Saturday, 29 August 2009

Leek and Potato Soup


I spent a ridiculous 2 and a half hours in a phone shop today trying to sign up for a new phone contract. It finally did get done though, and I am now in possession of a shiny new iPhone. In most Japanese phone companies, they'll give you a little present after you sign up as a thank you; it's usually more home related than phone related, the first time I got to roll a giant felt dice (the use of which was almost a prize unto itself!) and whatever number I rolled was the number of instant ramen cups I got to take home. This year they gave me a bag of fireworks (seriously! Absolutely nothing could go wrong in this scenario!) and a multi-pack of peach scented toilet paper. The presentation of these items was almost worth the time. Almost.

When I got home I just wanted something that didn't require a lot of effort and/or involvement from me, which made this soup (found in the same book as my last post, I'm working through it a bit) a good way to go. For a soup it really didn't take that long either.

Ingredients

6 medium leeks (about 1kg/2.25lbs), whites only halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise, cleaned
850ml (29oz) low-sodium chicken broth
1 baking potato (225g/8oz), peeled and diced
190ml/0.75 cup heavy (double) cream
0.5 cup snipped fresh chives

Substitutions

My chicken broth was replaced with the ever present chicken consomme/stock cube.

On closer inspection I found double cream in my supermarket, but it costs three times the price of single or whipping cream, so I refused to buy. The difference between the types of cream is the fat content, heavy/double having the most at about 40%, whipping cream has about 30% and single going down to about 18% (-ish, for all of those), given that this is a soup I don't have to worry about beating it, so I went for the slightly lower whipping cream. For how we're using it here I think even single cream would be OK.

I didn't have chives, but they're just a garnish. I tapped a little dried thyme on instead at it was surprisingly delicious.

Method



1) In a large saucepan, combine leeks, broth, potato, 2 cups of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the vegetables are very tender (20-25 minutes).

2) Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, transferring it to a clean bowl as you work. (To prevent splattering fill the blender only halfway, and allow the heat to escape: Remove the cap from the hole in the lid, and cover hole firmly with a dishtowel. I was using my regular smoothie blender, so I filled it half way and kept the lid on).


3) Stir the cream into the pureed soup, and season with salt. Garnish with the chives (or whatever herb you prefer) and serve immediately.

If desired, you can chill the soup by covering it loosely with plastic wrap and chilling until cold (at least two hours, up to two days). If necessary you can thin the chilled soup with water, season with salt. This would be really refreshing in the middle of Japanese summer!

I originally had a cup of soup as you see in the heading picture, but it was so good I quickly realised that a bigger bowl would be needed!


Read more!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Beef and Orange Stir Fry


Apologies for the lack of updates, I've been full of cold this week and it made me lazy, so I mostly stayed out of the kitchen. I'm feeling much better today though so we can press on with the quick dinner I made myself tonight.

This recipe comes from the Martha Stewart Living book 'Great Food Fast'. I spent some time today going through marking recipes I wanted to try and this was among them.

Ingredients

3 oranges
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
680g (1 1/2 lbs) trimmed, boneless sirloin or rib-eye steak, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 tbsp cornstarch
1-2tbsp canola oil
6 scallions (spring onions), green part only, cut into 1 inch lengths.

Rice for serving

Substitutions

For the meat I bought a ready sliced pack of Japanese beef, the slivers are thin, like bacon or parma ham. I would have preferred to cut up a steak and have some thicker pieces, able to stand up to stir-frying a little better and less damaging to the orange so the pieces would stay more whole, but that would be really expensive here, and the taste is fine.

Method

1) Into a small bowl, finely grate the zest and squeeze the juice from 1 orange. Add garlic and soy sauce.


2) With a sharp paring knife, peel the remaining 2 oranges. Slice the oranges crosswise 1/2 inch thick, then halve the slices; push out and discard any seeds. Set aside.




3) In a medium bowl, toss the meat with the cornstarch until coated. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large non-stick pan/skillet over high heat. Work in batches (adding more oil if needed), brown the beef on all sides, 3-5 minutes; transfer to a plate.

If your using the same kind of beef I was it obviously won't take that long, so keep an eye on it until you're happy with how it's done.

4)Pour the juice mixture into the pan and boil until syrupy (about 1 minute). Return the beef to the pan; add orange pieces and spring onions. Toss until coated and heated through. Serve hot with rice.

This is a quick and easy weekday meal, perfect after you get home from work and don't want to spend too much time cooking. Especially if your kitchen is as hot as mine was today!

Read more!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Cheesecake Brownies


This is actually my first time to both eat and make these. How has it taken me so long? The pairing of chocolate and cheesecake is obviously one of life's better inventions, so shame on me.

This is a David Lebovitz recipe that I found on his site. Apparently France has the same issue as Japan in that cream cheese is quite expensive, so this is a good way to get your cheesecake hit without breaking the bank to fund the cooking.

Ingredients

For Chocolate Mixture:
6 tbsp (85g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 oz (115g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (70g) flour
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup (80g) chocolate chips

For Cheesecake Mixture:
8 oz (200g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
5 tbsp (75g) sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Substitutions

Instead of buying chocolate chips I bought a thin bars of milk chocolate (Lotte Ghana Milk if you want to know, the chocolate I used for melting was Ghana Black.). I froze it to help the chunks keep their shape in the batter, then broke it up by bashing the foil wrapped chocolate with the base of a knife. As long as you get the pieces reasonably small I prefer the slight irregularity in size to that of ready bought chocolate chips. You tend to be able to use better quality chocolate too.

When it came to the 1/8th tsp measurements, rather than fuss around with it I used my own judgment to add a pinch of salt and a couple of shakes of the vanilla essence bottle.

Method

1) Line the baking pan with foil, making sure you go all the way up all the edges (use two sheets if you have to). Oil spray or lightly grease the foil.

2)Preheat oven to 350F/180C


3) Put the brownie bitter chocolate in a saucepan with the cut up pieces of butter


4) Melt them down over a low heat (if, like me, you're not using the double boiler method, then be careful not to burn the mixture! Keep it low and have patience, it doesn't take long).


5) Take the chocolate /butter mix off the heat and beat in the 130g sugar to the saucepan, mixing well, followed by the eggs. Once I added the eggs the batter when really glossy and smooth, like chocolate pudding (which, I guess is essentially what it was at this point). Make sure your mix isn't too hot when you do this, you don't want to cook the eggs.

6) Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and chocolate chips/frozen chocolate pieces to the pan and mix. Once incorporated, spread the batter into the base of your baking pan.

7) In a separate bowl, beat together all the cheesecake ingredients until smooth, then add the cheesecake mix in eight or so dollops to top of the chocolate batter.


8) Take a dull knife, pallet knife, spatula, or skewer and draw some squiggles through the batter to give it a marbled effect. At this point my batter looked more liquid than the original recipe pictures (possibly because of my hot kitchen) so how fully you're able to mix the layers may vary.



Bake for about 35 minutes, until the centre is just set. Let it cool completely before removing it from the pan and foil and cutting it up. I tried to cut the time for this part but it turns out it falls apart really easily when still hot (I guess because the cheesecake parks remain quite soft) so it really is better to resist the smells and wait.

Not that I did


I had plans to share these out at school, but they're so good I don't know if they're going to last that long. Apparently these can be stores in an airtight container for a couple of days but I feel no pressing need to test this out. They also freeze well and taste good straight from the freezer!

Substitute Chef takes no responsibility for increased jean sizes. Even her own.


Read more!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Apple Pork Chops


I got home last night and suddenly realised I had an appointment I couldn't miss, so dinner would have to be fast and easily attained. While this recipe started off as an intention to make fruity meatballs, in the end I had so many subs that it ended up being more 'inspired by' than 'from' my book. The following recipe is my version.

Apologies for lack of pictures, as I said I was in a rush, so when some pics didn't come out well I didn't get a chance to retake them.

Ingredients serves, well, me, but it depends how hungry you are.

Two boneless pork chops
1 apple, cored and sliced
Approx 200ml vegetable stock
1/2 red onion, chopped fairly small
Tsp oil
Tsp flour
Tbsp Vietnamese caramel sauce (optional)
Thyme
Rosemary

Substitutions

I used the caramel sauce I made for the Vietnamese Ribs I made a week or so ago if you want you can replace it with honey or omit it all together.

I had half a red onion left in my fridge so I used it, I think you could sub regular onions if you wanted.

Method

1) Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium-high heat, then add the pork chops, chopped onion, and herbs to the pan. Rosemary has a way of overwhelming if you're not careful, so don;t be too heavy-handed with it. Brown for about two minutes on each side to get a nice colour and allow the onions to soften and caramelize a little.

