13 December 2011

spring vegetables, smoked fish & quinoa

We went fishing on Sunday.  Yep we did.  One minute we were grocery shopping and the next minute we were on the pier at Petone.  A friend (aka Zippy) had decided that he wanted to do a spot of fishing.  We decided that we'd join him!

It was one of those early Summer days - sun was up but there was a touch of coolness still in the air.  The pier already had a good number of people fishing by the time we got there.  There were the serious ones that came armed and prepared - large pail of smelly bait, collapsible chairs, chilly bin filled with cold drinks and food and a ghetto blaster.  There were the SUPER serious ones with all of the gear, the most expensive rods and metal cages (think those were for crabs).  And there were the little boys with their simple homemade fishing gear - a long line wrapped around a piece of wood and a weight at the end.

Let's not forget the old Chinese guys that fish alone (they're never in a group or with friends!).  All very serious business this fishing.  They often have every possible gear and accessory.  One guy had on a bright yellow waterproof outerwear (I don't know what it's called) that covered him from head to feet, although there wasn't a skerrick of rain - very Deadliest Catch styles!

The boys spent the afternoon waiting for a fish to take a bite of their bait and yapping away on the ins and outs of bait types, hooks, lines, weights, etc etc.

I spent my time alternating between reading in the sun and taking the piss out of the boys for their lack of luck - 'S' did not catch anything and Zippy caught 2 baby ones that had to be returned to the sea.  I believe I told 'S' that if we lived couple of hundred years ago and he was my hunter/gatherer partner, I'd starve. ;-)

If you're wondering...that's not a sandwich we made for afternoon snack.  It was fish bait - some very smelly bait (think the boys called it bonito) squished between a piece of white bread.  I hear it's Michelin-star cuisine for the fishies!

Now you must be wondering...what has this got to do with spring vegetables, smoked fish and quinoa (post title) got to do with fishing?  Well, not much really.  Except that it was a damn good thing we had bought some smoked fish at Moore Wilsons earlier in the day, since the boys caught nothing!

Now.  On to that spring vegetables, smoked fish and quinoa dish.

So I've mentioned at some point in an earlier post or posts that I've been moving away from stodgy winter dishes that we've been enjoying for the last 3 months or so, and cooking dishes that are a bit more light and healthy.  I'm not only carrying winter weight, I'm also carrying holiday-in-Asia weight, and not forgetting stuff-my-face-at-food-bloggers-conference weight!

But with summer now upon us, it's so much easier to make those healthier dishes loaded with summer greens and fruits.  I'm not naturally a healthy cook - I love rich curries, fried food, butter and cream-based sauces.  Even if I made steamed vegetables or a salad, I'd smother it in a gallon of olive oil or spoonfuls of mayonnaise.  So for healthier options, I have to look elsewhere for inspiration.

Unfortunately for me, I don't have a collection of amazing cookbooks like Ottolenghi's The Cookbook or Plenty or Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Everyday to cook from.  Having been jobless for almost a year kinda puts a damper on spending.  And in the wider scheme of things, cookbooks are classified under the 'want' category and not a 'needs' category!

However, this where the interweb, the digital world, the blogosphere, the internet, whatever you want to call it, comes into it's own.  I might not be in possession of much sought after cookbooks, but there are thousands of recipes online that I can tap into.  And a favourite of mine is Emma Galloway's 'My Darling Lemon Thyme'.  Emma's blog is wonderfully written and her vegetarian/vegan recipes are so simple to follow and yet her dishes aren't simple - you know what I mean?  Every recipe I've tried has been packed full of flavour.  Her recipes definitely put to rest the notion that vegetarian dishes are boring!

So when I came home from the Sunday market with a bag full of fresh peas and 2 huge bunches of asparagus, I was (unusually) inspired to make something healthy (again, unusual) with them, based on several recipes I've read online.  Lurking in my pantry was a bag of quinoa that I had bought a month ago and having only made a quinoa salad once from it, I decided that it was time for it to make another appearance!

