Sunday, 27 September 2009

Saturday evening pasta

Nothing to me says Italian food like pasta. Unlike other infamous Italian foods like pizza and tomato sauce, which have a fairly recent history, pasta may indeed have a much older pedigree going back hundreds if not thousands of years.

I was once told that the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo brought back pasta from his journeys in China in 1295. So I did a little research and found out there are evidences of Italian recipe books from earlier years containing references to pasta dishes. Since China is an ancient civilization, with a complex culture dating back thousands of years, it's likely that pasta existed in China very early.

Right, so we now know pasta did not arrive in Italy courtesy of Marco Polo. And let's just stop here. I am not a food historian and instead I want to focus more on pasta as a staple ingredient in my kitchen and in my family.

I have been eating pasta for as long as I can remember. Pasta is one of the ingredients in my mom's chicken soup recipe. My sisters and I loved this soup. With so many different kinds of shape and flavours of pasta available these days, it isn't difficult to be creative when deciding upon a dish. So if you think pasta as only spaghetti or macaroni, I'm telling you, you are missing out!

Pasta is just a great neutral starch on which to combine flavours and ingredients. It can be warming and comforting when the days are cool, and light and fresh tasting when the temperatures rise. It's a perfect accompaniment for fresh seasonal vegetables, and an inexpensive way to stretch a little bit of costly ingredients such as sea food or exotic mushrooms to feed a group. Many pasta dishes are all-in-one meal that is simple to make. Many of my pasta recipes can be assembled in the time it takes to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta. Some pasta recipes can also be made ahead of time and reheated or served at room temperature.

I have always considered pasta as one of the great pleasures of the table. For casual get-together, I know there's nothing more satisfying (and economical) to set on the table than a big bowl piled high with pasta. Everyone can serve themselves as much as they want, and it can either be a side dish or as a main course.

So, yesterday I made Jool's favourite Saturday afternoon pasta for an army of friends, coming over to watch the X-Factor. I have some favourites now. I hope they'll make it to the top 24 tonight.

Yes, I've made pasta with tuna and tomato sauce before, but Jamie's addition of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon made all the difference. The cinnamon did not over power any of the flavours, but just a little extra something at the background. We all loved it and Jool's favourite Saturday afternoon pasta is now officially my favourite for Saturday evening.

For dessert, I made A rather pleasing carrot cake with lime mascarpone icing which was very pleasing. Moist carrot cake + citrus = Yum!

Going back to pasta, I must say whatever its true origins and history, one thing is sure. Pasta is here to stay.

Day 27, Recipe 17

Friday, 25 September 2009

Old-school pork chops with apples and sage

Day 25, recipe 15

what a week it's been... aaarrrrrgggghhhhhh!!!!! (that's me screaming)...and I'm GLAD to be cooking again. It's been a long day at work and the only thing that kept me going was the thought of what I'm gonna have for dinner: old school pork chops with apples and sage, served with savoy cabbage with Worcestershire sauce, baked potato and wine; and oh-my-God... it was so gooodd.

Jamie's instruction to make deep cuts all along the fatty side of the chops is fantastic. How come nobody tells me about this before?!? It helps to render the fat and makes the skin crispier.
I invited a friend to come over for dinner but he cancelled at the last minute. If I have to be honest, I was kinda glad he couldn't make it, because I finished everything.

Cabbage isn't my favourite vegetables, but cooked with worcestershire sauce and butter, YUM! So simple, but yet so delicious. I'm pretty sure it's the butter.

Pork chops, apples and cabbage; this is definitely one of the recipes I'll make over and over again. :)

Sunday, 6 September 2009

a little lesson about meat

Day 6, Recipe 7

Some friends demanded a steak dinner and of course, I agreed. I picked up my ‘ My Guide to Making You a Better Cook’ book and Pan-fried sirloin steak with simple Chianti butter sauce and olive oil mash sounds just perfect for Sunday evening with friends.

I love meat. Some of my favourite animals are definitely steak and pork chops. But up until last week, I was one of those people who have never thought or wanted to know or ever questioned where their meat comes from, how it’s fed, looked after, slaughtered or butchered. ‘Why would I want to know in the first place anyway?’

What I enjoy the most about this ‘project’ is it’s like learning to shop, cook and eat all over again. In the book, Jamie begins each chapter with a little lesson on how to choose the ingredients, how to prepare and cook them, and then the many selections of recipes.

In the Meat chapter, Jamie starts with: It's amazing how specific the public are about what they want in return for their hard-earned cash... As a nation, we've forgotten that it's completely normal and healthy to be picky about what meat we buy. You wouldn't be happy with any old beer in the pub, your kids wouldn't be happy with any old trainers, so why should you settle for any old meat that you're going to put in your and your family's mouth?

