FOUND: Mrs Wils

Hello dear readers and fellow food lovers,

I am so, so sorry that I have been completely MIA that last couple of months. You see, not long after my last post on my beloved blog, my dear husband and I discovered that we had much more than roast chicken in the oven….

Yes, that’s right. A mini food lover and sure to be milk connoisseur is on the way!

Shortly after this exciting development developed, the first and most awful pregnancy symptom set in and it set in hard. Morning sickness (which, by the way, is a complete lie… it’s not morning, it’s all bloody day). And for the last few months I have scarcely been able to eat normal foods, let alone cook and be exposed to the smell of foods.

The great news is, I am now 15 weeks along and firmly out of the hell that is the first trimester and have even started cooking (slowly) again – yeah! So, stay posted because this blog is about to pick up some serious steam!

The ridiculously gorgeous offender in question

This week in Mrs Wils’ kitchen

Good morning faithful blog readers!

First things first – I deeply apologise for the lack of posts this week. Unfortunately, the day job was keeping me extra busy and left me with barely enough time for cooking let alone blogging! So todays post will be a quick summary of the Neil Perry dishes that I whipped up this week.

Pea and Pumpkin Risotto 

As promised to my work buddy, Jane, I prepared a hearty vegetarian dish to please those who prefer not to eat anything with a face. I personally don’t have a problem really with eating animals but I will, however, soon learn (in the next recipe) that I do have a problem with dealing with certain whole animals. Anyway, this is not my first time making a risotto but it is my first time making it the “proper” way. My previous attempts at risotto have been using recipes that were found when “Quick risotto recipe” was googled and usually involves a rice cooker (I think I just actually heard Neil Perry gasp in horror). So here I am armed with my arborio rice and faceless vegetables ready to get down to business.

Firstly, I had to boil the pumpkin which served a double purpose; cooking said pumpkin and creating the pumpkin stock (aka. pumpkiny water). Neil says I could have also used chicken stock but I didn’t want buy chicken stock as he recommends making your own (a recipe for which is included in the book) but I honestly wanted to make this truly vego so pumpkiny water it was!

Next I had to cook my peas. I am firm believer in frozen peas as they are snap frozen when picked so are usually fresher than the fresh peas. So I grab a cup frozen green little orbs and chuck them into a pot of boiling water until they are just done. I then have to throw them into some ice water so they stop cooking and stay perfect.

At this point the camera ran out of battery power (oh yeah, we are a professional outfit) so I had to yell out to Willy to get it on charge before I finish.

While Willy was actioning the charging of said dead camera battery, I was the frying up some red onion, garlic and sea salt until it was sweating and up my nose. Then I added in the arborio rice until it became opaque and started sticking to the pan. In went some wine and cooked up till it absorbed. Followed by his mate, pumpkiny water. Not all of pumpkiny went in though, just enough to cover the rice. I then basically just let it do its thing, simmering away, and only stepped in occasionally to stir a little and add slowly, bit by bit, more pumpkiny water. Neil says to me, its very important not to “drown the rice” or it will lose it’s risotto-y texture. After about 20 minutes of doing this, I added in the pumpkin and peas, some butter (of course) and parmesan. I let it rest for a bit as it was quite tired from all that work. I sprinkled it with some parsley before serving. Easy Peas-y Hearty Vego Cuisine? CHECK.

Vego readers – look away now! Things are about to get NASTY…

Butterflied Chicken with Ricotta and Garlic Stuffing 

I love chicken. I love the wings, legs, breasts, thighs and the skin. It is so versatile and gets used in a variety of dishes in our house. This is the first time EVER that I have had to prepare chicken this way and I soon learn that I don’t like it. AT ALL. It involves the breaking of bones and the stuffing of skin. This is a little bit too up close and personal for me. I mean, have you ever seen the inside of a chicken?

Before I could stuff the chicken, I had to make the stuff.

I put the garlic and some sea salt in my old M&P and pounded it was paste-like. In went the onion and it got a little pounding too. I then mixed through some butter, parsley, chives, lemon juice and ricotta.

So far so good.

