Pea & garlic soup

I make this soup from time to time because it’s really quick and easy to make (it takes ten minutes!), it’s super cheap, and – most importantly – it’s delicious. I think it’s a perfect weekend lunch for one.

Every ingredient – except for the peas – is optional, and I never go out and buy anything specifically to make this, so it’s very much a storecupboard recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Put the peas and the garlic in a small saucepan with the stock powder; cover with boiling water from the kettle so the peas are just covered. Simmer for 7-8 minutes before blending in a blender with a slug of olive oil and a decent drizzling of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper, then eat it immediately.

(Serves one)

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Tea Party for One

Originally posted on Six Months in Sydney

In a previous post I discussed my love of tea, and what is the perfect accompaniment to tea? Biscuits, of course! Dunkable or otherwise, a cup of tea and a biscuit is always delightful. Happily, that is equally true in Britain and Australia: tea and biscuits. I suppose it does make sense, rather than being an English curiosity. Even more happily, the blends of tea that are available are pretty much the same: English Breakfast (and the similar (and I hope ironically named) Australian Afternoon), Earl Grey etc.

However, the varieties of biscuits are vastly different. I’ll be blunt: I don’t really like Australian biscuits (bar a couple). I’m not sure if that’s because I genuinely don’t like them, or if it’s because I miss my beloved English biscuits. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but in any case I thought I’d try to find out with a scientific* experiment.

Before we get to the details of the experiment, however, a run down of some of my favourite biscuits that are available in England, but not here.

English Biscuits

rich tea

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits are very, very boring, and are the staple English biscuit. My Grandma always had these biscuits, and that’s probably the only reason I like them. They’re not all that good for dunking because they fall apart and collect in the bottom of the tea cup, but if you do manage to get a decent dunk, they soak up the flavour of the tea, and this the only way to make them even vaguely enjoyable.

There is a type of biscuit called Rich Tea available in Australia. These biscuits are quite different, and I discuss these below.

hobnob

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs are made by McVities, and they are the most amazing things in existence. Obviously, the only ones worth eating are chocolate Hob Nobs. They’re oaty and crunchy and delicious. In L.A. I was willing to pay up to $12 for a packet of Hob Nobs. Alas, they are not available in supermarkets here, and I’m not prepared to go in search of a British shop, so I have to go without.

Pink Wafers

Wafer biscuits are available here: vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, and strawberry wafers. What is not available, however, are pink wafers: those wafer finger sandwiches with cream in the middle. They are bright pink and don’t seem to have any actual flavour other than simply pink. I remember them from play school, and I think that perhaps they are children’s biscuits, but sometimes children’s biscuits are the best! Which leads me to…

party rings

Party Rings!

Oh yes! These are brilliant. They are definitely children’s biscuits because, well look at them. The main ingredient is, I think, food colouring, followed my sugar and then more food colouring. They come in a variety of flavours: pink, yellow, pinky-purple and fluorescent brown.

in essence, the actual biscuit is crap. It’s a very plain biscuit, but it is the brightly-coloured icing that makes them awesome. Definitely for children’s parties, but also a favourite at parties I went to as a student. I love the retro 80’s feel of these. But they just don’t exist here. People are also a little horrified when I describe them. I can’t imagine why.

Bourbons

I won’t go into too much detail, because these are a very basic chocolate sandwich biscuit. Similar things are available here, but they’re not called bourbons, and I think it is the name, rather than the actual biscuit I like.

The Scientific* Experiment

Okay, so not really a scientific experiment, but rather an afternoon session of me sitting and eating biscuits. Now, I did actually do it properly: I put out the biscuits on a nice plate, made a pot of tea, and tested each one, considering flavour, crunch and dunkability.

Shopping

A Packets

Arnott’s in Australia is basically what McVitie’s is in the UK. Now for this experiment, I splurged a bit and I bought Arnott’s. I could have got Woolworth’s own-brand, but I figure these wouldn’t have been as good, and I might have been accused of not conducting the test fairly. I also bought a pack of Anzac biscuits made in-house by Woolworth’s, and Rich Teas by Paradise biscuits, as Arnott’s rich tea either don’t exist, or aren’t available in my local Woolie’s.

The Party

B Plated upC Ready to Go

Like I said, I put the biscuits on a plate, as civilized people do, made a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!), and sat down and started eating. Actually, it seemed rather daunting, the sight of all those biscuits, and knowing that I was going to have to eat them all. But first, a cup of tea to warm up my biscuit-eating muscles.

