Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hot Home Cook!

Cam's Chilli

We love having dinner parties and I enjoy trawling the recipe books and magazines for things to prepare for our guests that will be impressive looking and delicious. Sometimes, however, no matter how long I trawl, I can't find the right thing. I'm all for preparing days in advance when I have lots of time, but most weekends when we have friends round it's a marathon Sat to shop, clean, tidy the house and cook!

The last occasion I realised that my efforts of fine dining where really too stressful and what we have for dinner on a daily basis, presented nicely, is exciting enough to serve for our guests who are envious of our lunch leftovers!I put this to the test at our last dinner party. A week before my hubbie had made a fabulous beef chilli in the slow cooker so we decided to try this out with our guests. With autumn kicking in, the evenings are still cool enough for a warming, spicy feed, and the slow cooker is a sure win for juicy tender meat that melts in the mouth! To step the menu up a bit I found a delicious and simple cornbread recipe to accompany the chilli. It looked impressive, sliced beautifully (no crumbly slices) and balanced the spice of the chilli really nicely.

Jaffa Profiteroles
For dessert, an old favourite with a twist: profiteroles with chocolate orange sauce. I can whip these up pretty quickly and they are an easy dessert to prepare prior to the guests arriving. A little orange zest in the cream gave it a citrusy flavour and a glug of Sabra, an Isreali chocolate orange liqueur was an unusual addition to the chocolate sauce.

All in all, our guests were delighted and it was a much easier and enjoyable evening being a hot home cook than a fine dining fail!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Biggest Winner

Chicken with Herbed Yoghurt
We have just embarked on Michelle Bridge's 12WBT - 12 weeks of healthy eating, daily exercise and total mindset overhaul. Being a foodie, I was a bit reluctant to commit to someone else's menu for weeks, but so far so good. The food has been right up our alley so far.

On Monday we took the leap of faith, not only on a new menu, but on the weather and had our first salad of the season. The char grilled chicken and leaves were boosted by a delicious herb dressing. Normally I'm not a huge fan of yoghurt dressings, but this was so disguised that it really worked!

Beef strips with Corn, Capsicum Salsa
Tuesday was a take on Mexican. The rump steak that looked surprisingly small in the packet was delicious and juicy, and worked so nicely with the roasted capsicum and corn. We probably left it resting a little too long, as it cooled down a bit, but was delicious nonetheless. Looking at it, you'd never guess that was a cut down portion, highlighting how much our portion control was really out of control!

Thai Fish Cakes
The Thai Fish Cakes were also a winner. I've made fish cakes before and always forget how easy it is. Mish's recipe was so tasty and fresh, without too much fuss. Instead of the recommended salad of bean sprouts, I made a quick stir fry using similar ingredients  which went as nicely with the fish cakes as I'm sure the salad option would have.

 I'm looking forward to tonight's treat, Lasagne! Not necessarily known for it's weight loss properties, this one has a fraction of the mince and triple the veg, but the "meat" mixture looked surprisingly similar to the meat packed version we're used to!

The food looks vibrant and I've enjoyed the push to portion control without being hungry! Whilst the outcome may be that I become a big LOSER, at the moment, I'm feeling pretty happy that these recipes I've committed to for the next 12 weeks are a winner!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Juicy Fruit

Fresh Orange & Mandarin Juice
As spring comes round again, and we had friends for breakfast, I decided to bring the juicer out of hibernation. There's no excuse really for not making fresh juice at any time of year, but it just seems as the mornings are no longer so icy, that the thought of a freshly squeezed juice with breakfast sounds way more appealing!

I had a batch of murcott mandarins full of seeds which was just disappointing. Instead of them going to waste, as I'd given up battling with them to eat, I decided to mix them up with some fresh navel oranges, which are also in season over winter, and make a big jug of fresh orange.

We have had our juicer for about 5 years now, so we have two good tips to make it easy:
Our first tip is to put a small plastic bag into the waste container (the ones that you put veg into in the supermarket) When you're done, you just lift out the bag full of pulp and waste, and replace the bag. That way, it's one less thing to wash, and you're not spending time fishing fruit gunk out of the sink!

Another tip is to peel the oranges the night before. Especially in the summer, fruit can get a little warm at room temperature. We peel our oranges the previous evening and store it in a tupperware in the fridge. That way, especially on a weekday morning when we're in a rush, there's no excuses, we just thrown them straight in the juicer, and there is no need for ice to cool it down.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Snap, Crackle and Pop!

Crispy skin is one of those amazing inventions that features in kitchens all over the globe in different guises. My favourite is pork crackling! To me, the test of the oven of my rentals is the crackling test. If I could make perfect pork crackling I was on to a winner! I still remember the disappointment of my last rental place with the elements on the bottom of the oven making crunchy crackling almost impossible.
When making roast pork for friends I never like to promise crackling just in case it doesn't quite deliver,  but even though I say so myself, I'm getting quite consistent at putting up a great attempt each time.

I've picked up a few tips along the way that have helped which hopefully will help you succeed with a fantastic snap, crackle and pop!

Perfect Crackling & Roast Pork

  • Preheat the oven really high. The recipe might say 200 but I crank it up to the highest setting!
  • I dry the skin really thoroughly and score through just the top layer (not through the fat makes better crackling, I've heard). Some supermarket porks are already scored but sometimes not enough!
  • Be generous with the oil. I don't measure out, I just pour and generous amount into my hand and rub it all over the skin.
  • Be extra generous with the salt. I used to salt my pork on the baking tray before putting it in the oven, but I put so much salt on it, it can make anything else really salty! Now, I prepare my pork on a plate with salt covering the whole skin and rubbed in. I then transfer it to the baking tray leaving the excess salt out!
  • After preheating the oven on really high, don't turn it down for 15 - 20 mins. I really give it a good chance in the first few moments of cooking so at least I am confident of how it's going to go.
  • Turn the pork when cooking. I try to turn it a few times so all surfaces get a go of the hotter sources.
  • Don't fill the baking tray too much with the roast veg. Anything that will make the roast start to stew will impact on the overall crispiness of the crackling, so if you like using the pan juices and fat from the meat for your roast veg, give the pork it's space!
  • Finally, don't put the crackling on top of the meat to be doused by gravy. I set mine to the side and on top of any juices and sauce!

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