The next step was not captured on camera due to the nature of what was about to take place. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Victim? Chook. Task? Butterflying. In order to butterfly a whole chicken, you must cut down the backbone and push gently down on the breast until it slowly starts to flatten out. In essence, you are slicing the chook open and pushing it flat. When slicing the chook open, you get to see what’s going on inside. I was surprised by my instant gag reflex when I saw its whole little skeleton fully intact as if it were once a living and breathing animal that walked and sqwaked (which of course it never was as it was generated at that mystical place where they make all frozen animals). I then had to go through the awful process of snapping it’s tiny little bones while flattening it out. Crack, crack, crack. It was heart wrenching.

Once I had successfully butterflied, I had to take a little break as it was all a bit too much. The next bit was photographed by Willy while he exclaimed “Oh babe, that is GROSS. Seriously… Uugghhh. What are you doing to that poor chicken??!”

Yup. It was as easy as grabbing the stuff and shoving under the pre-loosened skin with my bare hands. I felt like some sick chook serial killer.

Once evenly stuffed, I rubbed her down in olive oil and salt and chucked her in the oven.

While our poor old stuffed chook roasted away, I made some roasted tots and steamed asparagus to go on the side. When the chook was done in oven, I took her out and let her rest under some foil for half an hour. After all, she had been through an ordeal.

We then ate her.

She tasted glorious. The stuffing was to die for. Creamy yet fresh thanks to the lemon juice and herbs. It complimented the chicken flesh perfectly. However, I don’t think I will ever butterfly a chicken ever again.

Strawberry and Mascarpone Cake

I love it when my family gets together for an occasion because it always means one important thing… Great bloody food. It’s a widely known fact the women in my family can cook, can cook very well and can cook well for a crowd (even if there ain’t no crowd). When I received the invitation to my cousin’s son’s christening, my automatic response was ‘I’ll bring dessert!’. Five minutes later I was nervous. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test out another of Neil Perry’s desserts but I didn’t feel confident. After all, I had never meringued before (due to my egg-cookery phobia) and I would be baking for the best. I figured that all I could do was give it my best shot and if those tricky little suckers don’t get all stiff peaky, then I would bin it and resort to my “sure-thing” – banoffee pie.

In retrospect, I should’ve made two ’cause this little gem was a smash hit! Apparently it had something to do with the light and fluffy coconut meringue and the super fresh strawberries combination. The flavour combo in this dessert is so spot on that people were exclaiming that it was the best cake they had ever eaten! Don’t worry Neil, I gave you little bit of the credit.

As per Neil’s instructions, I actually made the cake the night before so it could set in the fridge overnight. So Saturday night after pizza and a dvd with Willy and Phil, I set myself to the task at hand. I was pretty exhausted at this point as I had gotten up early that day to make the Lime Syrup Cake and then proceeded to drive all around Wollongong and Sydney like a mad woman running errands. It was the first time I had stopped all day. I’m not going to tell you how many times I nearly passed out into my egg whites. Death by meringue. What a way to go.

As mentioned earlier, it was the first time I had ever made meringue. I had been so busy that day that I didn’t really have a spare moment to dwell on the fact that I would, in fact, be attempting to beat egg whites into stiff peaks later that night. Probably a good thing too as my fear of egg cookery may have prevented me from delivering the finished product. So here I am, happily separating eggs (not really happily, I find separating eggs quite stressful and I’m not very good at it… always turns into an egg shell fishing expedition) still not having really cottoned onto the fact that momentarily I would be required to beat them. Into stiff peaks. But not over beat them. Or they will flop. The enormity of this task had not quite hit me.

Ladies and gents, without further ado, please welcome…

SILKY EGG WHITES

Once the whites were sufficiently beaten with some sugar, I folded in the almond meal, desiccated coconut and some icing sugar nice and gentle. Then a softly made meringue circles 1cm thick (as per Neil’s instructions) on a couple of baking trays – these were to become the top and bottom of my cake. They went into the oven for a bit.

They look alright, right??!

