Panna cotta

Panna cotta is an Italian dessert that is basically solidified cream. The cream is sweetened with sugar and flavoured with vanilla, simmered over gentle heat, then solidified through a combination of gelatine and refrigeration. On its own I find it plain and almost too rich, however the excitement that comes from eating panna cotta is in the endless possibilities of what it can be served with.

My basic method for learning any dish is to look it up on Wikipedia to first understand what it exactly is supposed to be. I will then research by reading recipes, watching YouTube clips and asking people who I know to make the dish quite well. If it’s a dish I’m not familiar with, I will then choose what appears to be the best possible recipe (determined by referring to ratings and common sense) and follow the recipe exactly. Otherwise I just wing it on my first attempt. I then make the dish a few more times, modifying it each time until it suits my tastes. Once I have perfected it I will write down the recipe for future reference.

For something like panna cotta, where there is more scope for creativity, my research will extend to how to serve and present the dish rather than just how to make it. I will look at menus at fine dining restaurants, Google images and do searches on Instagram. My way of serving panna cotta was inspired by the menu of Courgette in Canberra, Australia, a couple of years ago. I no longer remember the original serving description, however it involved elements that were beyond what I was capable of. This is therefore the homemade, simplified version – not as impressive, but just as delicious.

Ingredients:

Panna cotta

– 1 vanilla bean, cut down its length and scraped

– 40g caster sugar

– 500ml cream

– 1 sachet of gelatine

Strawberry consomme

– 1 punnet of strawberries, hulled and quartered

– 100ml white wine

– caster sugar

To serve

Mixed berries

Orange sorbet

 

Method:

Panna cotta:

1. Heat the vanilla, sugar and cream over low heat and bring to a simmer.

2. Remove from heat, and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

3. Mix the gelatine with 125 of hot water and stir to dissolve.

4. Stir the gelatine mixture into the cream.

5. Pour into ramekins.

6. Leave at room temperature until cooled, then cover and refrigerate.

Strawberry consomme:

1. Place the strawberries and the wine in a pot and cook over medium heat for about fifteen minutes.

2. As it cooks, taste and continue to add caster sugar until its sweetened to your liking.

3. Strain the whole lot into a bowl. I discard the strawberries, which I feel guilty about every time, however I’m sure there’s some creative use for cooked strawberries that have had all their juices pushed out of them – thoughts anyone?

4. Leave at room temperature until cooled, then cover and refrigerate.

Putting it all together:

1. To turn out the panna cotta, have a bowl of boiling water ready. Take a knife and run it around the edge of the ramekin, then dip very briefly into the bowl of boiling water. I must emphasize that this is to be the very briefest of dips – the edges will otherwise become a dribbly mess. This method should loosen the panna cotta enough for it to be tapped out onto a dish. (And I believe a shallow white bowl is the prettiest and most suitable thing to go for here.)

2. Surround with mixed berries. I suppose any berry will do, however I did use frozen raspberries once and found that they were far too tart. I have had luck with fresh blueberries and strawberries, and zero attempts at anything else.

3. Add to your dish a scoop of orange sorbet.

4. Pour over a few tablespoons of the chilled strawberry consomme.

Serves 6

I drink moscato with my panna cotta, which I normally turn my nose up at, however for such a girly dessert I can’t think of a more perfect combination.

Advertisements

Lasagna

Lasagna – supreme ruler of all pasta dishes.

This is probably the recipe I am most proud of. It took many failed attempts to get this one right – first it was mastering each of the separate elements, then it was deciding how best to put it all together, and finally getting the whole thing to set. This final point took the longest time for me to work out. I felt I was producing what looked to be a good lasagna, then cutting into it only to see the whole thing collapse into an ugly (but very tasty) mess. I thought it was a matter of reducing the sauces down further, until my mum pointed out that lasagna needs to rest once it’s out of the oven. Now I let it rest and it really is perfect every time.

Lasagna represents what I love most about home cooking. It is a lot of effort, yet once mastered beats anything you could ever order from a restaurant. I am a firm believer in building a home that gives you few reasons to ever leave – fill it with loved ones, furnish it with what you consider beautiful, and produce the best food possible to sustain both the body and the soul.

Basic method:

Lasagna sheet

+ Bolognese

+ Sliced courgettes

+ Lasagna sheet

+ Tomato sauce

+ Whole basil leaves

+ Lasagna sheet

+ Bechamel

+ Sliced mushrooms

Repeat above layers, ending with a bechamel layer

+ Grated Parmesan, mozzarella and nutmeg

Bake in oven for 40 minutes at 180 degrees. Let it sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Bolognese

Ingredients

4 rashers of bacon or pancetta, cut into small pieces

approx. 800g lean beef mince

6 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 onions, finely chopped

1 big glass of red wine

1 tomato paste sachet

3 beef stock cubes

Dried herbs (basil, parsley, oregano, etc)

1x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

2 celery stalks, very finely chopped

2 carrots, very finely chopped

Method

1. Fry the bacon or pancetta for a minute or so.

2. Add the garlic and onion, fry for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften.

3. Add the mince, fry until browned.

4.Deglaze the pan with the red wine.

