06 July 2013

lime & honey venison with a thai salad

I noticed that my last few posts were all sweet stuff, so decided that it has about time to do something savoury.  The problem with savoury is that often it's dinner and by the time the cooking is done, it's dark and I've lost any natural lighting.  Plus a lot of the time I just want to cook, serve, sit and hoover it all down.  It's not until halfway through the meal that I'd go "Awww man! Forgot to take photos"!

I've also been meaning to post up more on the kind of Asian dishes that I'd cook and eat at home - not so much like what you'd get at the cheap and cheerful round the corner.  But usually with this kind of cooking, I often just freestyle it because I've been cooking these dishes for years and I suppose I now just do it without much thought.  Writing down method and measurements is not anywhere in my thoughts at all...until it's too late.

So when I got my hands on some well priced venison at the Food Show a while ago, I decided that I must remember to jot down notes and take some photos as I go along.  Even then, I only ended up with three usable photos!  There simply was no time for food styling since our venison dinner would be ruined if it wasn't eaten right away.

I had a very clear idea on what I wanted to do with the venison - flavour but without too much fuss.  I've used this marinade succesfully with chicken and pork in the past, so decided to try it with venison. Am glad to say it worked!

You could pair the venison with whatever you like; potatoes, polenta, slaw and even a basmati rice (Ottolenghi-style would suit well here).  But I decided to have it with a side of Thai-inspired salad.  It is a perfectly light salad but packed with awesome flavour from the dressing, and went well with the lime and honey marinated meat.

Pretty, artful or careful plating is not my forte at all.  I haven't got the patience for it and usually whenever I do try it, it would take me so long to get it right that the food would get cold.  Perhaps my culinary planets were aligned the day I made this dish, but I was able to do that slant slicing then fan out on the plate perfectly and quickly.  Even the small mound of salad stood nicely poised next to venison.  Usually it's just plonked down.

Although I don't think anyone should get used to this kind of neat plating from me - I assure you it's an anomaly!  Well if it tastes good (I am talking about in a home setting), who cares how it's plated right?

Talking about plates...now that I've got my tickets sorted for Wellington On a Plate, I've also made a wee burger hit list for Burger Wellington.  Check 'em out here!

Lime and Honey Venison

220g Venison steaks
Juice of 1 lime
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil
5 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients together well and marinade the steaks in it for 15mins.
  2. Keep a plate warm (not hot!) on the side for resting your venison later. 
  3. Heat a heavy pan, stove top grill or bbq to medium-high heat and cook each side of the venison for 2-3 mins.  The meat will darken quite a bit and caramelise because of the honey, but don't worry.  Just as long as it's not burnt.  I cooked mine on a cast iron pan and made sure not to move the meat when it's cooking until its full 3 mins per side, which prevented the meat from sticking to the pan.
  4. Once cooked, remove the venison onto the warmed plate, cover with aluminium and rest for 5mins.
  5. Slice the rested venison on an angle and serve with your favourite sides.  If the juices on the plate from the rested venison is still warm, I would normally drizzle it over the sliced meat.
Thai-inspired Salad recipe here.

thai-inspired salad

I made this Thai-inspired salad a while ago and had it with some lime and honey marinated venison.  Since then, I've made this salad several times and it pretty much goes with anything.

Don't let what looks like a long list of ingredients put you off.  It's actually really easy to prepare and quick to put together - no cooking required!  Once you get the hang of it, you could mix it up a little with what vegetables you use for the salad and you could up the chilli count if you like it with a bigger hit.

