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I sincerely believe risotto is easy to make.  All it takes is a little time.  It’s a great recipe to have in your repertoire; the basics are all the same and with a few variations to the add-ins you’ve got a different meal every time.

This particular flavor combination may seem a bit odd, but I’ve made it twice now to rave reviews.  The crispness of the lemon is softened by the goat’s cheese; it is especially delicious when served with a roasted leg of lamb that’s been pre-steeped in a bit of the lemon, minced shallot, orange juice and a splash of soy sauce.

basic risotto

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock

To prepare the basic risotto, lightly toast rice in large saucepan (I use my wok) over medium high heat, in equal parts butter and olive oil, for 4-5 minutes.

Add white wine and cook for another 3-4 minutes to burn off the alcohol, then reduce heat to low.  Slowly add chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, allowing it to fully absorb into the rice before adding more.  Stir occasionally (I find, constant stirring is not necessary).

Cook for 25-35 minutes or until rice is soft. 5-10 minutes prior to end of cook time, add salt & pepper and whatever others spices, meats, vegetables, nuts or cheese desired, and voila!

How to make an intermediate risotto: at the beginning, saute 3-4 cloves garlic (diced) and 3-4 shallots (diced) in butter and oil first, before adding the rice. Use a homemade chicken stock, made from boiling a whole chicken or bones, veggies and a few bay leaves, not that store bought stuff…

preserved lemon, herb and goat cheese risotto

200g chevre
4-5 half-pieces of preserved lemon, finely diced
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh herbs: e.g., basil, parsley, sage, chive
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Prepare basic/intermediate risotto.  Add preserved lemon after 10 minutes of cooking time, when rice is still semi-hard, so the lemon has a little time to cook down and to let the flavors meld.  When rice is fully cooked, add fresh herbs, chevre, a healthy amount of fresh cracked pepper and toasted pine nuts.

Stir and allow cheese to melt in, about 1-2 mins more, and serve.

(basic ingredients)

(risotto, roast leg of lamb, stuffed zucchini flowers and rocket salad)

(always good to have someone to help with the stirring)

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goat cheese stuffed zucchini flowers

fresh zucchini flowers, from local markets
1/4  cup creme fraiche
200g goats cheese
chopped chives

If necessary, remove baby zucchini from flower and reserve for another use.  For filling, mix together creme, cheese and chives.  The mixture should have a soft and creamy but still slightly firm texture.

Gently pry open flowers and remove stamen at the base of the flower.  Stuff with cheese mixture, twist tops, slick with olive oil and scatter with rock salt.

 

Zucchini flowers are considered to be a delicacy, so when I saw them for (relatively) cheap at my local market I thought they would be a perfect complement to a goats’ cheese risotto I planned to make.  This particular recipe is based on a NYT article, highlighting the pleasures of zucchini flowers in the raw, since they are often simply battered and fried.

Raw, the taste of the flower was rather mild and delicate.  All in all, these were fun to make and plenty edible, but in the end, I’m not sure they’re really worth the effort.  Still, they sure make for a gorgeous photo.

Food is such a great coping mechanism.

Last weekend, I headed down to Brighton Beach for brunch and some hands-on cooking.  Laura and I bartered for an exchange of our respective talents – custom-made jewelry for her; lesson in pasta making for me.  Seeing as she just wanted a replica of a design I’d made for myself, I’d say I got the better end of this deal!

We spent a full afternoon forming, kneading, resting (with a glass of bubbly), rolling, cutting, filling and then devouring our fresh, hand-made pasta.

(Kelly, Grace and me churning out the linguini)

This weekend, I spent the better half of Saturday making soups.  See Damiano & Kristin arrive Tuesday morning hot from the summer days of Paris to the tail end of a dreary Melbourne winter.  So I thought I’d better have some comfort food on hand to help with the transition.

I made Steve’s favorite slow cooker potato soup, french onion soup, and a new one—this roasted tomato soup from one of my favorite food blogs.  Taste test says, delicious!  I added some fennel to the roasting process (tip: remove before blending) and ended up with an earthy and rustic soup that really gives you the sense some love has gone into it.  Thanks as always Mr. Rufus!

I’m planning to (defrost and) serve with tortellini, and there’s something about a rustic tomato soup (read: not from a Campbell’s can) that seems Italian to me.  So let’s just call it a double weekly whammy of Italian cooking!

To top it all off, I recently got a surprise “going away” gift from Kelly – a shiny new pasta rolling machine.  Now I can put my skillz to good use.

(but I think I’ll wait til next weekend; I’ve got three Italians staying with me this weekend.  Too much pressure!)