5. Add the tomato paste and canned tomatoes

6. Add the vegetables, dried herbs and stock cubes.

7. Simmer for one hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Tomato sauce

Ingredients

1.5kg Roma tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Salt

Sugar

4 basil leaves

Method

1. Peel, deseed and roughly chop the tomatoes.

2. Sweat the garlic in olive oil for 3-4 minutes, over low heat.

3. Add the tomatoes, cook for 15 minutes over medium to high heat. Add salt to draw out the flavour, and sugar to counteract the sourness of the tomato.

4. At the end of the 15 minutes, squish down the tomatoes using the back of a wooden spoon.

5. Cook for a further 30 minutes on low heat with four basil leaves thrown in for flavour.

Bechamel

Ingredients

One knob of butter

Plain flour

300ml warmed milk

Salt

Pepper

Nutmeg

Method

1. Melt the knob of butter in the saucepan.

2. Add enough flour to make a paste.

3. Take off the heat, then gradually whisk in the warmed milk.

4. Put back on the heat, season with salt and pepper, grate in a generous amount of nutmeg, then stir over low-medium heat for 10 minutes until thickened.

Lasagna

Assemble, bake and rest as described under “Basic method”. I have made this using both store bought and my own lasagna sheets. I do prefer making my own as it tastes better and I can get the sheets to exactly fit the dish I use. As you can see though this dish is already a fair amount of work, so no judgement if you go for the store bought…

Serves 4-6

One final word of advice – I find it’s best not attempting the entire recipe on a weeknight after work. This ends in tears.

Make this when you have the luxury of time, or if you must, spread the recipe out over a couple of days.

 

Chicken schnitzel

Chicken schnitzel is what I order from a pub, with a side of salad which I don’t eat due to an irrational distaste of mixing cold food with hot, washed down with a pint. It is eaten with people I am becoming increasingly fond of, with whom I am ready to accept as friends.

Chicken schnitzel is also what I ate at home on weeknights as I was growing up. My parents would fry up several pieces of schnitzel, which we ate with rice and broccoli, comprising what I consider to be a stereotypical Eurasian household meal.

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, cut into schnitzel-sized pieces

2 eggs, beaten

Flour

Bread crumbs

Any other flavouring on hand (consider Parmesan, lemon rind, herbs, garlic powder, Vegeta, salt, pepper, etc)

Method:

1. Line up three shallow dishes, one for the flour, one for the eggs and one for the breadcrumbs.

2. If desired, flavour your breadcrumbs with anything you feel you’d want in your schnitzel, referring to above ingredients for inspiration.

3. Coat the chicken pieces one at a time in the flour, then drop into the beaten egg, and finally into the breadcrumb mixture.

4. Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Once up to temperature, heat some oil, and fry the chicken pieces for four minutes on each side.

5. Cut open the thickest piece of chicken to confirm it’s cooked through.

6. Drain on paper towels before serving.

Serves 2-4

Serving ideas for your chicken schnitzel:

– as a burger, with lettuce, tomato, mayo and cheese slices

– as a healthy dinner, with brown rice and green vegetables

– with chips, salad and gravy

Minestrone

I make my minestrone loosely based on Nigella Lawson’s version in her wonderful book How to Eat. Minestrone is not something you necessarily need a recipe for. It is basically vegetable soup – fry up whatever vegetables you have, season, add stock, bring to the boil then simmer for two hours. If desired add pasta and beans.

Minestrone is winter food, warming and comforting, relatively cheap and healthy. I suppose it makes the most sense to eat it with crusty bread, however I dive in armed only with my soup spoon.

Ingredients:

Onions, diced

Vegetables, diced (I would recommend carrots, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes)

Stock (any stock you have on hand. Chicken or vegetable stock would be my picks)

Risoni

1x 400g can of beans (chick peas, kidney beans, etc)

Grated Parmesan, to serve

Chilli oil, to serve

Method:

1. Fry the onion in oil and butter.

2. While it’s frying, chop up your first vegetable, add it to the pan. While that’s cooking, repeat with your next vegetable, and so on.

3. Season, pour in enough stock to cover everything and then some.

4. Bring to the boil, then simmer for two hours. If you feel there’s not enough liquid, add more.

5. When there’s about ten minutes to go, add the risoni. I find the risoni sinks to the bottom so you do need to keep scraping to ensure it doesn’t stick. I also find the risoni expands significantly once the soup is left overnight in the fridge, so unless you’re eating straight away, add less risoni then what appears necessary.

6. Add the drained canned of beans, then cook for a further minute.

7. To serve, ladle into pre-heated bowls. Grate over the Parmesan, drizzle with chilli oil and top with cracked pepper. Enjoy wrapped in a blanket, relaxed and content at home.

Grilled chicken wings

Grilled chicken wings have become a bit of a staple in my house. They are easy to prepare and always satisfy. They have extra special meaning to me, as it was the first thing I cooked for my fiance after he proposed.

I used to buy whole chicken wings, which have two joints and include the pointy end of the wing. These days I use V-wings which have one joint and don’t include the pointy end. You can use either really, but the V-Wings require slightly less work and no one ever misses the pointy part.

I always use the ingredients as listed below, however I do occasionally throw a few extra things into the marinade. Sesame oil, chopped fresh chilli, cornflour, garlic, salt, pepper and other seasonings can all be used to add more flavour.

Ingredients:

1kg chicken wings or V-wings

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup honey

Method:

1. Wash the chicken wings, then pat dry. Cut them at the joints, and cut off the tips, if using whole chicken wings. Cutting them at the joints makes the pieces easier to eat later, and the tips are cut off because they aren’t that great to eat.

2. Place chicken pieces in a large zip lock bag.

3. Mix together the honey and soy in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken.

4. Zip up the bag, then move the chicken pieces around until they are fully coated in the marinate.

5. Leave to marinate for an hour. If you are marinating for any longer, leave the chicken in the fridge, but do take it out at least half an hour before cooking as you want them close to room temperature.

6. Heat the grill to 180 degrees. Place a wire rack in a deep baking dish lined with foil. The chicken will produce a lot of juice as it cooks. The foil helps catch the juice to make washing up easier later.

7. Place the chicken in a single layer on the wire rack, leaving space in between each piece. Don’t throw away the marinade just yet.

8. Grill on one side for 15 minutes.

9. Take the chicken out, flip onto the other side. Brush over the marinade, then return the chicken to the grill for another 15 minutes. You won’t need the marinade anymore, so either throw out or save for something else.

10. Once the 15 minutes is up, the chicken is done. If this is your first time trying this recipe, cut open the thickest bit of chicken you find to confirm it’s cooked through.

Serve the chicken with steamed rice and green veg. This is plain home fare, eaten quietly, just the two of you.

Serves 2.

 

Duck egg noodle soup

Duck egg noodle soup is one of those dishes that I never thought I’d be able to make, even though I love duck. It is one of those meats that I almost never cook with at home but frequently order at restaurants (who can pass on Peking duck?), so for me it’s one of those special occasion meats.

Cooking with duck is a whole lot less scary if you make your way to your local Chinese BBQ takeway, and order a pre-roasted duck. They will cut it up for you, and you will have perfectly roasted duck with crispy skin.

Noodle soups generally are easy. There are a few golden rules  – wash the bones, don’t let the broth come to a boil while the bones are in, then taste, adjust the flavour, repeat, until it’s at a point where it tastes really good. If you feel like you’ve added in way too much salt/sauce/other flavourings, and it still doesn’t taste right, just keep adding.

Duck egg noodle soup is perfect to serve to large groups of friends. It is the same amount of work to cook for ten as it is for one, and everyone loves it.

We last served this with gin and tonics, but I imagine it will also go well with beer. I would select an Asian beer (Asahi, Tsing Tao, etc) for consistency.

Ingredients:

Approximately 12 beef bones (this equates to two bags of bones from my local Asian grocery store, if this helps at all)

Vinegar

1 onion

Garlic

Carrots

Red vinegar

Fish sauce

Soy sauce

Sugar

Chicken bouillon powder

Bean sprouts

Thai basil

Egg noodles

1 whole roasted duck

Bak choy

Coriander, chopped finely

Spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Asian chives, cut into one-inch lengths

Chopped fresh red chilli, to serve

Hoisin sauce, to serve

Dried shallots, to serve

Method – the broth:

1. Clean the beef bones by boiling in a large pot of boiling water, with a splash of vinegar for fifteen minutes. Drain, rinse the bones, clean the pot, then return the bones to the cleaned pot. If you don’t do this step you will end up with a cloudy dark brown broth, when what you want is a clear light brown broth.

2. Gently simmer the beef bones with the onion, garlic and carrots. Simmer for as long as possible – four hours at a minimum, but aim for eight hours. The longer you simmer, the more flavour you will get. Don’t let it boil hard at any point, as the bones will darken the broth. As you simmer, skim off any fat/oil.

3. Once you’ve simmered for as long as possible, remove the beef bones and any other large bits of vegetable, and set aside.

