to chemo sessions! One time I asked her, what was the hardest part of cancer. She said it wasn’t the chemo, nor was it that she had a mastectomy. She said it was losing all her hair. Many years later, my Mom is thankfully still alive and kicking… oops, make that, alive and dancing!

I also remember my mother in law who unfortunately passed away from cancer a year ago. She was also another generous person who when I asked how she was doing she would always say to please take care of her son (my husband). She had battled with the disease for a few years and over time we noticed that less and less she felt like going out and socializing. I think part of it was because she had also lost her hair and was self conscious of this.

For a girl, losing one’s hair can be a confronting experience. It can make you lose your self esteem.

As much as I loved having long hair, I wanted more to be able to do one little act to tell everyone who may be suffering from cancer and losing their hair that there are people who care. I care. It’s also my small way of acknowledging and supporting people like my Mom and Mom in law who have had cancer. I’ll be the first to admit, there were times, in particular when I saw the hairdresser’s scissors, that I wanted to chicken out. But, I hope by my writing about this, there are others who are inspired to show they care and donate their hair.

Pantene have a program called Beautiful Lengths that provide free real hair wigs to women who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. At a minimum hair must be 20 cm long and cannot be dyed, bleached or chemically treated. More information can be found on their website.

So this is me today, and I’m simply loving my new look. This is one time I’ve had no regrets about having short hair.

Trissalicious now

Trissalicious now

Short recipe for this post. My husband and I have been experimenting on a spicy scallop recipe on the back of a new recipe book I purchased a few weeks ago called Hashi. The original recipe requires you to make your own mayonnaise and serve the spicy scallops atop a bed of rice. I’ve adapted the recipe for a much more simple, yet delicious approach.

Easy Spicy Scallops

Easy Spicy Scallops

Easy Spicy Scallops

Serves 6

  • 150 grams fresh scallop meat
  • 100 grams Japanese mayonnaise (kewpie)
  • 15 grams chili sauce (i.e. lee kum kee garlic chili sauce or ling ham)
  • 1/2 nori sheet, cut into little pieces
  • 2 tablespoons flying fish roe
  1. Spray the scallop shells with a little cooking oil. Cut the scallop meat into 1 cm sized pieces (usually quartering them will be enough) and lay them on top of the scallop shells.
  2. Mix the Japanese mayonnaise and chili sauce together and set aside. Top the scallops with a few nori pieces and some of the flying fish roe.
  3. Spread some of the Japanese mayo mixture over the scallops and either grill the scallops in the oven or blow torch the scallops until the mayonnaise turns golden brown.
Easy Spicy Scallops

Easy Spicy Scallops

FIlipino Style Spaghetti

FIlipino Style Spaghetti

I love being an Aunt and I’m fortunate enough to have three gorgeous nephews who I can return after a few hours of babysitting! I previously wrote about my eldest nephew when I did a post on making sushi rolls a few years ago. Since then, two other little boys, James and William, have come into our family. Its fascinating to watch James handle his little brother. I still remember the first time James laid eyes on William. He came into the maternity room with his father, looked at the little bundle, then looked at his Mum, and then back to his brother and then to his Mum again as if to say “what have you done?!?!” Luckily he quickly warmed up to William, constantly trying to give him a cuddle and kiss. It should be loads of fun to watch them grow up together but I suspect though that James will find a way to put the blame on William for any mischief them may get into. When I ask him “who is naughty?”, James loves to say, “bro-da”!

James and his baby brother Wills

James and his baby brother Wills

One of James’ favourite food is spaghetti. He also has a penchant for anything sweet (like his Mum). I suspect James would love Filipino Style Spaghetti which was the Kulinarya Club’s dish for the month of October. Purists out there need not read any further as the recipe below is enough to give any Italian grandmother a heart attack. Filipinos have taken the traditional bolognese recipe and put their own twist to it. So what makes it so different? A few things come to mind. First, the sauce is sweetened by the addition of sugar and some recipes will also include ketchup (banana or tomato) Second, is the that the recipe includes chopped hotdogs. The recipe is not going to win any awards for traditional cuisine but kids love it! In fact, it’s so popular that it’s become a staple in children’s parties and even Mc Donalds in the Philippines have created their own version called the Mc Spaghetti.

So here is my recipe. I have to admit that I couldn’t bring myself to use ketchup in this recipe but otherwise, it’s pretty much how I remember it tasting. A little quirky, but every little bit of it delicious.