01 Tea

The Plain Biscuits

Nice and Milk Arrowroot

02 nice03 arrowroot

Nice aren’t particularly Australian, but they were included in the family pack of biscuits that I bought, so I thought I’d try them. They’re plain, but with a pleasing crunch. They dunk well, and the sweetness comes out when dunked.

Milk Arrowroots are very much like English Rich Teas, although they are oval instead of circular. They fall apart when dunked, and are an excellent option for a soggy biscuit.

04 choc ripple

Choc Ripple

Just a plain chocolate biscuit, with quite a nice texture. A good chocolate flavour, but it does not dunk well. I think it would probably dunk better in coffee, but the biscuit spoils the taste of the tea, and the tea spoils the taste of the biscuit.

This one definitely tasted chocolatey, which is unusual for commercially-produced chocolate biscuits that don’t have a chocolate coating or chocolate cream.

05 scotch

Scotch Finger

I don’t like Scotch Fingers really. They’re definitely Australian though. Essentially, they’re a shortbread biscuit, but not not nice like Scottish ones. These are very dense, and when chewed they sort of clump together in your mouth.

Sadly, they didn’t pass the dunk test either. There was no improvement to either texture or flavour by dunking in tea.

05 scotch dunk

06 teddy bear

Teddy Bears

A very disappointing biscuit. This is clearly a children’s biscuit, and going on this one might think that Australians do not like children or want them to have fun. This doesn’t even come close to the Party Ring or even the Pink Wafer. It is very plain, hardly even sweet. It’s an unpleasant dunker, falling apart quickly and finding itself at the bottom of the cup.

07 butternut snap

Butternut Snap

Now these are very nice biscuits. They come close, but not quite close enough, to Hob Nobs. They have a really good crunch and oaty texture, with a very smooth, buttery flavour. They dunk well (and from experience I know they dunk really well in coffee), and they hold their texture when dunked.

Milk Coffee & Rich Tea

09 milk coffee12rich tea

There is not much good to say about either of these biscuits. The milk coffee is very very plain, much like the teddy bear, but without even a fun shape. It totally disintegrated when I dunked it, and I had to fish out bits of it with a teaspoon.

The Australian version of the Rich Tea is very odd indeed. It’s completely different from the English biscuit. The texture is that of a tougher arrowroot, but it has a horrible orangey flavour that becomes really quite bitter, and dunking only makes it worse. It’s dotted with chewy currants too, which are really quite nasty. I will not be buying these again.

11 anzac

The Anzac Biscuit

Anzac biscuits are most definitely Australian, and they are gorgeous! The texture is chewy, but oaty, and they have a really good buttery flavour. They’re made with coconut, but the ones I had today didn’t really have a flavour of coconut. They are, however, still delicious.

Australia may produce some dodgy biscuits that make me pine for a Fox’s selection tin, but all is forgiven with the Anzac biscuit.

The Cream Biscuits

10 timtam

Tim Tams

I first heard about Tim Tams in 2009, and had an American licensed version of them shortly afterwards. They are really really nice, and not liking them is unAustralian apparently.

The thing they most compare to in the UK is the Penguin, although the actual biscuit part of Tim Tams is quite a bit softer, and the cream creamier. The only negative I have to add is that the chocolate is a little too sugary, but I should bear in mind that I had by this point already eaten a lot of biscuits, so my mouth was likely FULL of dissolved sugar.

Monte Carlo & Delta Cream

13 monte carlo16 delta open

The Monte Carlo is really nice. It looks crunchy, but really it isn’t. The cream is almost marshmallowy, and the raspberry jam around the outside of the cream is a really nice surprise. The Delta Cream is a lot like an Oreo, but not as chocolatey. Actually it’s not chocolatey at all. The cream is also very sugary, and although it is supposed to be vanilla cream, it doesn’t have any flavour at all. Disappointing.

14 orange slice

Orange Slice

Now, I’m not really a lover of orange flavoured biscuits; it makes no sense to me, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t like these. That said, the orange flavour was not very strong. The biscuit had no real crunch either. A really disappointing biscuit.

17 kingston

Kingston

The Kingston is a really very pleasant biscuit. It’s very much like two butternut snaps with chocolate cream in the middle.

The biscuit has a really good crunch and a pleasant oaty texture, and the chocolate cream was a nice surprise. It wasn’t that hard, flavourless chocolate cream, but rather almost like gooey melted chocolate. I could eat lots of these biscuits!