The other large component of this dessert, which I have failed to mention until now due to my obsessive egg white ramblings, is mascarpone. This would be the first time I have ever bought or used mascarpone. Neil suggests in his book to source good quality mascarpone. Due to my mascarpone-deficient baking resume, I’m not sure how to determine good from bad so I head to the local deli and pick up the ‘spensive stuff. That oughta do it.

I popped the pricey mascarpone into a bowl with a couple o’yolks and some sugar and beat it till it was nice and thick.

I then made a little bit more meringue mix (the whites from the above pictured yolks) and folded that into my mascarpone mix to soften it up.

Lastly, I sliced up my glorious strawberries in preparation for the cake.

Once my meringue circles were ready, I cooled them and then set one of them (the worse looking one) at the bottom of a springform cake tin. On top of that I layered half of the mascarpone mix followed by the sliced strawberries, the rest of the mascarpone and finished it off by setting the best meringue circle on top. It was then put into the fridge overnight to set.

It was quite a nerve-racking experience taking this cake to the christening after party because I took it in its cake tin so I hadn’t actually seen since the night before. Scary. However, when my cousin removed the cake ring, I was pleasantly surprised.

As you can see, it is slightly smooshed from the tight dress it was wearing but otherwise, gorgeous (and you can see it’s mate, Lime Syrup Cake in the background).

This cake was a HUGE hit. Seriously, it went so fast, I was lucky to get a small slice. The meringue was lovely. It was light and fluffy with that wonderful, but not overpowering, taste of coconut. The mascarpone was also, surprisingly, light and creamy and just melted in your mouth. And the strawberries? Glorious. A perfect example of why you should always use fruits and veg that are in season.

Verdict?

Lime Syrup Cake

I have been hanging out to try this recipe as I love citrusy desserts that, along with a tonne of sugar, have a real bite to them. It sends my taste buds into a fabulous twist! So, with sweet yet sour limes on my mind, I woke bright and fresh on Saturday morning to whip up my first dessert of the weekend. Unfortunately for me, the recipe called for one of the things I hate doing most in the kitchen.

Exhibit A – Zesting. Seriously, one of the most deceivingly difficult annoying tasks required in most citrusy desserts. Some limes (or lemons, oranges or whatever your citrus culprit is) just won’t zest. You must ensure that you spend quality time at the fruit and vego to find the lime with the perfect zestable skin. It’s got to be sufficiently rough or otherwise.. yup, you ain’t got no chance of zesting that sucker. Then, you have to actually perform the aforementioned task. It is annoying and tiring and I always managed to grate my finger. Luckily for me, I have a willing member of the household always happy to help (if not, a little blackmail never hurt… no zest, no cake kind of thing…) and in no time, Willy has efficiently zested my limes. Thanks Willy, always saving the day!

Limes form a large part of this cake (hence the name) with the zest being added to the cake mix and the syrup mix. This was going to be one limey sucker. To even out the mouth puckering liminess, Neil has cleverly added a heap load of sugar.

First things first, I got the oven fired up and greased and lined my cake tin. I then proceeded to get the rest of the required ingredients ready which included self-raising flour, LOTS of sugar, desiccated coconut, butter, milk, pair of eggs and, of course, limes.

Got my flour, sugar, coconut and lime zest into a bowl and mix, mix, mixed.

Then in goes the milk and eggs.

Then I proceeded to mix the absolute life out of the mixture to make it nice and smooth. Once said smoothness had been achieved, it was lovingly spooned into the cake tin and thrown into the oven for an hour. This allowed to me to then start on the lime syrup.

Into the lime syrup mixture went a HEAP of sugar, water, lime zest and lime juice.

The syrup mixture was simmered on the stove for about 10 minutes and was ready. Easy. Love it.

Once the cake was ready, I pulled it out of the oven, poked some holes in and poured the hot syrup over it while the cake was still, also, hot just as Neil advised in his book. Following which, was a very annoying waiting period whereby everyone in the house stared at the cake (as if this would make the 30 minutes go faster) until it was ready for its close up and, subsequently, ready for our mouthes.