Thai-inspired Salad

Thai Salad Dressing
2 stalks of coriander, use both leaves and stalks
1 thumb length ginger, peeled
1 whole red chilli - remove seeds and white membrane inside if you don't want it too hot
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup lightly roasted peanuts, chopped
  1. Blitz all the ingredients except the peanuts together in a food processor until well mixed and the sugar melts.  All coriander, ginger and chilli should be processed until minced but not a paste.
  2. Set aside.
  3. Lightly dry roast the peanuts in a frying pan and then roughly blitz into small chunks, or chop with a knife if you prefer or do not have a processor.  Set aside.
1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber - peeled alternative strips, cut into 1/4 lengthwise and then across into chunks
1/2 small red onion - very thinly sliced
1/2 head lettuce, sliced thinly - I used romain/cos but you can also use iceberg
1 large carrot, grated rough not fine
125g mung bean sprouts
  1. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix it well with your hands.  Don't worry if you bruise the vegetables a little.
To serve - liberally scatter the roasted peanuts over the dressed salad, and serve!

19 June 2013

salted peanut butter cookies & WOAP 2013

It feels a little strange to be writing this post; the last post I wrote was in February and although I've got several posts in-draft, I've not felt much like writing.  In fact since December last year, my posts have been sporadic at best.  I haven't stopped being passionate about food (my social media activity proofs it).  I've just been allowing other things that has been happening in my life to take over, leaving my somewhat brain tired, lazy and uninspired.

However in the last month, I've slowly started to come out of my blogging hiatus and have been furiously taking tons of photos and making notes of things I've bake and cooked - like these here peanut butter salted cookies.

It also helps that Wellington's event of the year (it is for me and my social calendar!) is only a month and half away: I speak of the annual gastronomic event Wellington On A Plate, WOAP to those who are familiar with it.  Nothing gets me out of a funk like two weeks of food-fueled indulgence and the anticipation leading up to it.

So with all that food on the brain, I've been able to push pass my non-blogging haze and give you these  - wee mouthfuls of peanut butter heaven.

First of all I'd like to just say that I really REALLY like peanut butter - on toast, in ice cream, in gelato, in confectionery, in baking, by the spoonful.  But never ever in satay sauce; that's just wrong on all levels (I blame the food network channel for this abomination).  When I was a child I would only eat the smooth variety.  But now I go through jars of crunchy peanut butter like there's no tomorrow.  It's a bit like me and greens - hated stalks and only ate the leaves when I was a child.

I had gotten it in my mind some time ago that I had to bake peanut butter cookies.  Add that to my list of other must-cooks and must-bakes and it took me some time before I finally got to the cookies.  That, and also each time I looked at my jar of peanut butter I would think "But if I used the peanut butter up for cookies, what would I put on my toast and do I really want to use my expensive jar of peanut butter to make cookies with"?  Yes I know about supermarkets.  I've even walked into a fair few in my time.  But I'm not always logical when it comes to peanut butter!  So when I was given a couple of free pottles of crunchy peanut butter, I decided it was now or never.  (Also, I preferred the brand I usually buy but didn't want to waste a couple pots of good quality artisan peanut butter).

Like a good foodie, I started my peanut butter cookies recipe research.  Strangely enough I didn't find one peanut butter cookie recipe in any of my cookbooks - I say 'strangely' because by all accounts, it seems to be a very popular and common cookie type.  Oh but go online and there are hundreds upon hundreds of recipes, a lot of which are really exactly the same.  So at the end I decided to use a simple recipe from a fellow Kiwi food blogger friend.  She's good at what she does and I had no worries about the recipe not working out.

However I did tweak the recipe a little, just a little.  Enough to satisfy my need for a bigger hit of peanut butter in my cookies and my need to put my own little twist to it - I upped the quantity of peanut butter and decided to sprinkle some rock salt to give it that sweet-salty flavour effect that works so well.

I made these cookies quite small, about the size of say a milk bottle top.  So baking time was pretty short.  If you make them bigger, just bake for a little longer until the cookie is just lightly browned.  I took them out when the cookies still felt a tad bit soft to the touch.  They will crisp up on the outside once cooled with just a little bit of chew inside - just how I like them!

And if you want to know what my WOAP 2013 picks are, events I'm going to and what I hope will be a blow-by-blow report as I eat my way through WOAP this year - check it out here.