Filipino Style Spaghetti

Serves 6

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 500 grams beef mince
  • 230 grams hot dog (your favourite brand)
  • 50 grams tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 400 grams pasta sauce (your favourite brand)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1 package of dried spaghetti noodles
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions and garlic. Saute over low heat for around 5 minutes until the onions turn translucent.
  2. Add the red peppers and again saute until softened, around 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the beef and cook over medium high heat until cooked then add the chopped hot dogs and the tomato paste.
  4. At this point, season with salt and pepper and add the sugar. Stir the mixture well and add the tomato sauce. Allow to cook for around 15 minutes over a low heat.
  5. In the meantime, prepare the pasta as per directions on the packet. Drain the water from the pasta. When the sauce and pasta is done, spoon the sauce over the spaghetti noodles.
  6. Serve with cheese.
FIlipino Style Spaghetti

FIlipino Style Spaghetti

Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Twice Cooked Pork Belly

The other week I received a rather curious comment from my husband. He said he wanted to learn to make pork belly.

“You aren’t ready.” I told him. I thought that a good pork belly, the one with really crispy crackling combined with melt in your mouth meat and a rich gravy was something only experienced cooks attempted.

But he insisted to make it for dinner and I said, knowing the failure to come, that I would have nothing to do with making the dish.

So off he went to buy the pork belly and every so often I’d get a text asking for advice. “What knife to use to score the pork belly? Knife not sharp enough??” or “Where is the thyme in the garden?” and “How do I turn on the oven?”. The questions were getting scarier and scarier and so I chose to ignore the messages and decided to go with plan B, and buy take away.

I knew I had made the right decision when I got home a few hours later. The kitchen counter was as clean as I had left it that morning and I thought that He must have aborted the project mid-way. I was impressed though that he had cleaned up.

Come dinner time however, he pulled this big slab of pork belly from the refrigerator and started portioning the meat into generous servings, ready to crisp the pork skin in the oven.

“Uhm, where’d you get that?” I asked him. Surely he didn’t make it. Did he?

Turns out, you can pretty much learn how to cook anything from You Tube. He had found a video of Gordon Ramsay making a twice cooked pressed belly of pork and proceeded to make his own. What can I say – I was humbled. It was exceptional. He even made a gravy and cauliflower and apple mash to go with it!

I learned a lot of things from my husband that day. First, when someone says you can’t do something, challenge it. Second, never underestimate a person’s abilities and third and most important lesson – my husband makes a mean pressed belly of pork!

Gordon Ramsay’s Pressed Belly of Pork

  • 1 kilo of pork belly (ribs removed), scored – it is easier to ask your butcher to do this
  • 2 bulbs of garlic, sliced in half horizontally
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • White wine (enough so that it covers the roasting pan during the cooking process plus a little more to deglaze the pan when done)
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160c (fan forced, add 20c if the oven is not fan forced)
  2. Season the pork belly generously with salt, pepper and olive oil.
  3. Place the garlic in a roasting pan and the thyme on top of the garlic. Place the pork belly on top of the thyme.
  4. Cook the pork belly for 2 hours. When done, remove and set aside to rest.
  5. Place the roasting pan over the stove top (be careful as the pan will still be hot. Deglaze the roasting pan with a generous splash of white wine and allow to reduce by for around 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and allow to reduce the liquid by half. Sieve the sauce into a pan, making sure to press the garlic through the sieve as much as you can so the sauce is infused with the garlic. Set aside
  6. Place the pork on a tray and place another tray on top of the pork belly. Press down on the top tray and place some weights (i.e. some cans from your pantry) on top of the tray to weigh it down. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
  7. When the pork is ready, pre-heat the oven to 240c (fan forced). Slice the belly of pork into 4 to 6 portions of smaller squares and cook for around 15 minutes until the skin crisps. While the pork is cooking, heat the gravy. To serve, place the pork on a bed of cauliflower-apple mash and pour the gravy around the pork.

Paella Negra 2.0

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

My new TV obsession is The Newsroom, an HBO drama that depicts behind the scenes events of an American Cable News company. I’m hooked on the dialogue and have grown fond of the characters (well, most of them anyway). I think however, what appeals to me most, is how everyone in the team seems to be committed to reinvent cable television news. At the end of the fourth episode entitled “I’ll Try to Fix You”, the news anchor, Will McAvoy is meant to choose between running with an unconfirmed news report that all other channels have called, or wait until the news has been verified. He chooses, despite being pressured from upper management, to wait, which was actually the better thing to do since the report was proved false.

While the drama ensues, Coldplay’s song Fix You starts playing in the background and I’ll be the first to admit a few tears were shed which I was furiously trying to hide from my husband.

The episode made me think about how there is always hope and, if we wanted to, it’s never too late to re-invent ourselves.