2) Add the flour and a stir for a few seconds until it disappears. This will help the sauce to thicken

3) Add the sliced apples, caramel/honey (if using) and stock to the pan, bring tot he boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the apples and pork are cooked, and the sauce has thickened (if your apples/pork chops are on the thicker side you may need to add a little more stock so your sauce doesn't dry up)

I had to have this over rice because that's what I had on hand, but it would be perfect served over mashed potatoes.
Read more!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Pesto Chicken Kebabs


Flicking through a little cookbook I bought recently, and came across this recipe. In the mood for something colourful and reasonably healthy yesterday, this seemed to fit the bill. Today I tossed the left over roasted vegetables into some couscous with a splash of lemon juice for a quick 5 minute lunch.

Ingredients Serves 4

350g (12oz) butternut squash, halved, seeded, cubed
2 courgettes (zucchini), cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into small pieces
4 thyme sprigs, leaves removed
2 tbsp oil,
4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces,
juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp pesto
16 cherry tomatoes,
400g/14oz dried penne pasta

Substitutions

Instead of butternut squash I used kobocha, a Japanese orange pumpkin with dark green skin that can be found, cheaply, everywhere here.

Fresh thyme is great, but I used dried because it was much easier to find.

My supermarket only sells spaghetti or macaroni (oh, actually, it sells tri-colour fusilli too, but with so many strong colours in the vegetables I didn't want to add more) so I went for the largest macaroni I could find (gratin macaroni for anyone Japan based looking). It worked fine, but penne would have made the dish looked a little more balanced I think, as it's a little bigger and would have stood up to the larger chunks of veg easier. This is purely an atheistic problem though, the taste is fine, you can chop smaller to balance or I imagine penne is fairly easy for most other people to get.

Method


(notice I actually managed to get a courgette instead of accidentally buying a cucumber this time: progress! I asked one of the shop ladies to be sure, I should have known it would be known by the American word. The assistant noticed that I was checking my recipe book and apologised that they only had one left, but as I reducing the recipe a little it didn't matter)

1) Preheat oven to 200C(fan)/180C (390/355F) or gas mark 6. Put all vegetables in a large roasting tin (I lined it with foil for easier removal), scatter with thyme and season. Drizzle with 2 tbsp of oil and roast for 40 mins, turning halfway through.



Because my pan was a bit full, when it came time to turn I took and spoon and mixed the veg a bit, ensuring everything got a bit of time at the top (careful not to break up the veg when you do this, the pumpkin especially will be getting softer).

2) Meanwhile, leave 8 wooden skewers to soak in water. Put the chicken into a shallow dish and mix with lemon juice and pesto.

3) Thread the chicken pieces and whole cherry tomatoes on to the skewers, then put them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the rest of the oil and roast them for 20 minutes.


Because I can only have one thing at a time in my microwave oven, I left the chicken sitting in the pesto/lemon mix for a few minutes until the vegetables had finished roasted, then swapped them out for the chicken skewers. The pasta will be hot so it doesn't matter if the veg cools a bit. If you decide you want it all together you could cook the skewers in a pan or on the grill.

4) Cook pasta according to instructions, drain, then toss with the vegetables. Serve with the kebabs on the side. Leftover veg can be a delicious part of lunch the next day (re: my couscous) but be aware that it does contain onion so be sure to reheat properly.



Read more!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Coconut Lime Chicken


I've just realised that while this picture has been in my Flickr account for a while, I hadn't actually finished the post on it. My bad!

This recipe comes from Chaos in the Kitchen. I served it with brown rice and a serving of the best broccoli of your life from the Amateur Gourmet. I halved this recipe when I used it.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2lbs (900g) boneless, skinless chicken breast
3 tbsp (45ml) oil, I used canola
zest of one lime
1 tsp ground cumin
1.5 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp (30ml) soy sauce
1.5 tsp salt
2 tbsp (30g) sugar
2 tbsp curry powder
0.5 cup (125ml) coconut milk
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 minced small hot chili (optional)
0.25 up cilantro to garnish
fresh lime wedges to garnish

Substitutes

Not many surprisingly. I can't get fresh cilantro but I had dried coriander leaf? Unsure if it would be an acceptable replacement, and not thinking the dried stuff would particularly add tot he look the way a touch a fresh green can, I chose to ignore it. I chose not to add the optional chili though I could have, and everything else was available here.

I didn't have a meat tenderizer, but any smooth, heavy object can work.

Method

1) Remove skin from the chicken breast. If you buy yours skinless obviously skip this part, but I don't. You need to butterfly the chicken breast, so starting at the thick end, cut down the centre (not all the way) and open it out like a book. You can see from the picture that I cut a little too far down with mine.



2)Place each breast between two sheets of parchment paper (or between plastic etc) and using either a meat mallet or another smooth heavy surface (like the bottom of a small pan etc), carefully pound the meat until it's one even thickness. For me the only heavy smooth item I had that fit the bill was a big ass jar of marmalade one of my grandmother-type adult students had given me a while back.


It worked perfectly.

3) In a large enough bowl to hold the chicken, mix all the remaining ingredients except the lime wedges and the cilantro you have listed for garnish.


4)Marinate the chicken in the mixture for at least two hours. You can use the time to get any side dishes ready.

5) After time is up, remove chicken and reserve excess marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and keep boiling for two minutes. The sauce has had raw chicken in it so this step is important, but I did find that my mixture went very thick, so you may need to add a little water and keep stirring. After boiling for 2 minutes turn down the heat and stir occasionally to ensure it doesn't burn.

6) In a heavy skillet or grill pan, heat a splash of oil over high heat. You will have to cook the chicken in batches to prevent over crowding the pan, this wasn't an issue for me because I had reduced the recipe, but if you're making the full thing or more then keep your cooked chicken pieces in a warm oven or under foil while you cook the rest. Place the breasts in the hot pan and cook without turning for a couple minutes, then flip the breasts over and cook until the other side is golden, it shouldn't take long depending on the thickness of your chicken.


7) Sprinkle with fresh lime juice and cilantro. Serve with sauce on the side.



Read more!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake



Okay, one last dessert and then I'll move on to something else for a while. I went to Nagoya today and got a little cookbook, so we'll see what I try from that.

This cake's recipe was originally found at A Bowl of Mush, and awesome food blogger I've just started reading, but all pictures here are of my attempt. The cheesecake is very rich and extremely delicious, though I was a little disappointed about how my base turned out.

Ingredients

Base:

375g (1 1/2 cups) chocolate chip cookies (or chocolate digestive biscuits if you have them)
55g (1/4 cup) butter
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

For the topping:

550g (3 1/4) cups dark chocolate (best quality possible), broken into small pieces
250g (1 cup) finely ground white sugar
250ml (1 cup) heavy cream
450g (16oz) soft cream cheese

My conversions into metric may be slightly off compared to the imperial, cups of different things confuse me and I have to search the Internet for (sometimes disagreeing) answers, but these are what I used.

Substitutions

I didn't have any caster (fine grain) sugar, so I used granulated. This made my warm topping really grainy which worried me a lot, but ones I put it in to chill the mixture smoothed out.

I could only find single cream. I don't know how thick the topping would have been if I'd used double, but it was fairly substantial even with single so I'd say it's fine.

I went to the foreign food store hoping to find digestive biscuits but no luck, I swapped it in for cookies but they were chocolate chip rather than chocolate covered and that ended up being too dry and casing my base to disintegrate when I cut it. It needs more butter but I didn't want it to end up tasting greasy? I recommend either using digestives or graham crackers, or upping the butter.

Method

Either put the cookies in a Ziploc bag and crush them with a rolling pin, or grind them up in a food processor. When they're about crumb size add add the butter, brown sugar and cocoa powder. I melted the butter before adding it.


Press the mixture into a 9in/23cm tin and refrigerate.


Make a double boiler set up on your stove top my partly (1/3) filling a saucepan with water and bringing it to a simmer, then placing a heatproof bowl on top, this is the easiest way to ensure you don't burn your chocolate.

Put your chocolate pieces in the bowl, stirring occasionally until it's melted.



When the chocolate has melted add the sugar and stir well, then add the heavy cream. Once everything has melted down take it off the heat.

Add the cream cheese to the bowl of chocolate and whisk it well with an electric mixer (you can use a hand mixer and some elbow grease if you prefer). After I had used the electric whisk my topping took on an almost jello pudding type texture that really concerned me, and it was still a little grainy. Everything was fine after it had chilled for a while so it's nothing to worry about. It may be normal for this recipe, or it may be an ingredient in the Japanese brands of cheese/cream giving it that effect, so I don't know if yours will do that or not.

Pour this mixture on top of the base in the cake pan and smooth over the top. Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 3 hours until set.



As I said, this is really rich. Utterly delicious, but very rich. Some fresh raspberries (or something similar) for a little contrasting tartness would work well I think.
Read more!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Carrot cake


My muffin pans arrived from amazon.co.jp this morning, along with my new copy of Great Food Fast. I've been craving carrot cake recently, but have been unable to get my mum to send her own awesome recipe, so the book's version seemed like a good alternative.

