Wontons

Wontons

I learnt how to make wontons by watching my mum make them. My parents used to own a small food business, and I worked there from when I was an awkward teen of 13 till I was 22 (gotta love family obligations). Nowadays I wonder what people thought when they came in. Even when I was young, I would be making burgers and frying up fish and chips. I wonder if that was ever considered weird.

I know that on the very few occasions when I got to a fast food “restaurant” like KFC or McDonalds I often have a little internal shudder when I see the youngies. It’s another reason to not like those places – I don’t quite trust teenagers cooking my food!

Right, I’ll put my grandma persona away and get back to wontons. I tend to mix up a big batch of dumpling meat, then divide it into smaller batches and freeze. 200 grams of mince seems to make around 30 wontons (depending on how much meat you put in each). The recipe I use for the mince is below, along with a lesson on how to fold wontons.

Wontons can be deep fried, steamed or boiled. My favourite way is boiled in soup. I love biting into the meat and then slurping up the soft skin. I also use the same mince to make pan fried dumplings by wrapping it in gyoza skin. I must warn you though – while they taste great, dumpling burps can be something awful. Don’t drink something fizzy during or immediately after eating!

Wonton soup

I served my wontons in home-made chicken soup with fresh shitake mushrooms, bok choy, sprouts and squid (left over from the lemon herb squid evening).

Wonton mince

1 kilo pork mince
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes then diced finely
1 tablespoon chinese rice wine
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, combine the pork, ginger, garlic, shitake mushrooms, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg and salt. Stir until well mixed.

To shape wontons

Wonton 1

Step 1: Take a small teaspoon of mince and place it near the top half of the wonton wrapper. Don’t use too much mince, or the wontons will be hard to shape.

Wonton step 2

Step 2: Fold the wrapper over and flatten it around the mince.

Wonton 2

Step 3: Wet one corner of the wrapper and bring the two edges of the wrapper together. Press the corners together until they stick.

Wonton 3

Your wonton should look like this!

Lemon Herb Squid

Lemon and herb squid

I got a small surprise when the latest issue of Delicious magazine arrived in my mailbox this week. In the whole month that had passed since the last issue, I had forgotten that I had a subscription! The slow slide into old age seems to have started. Soon I’ll be prefacing all my sentences with, “In MY day…”

I adore the heat so the warmer weather recently has been very welcome. Not only has it meant that exercise outside is possible and desirable again, but it has also meant eating lighter meals. This is good news to me, as winter has left me feeling a bit rotund!

The October issue of Delicious is chocka with recipes that are great for spring. For dinner on Wednesday, I picked up some squid from the market and made Lemon Herb Squid (on page 70 of the magazine). As the issue is currently being sold, I won’t post the recipe here, but it’s fairly straight forward. Marinate squid in olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley and oregano for a couple of hours. Then cook over high heat for a couple of minutes, and serve with a green salad.

I ended up having a fair amount of squid left over, and ending up dicing it up into a cous cous salad to take to work the next day. It was a pretty flash lunch, even if I do say so myself!

If you’re keen for the recipe and can’t/don’t want to get the magazine, send me an email: sporkette at gmail.com.

Cheesy Pasta with cauliflower and asparagus

Cheesey asparagus pasta

Apart from an occasional weekend coffee, and for cooking, we don’t use much milk. I don’t like the taste of plain milk, whether it’s skim, normal or full fat. (But I could drink litres of soy milk, particularly the plastic bottles with yellow lids that can be bought in Asian supermarkets – yum!)

Due to the lack of milk drinking, I often find that we have run out or, more commonly, it’s been sitting in the fridge for too long and has gone chunky (ick).

This was the situation I found myself in this week. There were two cartons of open milk in the fridge, both well past their use by dates. But no milk, no matter! Normally I would’ve made a cheese sauce, but this time I just melted the cheese through the hot pasta. It was cheesylicous!

I would like to submit this to Presto Pasta Nights (my first time!). Check out Presto Pasta Nights for more pasta recipes.

>Cheesy Pasta with cauliflower and asparagus

Serves 4

300 gram dried pasta spirals
2 small onions, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
250g cauliflower
Bunch of asparagus
2 tablespoons butter
150g tasty cheese, grated
50g pecorino, grated
Salt & pepper

Bring a pot of well salted water to the boil for the pasta. Add the pasta when the water comes to the boil.

