Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Zucchini, Chilli and Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza

The inspiration for this came partly from Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook of Sortsby Russell Norman, which I've gushed about before, and partly from the smoked buffalo mozzarella I came across in the specialty Italian deli in town. For me, good pizzette (small pizzas)or pizza in general, is characterised by a thoughtful selection of a few fresh, quality ingredients and a good thin - slightly chewy, slightly crisp around the edges - base.

In this case, the smoked buffalo mozzarella was my starting point. From there, I selected a zucchini, red chilli and freshly grated parmesan to complement. In Polpo, Norman has a recipe which includes all of the above, but with mint and, instead of lovely, soft, fresh mozzarella, he recommends the cheap, hard, standard supermarket kind. This is a great option for when cheese is intended as a backdrop, but for this, I wanted the smoke of the mozzarella to sing. I omitted the mint also, as I had none on hand, but used chopped fresh parsley for freshness and as a garnish to finish.

For the pizza base, I turned to my quick flatbread recipe (not dissimilar to a standard pizza dough recipe), which has become a staple in my kitchen for it's ease, convenience and never-disappointing results. Once you've made it a few times, you'll know what I mean.

Zucchini, chilli and smoked buffalo mozzarella pizza

To accompany the pizza, I made spiced kumara (sweet potato) fries with a lemon-spiked yoghurt dip. And apart from making the base from scratch (use pre-made pizza bases or flatbreads if you wish), this took little effort to put together. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

My New Morning Ritual

Over the last few months, I've been watching various food- and health-related documentaries. I really enjoyed Food Matters, Hungry for Change, and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (all available on Netflix), and I'd recommend these to anyone interested in food. Boiled down, they contain a similar message: eating real food is essential for our health. And, the biggest take-home for me was not just about real food, but raw food.

It's a well-understood concept that when food is consumed raw, you're most likely to receive the most nutrients as they are yet to be 'damaged' by heat or the cooking process*. And while this in no way inspired me to start a raw diet (but props to those who try it), it definitely urged me to think about eating more raw fruits and vegetables. Meaning: more salads, smoothies and juices (in all cases, made fresh and/or right in front of my eyes, if not a pure ingredient list if I'm buying prepared).
*However, for some foods, they say that cooking/heat actually benefits overall nutritional value, e.g. processed tomato vs. fresh tomatoes.

While my last post is one salad I've been eating lately, I've also added a smoothie to my daily morning ritual. So after oil pulling with organic coconut oil, brushing my teeth with my homemade coconut oil/baking soda 'toothpaste', and drinking a big glass of warm water with a small wedge of lemon (or teaspoon of apple cider vinegar), I drink this:

Kale, Kiwifruit and Pear yoghurt smoothie with chia seeds

Kale, kiwifruit and pear yoghurt smoothie makes about 2 cups

1 banana
1 ripe pear (peeled, cored and cut into smaller pieces if you are not using a full-fruit able-blender)
1 kiwifruit, scooped out of it's skin
2 washed & torn kale leaves
1 teaspoon of honey
2-3 generous tablespoons of full organic yoghurt (or any type of milk - alternatively, apple juice could be used also)

Blend until combined with a few ice cubes (I use a powerful stainless steel hand blender which requires some patience and manoeuvring, but a regular blender would make this a breeze), and serve. For extra health, I mix in a tablespoon of chia seeds.  While this could be split over the day by keeping half in the fridge for an afternoon boost, I like to enjoy it all in the morning as I check my e-mails, news, and social networks.

Completely delicious and very satisfying, the beauty of the smoothie is being able to tick off a good amount of fresh fruit and vegetables early in the day, which is also the best time to consume fruits -giving your body the full day to access that energy. The variations are also endless, whatever is on hand can work nicely in the right combinations, though I envy anyone with a blender capable of blending whole fruits/vegetables (this is on my wish list) as I'd love to be able to include carrots and beetroots in my mixes. But alas, I still have allll the fruits up my sleeve and that's plenty for now.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I Heart Noodles: Korean Buckwheat Noodle Salad

I've talked before about my preference for savoury breakfasts so with that said, I'd like to add: I am a noodle girl. All the way. It might be an Asian thing, but I could eat noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it would be a dream come true (including European-style noodles too, e.g. spaghetti, spƤetzle... you name it!).

And lately, I've been indulging in that dream. Fragrant Vietnamese noodle salads, fiery fried Chinese noodles, nourishing and aromatic chicken noodle soups... and, happily, I've just discovered bucatini, a hollow spaghetti, which has also been giving me a lot of joy.

Of that theme, my favourite breakfast at the moment is a Korean-style Buckwheat Noodle (Ngaenmyeon) SaladNgaenmyeon is made from the flour and starches of various ingredients including buckwheat, wheat, and sweet potato, and is therefore chewier and more elastic than, say, its Japanese counterpart, soba.