And then, after what seemed like forever, it was ready…

This cake fed everyone I came into contact with on Saturday and the verdict? Unanimous. Glorious. Neil Perry’s Lime Syrup Cake is wonderfully moist thanks to the perfect consistency of the cake and just the right amount of syrup created by this recipe. The flavour has a perfect balance of sugar and zest which means it is not too sweet or sour and it gorgeous either eaten on its own or with a dollop of fresh cream. Willy, Harry the Handyman, Nan, Bobby, Phil and I have all given this cake the big thumbs up. So much so, that I decided to make it again today, Sunday, for the christening along with Neil Perry’s Strawberry and Mascarpone Cake

TGIF!

Good mornin’ fellow readers!

It’s a glorious, albeit wintery, Friday morning in sunny Sydney and mind is already on the weekend and all of the goodies I am going to create (with Neil’s help of course).

Unfortunately for Willy, he has to forgo his precious scallops for another weekend due to the fact that my baby brother is coming to stay and is not a seafood lover. We are also attending the christening of my cousin’s son on Sunday so I figured it is the perfect weekend for sweets!

The Dessert section of The Food I Love is not, by any means, extensive but, by golly, the lucky few that did make it through are true mouth watering creations of sugary genius. From Panna Cotta to Lime Syrup Cake… this road to an inevitable sugar induced coma should be lined with rainbows and lollipops and…

So, this weekend I will apply myself to two of Neil’s delectable desserts and blog my experiences post haste.

Stay tuned dessert lovers!

Lamb Cutlets with Lemon Grass & Ginger, Barbecued Asparagus, Roast Potatoes and Curry Butter

Lamb Cutlets. Lamb Cutlets. The mere utterance of which causes the hearts of men around the world to be filled with joy. Husbands cast their mind’s back over the last week, recounting their good deeds while patting themselves on the back and thinking ‘good job… whatever it was…’, boyfriends think to themselves ‘this girl may be the one…‘ and fathers thank their lucky stars that their daughter learned all she knows from her mother. Lamb Cutlets.

I was excited to try this recipe from The Food I Love because it is a cut of meat that I am familiar with. What I am not familiar with, nor am I very good at truth be told, is creating exotic marinades and sauces. Neil suggests pairing these divine little cutlets with his Curry Butter. OK Neil – Done. Just the name – Curry Butter – sounds delicious. My hands-down-without-a-doubt-all-time favourite flavour, Curry. I love it so much that if it weren’t for Willy’s sensitive tum, I would cook up different styles of curry every second night at least. But alas, I did not marry a Punjabi. This butter was like music to my ears (and to my taste buds I would soon learn).

I wanted the main focus of the dish to be on the divine lamb cutlets and the butter so I decided to keep the accompaniments quite simple (yet stick with Neil’s expert advice) – Barbecued Asparagus and Roast Potatoes.

Firstly, I started bashing herbs needed to concoct the marinade for my lovely lamb cutlets in my M&P which included ginger, lemon grass, coriander, garlic among others. I did this while the baby potatoes sat in the pot of water on the stove waiting to heat up.

Once my herbs were bashed, oiled and seasoned, I covered my lovely cutlets with the mixture, glad wrapped and left for around an hour.

Now, onto the Curry Butter! First things first, I had to fry up some curry powder and onion until it was up my nose and tickling my nostrils.

Then I got onto the other bits that go in the butter. As you can see the image below, there is a HEAP of stuff in this butter. To name a few; capers, anchovies, parsley, thyme, egg, butter… I got all of these in my old muncher (food processor) and munched them up good.

And added in the curry powder…

TA DA!!!! Glorious CURRY BUTTER. (ps. I think I was also putting the tots in the oven at this stage)

By this stage, my lovely lamb cutlets have been marinating for like an hour at least and were very ready for the bbq (kind of like when you get a spa treatment that you think is ridiculously luxurious and you get covered in like seaweed juice and have to sit in it for an hour but by the end of it it stinks, you’re sticky, you are like so over it and want it off you now… just be thankful you didn’t get cooked and eaten!)

Oiled and seasoned Asparagus? Check. And on the same life path as the lamb cutlets so to the bbq they go!

Tantalising Tots!!