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies
Original recipe from Bron Marshall and tweaked a little by me

1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup lightly packed soft brown sugar
1 cup of chunky peanut butter - use the best you can afford. I used this brand.
125g of softened butter
1 large egg - at room temperature
1 cup plain all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Sea or rock salt (make sure it's not iodised table salt)
  1. Preheat your oven to 170°C (338°F).  Line your baking tray(s) with baking paper.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  3. Beat the sugars, peanut butter and softened butter together until well mixed, creamy and smooth-ish (no lumps).
  4. Add the egg and beat until well combined.  Scrap down the sides of the mixing bowl so that everything is well mixed.
  5. On a low speed stir through or gently fold in the flour and baking powder until mixed through - but don't over mix it.
  6. The dough will be rather soft so I prefer to refrigerate it (about an hour) until its cold and stiff enough to handle with my fingers and roll in my palms - but try to work quickly even if you're working with refrigerated dough.  You can choose not to refrigerate if you don't want to or cannot wait.
  7. Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of the dough into balls and place onto the baking tray.
  8. Then use the back of a fork (lightly dusted with flour every now and again so it won't stick) and flatten the balls of cookie dough down a little into discs.
  9. Bake between 10-12 minutes, rotating your tray at half time, until the cookies are lightly brown.  Your cookies should be just that bit soft if you gently poke with at it.
  10. Do this quickly - before the cookies cool down and while it's still hot and warm from the oven, sprinkle some salt over the cookies.
  11. Then cool the cookies on the tray - the cookies will crisp up on the outside and remain just that bit chewy inside.
  12. The dough yielded around 40 cookies for me but it'll all depend on how big/small you make these cookies.
Voila! And best enjoyed with a cup of black coffee. :-)

I've also entered these cookies in Fisher & Paykel's 
Let Them Bake Cake.  They may not be cake but cookies is baking...and maybe I could win me a prize worth $10,000!

01 February 2013

road trip, sugar & the kiwi dream

One of the things that I have developed a liking for since living in NZ and am damn sure I wouldn't have if I still lived in Singapore, is the 'road trip'.  I mean come on.  Singapore fits into Lake Taupo.  One hour drive from end to end...okay maybe more in rush hour traffic.  But still, not much road-tripping to be done there!  But in NZ, there's the holiday road trip, the weekend road trip, the long weekend road trip and then there's just the road trip because it's time for one and I'm making an excuse for one.

I love everything about a road trip - the ever changing scenery (let me tell you, there's a difference from one paddock of sheep/cows to another, ok!), the smaller quaint towns with main streets that look like time stood still for them, the antique shops, the junk shops that say 'antique', the petrol station pies (it's not a road trip unless you eat one in the car), the food stops where you discover there's great coffee outside of Wellington!

Found this roastery in sleepy Raetihi - superb coffee and chocolate!

A cafe in quaint Cambridge makes iced coffee with coffee icecream that had bits of ground coffee in it instead of the usual vanilla icecream.

I particularly like those 'look what we stumbled upon' moments - like when we decided to take the back roads driving back from Auckland after Christmas, and saw strawberries sold direct from the grower, bought an ice-cream tub full of strawberries for $7 (I know!!) and then noticing as we drove out that the road the orchard was on was called Marshmallow Road.  My inner 7 year old self was tickled pink by the fact that we just bought strawberries on a road called Marshmallow Road.  And those strawberries were the BEST I've ever eaten.  Like seriously.

Or when the owner of a B&B we were staying at in Martinborough gave us tips on where they bought their amazingly fresh and rich tasting free range eggs from.  We drove for quite time and finally found the 'farm house with a red letterbox'.  Do you know how many farm houses have red letterboxes??!  There was no one home, but the eggs were on a table in the garage with an old rusty biscuit tin for whatever you felt like paying.  Those were some damn good tasting free range eggs!

And somewhere between Martinborough and Masterton (which is where we almost got to looking for those eggs!) we found Parkvale Mushrooms somewhere along the way and bought an obscene amount of  'B' grade mushrooms for a song.  Which made me think...do we get 'C' grade mushrooms at the supermarket or what??!