1. a chilitastic duo of hot and spicy is always perfect on a cold rainy day;

2. I never make it the same way twice, but somehow it always tastes DElicious;

3. with a slow cooker, it couldn’t be simpler for a lazy Sunday afternoon. just throw it all in the pot and wait for the flavors to melt together;

4. I never pass on a dish that includes lot of fresh jalapenos;

5. it’s a great way to use up bits and pieces from the fridge (this concoction was made with a base of tomato puree, italian tomato sauce, some salsa and half a squeeze bottle of pizza sauce. I basically emptied out cans from the pantry and bottles from the fridge until I had the right sauce-meat-bean ratio…)

This recipe posting gets a gold star for effort Creativity? Not really… but effort on a lazy Sunday?  For sure. While Steve was out golfing, my solo Sunday consisted of a leisurely brunch interspersed with dabbling on the piano. I had my eye on these delicious baked eggs in tomato, from Mr. Rufus, which looked (and were) so beautifully simple.

I added some persian feta as a garnish after cooking to give it some creaminess, used thyme instead of oregano just because I had it on hand, and topped my toast with some roasted garlic.

And of course, when you’re treating yourself to an amazing Sunday brunch, there’s gotta be dessert. So I sliced up a stack of star fruit as a clean crisp finish.  Um yum.  Happy Sunday to me.

This NYT article is great on so many levels: pointing out an obvious reason why 1 in 3 Americans are obese and 2 in 3 Americans overweight; highlighting the basic tension / interplay of market capitalism and regulation; and doing it all with math!

Shockingly, Carson Chow, a mathematician, concludes that the rise in obesity in America over the last few decades can be attributed to… increased supply of food.  The mantra certainly holds true in my house:  if you grow it, I will eat it (though I like to think, in moderation).

And if you grow it cheaply, and on a mass scale, economics dictate that I will pay a lower price for it and be able to consume more of it in relative terms.  It’s a common refrain from visitors to Melbourne:  “food is SO expensive here.”  But it’s only because food is so cheap in the U.S., in fact, perhaps TOO cheap.

Sadly, I suspect another key part of the equation missed by Chow is a cultural one — Americans have proved in the last 50 years to be a culture of convenience consumers.  Which unfortunately means that, so long as supply is high, there will be demand. And so long as quick and cheap alternatives are available to maximize not only food consumption but minimize lost opportunity costs for other consumer activities, Americans will seize them.

It makes me nostalgic for a time when my dad would cook 7-days’ worth of meals in advance on the weekend, to freeze until each meal’s day came, so we could enjoy home cooked dinners quickly (and I suspect cheaply) when he got home from a long day at work. (And trust me, we probably BOTH thought we’d never be nostalgic for such things…)  What’s the incentive now, when a parent can just pick up a box-o-food in the same amount of time and at the same cost?

It’s a well-timed article for me, as I’ve been pondering a lot recently about the role of government in a capitalist society and whether there is any hope for effective national legislation in an increasingly gridlocked political system.  I’ve also been cooking, and therefore eating, ALOT (as you can tell from recent posts) with some downtime at work and an increasingly chilly winter descending on Melbourne that sends me straight to the oven for warmth.  (Plus, I havent shared a “random musings” post in a while…)

So what should be the political response to Chow’s mathematical answer?  It seems politically untenable and perhaps callous to suggest as a response that we should (1) remove farm subsidies (i.e., put the squeeze on struggling American farmers in the heartland of U.S.A) or (2) herald an age where food is more expensive, and therefore more financially burdensome to struggling families.  An obesity rate of 1 in 3 people suggests that Americans aren’t just “breaking even” on food, they are gluttonously profiting.  But political rhetoric is hardly that discerning.

Perhaps in the current political climate, cultural change is the best we can hope for… I’ll start one home at a time; my own.  After all, if a corporate lawyer can manage to avoid fast food and cook for her family most nights, I promise, you can too!

Over the weekend, Steve pointed to this foreign looking substance at the market and said, “what’s that? can we eat it?”

Never one to pass over a new vegetable opportunity, especially with such enthusiasm from Steve, I bought two.  With a budding sore throat, I was craving something warm on Monday night, so I whipped up this amazingly hearty, soothing, creamy without cream soup.

celeriac and apple soup

1 large celeriac, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
50 grams butter
3 apples, sliced
500-750 mls of chicken stock
3 handfuls sage

topping: leftover baguette (diced into cubes), 50 grams each chopped bacon & walnuts

Heat butter and onion in a large saucepan and let simmer for 3-5 minutes.  Add celeriac and sweat for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock to cover the celeriac entirely and sage (or season to taste) and allow to simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until celeriac is soft.  I had some deep-flavored chicken stock on hand that I’d brewed over the weekend, which I’d like to think added to the heartiness of the final product, but regular ol’ store stock will do.

Add apples, cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly and blend for 2-3 minutes to give it a soft and silky texture.  Voila!

Now, you may have realized my trick to getting my husband to eat veggies by now:  always add bacon!  This soup is no exception. But I thought the topping, objectively, really gave the soup a punch; the smoky bacon and nutty crunch adding another dimension to the creamy texture of the soup.  To partake, fry bacon for 3-5 minutes, then add walnuts and diced baguette and continue to saute until bacon is cooked and bread is slightly crispy.