Voilà – Lamb Cutlets with Lemon Grass and Ginger, Roast Potatoes, Barbecued Asparagus and Curry Butter. Ridiculously Tasty. Willy has pretty much forgotten completely his first love by now (scallops). Fickle, fickle man.

Willy and I thoroughly enjoyed this dinner. It was like meat and two veg but a little bit fancy. Neil’s method for roasting potatoes was perfection. The cutlets were glorious ( I could’ve eaten them by themselves) but the hero was definitely the Curry Butter. Even Willy’s gut didn’t object! Winner.

The Original Dr Bircher Muesli with Poached Pears

First cab off the rank!

What a week! Why is it always that the short weeks are always the craziest?? I guess because we all try to shove 5 days into 4. That was me this week. A glorious public holiday fell on Monday and so did game 6 of the NBA playoffs. We also had just finished building our long anticipated deck and the timing seemed to be serendipitous. And so, we deck-warmed with 25 of our closest friends. A long day of cooking, eat and drinking. A fabulous affair that not even the damned weather could dampen. Following which was 4 long/short days of dull desk job at which I was dreaming up my next event. Said dreaming produced the brilliant idea of cooking through The Food I Love – imagine all of the dinner parties! The mind boggles at all of delicious possibilities before me… all I need to do is cook.

Yesterday we attended a 4th birthday party (seems impossible to be so young, no?) and gorged ourselves on bbq and birthday cake. We enjoyed the surreal madness of little girls dressed as fairies running between our legs and casting their enchanting spells on us all. We fell in love with the pink-faced milky cheeks of lads waddling about exploring and discovering all we take for granted. Bliss.

We got home pooped and stuffed. No room for dinner. And so, in preparation for now-Sunday’s cook off – I started my first Neil Perry recipe, The Original Dr Bircher Muesli with Poached Pears.

I was relieved to see that all I needed to do last night was juice the lemons, apply said juice and some water to the oats, cover and pop in the fridge.

Preparation complete!

After a wee little sleep in today, finally got myself out of bed to finish off my muesli and pears. The first thing I did was get the pears on. Common sense told me that I could finish the muesli while the pears were poaching. I was correct. Generally, when I hear the word poaching, I can feel my gut fill with dread and a massive lump form in my throat but I figured in this case, as it is pears, a solid fruit (as opposed to the globby consistency of an egg), it may not be so bad. Correct again. So I grabbed the sweet white wine, a bit of water and sugar and into a pot they went! As the sugar dissolved, I plopped in my four gorgeous pears (I used Corella), brought to the boil and then simmered a while.

While my gorgeous pears were poaching away, it time to finish the muesli. Firstly, I needed to roast my nuts (hehe… nuts). Hazelnuts to be precise. So I cranked up the oven and once hot, popped them on a tray and in they went. Whilst the hazelnuts are tanning, apples are to be grated! And so, they were.

By now, my pears are poached and my hazelnuts look like they’ve just spent a week in the Bahamas – perfect!

Into the muesli goes the grated apples, natural yogurt and some golden honey and then we mix, mix, mix. We buy our honey straight from a honey-making man down the South Coast and the flavour is wonderful. My hazelnuts are skinned and beaten (sounds horrific but really, does them the world of good) and sprinkled over the top of the muesli with a gorgeous poached pear. Welcome to breakfast heaven.

By this point, I was pretty hungry and couldn’t wait to get some of this good stuff in my mouth!

Let me say, I was pleasantly surprised. In the bowl, it looks quite heavy (and it is very filling) but it’s got such a lovely fresh flavour. You can really taste the freshness of the lemon which balances the bite of the natural yogurt perfectly. The nuts were a nice textural addition and I think I could go without them if I was making this regularly. Finally, my gorgeous poached pear. Well, the wine laden poaching concoction did it’s job and brought out the natural sweetness of the fruit. And, if I do say so myself, I poached it to perfection – firm on the outside, soft on the inside – so I could break it apart with my spoon.

I love this breakfast dish and it will definitely be a repeater. Thanks Neil!

Tonight I will be cooking Lamb Cutlets with Lemon Grass and Ginger, Barbecued Asparagus, Roast Potatoes and Curry Butter (sorry Willy, maybe scallops next weekend…)