I must confess that right up to now, the only peas I've ever eaten came straight out from the freezer.  Nothing wrong or unhealthy even, with snap frozen peas.  But fresh peas are...well, so fun!  Snapping and popping the wee green peas out from their jackets is so therapeutic.  And the crazy in me also thinks that the rows of little green orbs all in a row are so cute!  Nevermind that they are bursting with goodness.  It's the cute factor that won me over!

I can see why Anne Geddes (she of the cute baby photos) was inspired to dress babies up as peas in pods.

I was actually rather surprised that my bag of peas yielded 2 whole cups of fresh peas.  I had thought that at most, I'd get maybe a cup.  More for me - yay!!

Now I know that everyone says how sweet fresh peas are, but maybe it was just the batch I bought.  They had a slight bitter taste to them that I wanted gone.  So fresh as they were, I quickly blanched them for 2 minutes in rapidly boiling water that I'd added 1 teaspoon of sugar to.  And they tasted divine.

At the very last minute, I decided to add smoked mackerel to the salad.  The salad was getting waaay to healthy for me - I'm still not quite prepared (yet) for such healthiness to invade my life!  And I know my body...to be more accurate, I know my tummy well.  If I didn't throw in some protein, I'd be rummaging the kitchen for a midnight snack, which would invariably be something unhealthy like a large mug of milo with a plateful of sweet biscuits.

Mackerel is good fish anyway.  We love it in our household.  Its got all these good oils.  So perhaps I haven't strayed that  far away from making a healthy dinner afterall!

Okay...okay.  There were Nigella-style sploshes of sesame and extra virgin olive oil as well to my salad.  The sesame oil gave a nice nutty flavour to the otherwise bland-ish quinoa.  So I caved in a bit more.  If you have better control than I do, just drizzle instead of splosh! :-)

Spring Vegetables, Smoked Fish & Quinoa
The ingredients below will make enough for 4 people.  Or dinner for 2 and enough to pack away for lunch for 2 the next day.  Just adjust the amounts accordingly if you want to make less.

1 cup quinoa
400g smoked fish of your choice, broken up into chunks
2 cups fesh peas (if you only have frozen ones, I'm sure it'll work just fine)
2-3 stalks spring onions, chopped into same size as the peas
2 bunches asparagus, chopped into bite sized pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Sesame oil
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of water (lots) to boil and salt it (you can omit the salt if you want).  Add the quinoa into the boiling water, stir and turn down to medium-low heat.  Stir occasionally just in case it sticks at the bottom.  When quinoa is cooked, you'll see these little white-ish 'tails'.  I just taste a tiny bit of the quinoa to determined whether it's cooked.
  2. Once the quinoa is cooked to your liking, drain it well and set aside.
  3. Bring another pot of lightly salted water to boil and add your asparagus.  Turn down to medium heat and cook for no more than 3 minutes.  Quickly drain and place in a large serving or mixing bowl.
  4. For the peas - eat them raw or blanch it quickly in boiling water for 2 minutes.  Quickly drain and add to the cooked asparagus.
  5. Add the spring onions and well-drained quinoa to the vegetables.
  6. Add some extra virgin oil and sesame oil, and toss gently to mix.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Scatter the smoked fish on top of the vegetables and quinoa, and serve.

Smoked fish - if you have your smoked fish in the fridge, take it out at the start before you prep your vegetables, so that it's room temperature when you're ready to add it to the quinoa.  If not, you could zap it in the microwave for 20 secs on high.  But if you don't mind eating cold smoked fish, then skip this.

08 December 2011

i'm making a list, and checking it twice...(or more!)

Christmas suits my slight OCD* nature to a T.  All that list-making, matching gift to person, taking 3 hours to just dress up my Christmas tree, more list-making for the bbq on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day brunch and dinner, scouring shop after shop for just the right ribbons to match the wrapping papers and wrapping the gifts.  Seriously, I have lists for the lists I made.  There's even colour-coding on my grocery lists!!