19 more munching

Shortbread Creams

Honestly, these are horrible. They have no flavour whatsoever, and the texture is not pleasant. The shortbread is like soft sand, and lacks that buttery flavour that Scottish shortbread has. The cream is sugary, but has no clear flavour.

I’ll be avoiding these.

The Conclusion

There are plenty of good things to say about biscuits in Australia, but I do miss my English favourites. My definite favourite out of all of these is the Anzac biscuit, but from the Arnott’s selection, either the butternut snap or the Kingston was in the top spot.

After all of these biscuits, I did feel rather sick, and I got a head rush from all the sugar, but I suppose it WAS in the name of research. And a tea party for one was a lot of fun!

follow me on twitter: @supercroup

Image credits:

Party rings photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck
mattbuck

Rich Tea (English) photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Xyrael?uselang=en-gb
Sean Whitton

Chickpea & mushroom spiced stew

I threw this together last night because I was looking for something super-cheap, nutritious, and very tasty for dinner. It was successful on all counts: easy to make and it cost about $4 (AUD) to make. Aside from the onion, everything came out of cans or packets too, which makes it a perfect last-minute thing, and you could easily make it on a camping trip. Vegan & vegetarian friendly.

img_20160927_210625

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, sliced into half moons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 400 g can chickpeas
  • 1 400 g can whole champignons, drained
  • 2 400 g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp hot Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp canola oil or similar

Method

  • Over a medium heat soften the onion and garlic in the oil with a good pinch of salt for around ten minutes.
  • Turn the heat to high, add the curry powder and the spices, turning them over in the onion for about a minute until they become fragrant.
  • Pour in the tomatoes, and about a can’s worth of water, using it to rinse out the cans before adding.
  • Bring to the boil, then add the drained champignons, and the chickpeas with their brine
  • Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
  • Turn up the heat to medium-high add the lentils, simmering more robustly for a further 15-20 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the lentils have gone mushy. Scrape the bottom from time to time to ensure the lentils do not stick.

Serve with rice.

Steaks, sauces, and Delia Smith

This was originally published in 2012

Steak au poivre, peppered steak, steak with peppercorn sauce: call it what you will; it’s pretty much a culinary classic. I’m inclined to believe it is French because of its name, the use of flaming brandy and the French love of pouring rich, creamy sauces over anything that is put on a plate.

First a note about steak. Well a few notes actually. Rump, sirloin, and rib-eye are delicious cuts, full of flavor and so totally inappropriate to be cooked in a rich sauce like this one. Fillet is perfect: it is beautiful to cut, but needs a lot of help in the flavor department, and is an ideal cut to serve with rich, creamy sauces. It’s expensive, but one often deserves a treat! If you can afford fillet, buy good quality meat, and the steaks must be thick!

Secondly (and I mean this), I am very opinionated about how steaks should be cooked. My first opinion is that it is a shame to cook a steak at all. That said, for this dish cooking is necessary. The recipe below gives instructions on how to cook your steak if you like it rare. If you don’t like it rare, I wouldn’t bother to cook it at all: you will destroy the delicate texture of the fillet and will have wasted a lot of money on what is an expensive piece of meat.

The sauce is very rich and creamy, but hopefully the finished dish will not resemble what is so often served up in third-rate Italian restaurants; a glib bit of meat swimming in cream and brandy. Delia Smith’s version of this recipe includes no cream or brandy and is, although delicious, not nearly as indulgent as my version!

Steak au Poivre

Serves 4

4 fillet steaks
3 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves, chopped
4 tsp black peppercorns
75 ml brandy
200 ml red wine
400 ml good beef stock
90 ml double cream
2 tbsp butter

Begin by flash frying the steaks. I prefer to fry steak on a heavy cast iron griddle, but a large heavy-based frying pan is perfectly suitable. Get your griddle as hot as possible – heat it over a high heat for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. There will be smoke, but do not be afraid: an extremely high temperature is necessary. Spread a layer of butter over each steak (not the pan!) and lay butter-side down on the hot griddle and fry for one minute on each side, turning every thirty seconds. Remove the steaks to a warmed plate.

Next, over a medium heat, melt the rest of the butter in a large, thick-based frying pan (if you fried the steaks in a pan, use the same one). Add the shallots, garlic and peppercorns to the pan, and soften gently for about five minutes.