Cook the onions and garlic on a medium-low heat in a frying pan until soft, for about 10 minutes.

While this is happening, bring another pot of salted water to the boil. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and rinse. Add to the boiling water and cook until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, then cut the spears into 3cm lengths. Add to the boiling water that the cauliflower had been in and cook until just tender (about 1 minutes). Remove from the water and drain.

The pasta should be about ready by now – when al dente, remove and drain. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Heat the butter in a pot over medium-low heat (use the pasta one to cut down on dishes!), when melted, add the cauliflower and asparagus, then the onions and garlic. Stir to warm the vegetables, then add the cooked pasta and a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Tip in all the cheese and stir until melted through the pasta.

Taste, add salt if necessary, and season well with lots of freshly cracked pepper.

Soul Mama (closed)

Soul mama

Last year, Alastair got the opportunity to go to Mumbai for business. While there, he was kindly shown around by a couple of his colleagues in the Mumbai office. This weekend, he finally had a chance to return the favour, when two of those colleagues came over for a visit.

On Sunday we took them on a little tour of Melbourne, and after a lot of walking and tram riding, we decided to have a late lunch. As both his colleagues are vegetarian, we opted for Soul Mama.

I’ve heard plenty about Soul Mama but had never been there before. I suppose that’s why I was surprised by the buffet and bain marie arrangement! The way it works is that you choose your desired size bowl or plate, and that gives you a certain number of choices from the buffet.

We all choose the medium bowl, which was $15.50 for rice and 4 choices from the buffet. I’m glad we didn’t go any larger, as the medium bowl was very filling.

I choose saffron rice (you could also have jasmine or brown rice) with a tempeh and vegetable curry (front right), some kind of pasta (front left), tandoori vegetables (back left) and a vegetable and pesto gratin (back right). I was starting to get choice overload looking at all the options, so my brain was too busy to take note of the exact names of the dishes!

The pasta and the gratin were pretty good. The pasta had a lovely creamy sauce, and the gratin was delicious and also creamy. Most disappointing in my selection was the tandoori vegetables. There was no tandoori flavour AT ALL. It was basically plain vegetables, with minimal seasoning. I also wasn’t impressed with the curry. There was a strange edge to it – I didn’t like the flavour much.

All in all – the food was okay. Not bad, just okay. If you’re after a place with interesting food that might convert a meat eater to a vegetarian lifestyle (or even just convince them that vegetarian food can be really tasty) then Soul Mama isn’t up to the job. But if all you’re after is a filling vegetarian meal with average food but a gorgeous view, Soul Mama is perfect!

Soul Mama
St Kilda Sea Baths
10 Jacka Boulevard
St Kilda
Ph: 9525 3338

Vegie burgers and chips

Vegie burger

I enjoy eating meat, and I don’t think I could ever give it up. However, I do try and ensure that we have a few nights a week where we have a vegetarian meal. I felt like we had been eating a lot of meat last week, so one evening I made vegie burgers. My Bro did defeat the purpose a bit by adding bacon to his, but you know what they say about leading the horse to water… ;)

These vegie patties are really easy if you use a food processor and they’re also very tasty. I served ours up with some frozen oven fries, which were (surprisingly) great.

Vegie burgers

Makes 6 large patties

2 small onions, peeled and cut into quarters
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
2 cloves crushed garlic
3 medium potatoes, peeled and grated
1 x 400g can chickpeas
4 slices of stale sourdough or other white bread
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 eggs
Salt & pepper

In a food processor, pulse the onion and carrots until chopped finely (don’t over process). Tip into a large mixing bowl.

Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the grated potatoes, and add that to the onion and carrots with the garlic.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, and mash roughly before adding to the vegetable mixture.

Process the bread in the food processor until in fine breadcrumbs. Add to the mixture with the curry powder, eggs and season very well with salt & pepper.

Mix together and, with wet hands, shape into large patties. They may be quite wet – add more breadcrumbs if you need to.

Cook in George (Foreman Grill), or in a frying pan until cooked through. Serve in buns with fresh salad, cheese and tomato sauce.

Chicken and potato curry with roti

chicken curry

I don’t normally like using curry pastes that come from a jar. They’re very convenient, but I find the taste a bit odd. One problem is that it never tastes the way I think it should (ie good!) but the worst part is that there always seems to be either a sour or chemical taste to them. I’ve tried a few different brands and they all seemed odd.

