Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Penne with Sausage, Mushrooms and Peas

You know how much I love pasta. It's delicious and easy to make. So, it's no surprise that on weekdays, I eat loads of it... I've been asked recently by friends who just learn how to cook, to post more easy and simple recipes and I think this penne pasta with sausage, mushrooms and peas is definitely one of them.

I know, there's nothing revolutionary about this, but does it always have to be? Well, there are times for it, but not on a Monday evening... I don't think so... Not for me anyway. I'm keeping everything simple here, using ordinary ingredients many of us probably already have in our pantry, fridge and freezer, to make a delicious and satisfying supper.

Cook the penne in a big pot of salted boiling water, according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, in a skillet big enough to hold all the pasta later, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Squeeze the meat out of three great quality pork sausages and sauté until cooked through, breaking them up using the back of a spoon so it resembles coarse mince. Season with salt and black pepper and add a sprinkle of dried thyme and a pinch of red chilli flakes or however much you like the heat.

Add some thinly sliced chestnuts mushrooms to the skillet and continue cooking until the mushrooms are soft. De-glaze the pan with fragrant Marsala wine and scrape the delicious sticky bits on the skillet. Feel free to use white wine though if that's what you have. Then add to that one of my favourite ingredients from the deep freeze: frozen petite pois. They'll cook in no time. Season again.

Drain the cooked al dente pasta and add to the pan, tossing it around. Coat the pasta well in all the lovely flavours. To that, add some chopped flat leaf parsley and freshly grated Parmesan. Taste and check for seasoning, and I believe it's time to eat.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Coriander roast chicken and more...

Let's start here: this chicken is immensely delicious... seriously...

I was so intrigued several weeks ago when chef Heston Blumenthal shares his techniques to cooking his ultimate roast chicken on the telly. So, yesterday I followed his techniques with my own flavourings at home and the result is absolutely wonderful. The chicken was so, so tender and moist. YUM with capital Y,U and M.

The preparation for my Sunday roast begins the night before: brining the chicken in salty water. I'm not very good at explaining the science, but brining really does keep the moisture in food. It's nothing difficult at all... in fact, hardly any work and 'it will guarantee a juicy and succulent bird every time'.

Heston doesn't truss his chicken and personally I never really bothered as well. I especially dislike when a chicken is so heavily trussed all around that it looks like it's in bondage. Just me?!

Before cooking the chickens (I cooked 2 because my friends and I are greedy) in the oven, I made flavoured butter by mixing soft butter with garlic olive oil, salt, pepper, finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and ground coriander. This green butter is then stuffed between the skin and the breast of the chicken. With more soft butter, rub the skin all over with it. Season the cavity with salt, pepper and thyme, and put in a lemon that's been pierced all over.

Now the chicken is ready for the oven. However, instead of cooking the chicken at high temperature as many recipes for roast chicken call for; Heston cooks his chicken at low 90 C. Yes, the chicken needs three hours in the oven, followed by 30 to 45 minutes resting time and then browning and basting at high temperature. This chicken is definitely worth the wait and effort... Please give this a go.

Perhaps not the traditional trimmings for a Sunday dinner, I served the chicken with pasta salad that's inspired by Ina's orzo with roasted vegetables. The original recipe calls for aubergines, red and yellow peppers and red onions; and to that I added courgettes and artichokes. Another example of "you can't have too much of good things". The rice shaped pasta and roasted vegetables are then tossed in a simple lemon dressing.

On another note, I have joined Twitter (@MichaelToa) and I tweeted for the first time less than 24 hours ago. I'm only few years late to this social media phenomenon... *sigh... I'm not very technical. Anyway.. So, if you have a twitter account, please let me know.

Last, but not least, if you're in the UK, happy Pancake Tuesday in advance! I still have not decided if I'm going to have a sweet or savoury one... I'll decide in the morning.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Spaghetti with Olives

One of my friends frequently ask about the lack of entry in this blog. Obviously that's not because I have stopped eating. Believe me. I very often post about the sweet treats I bring to work for Fridays, then followed by the food I had at the weekend when I had more time to cook and messing about in the kitchen. And here's the thing: if I were to blog about the meal I had daily, there would be a lot of repetitions of pasta dishes which include the addictive spaghetti with marmite, pasta puttanesca and linguine with garlic and pancetta... all of which have been featured before. Also, one evening I had a tub of ice cream for dinner and that's probably not worth mentioning, however delicious and satisfying I must confess.

But perhaps another pasta dish which I used have quite often and have not been featured yet is spaghetti with olives. I love this so much, not only because it's delicious (duh!), but incredibly quick to prepare. The longest wait is for the water to boil to cook the pasta.

I still remember having this dish the first time when I was doing my first degree several years ago. The time when I was living in student accommodation and all I had in the fridge that day was a handful of spaghetti, olives and with a little help of chilli flakes, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, this dish was created.