It also made me think about some of the older dishes that I’ve made on this blog. A while back I made a paella with squid ink called Paella Negra. It’s been a long time since I made it and while I remember the dish tasting delicious, the picture never did the dish justice.

So here is the new and improved version of Paella Negra. This recipe comes from Frank Camorra of Movida Restaurant in Melbourne. Here is: Paella Negra 2.0.

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

Paella Negra (Paella with Squid Ink)

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

Serves 6 to 8
Recipe from Frank Camorra

  • 5 vine-ripened tomatoes, scored
  • 125 ml olive oil
  • 500 grams squid, cleaned and cut into 2.5 cm squares
  • 12 pieces prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 8 grams squid ink (available from delicatessens)
  • 200 ml dry white wine
  • 400 grams bomba rice
  • 1.2 litres hot fish stock
  1. Blanch the tomatoes in a saucepan of boiling water until the skin starts to blister, around 30 seconds, then place in a bowl of iced water to refresh. Peel and dice the tomatoes, then set aside.
  2. Heat 50 ml of the olive oil in a 30-34 cm paella pan over high heat. Add the squid and the prawns and cook for about a minute on each side, making sure to season. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add the rest of the olive oil along with the onion and the garlic. Cook over low heat until translucent, around 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes over low heat. Now, add the white wine and continue to cook for another 15 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  4. Increase the heat to medium and add the rice. Cook the rice for about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Now, pour in the hot stock and mix well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium immediately and add the squid on top of the rice (save a few pieces for topping). Cook the rice for 10 minutes. The rice should have now expanded a little so reduce the heat back to low if the flame doesn’t cover the base of the pan. Move the pan around during cooking to allow the paella to cook evenly for 10 minutes.
  5. Before removing from the stove, add the prawns and the some of the saved squid and cook on high for about 1 minute to help form a crust on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and cover with foil for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

On another note, I’m about to undergo a change myself! I’m so excited to let you know I’ve signed up for Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths Campaign. The campaign is to donate real hair to make wigs for women undergoing cancer treatment. National Haircut Week is from 12 to 18 November. If you are interested to learn more about this campaign, please click here.

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

A few weeks ago, my sister and I attended the 40th anniversary of our parish priests Father Joe and Father John. Both had been priests for 40 years and the community wanted celebrate this significant event with a special dinner. That night we watched a slide show that had been prepared of both priests throughout the years. It was actually quite touching to see how much a part of our lives they both were, especially on momentous occasions like baptisms, first communions, weddings etc. After the slide show, a number of people were asked to speak in honour of each of the priests. One of them was an elderly gentleman. This gentleman had actually been in the hospital for a few weeks but was given special permission to leave the hospital for three hours that day and he chose to spend it at this dinner.

The gentleman walked slowly to the podium and started talking about each of them. He talked about how Father John had come here many years ago from Vietnam, was fluent in French and had been offered a number of times to be promoted and move to head other parishes but he stayed put because he loved being part of this community. Father Joe on the other hand was an avid collector of anything and everything and had a weakness for auctions. He also loved gardening and was instrumental in ensuring that priests, when retired, were taken cared of.

It made me realize that there was very little I knew of both of them.

At the end of his speech, this gentleman asked us to reflect on the fact that whilst both priests had devoted their lives to serving the church and the community, no one was really there to take care of them. Might we, he asked, consider inviting them for tea one day?

I immediately put a note on my calendar to invite them over for dinner one day.

The thing is, prior to that speech, I had been seeing Father Joe every morning at the park where I walked my dog. Our interactions had always been limited to me waving to him and saying “Good morning Father!” and him giving me a friendly nod as he walked past me.

One day, I passed Father Joe as he was stretching before his walk, and, as I had done for a number of years, said “Hi Father Joe!” He gave me a friendly wave and I went on my way. A few steps later I decided to turn back. Why not invite Father Joe for dinner this weekend? I said to myself.

So I turned around and ran back to him. “Father, would you like to have dinner at my house?” I asked.

He looked at me, and his eyes widened in surprise. “Me?” he asked.

“Yes Father!” I said. “Maybe this weekend?”

“Me?” he repeated.

“Yes yes!” I insisted. He looked really confused.

And then I looked at him closely… and then I got confused.

“Are you… Father Joe?” I asked.

He looked amused and shook his head. “No, I’m not.”

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry…That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention at mass!” I told him and quickly said good bye.

When I do finally get to invite Father Joe, Kung Pao chicken is the dish I am going to make.

