Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chicken cacciatore (New Version)

This dish looked boring to be honest, as it doesn't have much in it, and I worried it was just going to be a limp tomatoey effort. In the end I was pleased. Its simple flavours were comforting, if not astounding, and as a couple of people dropped in I cooked Neil Perry's Bucatini All'Amatriciana (Bacon Pasta) as a first course, and it all went well together with a bottle of nice white. Troubles were eased, and I will make this again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Orange Cake

ok, so I've jumped forward a few books, but I just cooked the Orange Cake from Marcella Cucina. It all went well, and was so easy. Well, apart from the fact a certain someone burnt out the blender blending up her mix!!! I did warn her, although she says the blender 'got tired' when blending my mix, and just happened to give up the ghost in hers. The fact she was doing a double mix had nothing to do with it apparently...

Anyway, all worked out a treat. I was making it for Christmas but I've already taken a couple of slices. We'll see if it lasts!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

frittata with cheese

I have decided I can't always have photos here or I won't get around to doing things. Tonight was frittata with cheese. Neil Perry taught me how to make french omelette and it sure was fine. But I like the idea of having veges, and just sticking it to the french...

Anyway, so I mixed the egg and parmesan cheese together along with salt and pepper. Not much in it, Hazan style! I then heated the butter and poured it into a little frying pan, hoping for the best. It seemed to take ages to 'set', apart from the top. I don't know how long, 15 minutes I guess. I then put it under the grill, as instructed, but rather than it needing 'a few seconds', it actually needed a few minutes. No bother.

So how was it? Delicious I must say. Like a little cheese and egg pie that you want to eat more of. So easy. It is crying out for a salad though - next time!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mashed Potatoes with Milk and Parmesan Cheese, Bolognese Style

I've only recently discovered how to make mash. I saw it being cooked on the TV on Food Safari. It looked pretty easy, and it tasted amazing. I now refer to my life as pre-mash and post mash, and cook it once a week. 

Anyway, what did Marcella have to offer over this french bloke?
She cooked her potatoes pretty much the same way. Peel them after rather than before, and don't salt the water.
Both heated their milk, although it shouldn't boil.
The big difference is Marcella's addition of Parmesan and nut meg. I thorugh in a heap of both.
So how did it go? Gold. The parmesan lifted the whole dish, as it does. The nutmeg was barely noticeable. So will I make it again? Nah, I like my approach now. If I'm feeling cheeky every now and then I might grate the cheese in, but really, why mess with a good thing already.

Drunken pork

Such high hopes! Let's be honest, my big wins with Marcella have been the chickens. The cabbage and red wine. The rosemary, olive and cherry tomatoes (from a later book). Even the chicken and two lemons. I wanted to move onto another meats.  So I wandered down the butcher and he had a nice piece of pork. So to speak. 

Drunken pork it was. It looked easy enough.
My first mistake was thinking the carrots were to be put all over the pork. That looked a bit silly and I read it again and they were only to go in the ends. In they went.
Then came the flower and the browning. No worries there.
Then the drunken part arrived. First I poured in some brandy. Marcella calls for 1.5 cups of red wine, or more if you need to in order to almost cover the meat. Is she kidding? What sort of lump of pork can you almost cover with 1.5 cups? I ended up using over a bottle of shiraz along with the bay leaves and nutmeg.
Then came the long cooking at a simmer. All going to plan except with all the wine it didn't reduce in the time Marcella expected, and I had to boil it off at the end. I must say when there was quite a bit of wine still left in the pot the taste was very pleasant. 
Eventually I was able to carve it up, and spoon on some of the syrup as suggested by the big M.
All very pretty. Unfortunately, my sauce had acquired a sharp, vinegary taste that made the whole thing a bit unpleasant. Only saved by the excellent mash. The texture was fine, but the taste was something to avoid in the future.

What went wrong? Did I reduce too much wine? Is it meant to have this taste? 

I'm not sure if I will ever fine out. I want to work out how to cook pork on top of the stove though, so watch this space.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beef stew with Red Wine and Vegetables

This, announces Marcella, is a clean tasting stew uncomplicated by herbs and seasonings. Well, she is right about that.
(Note the absence of herbs and seasonings). Interestingly she asks that the meat be shallow fried, rather than just fried in a little olive oil or butter. Perhaps that makes the difference, I thought.
The great thing about this dish is the veges. Bizarrely, they are not browned prior to being put into the stew.
Instead they are just plonked, along with a whole lot of red wine, and no stock or water. Also bizarrely, for me, the wine is not reduced, except for a few moments. I would normally expect to reduce that much wine by half before adding the (browned) veges.
Anyway, as I said, the whole lot gets plunked in, along with some olive oil.
And eventually some peas - the best bit about this stew.
It only cooks for about 2 hours total. I would normally expect about 3 for this cut of meat, although it was soft enough after 2.
The end product though lacked the flavour that Marcella says she craves. It was a bit like, well, meat braised in red wine with a few soft veges. Very wholesome, healthy and all the rest, but you couldn't serve it to guests. 
Next time I'll brown the veges (except the peas), and throw in some bay leaves, thyme and cloves, and also reduce the wine a bit. Marcella is not getting many wins on the board here. I think the braised chicken is about it. I must be due for one.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

This is another of Marcella's famous dishes. The way people rave on about it on blogs and the rest you would think it was the second coming. I thought I would give it a go, although part of me was scared of the butter.

