Monday, April 25, 2005

Bf Cooks - Enoki Mushrooms Wrapped in Prosciutto

Bf can cook too. He made me a delicious snack (we love snacks) the other day. Enoki mushrooms wrapped in prosciutto, flash-fried briefly to crispen the ham and then served immediately hot.

This is a very pungent dish, very salty and full of cured-prosciutto ham flavour. The enoki mushrooms are very mild but provide a silky delicateness in texture.

I remember when he first made me this dish. We had only started going out and it was one of those days when I had spent all day at uni writing the thesis. I was tired, had eaten my reheated leftovers (I had started taking dinner to uni because then I could just reheat, eat and then continue back writing - I also had no income at this stage because my scholarship had run out) and was generally feeling down.

I had come home earlier than I had expected because I cut short my gym workout and brought some work home. Bf got into a cute fluster as I came through the door, "No no no! You're home early! It's not ready, it's not ready!" So adorable. I peered over at the kitchen bench, I could see neat little rolls of something but he whisked them out of my sight and into the frying pan. The aroma of frying prosciutto ham filled the air and when they were served, these adorable parcels made me fall all the more in love with him.

When he said he was making a snack, I thought maybe peanut butter on toast, or maybe an omelette or something similar; I was blown away by this. Some prefer flowers or chocolate - I guess enoki mushrooms wrapped in prosciutto do it for me.

Easy Breezy Saturday Lunch

Another one of those Saturday lunches when bf L came down to visit in January. I was still excited by the Sydney Fish Markets and used to bicycle down, pick up fresh fruit, cheeses and of course seafood, before cooking him something nice.

This time the prawns seemed especially fresh.

I also picked up some mussels and steamed them in a tomato, garlic and herb broth.

I fried the prawns in a little oil, garlic and ginger. These prawns were so large that I fried them one side at a time, like little minute steaks. Stir-frying did not work in this instance, I tried.

These were also served with some stir-fried green beans and pan-fried snapper. You can just see these in the corners of the other pictures.

I don't cook like this for him anymore. Absence made the heart grow fonder. He's here all the time now: we just eat instant noodles for lunch. Just kidding. It's been a busy few weeks and the routines have changed a bit.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Summer Snack

During the month of January, bf L was still in Canberra and whilst I had relocated to Sydney. Many long lonesome nights were spent buried at work and I tried to make the weekends a bit special for when he came to visit me.

I live very close to the Sydney Fish Markets and prepared a light summer snack for L when he visited:

Hiramasa kingfish sashimi, caperberries, watermelon, edamame (brined soybeans)

The edamame I defrosted over cold tap water - not homemade, but I figure if that's good enough for average Japanese housewife, it's good enough for me. Caperberries are always hit and miss. Once I ate some delicious ones that tasted like sweet pickles. I've been trying to recapture this taste again, but so far all the caperberries I've tried have that weird seed pod architecture that is so off-putting.

I also made a small dessert:

Citrus mascarpone, sponge fingers and berry compote

These strawberries were a little past their best and needed rescuing. Macerating them in feijoa vodka, cointreau and sugar revived them a little. I soaked the sponge finger biscuits in the macerating liqueur.

Word of advice: Never mix acidic citrus juices with mascarpone. The beautiful luscious cream will seize into a big spongy mass. Still edible, but with a totally different texture. I had to find this out the hard way. Next time I will just use the orange rind.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Paper Chef #5

The Paper Chef event is akin to the Iron Chef television series. Whilst the latter has top-notch chefs from around the world competing against the appointed Iron Chef Italian/French/Japanese/Chinese in Kitchen Stadium, this internet event has amateur to semi-professional cooks beavering away in their home kitchens trying to make a masterpiece out of four randomly selected ingredients.

I have meant to participate in this even ever since it started but practicalities (moving, Mardi Gras, etc.) have conspired against me so far. Finally, I have managed to dip my toe into this competitive pool; I've seen some of the entries from prior winners and the quality of their blogs - it's intimidating.

This month's Paper Chef #5 features the ingredients:
Goat cheese (chevre or any cheese made from goat's milk)
Sherry vinegar
Green Garlic

Green garlic is supposed to be the "topical/seasonal" ingredient. Hmm...I guess that definition only applies to the Northern Hemisphere. Green garlic has nary a mention Downunder at the moment. Persian fairy floss seems to be the ingredient du jour according the the frou-frou food magazines. It is also definitely not seasonal because we are going into autumn this side of the world and it is a spring vegetable.

I also had difficulty finding a definition of what green garlic purportedly is. The picture I found via google depicts it looking somewhat like spring onions. Epicurious also does not have a definition for green garlic. In the absence of clear guidance I invoked The Spirit of Paper Chef and made a substitution. I have used garlic chives instead of green garlic.

Winter Garlic Chives

These chives are the winter version, i.e. they are from the stems of garlic about to go to seed. The flowers have been removed and instead of being flat the stems are turgid and round. They still possess a very noticeable garlic aroma - they stunk out the bf's car on the way home and there were numerous (bad) jokes made about me indulging excessively in leguminous vegetables. I hope this substitution was indeed within the spirit of the competition.

My entry for Paper Chef #5 is:

Garlic chive and Goat's Cheese Ravioli with Sherry Vinegar Reduction and Prosciutto Shards

First I cut the chives into rounds and parboiled them. These will later be incorporated into the ravioli filling; I wanted to soften the stalks so that they didn't clash texturally with the soft goat's cheese.

Parboiling garlic chive rounds

I used an approximate 1:1 by weight combination of chevre and goat's feta from Tasmania. The proportion of chive to cheese is approximately 2:3 in terms of volume but this is all estimated and to taste. The filling was seasoned with a moderate amount of black pepper.

Ravioli filling

Whilst preparing the filling I had already started the sherry vinegar reduction. Approximately 600 ml of sherry vinegar from Simon Johnson was vigorously simmered with 100 g of yellow lump sugar until reduced to 3 tablespoons. Personally, I think Simon Johnson is overpriced for a lot of things, but they usually have all of the world's most esoteric non-Asian ingredients. I choose to use yellow lump sugar because I wanted a moderately sweet taste without excessive caramel overtones at the start because these would be produced during the reduction. Brown sugar would have been too caramel flavoured whilst white sugar would be too sweet. This process took the good part of an hour and stunk out the kitchen with vinegary fumes. When doing this, it's best to reserve some vinegar and make the reduction too sweet and thick, then thin and sour to taste.

Caramelised sherry vinegar

I confess to using store-bought lasagne sheets. I'm essentially a very lazy cook and this Paper Chef event has seen me attempt the most finicky work ever in the kitchen. I drew the line at making my own pasta though. I used lasagne from Pasta Vera on Harris St which make their pasta fresh daily and on bronze dies and rollers. I don't know if that makes a difference, but the food magazines assure me that it does. I nearly cheated and used their Goats Cheese and Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli; but I thought that would definitely disbar me from the competition. Is it still a Paper Chef entry if all the entrant did was reheat and pour sauce on top?

I placed approximately 1.5 teaspoons of the filling onto a pasta rectange (~12 x 7 cm) and sealed the edges with water. These parcels were boiled for 5 mins then drained and tossed with a tiny amount of unsalted (sweet) butter.

Boiling ravioli

I first encountered this method of serving vinegar reductions at Aria restaurant. The sherry vinegar is now a very thick and viscous paste with the consistency of toffee. I painted the glaze in a long arc following the edge of the plate.

Painting the reduction

Ravioli and sherry vinegar reduction

I grilled the prosciutto until crisp then lightly crushed them in a mortar and pestle. Some shards were reserved for garnishing. The prosciutto crumbs were sprinkled on the ravioli which were then anointed with lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil. There is a garnish of rocket at the side.

Anointing the ravioli

Rocket garnish

And voilà, my entry for Paper Chef #5:

Garlic Chive and Goat's Cheese Ravioli with Sherry Vinegar Reduction and Prosciutto Shards

Did it taste good? The bf said that he'd pay to eat this as an entrée (appetizer) at a restaurant. High praise indeed.

Garlic chive and goat's cheese ravioli filling, reduction and prosciutto

The texture of the filling viz. the chive rounds and goat's cheese were complimentary - soft cheese and tender chives like tiny perfectly-cooked asparagus. The flavour of the goat's cheese and garlic chives also went well - I'd forgotten how strongly flavoured goat's cheese is and needn't have worried about the chives overpowering it. The reduction was sweet but sour - a nice compliment to the richness of the ravioli whilst the prosciutto provided crunch and a hit of smoky saltiness. The lemon-infused olive oil I could have omitted or used a lot more lemon rind. Next time I will use store-bought lemon oil instead of trying to make my own. I think a garnish of watercress leaves would have been prettier: round shapes to compliment the square ravioli.

So, good luck to the other entrants and I hope my readers enjoyed this entry. If you know me personally, maybe, just maybe I might make this for you. I've still got uncooked ravioli in the freezer and the reduction is in a jar in the fridge.