I'm aware that Korean food isn't the most popular of Asia's cuisines, and I think I understand why: a lot of its core flavours are created from fermentation (e.g. kimchi) and this can be overpowering when unaccustomed. However, the health benefits of fermented foods are indisputable and definitely worth looking into if you are trying to eat healthier and especially if you have any digestion problems.

In any case, this dish is definitely Korean lite. And while kimchi would be a worthwhile addition, I'm keeping it simple. And never mind the breakfast thing, this would equally make a great lunch or light dinner.

Korean-style Buckwheat Noodle (Ngaenmyeon) Salad

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Curious about Pigeon

The English Market may well be my favourite place in Cork city. An excellent, high-quality range of produce, freshly baked breads, sweet and savoury treats, artisan chocolates, cured meats, wonderful cheeses, a famous fishmonger, and a fine array of butchers touting various cuts of various animals. One in particular specialises in less common meats, like rabbit, buffalo, kangaroo, venison and... you guessed it: pigeon.

Recently, I became especially intrigued by the petite deep maroon, almost blood-red, coloured breasts of pigeon sitting neatly between buffalo burgers and a whole rabbit. We purchased two breasts for sampling and on the walk home I began to imagine the dish.

To accompany, I cooked a mushroom, leek and red wine pearl barley risotto, seasoned with garlic and rosemary, with the duck stock I'd made the previous day - a perfect accompaniment, I thought, to the rich, gamey flavours I was anticipating the pigeon to have. 

For the pigeon: I patted both breasts dry with kitchen paper and seasoned both sides generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper. Meanwhile, over medium-high heat, I gently heated a good swirl of grapeseed oil with the fresh leaves of two thyme sprigs. As the thyme became fragrant and began to sizzle, I placed the pigeon breasts firmly down in the pan, capturing some of the thyme hostage beneath.

After about 2 minutes, with the pigeon seared and nicely beginning to colour on one side, I flipped both breasts over, moving them around the pan to capture more thyme. After another 2 minutes, I flipped over again to finish, about 30 seconds more. Pigeon is best cooked rare to medium-rare, and as they are very small pieces of meat, it doesn't take long. Removed from the heat, I allowed them to rest for 5 minutes and served it with the pearl barley risotto (pouring the resting juices over).

Seared Pigeon Breast with Mushroom and Leek Pearl Barley Risotto

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Spiced Roasted Almonds

I have a notebook of collected & created recipes, as well as food ideas & memories, which I started around four years ago. It continues to build, with the dream of one day publishing something, though unfortunately, it contains the odd recipe to which I can't recall the inspiration: a book, a cafe, the internet, or my pantry? The guess is anyone's. 

This is one of those. However, with the way the food world works, there are undeniably plenty of similar and good recipes out there, meaning: 1. I have no fear of committing plagiarism, and 2. This is simply mine. Yours will be the same recipe with a slight tweak, and your friend's another. What matters is: it's delicious (and in this case, very addictive).

Spiced Roasted Almonds

Approx. 1 c of raw, unroasted and unseasoned almonds (skins on)
3/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika (or cayenne pepper)(however, if you are averse to heat, stick to more sweet smoked paprika)
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 180degC/350degF. Toss all ingredients together thoroughly with 1 tablespoon of water.  Spread out in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking tray. Roast for 12 minutes, or until golden and crunchy. Remove from oven and cool slightly before eating. 

These store well in a clear, airtight jar. 

Spiced Roasted Almonds

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Holiday Season: All-belly Porchetta with Honey & Bacon Brussels Sprouts

The new year is here! For many, this means new resolutions, old goals approached with a renewed spirit, or simply: keeping on keeping on. For me: it's a recommitment to 'the pursuit of deliciousness'. 

Fortunately enough, I have been reunited with my beloved cookbooks and this has been providing plenty of inspiration. And of course, the past Christmas season has also encouraged me to survey these and my old reliables on the world wide web for occasion-worthy meals and dishes worth-a-go. One such recipe I embarked on was the All-Belly Porchetta (Italian style roast pork) by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab at Serious Eats

As expected, the result was a tender, succulent, and flavoursome (due to a 'stuffing' of rosemary, garlic, fennel seeds and black peppercorns) centrepiece-alternative. The recipe itself was easy to follow and with its short list of ingredients, it made it all very unintimidating and practically necessary to give a whirl.

All-belly Porchetta with Honey & Bacon Brussels Sprouts and Lentils with Spinach 

We served slices of the porchetta with honey & bacon brussels sprouts (recipe below) and lentils simply tossed with baby spinach and good quality extra virgin olive oil, for a very winter-holiday-worthy meal.