Road trips also mean staying in motels, motor lodges and B&Bs.  I have this thing about staying in a motel or motor lodge units - I love it!  I love the kitchenettes and coffee/tea making facilities - one of the first things I do is open up every cupboard to see what remnants of the past there is in those cupboards.  I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to swipe 70s utensils & crockery from one of those units!  And no, there's nothing particularly special about why I like the coffee/tea making stuff.  Afterall, it's often just a jug and packets of dubious instant coffee, stale tea and super sugared up instant hot 'chocolate'.  But still.  I find it quaint and somewhat reassuring, and I like that.

It's on our last road trip over the Christmas holiday coming back from Auckland, that I found these cool little sachets of sugar in our Taupo motel room!!  (Yes, yes, the moment we entered our motel room, I proceeded to check out the coffee/tea making stuff in the motel room).






Aren't they cool?  Whoever had the idea to print these images on the sachets is genius (in my opinion anyway).  My favourites are the combi van and the one with the jandals (aka flip-flops, japanese slippers, jap-flaps, thongs...).  Which ones do you like?

To me, the scenes printed on the packets remind me of everything a Kiwi summer holiday is and, the Kiwi dream.  In fact, the images got me thinking a bit about the Kiwi dream.  My Kiwi dream doesn't entail owning a house (I don't think I'd ever feel any less of a person or achievement if I never bought a house), buying investment property, tickets to the Sevens or Fly My Pretties, nor does it include the almost obligatory Fiji holiday (we went to Samoa instead).

My Kiwi dream is this...

Photograph courtesy of  Tina Hillier, from the My Cool Campervan book.

You can stop laughing now.  Serious!  I would LOVE to go on road trip holidays up and down the country in one of these VW Westfalia campers.  I'd be a very happy girl!!

And then one day, when I think I've grown up sufficiently (which some will tell you may never happen) or caved in to the whole home-ownership thing that is so prevalent in NZ, my Kiwi dream will include a lifestyle block not too far from the city, maybe an hour at most (because I'm unashamedly a city girl), where I can have small vegetable patch, a handful of fruit trees, chooks for my own eggs and enough land to have as many rescue animals as I want to.  Okay...maybe not as many as I want to.  But a few - I'll stop at a respectable number just before I become that crazy animal lady.

So do you like road trips?  Which your favourite image on the sugar sachets?  Aaaand...what is your Kiwi dream? :-)

11 January 2013

christmas past and present

Christmas was a bit of a non event this time for me. But I think for many of us, it becomes so as we grow older. We no longer see Christmas through child's eyes, or even a young adult eyes. The excitement is somewhat dimmed a little more as each year passes. And often what passes as 'family tradition' becomes meaningless when everyone just goes through the motions of the day. I noticed that it often doesn't get better until we have children of our own. Then there's a reason or two (or more) to celebrate Christmas again in a festive...and well, more fun way. The wow factor if you like, for Christmas comes back. 

I did try to make an effort with putting up the Christmas tree and dotting the house with decorations like I always do.

And this.

The look that my furbaby graced me with when I took this photo suggests, wow factor, not so much.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no Christmas grinch. I'm all for Christmas. When I was still living in Singapore, I used to 'do' Christmas in a big way and not just in a food kind of way. There would be weeks of carolling, musical production of the nativity, followed by more carolling and singing at midnight mass. And after Christmas morning with the family and doing the presents thing, my friends and I would drop in to each other's house for more celebrating (a lot of people I knew then had an open-door policy during Christmas). After dinner, there would usually be more music and games and festivities. These festivities would continue for at least another couple of days. In NZ, everyone kinda droops after dinner and Christmas day often ends with such an anti-climax. And dropping in unannounced at your friends' is almost unheard of, especially not on Christmas day.

But as I've grown older, I've found myself celebrating Christmas less and less. So perhaps why it's become such a non-event for me is due to both age and also living in NZ.