Now comes the tricky (and potentially dangerous) bit. Heat the brandy in either a large metal ladle or a very small saucepan. Once the brandy is hot, return the steaks to the frying pan, light the brandy with a match and (standing as far back as you can) pour the flaming brandy over the steaks. Swirl it around gently to keep the flame going as long as possible, but as soon as the flame dies, remove the steaks back to the plate.

Now add the red wine to the pan, turn the heat up to high and reduce the wine by about one half; this should take around five minutes. Next add the beef stock and let it boil for around ten minutes or until the stock has reduced by about two-thirds.

Now turn the heat back down to medium and stir in the cream. Allow the sauce to thicken a little and return the steaks to the pan to warm through. Spoon the sauce over the steaks. Once warmed through, serve immediately with grilled corn cobs and stir-fried savoy cabbage.

Note for readers in Australia/New Zealand. Fillet steak means eye fillet; shallots mean eshallots – the french shallots that look like small onions; not shallots that might also be called spring onions or scallions.

Pea Risotto with Chicken, Pancetta and Cep Mushrooms

A lot of people think that risotto is terribly difficult to make. But like most things that are commonly viewed as difficult, risotto is surprisingly easy. It does require patience and a lot of attention: turn your back for a moment and it could be ruined. But risotto is one of those dishes that is as comforting to cook as it is to eat. Rich, creamy and sensual, and you can definitely taste how much care has been put into the preparation.

The most important ingredient in any risotto is the stock, and here you can’t get away with using a stock cube as you so often can. The rice is cooked entirely in the stock and it will soak up the flavor, and stock cubes are notoriously lacking in real, wholesome flavor. That said, there are some options available if you haven’t made your own stock, and these include the concentrated jellies that you can buy, as well as ready-made stocks.

A note on stock: it is surprisingly easy to make. I use a lot of chicken stock, and I keep a bag of chicken bones in the freezer and keep adding to it. With planning, you can make your stock in advance (say, the night before) and keep it in the fridge, ready to use.

You can add anything you like to your risotto. It’s simply a base of arborio rice and onion cooked in stock, with whatever you fancy added at the end. In my mind, peas are mandatory, but it really is up to you!

Pea Risotto with Chicken, Pancetta and Cep Mushrooms

Serves 4

300 g arborio rice
700 ml home-made chicken stock, heated
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 chicken thigh fillets, skin off
200 g cubetti de pancetta
1 small packet dried cep mushrooms
A handful of frozen peas
2 glasses white wine
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp groundnut oil
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan over a high heat and quickly seal the chicken thigh fillets on each side. You don’t want to brown them, just seal them so they don’t fall apart. Add one glass of the wine and enough stock to cover the chicken, together with the bay leaf and the rosemary. Lightly season with a little salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and turn the heat right down, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.

While the chicken is cooking, soak the mushrooms. Put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water and leave to stand for ten minutes. Once the chicken thigh fillets are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, but retain the liquor, and reduce it to about 100 ml. Cut the chicken into small pieces.

In another large frying pan or saucepan, cook the pancetta over a high heat. There is enough fat in the pancetta, so you will not need to use any oil. transfer the pancetta to a plate and add 1 tbsp of the butter and 1 tbsp of the oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Fry the soaked mushrooms for a few minutes until they are cooked, and transfer them to the plate to join the pancetta and the cooked chicken.

Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan and turn the heat down to low. Add the onion and soften for about five minutes. Turn the heat back up to high and add the arborio rice, turning it over in the buttery juices. Toast it for two minutes or so, but don’t let it brown, then pour in the other glass of wine, and start stirring.

The trick now is to make sure the liquid is fully absorbed before adding any more. Rush, and you’ll end with soup. Once the wine has been absorbed, add the reduced liquor that the chicken was cooked in and turn down the heat a little. Keep stirring constantly. Again, allow the liquid to absorb fully, and you can start adding the hot stock. Add the stock a ladle-by-ladle and make sure to keep stirring. You don’t need to wait for the liquid to be absorbed completely, but you should wait until your spoon leaves a clear wake behind it before adding the next ladleful. It should take about 20 minutes to add all the stock.

By this time the risotto should be of a creamy consistency, and you can stir in the cooked chicken, pancetta and mushrooms. Season well and dot a few knobs of butter over the top before covering with a lid, or kitchen foil. Leave it to stand for five minutes to allow the flavors to intensify. Stir in the frozen peas (no need to cook them first) and allow to stand for another minute or so to allow the peas to warm through.

Serve immediately with a grating of Parmesan cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper.