Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hey Pesto!

Developed and mastered over many years in Northern Italy, pesto has very humble beginnings and today it’s an unknown super food snack eaten everywhere. I did some digging into what made pesto, pesto and what it was that made it so healthy. The primary ingredient basil is an antioxidant and is used to treat stress the Eastern world. Olive oil is a good fat, known to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and for skincare, all over the world. Pine nuts contain vitamins A, C and D and fight free radicals in the body, preventing long term illness. They are also high in protein and magnesium. Garlic is known for reducing blood pressure and protecting the heart. The health benefits of these ingredients are endless, and make pesto that much better!
I have done a basic pesto blend here, but tastes and diets are always so varied, so I have included a table with some popular alternatives. All alternatives have been taken from historical and modern dietary recipes. You can use pesto with pasta, meats and salads – whatever you need really.
Sauces and dips are best made with pure intuition, so use the recipe as a guide, so taste, smell and touch; it’s really all about what flavors you enjoy more. Pesto can be stored in air tight jars, sealed with olive oil. The shelf life is generally one to two weeks, refrigerated. Alternatively you can freeze pesto!
Serves four
2 bunches basil
2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup walnuts
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

There are secrets to ignite huge flavors in a pesto. The first is to start by blanching your basil leaves in salted water. Do so by pouring boiling water through basil in a colander, then shocking into ice cold water. This helps the basil retain its freshness. You can use either a pulse blender or a mortar pestle. Start by pulsing your basil, follow by adding half the olive oil. The second secret to a great pesto is to toast your nuts slightly, to bring out the warmth and depth in flavour. Add to the blender with garlic and cheese and pulse again. Finish by stirring through lemon, salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add the remaining olive oil. Be sure to use good olive oil for taste.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Quinoa; The Paradox of the Luxury Superfood

Quinoa is another super food that is really in vogue again and for good reason; it’s a once forgotten grain that is a perfect substitute for so many foods with less or little nutritional value. It is extremely high in protein, fibre, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and calcium. The cultivation of quinoa dates back 3000 years ago, serving as a staple during pre-Colombian Andean civilization. The grain fetches 10 times the dollar amount of wheat, as a minimum and so has been labelled a ‘luxury vegetable’ by some trade economists.
Quinoa can be very particular about its requirement’s for growth and where it does, it serves as food to the local population. With prices inflating, locals in subsistence farming areas are unable to touch their own produce, causing debate about whether or not quinoa is really worth its weight in gold. Instead of using this nutritious super food to feed the first world at a huge price, it could be better used to feed third world nations. What we can do to ensure our global neighbors do not go hungry is to only buy quinoa that has been Fair Trade approved. So that’s what I did, I made a beautiful quinoa salad combining my beloved haloumi cheese and a lemon/olive oil dressing. 

Serves two
½ cup quinoa
1 cup spinach
50g  haloumi cheese
¼ small cucumber
¼ small red onion
½ cup of walnuts and pine nuts
½ lemon
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook your quinoa as directed on packaging. Usually this is one part quinoa to three parts water. Thinly slice your cucumber and red onion and set aside. Slice haloumi as desired and pan fry on both sides for three minutes total on high heat. Combine olive oil with juiced lemon and salt and pepper to taste.

As the quinoa is finished, set aside to allow for cooling. In a high heat pan, toast the mixed nuts to release the warm woodiness. Combine and toss all ingredients in a bowl and cover with dressing. The salad can be served warm or cold, depending on the occasion and what you like. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tropical Kebabs

I’ve always had a soft spot for charred meat and BBQ, who doesn’t! Two of my favorite things to BBQ are kebabs and char siu ribs. I grew up with a huge brick barbecue that cooked everything with the most amazing texture and taste. Everything had a rich, woody and smoky flavor  that you will never find on a Weber cooker. A crispy charred crust and a soft, tender meat on the inside will leave you salivating for more. Using your hands for barbecue is of mixed opinion. I am of the belief that different foods are best enjoyed by engaging all of your senses. You use your vision, your taste and by using your hands you enjoy the food that much more, and let’s face it, some foods were not meant to be eaten neatly; you have to get sticky and dirty. 

For this simple recipe, I’ve combined a few of my favorite ingredients and cooked them on a griddle over a gas cooker, being short a BBQ. Pineapple goes really well with many meats and it’s a fresh offset when you are barbecuing heavier meats. I’ve used lime and pepper to marinate the beef too, using acidic fruits like lemon, lime and grapefruit really help tenderize meats, especially when you’re using cheaper cuts of beef for a big barbecue or kebabs.

Serves two – three
500 grams diced beef cubes
1 small red onion
4 thick slices of pineapple
1 small capsicum/red pepper
½ chorizo sausage
1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Start by soaking your skewers in water at least an hour before cooking to avoid burning. Marinate beef cubes with lime and pepper and set aside. Follow by slicing all remaining ingredients. On a medium to high heat, brown beef and also lightly cook chorizo. By precooking the heavier meats, everything else will cook at an even pace.On a griddle, cook the skewers for 6 – 8 minutes, rotating every two minutes for an even char. Serve with a side salad, or other BBQ accompaniments. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Lamb

For the first time in at least a year, I finally decided to cook with lamb. It’s not as available as it is in Australia. Here, the heavy weights are beef, pork and chicken. It’s really starting to warm up now, but with the crispness of spring still in the air. I did a cast iron mini roast that’s mostly Mediterranean inspired. 

Serves two

2 lamb chops
1 tsp cumin
3 sprigs thyme
2 large potatoes
1 roma tomato
4 garlic cloves, with skin
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Start by marinating the lamb, combining olive oil, cumin and thyme. Avoid salt at this point because we do not want to draw out the juices before browning and cooking lamb. Chop potatoes into four pieces then boil until tender. In a cast iron pan, sear the marinated lamb on both sides, browning well – do so for two or three minutes both sides. Slice tomato into four pieces and add to cast iron pan with potatoes and garlic mixing well to coat in remaining juices. Replace the thyme also into the pan.

Bake in preheated oven  of 375 for 12 – 15 minutes, turning vegetables once. Serve in cast iron pan.