Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cookbook Case Study - Potato Pepper Bake - Food Legends of the World

The second recipe I made from Food Legends of the World was Potato Pepper Bake. Essentially, this was scalloped potatoes with blue cheese, capsicum, and fresh herbs. I'm all for blue cheese, so I was into it...

The potato's legend comes from Peru, and tells of conflict between the people living on the plains, and those living in the Andean mountains. The people of the plains had grown strong on quinoa, and wishing for more land on which to grow their crops, they began stealing the food of the mountain-people in the hopes of starving them out. The mountain people prayed to their gods, and were answered when a great bird dropped large fleshy seeds form the sky, which the mountain people planted. However, the people from the plains stole these crops, too, before the berries on the plants were harvested. The great bird returned, telling them that the plains people had fallen for a trick taking the poisonous berries, and that they should dig the hidden crop of potatoes from the ground.

The mixture of chopped red capsicum, fresh herbs, and spring onions that goes between the layers of potato was delicious by itself. Here it is:

Red Pepper of Yumminess
Tasty tasty foods. Tasty!
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In a fit of laziness, I used frozen potato slices. (Also, our potatoes were soft and sprouting, and I'd just bought the newly released frozen pre-sliced potatoes, so it was quite lucky.) Here's a hint for working with frozen potato slices: don't put them on a wet chopping board if you want to be able to get them off again easily! Uh... how do I know? Oh, just a guess, I certainly didn't let them freeze onto the chopping board by mistake...

Frozen Potatoes!
Frozen potato. Wet chopping board. Oops.
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Frozen Potatoes!
Product placement! These are like the first frozen potato product I've come across that wasn't battered for roasting. It's just potato! Perfect! Oh, I have no stake in this company and bought the product myself, blah blah. :)
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I made half with blue cheese as called for, and the other half with feta, so I didn't have to inflict blue cheese on Neil. The feta was easier to crumble than the blue cheese, so probably not a bad alternative. Neil appreciated the swap, and though he was brave enough to try a bit with blue cheese just in case, he still didn't like it.

White things
Potatoes, blue cheese, and feta.
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Left half has feta. Right half has blue cheese. Bottom half has red pepper - though after I took the photo I sprinkled it over the whole lot ;)
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Because I used frozen potatoes, and the instructions had only short cooking times listed, I baked them for 30 minutes rather than the 60 called for in the recipe (followed by 15 minutes without a cover to brown the dish). This worked a treat.

Baked bake
It didn't get particularly brown, but good anyways.
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This was seriously tasty, I was more than impressed. I preferred the blue cheese to the feta - it had a smoky flavour while the feta half was strangely slightly sweet. This was also good as leftovers. It didn't serve 4-6 though - perhaps it would as a side to something else. We started off making it into four servings, then we polished off another half-serve each at the same meal. I had the final serve for lunch the next day, and was still slightly peckish afterwards.

Potato Pepper Bake
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This will definitely be a make-again sort of dish! I'll have to think of a nice protein dish to pair it with, I think, to make the recipe go a little further.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cookbook Case Study - Beans Tijuana - Food Legends of the World

Here's a post that's been a long time coming!

The first recipe I tried from Food Legends of the World was... Beans Tijuana!

As I mentioned in my previous post (almost a month ago!), the book presents the legends of 25 ingredients and follows each with a recipe. My first recipe choice was based upon beans, and a Mayan legend is told.

A clever, virtuous man, finding himself in unfortunate circumstances, decides to make a deal with the Devil - trading seven wishes for his soul. His first six wishes are the predictable ones: his home, family, food; health; riches; friends; power; travel. His seventh wish, "one last whim", was to wash some black beans until they turned white. Once he had granted the final wish, keen to get his hands on the "full and luminous soul", the Devil saw that he had been tricked - no matter how much the man washed the black beans, they would not turn white. In order to prevent such trickery in the future, the devil demanded that there would also be beans of all different colours: white, yellow, green, brown, red... and so there are today.

Now for the cooking - Beans Tijuana

It's quite a simple recipe, calling for red beans, adzuki beans, and kidney beans, as well as onion, garlic, chilli, tomato, and other seasonings. I used adzuki and kidney beans - aren't red beans red kidney beans? Probably not, I don't know that much about beans, but that's okay.

Heat and other ingredients
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The recipe called for four tablespoons of fresh chopped chillies (maybe four or five chillies), and then asked for another tablespoon of chilli powder and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Both Neil and I thought that sounded like a lot, so debated putting in less chilli, but in the end decided to follow the recipe and see what would happen.

Making Beans Tijuana
Onion before adding chilli
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Making Beans Tijuana
Onion after adding chilli! Yum!
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No more photos... I guess I got distracted :)

Apart from a small spoon to check for cookedness, I didn't try it the night it was made (instead, I felt unwell and had plain rice with honey). Neil had some and said it was quite hot - and he does like things hotter than I do in general, so neither of us were sure I would be able to palate it!

It made a quite thin chilli - almost soup like. We've been serving it mixed with rice, which does well. I've frozen some and have found it good defrosted, too. I've also drained some and scooped it onto pizza (with leftover greens), which was actually pretty stunning. I wrote about that pizza already, here.

The beans were on the only just cooked side, though I think the freezer improved this. I had read previously that beans should not be cooked with anything acidic, else they would not soften. This recipe cooked the beans with lime and tomato, among other things, perhaps explaining the lack of cookedness?

As for the heat - It's much hotter than the last chilli I made, but luckily not too hot for me! It also has quite a nice tang to it. Due to its thinness, it would probably be best for an accompanying dish, like a spicy bean soup. Nice!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Niccolini's - Courtenay Place, Wellington

We often ate at Niccolini's before I went gluten-free. I simply assumed that, being an Italian restaurant I'd be out of luck for eating there gluten-free. I did read somewhere that they did gluten-free dishes, and again assumed that this would be the non-pasta dishes like steak or fish - as the only two vegetarian dishes they offer are pasta.

Then, I read somewhere, that Niccolinis offer gluten-free pasta! But don't expect to just turn up and have it, like I did! If you wish to come for gluten-free pasta, order it the day before.

They do have other gluten-free offerings on the menu. When I mentioned that I was also vegetarian, the waiter went to see what the chef could do, and came back offering a mushroom risotto. They do a risotto special, but that wouldn't usually be vegetarian.

Neil ordered garlic bread, and remembered when it arrived that it was four pieces, usually plenty even shared between two. That's one thing I miss, their crispy buttery garlic bread. Oh well! I lived! And Neil managed to eat it all!

The risotto was good, tasty, but very creamy. Creamy as in with lots of cream. I don't really do well with creamy things, especially creamy pasta or risotto. I really struggled, especially near the end. In fact, I didn't finish it - by the end I was picking out the mushroom and trying to get the 'dryest' bits of rice out. While we had considered going out to a show afterwards, I just wanted to go home, my belly was quite sore. In fact, I almost think that the creamy risotto was worse for my stomach than glutenous pasta would have been (since I'm starting to think gluten is not the problem, rather, either stress, IBS, or some other mystery ingredient). But - they were accommodating for my requirements and I appreciated that.

Personally, I think putting cream in risotto is sort of cheating. Risotto is plenty creamy even without dairy if you make it well. The addition of a bit of parmesan if desired is fine to hold it all together, but cream is so unnecessary and to me lowers the quality of the meal! It must be a matter of taste, and since I don't have much dairy at all... it wasn't to mine.

But, I do like Nicollinis. Their menu is a mess, but the place has a nice feel, a painting (or print) of Vernazza (Cinque Terre) on the wall (which makes me feel cultured for having been to Cinque Terre!), and their food is generally pretty good. They're often packed, though. I would like to go there for gluten-free pasta one night! I know my option will be pasta puttanesca, but that's okay with me!