4. Strain the broth into a clean pot/bowl. This, for me, is a two person operation – one person holds the sieve above the clean pot/bowl, the other (preferably the one with stronger arms) lifts up the soup bowl and pours the whole lot through the sieve.

5. Pick out any bits you would want to eat, and set aside with the bones/vegetables. Discard the rest.

6. Now bring the broth to the boil. Now that it no longer contains the bones, you can boil to your heart’s content.

7. Add some chicken bouillon powder (and I’d really recommend adding this to most Asian dishes for artificial but necessary flavour). Add soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce and red vinegar.

8. Grab your takeway container from your Chinese takeaway store containing your duck meat. There should be some juices in this container, add the juices to your broth.

9. Taste, adjust, taste, adjust. The dominant flavour should be a slight tang, which you will get from your vinegar. Grab the harshest critic in your house and get them to taste, listen to what they have to say, adjust again. Continue to skim off any fat/oil.

Method – assembly:

Note: Assemble bowls one serve at a time

1. Heat up the duck pieces in the microwave.

2. Boil the egg noodles for until softened – this should take 15 seconds or so. I use a small saucepan of boiling water, place the noodles in a small strainer, then dunk the strainer into the water and swivel the noodles around with wooden chopsticks.

3. Drain the noodles (which, if you have used the strainer, simply means lifting the strainer out of the water). Place in a large soup bowl. Top with uncooked bak choy, duck pieces. Arrange separately and neatly, purely because this looks better.

4. Ladle over boiling broth, which will cook the bak choy.

5. Sprinkle over chopped coriander.

6. Garnish with spring onion pieces.

7. Serve with a platter of Thai basil, chives and bean sprouts, and let your guests help themselves.

8. Also include on your table the chilli, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, red vinegar, and dried shallots.

If your guests are willing, it is easier to set up an assembly line, with one person cooking the noodles, one person arranging the bak choy/meat, one person ladling the soup, one person garnishing and one person serving. Ideally your guests are polite enough to help but not polite enough to wait, as this dish is also best eaten straight away.

If possible, prepare the broth the day before. The flavours will develop further, and if you leave overnight in the fridge, the fat will solidify and rise to the service, making it easier to remove.

Gnocchi sorrento

Gnocchi Sorrento is one of my (many) all time favourite dishes. For me it oozes comfort, in a simple, rustic way, and conjures memories of D&Ms with besties in my early twenties over bottles of Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Ingredients:

4 desiree potatoes (and I really do insist on desiree potatoes here, which you will be thankful for once you start trying to push through a sieve)

1 cup plain flour

1 egg

1.5kg roma tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic

Approx. 4 basil leaves for the tomato sauce, plus a few extra to serve

Mozzarella, cubed/grated as desired

Parmesan

Method – Gnocchi:

1. Place desiree potatoes, whole and unpeeled, in a tin and bake for 70 minutes at 180 degrees.

2. Scoop out the flesh and press through a sieve. Apparently there is this thing called a ricer that is specifically designed for this task. I haven’t had much luck finding ricers in shops but if you can get a hold of one this is probably what you should use.

3. Mix in the flour and salt.

4. Beat the egg, then make a well in the flour mixture and drop in.

5. Knead. If possible get someone with strong arms to do this for you.

6. Roll out into a long snake shape, then cut into gnocchi sized pieces.

7. Grab a small fork (or, if you own one, those ridged gnocchi boards) and press ridges into each piece. This helps the sauce grip.

8. Boil in salted water. Like all other dumplings, the gnocchi is ready when it floats.

Method – Sauce:

1. Peel the tomatoes by scoring a cross onto the top of each tomato, place in a bowl then pour over freshly boiled water. Cover with a plate and let sit for a minute or so.

2. Remove plate, drain the water. Rinse under cold water until tomatoes are cool enough to handle. The skins at this point should peel off easily without burning your fingers.

3. Sweat garlic in olive oil for 3-4 minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes, then cook at medium heat for about 15 minutes. Add salt to draw out the juices and flavour, add sugar to balance out the sourness of the tomato. If you are using roma tomatoes and have left them to ripen at room temperature, you shouldn’t need too much sugar as they should already be quite sweet.

5. After 15 minutes, squish the tomatoes down using the back of a wooden spoon, then cook for a further 30 minutes on low heat. Add the four basil leaves, which will infuse their flavour into your sauce.

Method – putting it all together:

1. Add the cooked gnocchi to the sauce.

2. Place a layer into an oven proof dish. I use a round glass dish that comes with a lid to make for easier storage later.

3. Add some mozzarella.

4. Repeat with another layer of gnocchi, and more mozzarella. Keep repeating until you have no gnocchi left.

5. Finish with freshly grated parmesan.

6. Place under a grill at 180 degrees for 15 minutes.

7. Serve with basil, and more grated Parmesan.

Serves 4.