Once I had all the ingredients it was simply a matter of throwing them in the pot. Well, peeling the onion and cutting it in half first.
My that is a lot of butter.
That's pretty well it. It simmers away for a while. The taste was pretty poor until the last few minutes, and then it seemed to come together in the end - good enough perhaps for it to be eaten out of the pot, as Marcella promises.
Of course I needed the pasta. Spaghetti I think.
And a bit of parmesan cheese.
The final product was very rich, and I must say, not as enjoyable as my other pasta dishes. I won't be making it again, at least to eat as a main course. Or even a first course. I might try again with better tomatoes, and perhaps as a sauce for gnocchi. But I must say quite disappointing I'm afraid. Pity.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Polenta by the No-Stirring Method

Polenta. The realm of real Italians. Aussies might cook Italian without knowing it, but they never cook polenta without knowing it. I mean, who does. When I started out I thought I would cook it the 'proper way' ie by stirring for the whole time.

First step was to stir like a madman while letting the grains run in.

The whole thing bogged up then and there. Perhaps it was meant to. Anyway, stirring it was a bitch. Marcella wanted me to stir for 40 minutes. Was she kidding? I immediately looked for the no-stir method.

No stir my arse! I still had to stir for a minute every 10 minutes. That's still a lot of stirring. And I couldn't seem to get the stuff to simmer as she wanted, so I just whacked it on low.

Eventually the time ran out - I'm not sure it was coming cleanly away from the walls as it was meant to. But I put it in a bowl anyway. And no, it wasn't metal.

And this is what it looked like when I plunked it over.

So how did it taste? Well, pretty ordinary. I wonder if it is because I didn't cook it right, or if the truth is, it never does, and its use is historical only ie if you didn't grow up on the stuff you wouldn't actually eat it. Marcella says you can eat it if you put butter and cheese in it, but that's true of anything isn't it?

I ate it with Chicken Fricasseed with Red Cabbage, which was delicious. But the sauce didn't save the polenta. Next time I'll make mash.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chicken Fricassee with Red Cabbage

You know, Marcella isn't lying when she says that Italian food is often unattractive. I mean, just look at the above. But then she also says she cooks for flavour, and in this case I can attest to it. Who would have thought that half a red cabbage, simmered with some onion, garlic and red wine, would form a beautiful sauce for a tender chicken? Well that's what we have here.

As usual you need to start with your ingredients.

Next thing is to cook the onions and the garlic. I've had trouble before with the onions getting too brown before the garlic does. That sounds strange as it is usually the other way around but there you go. I think the way to get around this is to have the heat down pretty low for quite a while. 

Eventually it will look like this. If you burn either the onion or the garlic then throw it all out and start again.

In goes the cabbage.

The cabbage takes 40 or 50 mins. Again, low heat means you won't burn it. You don't want to burn it. Because this dish takes two hours I sometimes cook the cabbage the night (or morning) before I cook the chicken. 

Of course to cook the chicken you need to be able to cut a chicken up.

First thing you need is a good chicken. Buy a free range one - the most expensive you can. And you need a sharp knife. Buy a good one and a sharpener. 

There we go. Easy with a sharp knife. Of course, if you are a good cook you will use the carcass for stock. If you are lazy you give it to the cat.

Either way you then need to wash, dry and brown it. 

So it looks like this. Let it sit while browning Don't stir and stir. A few minutes each side should do it.

After 40 or 50 mins the cabbage was tasting pretty bloody good. So I added my chook and the wine and I was away. I didn't add the breast until the last 10 mins as you can see below. This is the first time I held it out - so it doesn't dry - but to be honest I don't notice it when it's left in. 

In the end it tasted great and looked like a mess. Or as Marcella says, a dense, clinging sauce on your tender chicken. 

I've served this before with crusty bread, it is a treat. Today I was brave and cooked polenta. The chicken was fabulous and tender, the sauce was wonderful. The potenta was a bit crap but that's another story. 

Next time I think I"ll cook it with mash.

Definitely a keeper. 

UPDATE: I've since made it with proper mash and it is fantastic. Forget that polenta crap.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Walnut Cake

I don't normally make cakes, or bake anything really. I tend to follow Marcella's advice and have fruit for dessert. I didn't expect to get to this chapter for, well, years. But I was asked to help bake. Just before my helper disappeared. So I was stuck with the task.

First thing I needed was the ingredients. I didn't have any baking powder. But I had some self raising flower. I didn't have a full 2/3 of a cup of white sugar, but I had a little brown to make up the difference. And I had some walnuts and a lemon, and the rest. You can see the brown sugar peeking out of the white.

And into the oven for the walnuts.

I didn't have a food processor, but I tried my best with a blender. It worked with the nuts, but not with the rest. So I just threw it in a bowl and had a crack myself.

In go the nuts.

And it's all together.

Not looking too flash at this stage.

There we go. I think perhaps I left it in the oven a bit too long.

Of course, in classic Marcella fashion, she tells me at the bottom of the page to wait 24 hours before I can eat it, to "let the flavors fully develop"!!! So I did that. It was very tasty with a nice lemon tang. Even two days later. And I have no doubt it would last even longer.