I used to think that meats from the supermarket are all just the same; and I never really care if they are organic, free-range, etc. All I care was if they’re reasonably priced. Meat is just meat, right? But I was wrong. These extra qualities make all the difference to the quality of your meal. When I started the project I bought my first organic, once-had-a-good-life chicken, to make roasted chicken breast with cherry tomatoes and asparagus; and honestly, I didn’t think it would be as delicious and as moist if I were to have made it with supermarket ‘standard’ chicken.

I have tasted top-quality meat and I really don’t want to go back to the ‘standard’ quality meat. Yes, these organic and free-range meats are not cheap; everything comes with a price, but when you understand what goes into producing meat you soon realise that organic meat isn’t overpriced. I must be honest, I also have rent and bills to pay; and I can’t afford to eat top-quality meat every day. I guess the strategy is to have them in moderation.

Back to tonight's dinner. I agree with Jamie; this simple way of cooking and serving steak is so rewarding (of course, the top-quality meat makes all the difference). All you need is a little sauce on top of the meat and mash. Chianti butter sauce isn't complicated at all to make. Once you cooked the steaks to your liking (I like my steak medium-rare), turn the heat down and add a knob of butter. Fry some shallots or red onions with thyme for four minutes, then add a glass of Chianti wine and reduce by half. Pour in the resting juices from the meat, and add a little more butter and take the pan off the heat. Season to taste and drizzle over the steak and mash. Yum!

I had a great night. However, I need to stop eating so late. I normally don't eat after 7pm, but tonight, we didn't finish eating until around 9. I cannot wait for the University gym to be opened again.

One last thing, Happy 20th Birthday Sis. I love you. x

Good night.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

So it began...

- Monday, 31 August 2009

I applied for a chef apprentice programme not a long time ago and I was accepted. After being unsuccessful in several different occasions, I thought this was going to be my time: to live in London and working for one of the country's top chef. But there was a problem with the working permit. And after two very long weeks of investigation, I finally received the email. It said: "...Michael, I understand that you will be disappointed with my response... I wish you well for the future and thank you for your interest..."

I was very disappointed. But I always believe that everything happens for a reason. It's just not my time yet.

Just before I went to bed last night, I asked myself, "so what am I gonna do now?" I'm definitely gonna keep on looking for different opportunity. I'm not giving up. I can't give up. I won't give up. I've got to do something.

I am very grateful to have parents who only want to give the best education for their children. My goal to pursue a career in the field of culinary has been a part of my plans since my early teen years. Unfortunately, culinary school was way over my college fund.

And something occurred into my mind. If I can't enrol myself into a culinary school, I'm gonna train myself. I've heard stories about chefs who have never been to a culinary school but still made it. They taught themselves how to cook. But how? What did they do? Just cook every day? I don't know...

I turned into my bookshelf and I was looking through some recipe books for inspiration what to have for tomorrow's dinner. Rachael Ray's Buffalo Turkey Burgers with Blue Cheese Dressing? Or Giada De Laurentiis' Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetable?

And then I saw 'Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook.' YES! That's exactly what I want to do. I want to be better.

I've always been a fan of Jamie Oliver. He seems like a cool, down-to-earth-kind-of guy. If we were friends, I think we'll get along really well. I didn't make it to his 'fifteen foundation' (I thought was application was pretty good). But now I can; with the help of this book. And Jamie is my personal mentor. There, I have decided: I'm not gonna waste my time whilst waiting. I'm gonna train my self and sharpen my skill and be prepared for the future. For the next 365 days, I'll be cooking through all of the recipes in the book. I don't know how many of them because I haven't counted them yet (there are 448 pages in the book). I know this is a big commitment. But I also believe you never know what you can do until you try.

So, tomorrow's dinner, my very first recipe, I'm gonna start with Roasted Chicken Breast with Cherry Tomatoes and Asparagus. YUM!

- Today

Day 1, Recipe 1

Work was busy. It definetly felt like September. Many students are back to University. But I like it better when it's busy. And I also received the invite for staff christmas party (yes, christmas party).

During lunchtime, I went shopping for the ingredients; asparagus, cherry tomatoes, rosemary and I also bought the organic, free range chicken breasts (which was not cheap, but I'm sure Jamie would approve).

It's finally six o'clock and it's home time. When I got home, I put on my apron, opened the book to page 187 and preheated the oven to 200 c. Jamie says, 'Make these recipes for one in a snug-fitting baking dish or, to save on washing-up, a little tinfoil tray.' And that's what I did. I made myself a litle tinfoil tray and I started assembling the dish which was easy.

In a bowl, put one chicken breast, trimmed sticks of asparagus, halved cherry tomatoes and rosemary. Toss everything together with sea salt, black pepper and olive oil. Put the veg into the foil tray and place the chicken and rosemary sprig on top. Add some white wine and cook in the middle oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

It was delish! The veg was tender and the chicken was so moist. I can't believe I haven't made this before.

I cannot wait for tomorrow's dinner.