I’m never buying Indian curry paste again. I’ve successfully tried a few recipes for Indian curries that were delicious. They were time consuming and contained a gazillion spices, but the depth of flavour was infinitely better than jar curry. I’d rather cook curry on a special occasion than put up with ick curry.

But I’ve never had any success with cooking Thai curries. Even from scratch, my curry pastes are insipid, one dimensional and uninspiring. Such a disappointment. I should keep trying.

As for Malaysian curry – I’ve never tried making it. The “outside kitchen” (ie when Alastair “cooks” and goes out to buys food) does such good laksa and nasi lemak, that I’ve never bothered trying. But the other week I had roti in my fridge, and no time to cook a proper curry. I decided to use a jar of laksa paste in the pantry that I bought a while ago (Por Kwan brand, bought from an Asian supermarket). I added in a few things and it actually tasted really good! Have I been wrong about jar curry paste?

Chicken and potato curry

2 onions, sliced
The white part of a stalk of lemongrass
Half a jar of laksa paste
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
400gram can of coconut milk
200ml water
6 chicken drumsticks
1 teaspoon fish sauce

Cook the sliced onions on low heat until soft (about 15 mins). Crush the stalk of lemongrass with your knife and throw that into the pot.

Add half the jar of laksa paste and the potatoes. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant.

Add the coconut milk and water, then the drumsticks. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the chicken is cooked and tender (about 30 minutes).

Stir in a teaspoon of fish sauce and serve with flakey roti. (If serving with rice, you may want to thicken the sauce).

Cafe Plum revisited (closed)

Another weekend, another visit to Cafe Plum. This visit, there were a couple of interesting specials on the board. My Bro and I went for the specials, while Alastair had ricotta hotcakes with bacon and maple syrup.

Cafe Plum

Durkah crusted poached eggs on white bean braised with mint & chili oil

This was my Bro’s brunch (I copied the name straight from the board – a rather long title for a meal!). He said it was, “Awesome!” and gave it two thumbs up. Apparently the beans were very soft, and the mint and chili went very well together.

Cafe Plum fritters

This was my brunch – rather than vegetables cooked with mashed potato it was actually a vegetable fritter. It had diced potato, peas, pumpkin and spring onions. The poached eggs were wonderful – I wish I had taken a photo of the yolk running down the fritters. That, and I wish I hadn’t screwed up the focus. Gaah.

Another visit, another mostly good brunch. I say mostly, because one of Alastair’s hotcakes were still gooey and uncooked in the middle. Maybe the assistant cooked those!

Cafe Plum
193 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne 3051
Ph: (03) 9329 8867

Bulghur, bulgur, bulgar, or burghul?

bulgur

However you spell it, bulghur is delicious!

Bulghur is wheat that is parboiled, dried, and then coarsely ground. At that time, the outer layers of the bran are removed, after which the grains are cracked. It has a distinctive nutty taste, and is high in fibre and proteins and low in fat – it’s a good substitute for rice or cous cous if you’re watching your weight as it’s more nutritious. Traditionally it’s used to make tabouli and pilafs.

I like to cook bulghur in chicken stock to add extra flavour, then mix through vegetables and a dash of olive oil to make a salad. It’s great to take to work for lunch (although I wouldn’t use lettuce if I was going to let it sit overnight).

Bulghur & Tuna Salad

Serves 3-4

1 cup uncooked coarse bulghur
1 & 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 large can of tuna
Several leaves of lettuce, shredded/sliced finely
2 medium carrots, grated
2 spring onions, sliced finely
Salt & Pepper
Good quality extra-virgin olive oil

Rinse the bulgur, then place into a pot with the chicken stock (the bulghur will expand, so use a good sized pot). Cover with a lid.

Bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer until all the liquid has been soaked up. Turn off the heat, take the lid off and cover the top of the pot with a clean tea towel. Place the lid on top of the tea towel and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Fluff the bulghur up with a fork, and place into a large bowl. Drain the tuna and add this to the bowl with the lettuce, carrots and spring onions. Toss all the ingredients together, season well with salt and pepper and add a good dash of olive oil.

Steak!

Salted steak meal

I read a blog yesterday that had a tip on how to turn a cheap cut of steak into a more tender steak – see Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen here.

