Tuesday 30 August 2016

broccolini with sweet tahini dressing - a taste of faux spring/summer

When it gets to the end of winter I start to feel a little frumpy about food. I'm a little over the heavy stews and crave vine ripened tomatoes and juicy peaches but these food craving always hit a little too early when spring isn't even near. Although over the past few weeks someone got the weather all mixed up and it has been sunny, t-shirt weather, this week it's back to winter, well as winter as Sydney gets.

So instead of the new season tomatoes I cooked broccolini with sweet tahini dressing from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. We didn't have the variety of green vegetables in the crisper like the recipe called for so instead I only used baby broccoli which for two people was the perfect amount for a side.

I blanched the trimmed broccolini in boiling water, drained it and then drizzled the sweet tahini dressing over the top, adding a sprinkling of sesame seeds at the end. The sweet tahini dressing was so easy, mix everything in a bowl, taste for seasoning and done. YUM. I love this tahini dressing with vegetables, it also goes great with cauliflower, green beans and roasted sweet potato.

I served the dressed broccolini with a butterflied lemon roast chicken and roast winter veg. It was our little taste of faux summer on a plate. I loved every mouthful and even dipped the chicken into the dressing. It was such a lovely refreshing, mid winter change from all the heavy meals we've been throwing together in the slow cooker. Mind you the slow cooker has been a life saviour when I don't get home till 9pm and know that all I need to do is spoon some stew in a bowl and add some toast (or a microwaved potato... don't judge!).

So if you're like me and need a little faux summer/spring I highly recommend this sweet tahini dressing with any veg you can find or have in your crisper. Would even be a delicious sauce over some kind of throw-what-ever-you-have-in-the-fridge-together rice bowl.

broccolini with sweet tahini dressing | salt sugar and i

broccolini with sweet tahini dressing

recipe adapted from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi
serves 2 as a side (with left over dressing)

1 bunch of broccolini, trimmed and chopped into 2 inch pieces
tahini dressing - 
about 50g tahini paste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon runny honey
salt & black pepper
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

- Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a bowl along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of water. The consistency should be smooth and thick but pourable. If the dressing is still a little thick, add a little more water, set aside.

- Blanch your broccolini in boiling water for about 2 minutes and drain (or longer if you like - I like mine more on the crunchy side).

- Pile the broccolini on a plate and drizzle with the sweet tahini dressing and a sprinkling of sesame seeds, serve.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Sweetbitter + a simple chanterelle omelette

Sweetbitter. First things first, this is not a cookbook, it's a novel. A novel that has had rave reviews from the media and it being based on food, wine and the restaurant industry I thought it still appropriate for here.

I went in with high expectations as I love books that have even the slightest mention of food in them plus this one is set in New York, who doesn't love New York as a setting?? So with these both playing a huge feature in the book I had a feeling I'd be instantly hooked before I even started.

The book is set out in seasons and follows the 22 year old narrator from her hometown into the big city, New York. She gets a job as a server in a renowned restaurant and the story is based about her time there, the people she works with, the customers she serves, the mentor she craves and of course the mysterious talk, dark and handsome character, who she desperately wants. There is swearing, drugs, sex, food, wine, everyones dirty little secrets and more wine.

By the hype of the book, I thought that there would be more food involved but to tell you the truth it didn't make me want to cook, it made me want to open a bottle of wine every time I picked it up.

I don't think I've mentioned it on the space yet but I've worked in restaurant kitchens before so a lot of the kitchen talk in the book brought back memories of my apprenticeship with head chefs that yelled, screamed 'pick-up', screamed 'pick-up!' even louder if no one came running, threw plates of food at walls or called you a 'blow-arse'. Now, not all my head chef's were like that and the social vibe between staff was not as gritty as this book makes it out to be but it still brought back the feeling of being at the pass and waiting for my desserts to be picked up, hoping desperately someone would come quickly so the ice cream didn't end up like soup. I will also admit when I first started reading this book, it brought back the anxiety that also came hand in hand with my kitchen gig and the feeling of being the newbie in a foreign space.

I enjoyed this book but there was something that kept me a little uneasy throughout the entire thing and I think it was my own experiences working in restaurants and being on the kitchen side of it all. All I saw was the kitchens I've worked in and the chefs that yelled. I never had a mentor, it was all for one and one for all. You had two feet to stand on and if you didn't get it right the first time the second time you had no choice but to get it right or you got your head bitten off.