Start by cooking the spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water, according to the packet instruction. I reckon about 150 gr for a single portion. In a wide pan, big enough to toss the spaghetti later, cover the base with good olive oil (though today I use delicious British rapeseed oil) and add to that a pinch of dried chilli flakes and a clove of garlic that's been thinly sliced. As you heat up the pan gently, the chilli and garlic will flavour the oil. Be really careful not to burn the garlic. When they sizzle a bit, add the chopped green olives, as much as you want and I like a lot and stir around. The pasta should be cooked by now. Drain and reserve a ladleful of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta in the oil, adding the reserving cooking liquid if required. Add the juice of half a lemon and toss again. Perhaps a little bit of freshly ground black pepper but no salt as the olives are already quite salty and I will be adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese too. No need to chop, just tear the parsley leaves and enjoy with a glass of well chilled white/rose wine. yum... spaghetti with olives is definitely making a comeback in my life.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

On a recent discussion among friends, everyone agreed that they prefer to be given a smaller slice of cake but have the option to have seconds or thirds; rather than one big slab of cake, even though the quantity eaten at the end is the same. I felt the same way. I think there's a just greater satisfaction in being able to eat more.

And you certainly, well, myself and my friends at least, want to eat more of these brownies. They're dark and moist, and when you bite into the peanut butter swirl, you get delicious saltiness against the sweetness.

The recipe for this brownies is from Ina Garten. So if you're familiar with Ina's recipes, you know, this is not diet food. Yes, there are LOADS of butter, chocolate and sugar in this recipe. But do keep in mind that this makes lots of brownies. I cut mine into 30 medium slices, but you could as easily cut it into smaller pieces or bigger if you prefer.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe to suit my liking. One, I swapped the quantity of the milk chocolate and the dark chocolate. I always prefer dark chocolate, but obviously this is to your preference. Two, and I think you'd be grateful for this, I reduced the amount of sugar by nearly half. Because I don't want the delicious bitter taste of the dark chocolate to completely disappear.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday...

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
Recipe by Ina Garten
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Eggplant Timbale

I only had myself and my poor time management to blame that I missed the deadline for Random Recipe challenge last month. To avoid any more disappointments, I cooked and ate my entry pretty early this time. It is the challenge's first birthday this month and participants are asked to choose a random recipe from that first random book this time a year ago. Mine was Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by the beautiful Giada De Laurentiis. And the recipe I selected at random is the eggplant (or aubergines if you're in this side of the Atlantic) timbale.

I love aubergines with pasta and this recipe is exactly that, but presented in a form of a pie. The soft crust is made with thinly sliced then grilled aubergines. And the delicious pasta filling is flavoured with a combination of minced beef and pork sausage, tomatoes, onions, Marsala wine, peas, marinara sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

I agree the making of the pie involves some 'faffing around' (yes, 'faffing around' is now a completely legit culinary technical term... in my kitchen, anyway) but rather fun. Though I was a bit nervous myself. How if the pie collapse?! what a disaster... But I held my breath and thankfully, it stood still until me and my friends demolish the whole thing.

Eggplant Timbale
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Marmalade Cake

It's Friday, so you know it's treat day at work. I do do some actual work you know... at times. I don't just bake in case if you're wondering. But I do think a lot about food and my next meal all the time.

Last night I came across this recipe for marmalade cake from the latest issue of Jamie (Oliver) Magazine and because I have most of the ingredients at home I thought I'd give this a go. The only ingredient missing from the original recipe is ground almonds which is a shame because I do like the texture of ground almonds in cakes. I added 1 lemon juice and zest to the cake for two very good reasons: one, it needs using before it gets dry and wrinkly; and two, I think the sharpness of the lemon will balance nicely with the sweetness of the oranges and the marmalade. And I was right. The cake is beautiful. Just the smell of it... yum.

It is soft and sticky when it's still warm, but also delicious at room temperature. It gets a bit stodgy, in a good way if you know what I mean when it cools. But you can always put it in the microwave for a few seconds only if you want to and can be bothered. 

Anyway I am glad it's Friday. The wine is chilling and I've been invited to my friend, Adam's for dinner. I heard stuffed peppers with couscous and grilled halloumi, pork and cider hot pot and banoffee pie are on the menu tonight. Bring... it... on! I am starving.

Have a great weekend!

Marmalade Cake
Recipe inspired by Ginny Rolfe

200 gr soft unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the tin
4 tablespoons demerara sugar
200 gr golden caster sugar
6 heaped tablespoons fine cut marmalade
4 eggs
3 Navel oranges
1 lemon
225 self-rising flour
a pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Grease the base and sides of a 23 cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Sprinkle the base with demerara sugar. Slice one of the oranges as thinly as humanly possible and arrange the orange slices on the base of the tin.

Cream the butter and golden sugar until light and fluffy with an electric mixer, followed by 3 tablespoons of the marmalade and mix well. Add the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Zest and then juice the rest of the oranges and 1 lemon. Add a pinch of salt to the juice and add these to the mixture. Fold in the flour.

Carefully pour the batter into the tin and bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until firm to the touch. I cover the tin halfway through cooking with foil to stop it from getting too brown, but it doesn't really matter to be honest since the top is actually going to be the base.

When the cake is out from the oven, let it sit for a little bit before turning it out from the tin. It's best to do this when the cake is still warm. Just be careful. Prick the top of the cake with wooden skewers. Heat the rest of the marmalade with a little water and pour this on top of the cake. Cut into slices and enjoy with a nice cup of tea.