There is one thing I do miss a lot during this time though. Have you ever been to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur during Christmas? If you have, you'll know that all the streets in the city, up and down, are decked out. So are the shops and hotels (almost all the buildings really), are festooned with lights and decorations, inside and out. It's all sparklies and lights at every corner, so much so that a magpie would need a lie down from it all! You could argue that what I'm describing is the commercial side of the season, but it goes a long way to lending that 'Christmas is in the air' feeling! Now that, that I miss.

But event or non-event, I did manage to sneak in some edible Christmas gift making.

Once again, I made marmalade, balsamic onion jam and my festive granola, but with slight variations from the previous Christmas. For the marmalade, I followed a tried and true recipe from the lovely Emma of My Darling Lemon Thyme (it's never failed me) as a guide and added grapefruit and lots of lemon and ginger to the oranges, and also spiced it up a little with cinnamon (a stick of cinnamon when boiling and then removed before bottling, not ground cinnamon). 

The balsamic onion jam had minced up sultanas through it this time.  And I made a slight variation of my Glorious Granola for the Festive version. You can find the recipe for my Glorious Granola here. And the recipe for the Festive version below.

My granola recipe makes quite a large batch of granola, so I was able to save some for myself after wrapping up what I needed to give away as presents.  And with the glut of strawberries we've been having this summer, I've been enjoying some of that granola with strawberries and creamy thick Greek yoghurt. I must admit that it tastes pretty amazing!

I also made a batch of strawberry, lemon and vanilla jam. 

I didn't take any photos of the balsamic onion jam I made, nor did I write down exactly how much I used of each ingredient. But if you've made jams and chutneys before, making this is a no brainer. The recipe below is an approximate - go by taste and you won't go wrong.

Balsamic Onion Jam

10-15 red onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup sultanas, roughly minced
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup of soft brown sugar (packed)
Oil (I used rice bran, but you can use any type of light oil without a strong taste)

  1. Mix the sliced onions with some oil - not too much, but enough that all the onions are coated with oil.
  2. Heat a heavy based pan/pot over medium heat and fry the onions until soft and translucent.
  3. Add the minced sultanas, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar - cook until the onions become dark (caramelised) and sticky.
  4. Bottle in sterilised jars and seal.

Strawberry, Lemon and Vanilla Jam

Ripe Strawberries - 6 cups once hulled and roughly chopped
3 cups sugar - for every cup of strawberry I used 1/2 cup sugar. Traditional jam recipes ask for 1 cup sugar to 1 cup fruit. I like my jam less sweet, so 3 cups is plenty for me.
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, and vanilla seeds scrapped out
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon

  1. In a large heavy bottom pan/pot, stir the sugar and chopped strawberries together. Set aside for couple of hours.
  2. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, the vanilla seeds and bean. Bring to boil. Stir to ensure that the sugar has all melted and that the jam doesn't stick at the bottom.
  3. With a handheld wizz/blender, blend the mixture until roughly half the strawberries have been blended, leaving the jam with small lumps of the fruit.  I don't like my jam smooth, but if you do, then go ahead and blend away.
  4. With a clean sterilised spoon, skim any scum/foam off the surface.
  5. Once the jam is ready, remove the vanilla bean halves.
  6. Here's the method I use to check if my jam is ready - place a saucer in the freezer so that it's cold. Once the jam starts to coat the back of the sterilised spoon, take the saucer out from the freezer. Pour a little jam onto the saucer, wait for 10 seconds and then run a finger through the jam. If the jam stays separate, your jam is done. If not, boil for a few minutes longer and test again.
  7. Bottle in sterilised jars and seal.

Festive Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw cashews, roughly chopped
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup currants
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup rice bran oil (or you can extra virgin olive oil)
3/4 cup honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 150C / 300F. Line a couple of large baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Except for the dried fruits, combine all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Spread the granola mixture out onto the trays evenly.
  4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring the granola around every 10 minutes. Stir in the dried fruit when you've got 20 minutes more baking time before the end.
  5. Your granola is ready when it's all golden and sticky.
  6. Cool the granola in the trays completely before breaking them up and storing them into airtight jars/containers.

This granola will also be my contribution to January's Sweet New Zealand, hosted by sweet Arfi of HomeMadeS.