If you can’t be bothered going to the link, I’ll paraphrase. The idea is that you take a thick piece of steak, coat it very liberally with salt, and then leave it for 15 minutes to an 1 hour. After the time has passed, rinse off all the salt, pat the meat dry, and then grill/fry as per normal.

And the science behind it: initially the salt draws out moisture from the meat. But after sitting for a while, some of the salty water gets sucked back into the meat, and that salt does something to the proteins that makes it more tender. Hello, tender steak!

Sounds too good to be true? I think an experiment is in order!

Today at the market, I bought some pieces of cheap rump steak. I salted two pieces as per the instructions on Steamy Kitchen with some crushed garlic and peppercorns. I used about 4 teaspoons of sea salt crystals, and crushed them into smaller crystals with garlic and peppercorns. In the interests of science, I left one piece as a control: no salt, only covered with crushed garlic and peppercorns (yay science!).

Salted steak prep

The control steak. Who loves garlic!

Salted steak prep 2

The two pieces of salted steak. Have I mentioned that we love garlic?

After 30 minutes, I pulled the steaks out of the fridge to rinse them. There was an obvious difference between the control and salted steaks. The salted steaks were glistening with moisture, and the control was dry. I rinsed the salt off the salted steaks, and the garlic and pepper off the control and patted them very dry.

To cook them, I probably should’ve used a pan, but I was lazy and stuck them in the George (Foreman Grill). After pulling them out of George, and resting them for 10 minutes, I was ready to submit the steaks to the test!

I salted the control steak just before eating, then took alternative bites of the control and then the salted steak. The salted steak WAS salty, and the garlic had penetrated all through the meat. MHMMM. Was it more tender? Yes, it was! I didn’t think it was an astounding difference, but it WAS noticeably more tender. And on the plus side for the salted steak, the control didn’t have much garlic flavour.

But, like I said, the salted steak was salty. It was just the right amount, but leaving it covered in salt for more than 30 minutes (or using more salt) would probably have been too much.

So the results are in (yes, I know I should’ve done a double blind test to be truly scientific): salting your steaks does seem to make them more tender and flavourful. It’s worth a try if you like steak.

Jamie inspired roast lamb

Roast lamb

This (rather unattractive) roast lamb was inspired by a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s book, Cook With Jamie. In the book, he has a recipe for Mad Moroccan lamb (page 170 if you have it).

Jamie’s recipe looked wonderful, but rather involved, and it included cous cous. I adore cous cous, but the Boys are not fans. But I liked the idea of the spices, especially since we all have colds. Subtle flavours are a bit lost on us at the moment.

I served the lamb with balsamic chickpeas (adapted from Jamie’s recipe) and roast potatoes. For the potatoes, I parboiled them whole, then cut them in half and tossed in a glug of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, chilli flakes plus a good seasoning of salt and pepper. They went into the oven for half an hour.

The lamb was too well done for my liking, but it still tasted good. I’m an “bit of this, bit of that” kind of cook, so truthfully I have no idea if all the spices and stuff I put in are necessary for yumminess. Possibly not, so consider the recipe below a guide more than anything!

Roast lamb dinner


Jamie inspired roast lamb with balsamic chickpeas and roast potatoes

Serves 6-8

For the lamb

1 x 2kg shoulder of lamb
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
6 large cloves of garlic
Zest from one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt

For the chickpeas

1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
100ml good quality balsamic vinegar
200ml water

Preheat the oven to 220 degree C. Score the lamb in a criss cross pattern about 2.5cm apart.

In a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic cloves with the salt.

In a dry pan, toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and black mustard seeds over a medium heat until fragrant. Tip them into the mortar and pestle and add the chilli flakes. Crush it all together, then add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix it all up with a spoon, it should be like a paste. Rub this all over the meat, making sure you get it into the cuts. Put the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and put into the oven for about 1 & 1/2 hours (mine went in for 2 hours which was too long unless you like well done meat). After the lamb is cooked to your liking, take it out of the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

For the chickpeas, heat some olive oil in a large saucepan and fry your onions and cinnamon with a pinch of salt and pepper for about 15 minutes or until softened. Don’t hurry this. Add the chickpeas with the water and the vinegar. Simmer on a medium heat until nice and thick, then remove from the hob and serve with slices of the roast lamb.