The recipe is from Rasa Malaysia’s Cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes”.  It has quickly become one of our favourite dishes to make.   I’m normally not a fan of chicken breast meat as I find it too dry.  Bee however shares her secret for super tender chicken breast – that is, marinating the chicken in baking soda for a few minutes  then washing it off .  Beware!  This dish is highly addictive – think remarkably tender chicken pieces coated in a spicy, tingly, sweet and sour sauce.   I’m sure that when the REAL Father Joe tastes it, the only comment he’ll have is “Oh… My… God!”  :)

Rasa Malaysia’s Kung Pao Chicken

For the Kung Pao Chicken

  • 250 grams skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (we used a mandolin)
  • 10 to 15 dried red chillies
  • 3 heaping tablespoons peanuts or cashew nuts
  • 1 green onion, trimmed and cut into small rounds

For the sauce

  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chinese black vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 dashes of white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or potato flour

For the peppercorn oil

  • 1/4 cup sichuan peppercorns
  • 125 ml oil
  1. Make the sichuan peppercorn oil by heating the oil until very hot and the oil becomes shiny. Turn off the heat and add the sichuan peppercorns, mixing with chopsticks to release their aroma. Allow to cool and let the peppercorns infuse their flavour into the oil for around 2 hours. This step can be done ahead of time.
  2. To roast the peanuts or cashew, pre-heat the oven to 160c and place the nuts into an over proof bowl. Roast the nuts for around 25 minutes until golden brown. Set aside. This step can also be made ahead of time.
  3. Tenderize the chicken breasts by placing the chicken in a container and mixing the baking soda into the meat, making sure the chicken is evenly coated. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Once done, rinse the chicken very well in cold running water. Drain the chicken breasts and pat dry.
  4. Marinate the chicken in the rice wine and cornstarch (or potato flour) for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the sauce together.
  6. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat and stir fry the chicken until opaque and half cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  7. Add the peppercorn oil and stir fry the ginger and the garlic for a few seconds then add the dried red chillies for around 30 seconds or until their aroma is released. Add back the chicken and give it a good stir.
  8. Add the sauce which will thicken and coat the chicken nicely. Finally, add the peanuts and the green onions. Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.
Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

One of the Italian restaurants that my husband and I love  is A Tavola in Darlinghurst.  The restaurant serves fantastic Italian fare and is famous for their handmade pasta and the beautiful sauces that go with it.  When I learned that the CIRA cooking school was having Eugenio Maiale, who is chef and owner of A Tavola to teach “The Art and Sculpture of Pasta”, I knew couldn’t miss it.   Pasta is something I’ve made before, but my husband has always wanted to learn and who better to teach than the chef of our one of our favourite restaurants?  So for over three hours on Saturday morning we learned from Chef Eugenio and his team a basic pasta recipe and how to shape them into pappardelle, farfalle, capelletti, mezzalune and tortellini to name a few.    It was such a treat to watch him and his team talk about pasta with so much passion.

One of the unforgettable dishes we  made that day was Maccheroni alla chittara con ragu d’agnello e peperoni.  This was a typical dish from Abruzzo, where Eugenio’s family came from.  The “chittara” is a special rectangular wooden board with wire strings attached to it.  The sheets of dough are placed on the board and then a pressed through the strings with a rolling pin to create strands of pasta.  The ragu, made with lamb and capsicums, is simply out of this world.  My husband loved it so much that he went up to Eugenio to ask for seconds. And,  as if two bowls wasn’t enough, tonight we made the ragu again using the freshly made rigatoni that the chefs at A Tavola gave us to take home!

So here is Eugenio’s recipe.  If you’d like to learn more from Eugenio, you can check out his videos here.

Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

Ragu of Lamb and Capsicums

From Eugenio Maiale, A Tavola

  • 500 grams lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and sinew, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 250 ml dry white wine
  • 100 ml chicken stock
  • 400 grams canned Italian tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red capsicum, cut into long thin strips
  • 1 yellow capsicum, cut into long thin strips
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 400 grams dried pasta (i.e. penne) or 2 quantities of this fresh pasta recipe
  1. Toss the lamb in a bowl with the salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a large frying pan over high heat, add oil, when hot add the lamb. Brown the lamb all over, this will take around 5 to 7 minutes. Make sure to stir often. Add the garlic and the bay leaves and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the wine and stir well to remove any bits at the bottom of the pan.
  4. Once the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes and the stock.
  5. Allow the sauce to simmer around 30 minutes, then add the capsicums. Allow the ragu to simmer for another 1 to 1 and a half hours, until soft.
  6. To serve, cook the pasta, add the sauce and top with the cheese and chopped parsley.
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