Steve has been begging for some duck lately, and Dad & donna’s arrival gave me a great excuse to cook (lucky duck!).  We spent Saturday at Prahan Market, picking up some fresh pasta, an assortment of game (duck, kangaroo and emu) and local produce.  Then on a rainy Saturday afternoon, we had a stir fry extravaganza.

Grilled duck with stir fried vegetables and udon noodles

4 duck breasts, fat trimmed to a thin strip and scored
udon noodles (serves 4)
veggies of choice (we used carrots, snow peas, peppers, onion, bok choy)
green chili and garlic cloves, to taste, thinly sliced (remove chili seeds for less heat)
4 eggs

Boil water and cook noodles according to directions.  Warm wok over high heat and add chilis and garlic with olive oil, and prepare veggies (slice).

Prepare duck breasts by removing most of the fat, and leaving a strip of about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long. Score fat and marinade in soy sauce for 10 minutes. Grill 6-8 minutes skin side down; flip and grill another 4-6 minutes. (If not cooked through, continue grilling on skin side to render the fat and avoid overcooking).  Allow to rest for at least 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Add vegetables to wok with hot chili and garlic infused oil (carrots and bok choy first).  When cooked to desired doneness, add noodles, additional olive oil, soy sauce and salt & pepper to taste and stir. (Scoop noodles out of water and into wok, and keep boiling water on high heat to poach eggs. I like poaching, so that the delicious gooey yolk spills out onto the noodles when served, but feel free to fry in the wok if you’d prefer).

Serve noodles topped with egg and sliced duck breast.

It’s that time of year when my cooking posts become totally out of sync with the fresh seasonal produce in the U.S.  While I am enjoying kilos of cherries, nectarines and mangos for mere dollars at the farmer’s market, those of you in the dead of winter in the U.S. are probably thinking, does produce shipped from Chile count as “seasonal”??

In any case, this soup was so fabulous it’s worth sharing whatever the season in your hemisphere.  A cold treat, with a hint of sweetness and a lot of crunch, it will be a staple on my “impress the dinner guests” menus to come…

 apple and soup cream soup

10 lychees

1 small Lebanese cucumber

8-10 large mint leaves

400g unfiltered pressed apple juice

200g sour cream

Carefully remove skin and pit lychees, leaving roughly whole (or only halved).  Dice cucumber into small squares, and thinly slice mint leaves.  Combine with lychees.  Whisk apple juice and sour cream together, and chill for 10-15 minutes or until ready to serve.  Divide lychee, mint and cucumber mixture evenly among 4 soup bowls and pour apple sour cream soup on top.

*recipe from Australian Gormet Traveler

You may have already seen the bounty that was our Thanksgiving dessert table.  On the night prior to, Kelly & I had ourselves a pie and hot tub night:  we rolled out Kelly’s pre-made crust (spiked with cinnamon, that secret recipe stays with her I think), filled it up, popped the pies in the oven, and rewarded our efforts with a few glasses of champagne and dunk in the hot tub…

The cherry pie was totally impromptu.  Kelly had made extra crust, and when gathering provisions at the grocery store I noticed cherries were $5 a pound.  Cheap berries are few and far between down here outside of the seasonal bounty, but in late November and December there happens to be a bonanza of fresh cherries to be had.  When life hands you cherries….

The pumpkin and apple pies were the clear winners; but just as good by me….  Cherry pie for breakfast!

Kelly’s apple pie

6 or 7 tart apples

2/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten,

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Slice apples, skin on for flavor.  Combine with all ingredients. Fill pie, and top with lattice pie crust.  Bake 55 to 65 minutes at 350 F (260C).

impromptu cherry pie

1kg (2 pounds) fresh cherries

1 shot brandy

1/4 cup sugar, or to taste

Pit cherries (and be prepared dig cherry juice from under your nails all weekend) but leave roughly intact (halved)  Combine with sugar and brandy in a small saucepan.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until cherries are well coated and softened.  Fill pie crust, top and bake at 250F (260C) for 40-45 minutes.

nutella, pumpkin pecan pie

1 jar nutella (or other chocolate spread / melted chocolate)

15oz can pumpkin

3/4 cup milk & 3/4 cup cream

1 cup brown sugar

3 egg

1/4 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, or to taste

100g pecans

2 egg whites, whisked

Heat pumpkin, sugar and spice over low in saucepan, until lightly browned.  Add milk and cream and continue to risk.  Blend with egg .  Layer 1/4 inch of nutella in the bottom of the pie crust, then pumpkin mixture. Toss pecans with egg whites and scoop on top (try to avoid pouring in, which can lead to too much goopy egg whites settling on the top of the pie).  Bake 55 to 65 minutes at 350 F (260C).

Disclaimer, this version of pumpkin pecan pie was delicious, but not really the right texture for me for a pumpkin pie.  It was very soft, likely from the blending process, but ever so tasty.  It might benefit from a few extra minutes in the oven (covered), or prompt serving (since we baked the night before serving and stored in the oven overnight).