I spent most of this afternoon gift wrapping.  Which gift is to be wrapped with which paper and with which ribbon.  All very important stuff.  (yes, yes, it's only brown or red paper, but still very important!) All corners neatly folded and tucked, seams and ends hidden, and  no sticky tape can be seen.

So therapeutic.  So OCD.

And tomorrow, it's exactly that slightly obsessive nature that will see me trawl through over 60 cookie recipes that I've bookmarked, so that I can choose just 3 to bake for Christmas gifting.  Oh, and there's a small stack of cookbooks on the dining table with post-its as well. :-)

I've handmade things in the past for Christmas gifts (non food related), but I've never baked cookies to give away before.  I've never been brave enough nor sure enough that my cookies were any good for consumption, other than by myself and 'S'.  See with cookies, you can't tell how it'll all turn out until you bake them.  By which time, it's all too late if they suck.  But this year, I've decided to forge ahead and just do it already.

Let them eat cake I say...err...wait.  I mean cookies.

But why stop there with cookies, right?  I've also decided to make chutney, onion jam and orange marmalade!  You know, I'm going to be able to tell exactly who my friends (and family!) are by the end of Christmas, because only the ones who TRULY love me, will still want to know me after they've eaten their gifts.

Actually, I've already made the chutney about 2 weeks ago.  But as Christmas draws nearer and nearer, I've been stressing about the jars of chutney in the cupboard waiting to be wrapped.  I've put a little jar aside for ourselves in the fridge and have been having it with some of our meals.  Not convinced.  And each time I eat some more, I more unconvinced.  'S' says the chutney is yum.  I say a do-over.  If I could.  There are 10 jars of chutney in the cupboard.  Maybe not.  Stressing... OCDing... Why do I do this to myself?!

I'll try and get a post or 2 up before Christmas to let you know how the cookies, onion jam and marmalade turned out.  If nothing else, I'm sure it'll be a bit of a laugh as I bumble my way into the realm of domestic goddessing - i.e., homemade foods as Christmas gifts!  I know we all can't be Nigella, Donna or Martha.  But surely, we can try!

*As I understand it, OCD is all about obsessions and compulsions.  My bestfriend thinks I'm a tad bit OCD.  I think she's right.
Case in point: I butter my toast 1/4 at a time, rotating my toast 90deg butter, then 90deg again and butter, and so on.  This way, I make sure every surface right up to the edge of my toast is buttered.  Then, it's the same process again with whatever spread I add to it - peanut butter, jam, Marmite, etc.
Case in point #2: I stop and remove my shoes to rearrange my socks if they've slid past my ankles or if I can feel the joining stitches at the top of my toes.
Case in point 3#: Laundry is pegged up with the SAME coloured pegs - I can't bear using a pair different coloured pegs.
I'd say all that ticks both the obsession and compulsion boxes.  Don't you??

Are you a little 'special' like me? :-)

01 December 2011

1st day of summer!

Hello friends.  It's the first day of Summer here in New Zealand!

And as such, I just wanted to share some pics I took a couple of hours ago.  Nothing food related, but still I hope, enjoyable for you.

This would not be complete with a couple of shots of Cyrus, soaking in the sun...

...and being predominantly black, became too hot after several minutes and ran indoors.

Happy Summer my friends!!


PS:  Quick update on the dental front:
I've found out that liquid valium works a treat on me.  Apparently it's meant to make me very relaxed and not be able to feel any anxiety, but still awake and aware.  Well.  According to my dentist, I was awake.  According to me, I was fast asleep.  He was very happy on how it all went - I was ecstatic.  So apart from just before 'lights out' and my friend arriving to pick me up after, I don't remember one iota of anything.  And once I got home I slept for about 19 hours.  All in all, a successful trip to the dentist.  Phew.