Ingredients (makes 12 full sized muffins)

125g (1 1/4 cup) shredded coconut
250g (1 cup) sugar
85ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil, plus more for pan if needed
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
160g 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp flour
165g (1 1/2 cups) shredded carrot
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Substitutions

The majority of the shredded coconut is toasted as a topping, I don't hate it, but I have my limits, so I discarded it and just eyeballed approximately how much I wanted in the batter.

I don't like walnuts so I left them out

Along with the allspice I added a generous shake of cinnamon and nutmeg, completely optional but I prefer it.

I used canola oil.

I have a full size muffin pan and a mini (the results of which are pictured above), so I made a mix of both. I haven't iced the larger ones yet, but I'll get to that tomorrow and possibly update pictures then.

Method

1) Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Spread 100g (1 cup) of the shredded coconut out on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the coconut into a small bowl and set aside to cool.

2) In a bowl combine sugar, oil, orange juice, vanilla, and eggs.


3) Stir in baking powder, baking soda, allspice, and salt. Add flour; mix. Stir in the shredded carrots, the walnuts, and the remaining 25g (1/4 cup) shredded coconut.

4)Oil a standard muffin tine or line with paper muffin cases; distribute the batter evenly.


5) Bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool before frosting with cream cheese icing. Garnish with reserved toasted coconut.


Read more!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Sliced Vegetable Bake


I made this last night in a bid to convince myself I hadn't lost my cooking mojo. And after a day of eating nothing but failed cake (what? I gotsta hide the evidence!) I needed some form of vegetables to ensure I stayed one step ahead of scurvy.

This recipe was going to be SK's Ratatouille’s Ratatouille, but owing to the fact that what I hoped was a courgette (zucchini) turned out to be a huge and oddly shaped cucumber, and there was no yellow squash to be had, mine turned out less bright and summery than the original. I'd like to think equally delicious, but more something you'd have as a side with meat, or atop of pasta (especially once I put cheese on top). I had to make do with the vegetables I had in the fridge, so I used a mix of white fleshed sweet potato, aubergine (eggplant), and red bell pepper. I used between a half and a quarter of each vegetable because I was making an individual serving, so I'd guess to use one of each it would serve 3-4 people.

Ingredients
Tomato sauce
1 clove garlic, sliced really thin
Onion, finely chopped
olive oil, some for the tomato sauce and some for the top
Aubergine (eggplant), sliced very thinly
Courgette (zucchini), sliced very thinly
Sweet potato, sliced thinly
Salt and Pepper
Oregano (or herb of choice)
Cheese (optional)

Substitutions
My supermarket stopped selling tomato sauce, so I had chopped tomatoes

I thought I had the thyme the original recipe calls for but it turned out I didn't, so I used oregano instead.

As mentioned, my courgette turned out to be a cucumber, so I used a sweet potato I had.

Method to the madness

1) Preheat oven to 375F/190C (convection oven: 355/180C). Run your can of chopped tomatoes through a sieve until you have a nice smooth sauce




Pour the sauce into the base of your cooking dish. I covered the whole base with a thin layer which made the end result a little more wet (good for pasta etc), where as the original used less.

2) Scatter your garlic and onions into the tomato (hence the need for the pieces to not be too big or thick), and stir in half your olive oil (a tablespoon or a teaspoon depending on how big the dish is). Salt and pepper generously.


3) Make sure your vegetables are thinly sliced. I have a slicer to do that, but you can do it with a sharp knife and a bit of patience. I actually ended up taking a knife to my bell pepper because it was too big for the slicer surface (there were no taller longer ones in the produce section that would have fit it).


4) I really liked the look of the vegetable layering in the SK recipe, so I used it. Place one of each vegetable slice on top of each other with just the edge of the veg showing. Repeat this until you've gone all the way around your dish and filled in the centre.

5) Drizzle the rest of your olive oil over the top, add salt and pepper, and sprinkle it with whichever herb you decided on.



6) Cut a piece of waxed paper (parchment paper) top fit inside the dish over the veg a a lid.



7) Bake for 45-55 minutes (convection oven: 35-45), until the vegetables have released their liquid and are cooked through, but still retain their shape (you don't want them too limp). I used more sauce as I said, so I think it's ok for them to be a little softer provided they're not mush, you want to keep the layers for pretty presentation.


Once it was done I took the paper lid off and added some cheese, then turned up the oven to melt/brown it for 5 minutes. You could also do this under the grill or skip the cheese altogether.


Serve it with pasta, as a side for meat, or (if like me you're full of cake and not wanting anything too heavy) just on it's own.



Read more!