Although my time sounds highly unpleasant working in a kitchen, it wasn't all like that but I do think the name of the book is very fitting and describes restaurant life in one (two) words perfectly. Sweetbitter.

One thing, I wanted more food. I wanted more mouth watering family meals and cooking for one in her tiny New York apartment but I didn't get much of that. There were two memorable food moments in it which I'll mention. One consisted of oysters, beer and the tall, dark and handsome fella and the other was a simple chanterelle omelette which had me craving mushrooms. As I can't give you a recipe for a tall, dark handsome fella who hands you freshly shucked oysters and an ice cold beer, I can share with you a recipe for a chanterelle omelette I made recently. It is a given that you are required to open a bottle of wine with this.

a simple chanterelle omelette

inspired by Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
serves 1 - recipe adapted from Savour

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 small shallot, finely diced
about 1 cup chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and torn (or any mushrooms you like)
a dollop of creme fraiche
a handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten

- In a frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until melted then add the garlic and diced shallot. Cook for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the chanterelle mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes or until soft. Add the creme fraiche and parsley and cook until melted and oozy, season with generous amounts of salt and pepper.

- Remove the mushrooms and set aside. Wipe the frying pan out with paper towel then add the other tablespoon of butter on medium heat. Pour the beaten eggs into pan and cook for 30 seconds, lifting cooked edges with a spatula to allow uncooked egg to flow underneath.

- Spoon mushroom mixture into the centre of the still slightly runny eggs and fold closed, cook for 1 minute more. Serve with some toasty sourdough and salty butter.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is published by Allen and Unwin, August 2016 (RRP $27.99).

Monday 15 August 2016

Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles by Fuchsia Dunlop from Land of Fish and Rice

The other day I was extremely lucky and received a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's new cookbook 'Land of Fish and Rice' in the mail. Fuchsia Dunlop is known for her authentic Chinese cooking but I've never owned one of her cookbooks before, having heard only good things everywhere I was pretty exciting to get a copy. The first thing I did was grab a pen and paper to make my shopping list, knowing well and good I'd need to stock my pantry with a few bits and pieces from the Asian supermarket. What I didn't realise was that there would be quite a number of vegetables that I've never heard of and to be honest, no idea what or where to look for them.

It was the dumpling section of the book which had me hooked the minute I flicked to it. I have a weakness for Chinese dumplings, doesn't everyone?! but the thought of making them on a Thursday night after work was a little intimidating so I'll admit it, I went for an easier looking, midweek option rather then some of the other more complicated dishes in this cookbook. The other section of the book which I was drawn to was the noodles and rice chapter, any type of fried noodles or rice and I'm done. I decided to make the Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles as it can be a stand alone dish or part of a banquet style dinner, plus the ingredients weren't too obscure and no random vegetables I'd never heard of so I jumped at it almost instantly.

Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles by Fuchsia Dunlop from 'Land of Fish and Rice'

My first tip if you're going to make this dish or in fact any of the dishes that require stir-frying in this book, get a wok. I don't have one and I kind of struggled. The pot I used had noodles sticking to the bottom instantly and needed soaking for a good 48 hours after. My second piece of advice when making this dish is get the wok stupidly hot! Do not use your crock pot like me and have it over a medium flame. I felt like I was having a work out trying to toss the noodles and get to the the bottom of the pan to stop the sticking.

Apart from my pan troubles, the flavour of these noodles with strips of lean pork dotted throughout and crunchy pakchoi was delicious. It was salty and comforting and the vegetables added a lovely freshness to the whole dish, it was moorish. I could have eaten the whole pot myself in one sitting if my stomach had allowed it. Normally when I make a throw-everything-in-a-pot-stir-fry I make them a little heavier on the vegetables but what I've come to realise is that Chinese cooking is a lot about sharing a variety of dishes so I think a vegetable dish on the side would be a perfect combo to these noodles.

Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles by Fuchsia Dunlop from 'Land of Fish and Rice'

I can't wait to get stuck into the other recipes in this book and even plan a banquet style dinner party... might need to tell people to byo a chair but it'd be worth it to try some of the other dishes. A trip to the asian fruit and veg store might need to happen first and maybe even bring the cookbook along with me so I can ask for help. With some of the ingredients I wouldn't even know where to start but there is nothing wrong with a challenge now and then for a delicious dinner.

Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles

by Fuchsia Dunlop from 'Land of Fish and Rice'

100g lean pork
425g fresh Shanghai noodles or Japanese udon
2 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
200g baby green pakchoi or 2 large handfuls of spinach (I used regular pakchoi)
1 1/2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
ground white pepper

for the marinade:
1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
2 teaspoons potato starch (potato flour)
1 tablespoon beaten egg or 1 tablespoon cold water

- Cut the pork evenly into thin slices, then into slivers. Add the marinade ingredients and mix well.

- Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the noodles and cook for 2 minutes (fresh shanghai and udon are half-cooked when you buy them which is why this doesn't take long) or if using dried noodle, according to packet instructions. Turn the cooked noodles into a colander and cool under the cold tap. Shake them dry. Drip over 1/2 tablespoon oil and stir in thoroughly to prevent sticking.

- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the pork strips and stir-fry swiftly to separate them. When they are just cooked, remove from the wok and set aside.

- Clean and re-season the wok if necessary, then return it to a light flame with the remaining oil. Add the noodles and stir-fry until piping hot (if you used regular pakchoi, add it with the noodles), adding both soy sauces and seasoning well with sale and ground white pepper. Add the baby pakchoi or spinach and continue to stir-fry until just wilted. Finally, stir in the pork. Serve.

Land of Fish and Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop is published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 2016 (RRP $49.99)

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Seven Spoon's Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies + Love.

So here is a little re-cap of whats been going on in the life of salt sugar and i.

I went lovely hot Thailand with the bf. Spent 90% of the time drinking our way through the cocktail menu by the pool. Got sunburnt on the first day. The bf/love of my life asked to spend the rest of his life with me. I said yes. I got a really sparkly ring. We spent more time by the pool drinking cocktails like sunburnt sloths. Ate ALOT of fried rice and eggs. Rang the parents and heard my mum scream with joy all the way from Thailand. Ate too many omelettes for breakfast. Said OMG we're engaged about 1000 times. Flashed my sparkly ring about. Ate more fried rice and eggs. Got photos with 'lady-boys'. Flew home. Hugged and kissed the cat against his will. Got Thailand Tummy. Silver Lining - great detox from my poolside drinking habits. Temporarily had enough Thai food to last me a while. Made a couple of birthday cupcakes/cakes. Went back to work. Realised I definitely have the holidays blues. Started semester 2 of night school. Lost my calculator. Hugged the cat again. In shock over how expensive weddings are. Baked cookies. Still in shock.

I think that sums it all up... mmmm love.

All in all... pretty damn good holiday. I even came back with a tan which means I am the same colour as normal people now and not 'grossly' white anymore. yay!

Back it up to where I mentioned cookies. I made these Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady over the weekend and I'm going to say it...they are my favourite and not just because they taste amazing straight from the oven or the next day but they are a melt and mix recipe. The best kind. Tara even gives you little notes so tweak the recipe if you prefer crunchy cookies rather then soft chewy ones or what to add instead of sticking with chocolate or if you conscious gets the better of you and you decide to add wholemeal flour. I've mentioned these cookies before on this space but rudely, never shared the recipe. So here it is in all it's glory.

Now on to more important things... does anyone know if wedding venues, stylists or florists are easily bribed with chocolate chip cookies? If so, please leave your comments below or email me if it is sensitive information. Your secret will be safe with me.

Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady
(recipe ever so slightly adapted)

225g unsalted butter, melted (but cool)
415g plain flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
320g light brown sugar
100g white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
340g dark chocolate, chopped (or any type of chocolate you like best)
flaked sea salt, for sprinkling on top (optional)

- Preheat your oven to 180C/360F and line two trays with baking paper.

- In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

- In a large bowl whisk together your cooled melted butter and both sugars. This will looks like it's not coming together and the butter is separating but don't worry, just go with it. Add your eggs, one at a time, whisking well followed by the vanilla extract.

- Next fold the dry ingredients using a spatular or wooden spoon until almost mixed through then add the chopped chocolate. Bring any stray ingredients up from the bottom util the dough is no longer dusty but don't over mix. If the dough seems warm or looks overly glossy, refrigerate for five minutes.

- Roll the dough into balls using 2 tablespoons for each. Arrange on the prepared trays, leaving a good 3 inches in between each one. Sprinkle with sea salt (optional) and bake until the tops are cracked and lightly golden, yet the cookies are still soft at the centre, about 9 to 11 minutes. If your oven bakes uneven or has a hot spot, make sure you rotate your trays in the oven so you get even baking.

- Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Continue shaping the remainder of the cookie dough, making sure to use a cool baking tray for each batch.

- Keep cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week (if they last that long).


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