Sunday, October 28, 2012

Simple Salads: a Mango-Lime Slaw, and a Salmon, Feta, Chickpea, and Caper salad

Last Saturday night we had our first dinner-on-the-balcony of the season! The high was 80F at noon, and though it's still pretty cool overnight, it was just pleasant enough to dine outside.  I've had a few salad ideas pinned for the past few weeks and finally got around to gathering the (simple) ingredients to make a couple last weekend.

Our grill is out of gas at the moment, but I knew we'd want shrimp/prawns for our first dinner al fresco.  I got the last 1/2 kilo of big, fresh whole prawns from the fishmonger and stopped by the fruit/veg shop nextdoor to grab cabbage, mango, and limes to make a spicy-sweet, tropical slaw from Sprouted Kitchen.  This stuff was delicious!
Southern Spoon Blog: mango and lime cabbage slaw
mango and lime cabbage slaw, topped with sesame seeds
I decided to add some shredded carrot for color, halved the amount of honey (thought it might be a little sweet for our taste with a whole tablespoon), used a combo of Cholula and cayenne pepper in place of the ancho chile powder (hard to come by in Australia, thank goodness the stores here stock Cholula), and topped it with a sprinkle of sesame seeds rather than macadamia nuts.  It tasted great with our garlic-lime pan-fried prawns and a few cornbread muffins.

Sunday dinner I threw together this salmon salad with crumbled feta, chickpeas, and crispy capers that I've been eyeing from Sydney foodie-photography blogger What Katie Ate.  Her cookbook just hit the shelves here, and I've been inspired by her low-fuss, good-time-entertainment food focus. This salad was the easiest thing in the world, and so delicious.  Rather than poach salmon fillets, I just used a small package of smoked salmon, tearing it into strips.  I added a big handful of lightly steamed broccoli that I needed to use up.  I didn't bother pan frying the capers to crisp them up, just threw the capers directly onto the salad after rinsing them.  Forgot to get horseradish, so I improvised and made a dressing out of mustard, apple cider vinegar, and a little natural yogurt, thinning it out with some water.  The hubs absolutely loved this salad (direct quote: 'It's really filling and tasty, not just leaves and sh**. We should make this again').  Definitely going in our rotation for easy meals this summer.
Southern Spoon blog: salmon salad with feta, chickpeas, and capers
salmon salad with feta, chickpeas, and capers and a tangy mustard dressing

Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets

Friday nights in October the hubs and I have joined hundreds of Sydneysiders for the best selection of noodles this side of Chinatown.  As part of the annual Sydney Food Festival, some of the city's best-loved southeast Asian restauranteurs set up stalls around the perimeter of Hyde Park and invited the city to dinner.  Tables and rattan chairs, Chinese lanterns, live music, and a dancing dragon enhance the mood.
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
Night Noodle Markets, Sydney Food Festival
After scoping the stalls on the first night, we picked up shrimp skewers, Japanese seafood noodle stirfry, and a steaming plate of Thai massaman curry.  The spices were incredible-- I found a whole star anise pod in the curry-- an impressive feat considering the dishes were cooked for the masses in 5-foot diameter metal pans over open flames.  We then indulged in local, organic ice cream: black sesame, chocolate explosion, and a mouthwatering salted palm sugar. The salted palm sugar knocked our socks off with its beautiful toffee flavor.
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
fresh Thai chicken panang curry
The following Friday the hubs stuck with his trusted Japanese seafood noodles (plus an octopus pancake on a stick!), while I tried a Thai chicken panang curry.  This was the freshest curry I've ever had in my life!  Crisp and bright veg, aromatic sauce with whole Thai basil sprigs, and just a few strips of poached chicken over fluffy basamati rice. Again, the flavors were pretty miraculous considering the enormous pans used to prepare food for a crowd. We couldn't stay away from the ice cream stall, and this time tried honey and burnt fig with our salted palm sugar scoop: amazing.
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
salted palm sugar ice cream (the hubs photobombing)
For the final night noodle markets we met up with some friends to share the love.  The hubs kept it Aussie-style with crispy battered and fried calamari, shrimp, and crab, served with slices of lime and red chilis.  I had to have the panang curry one last time, it was even tastier.  Our friends helped themselves to a variety of dim sum and were pleased with their choices.  We all stayed late to watch the neon strobes light up the palms and flowering jacarandas and see the flying foxes wing their way over the park towards the North Shore. Can't wait for next year's Food Festival!  Keep an eye out for public food festivals in your city, especially those with a regional focus, and take along your adventurous tastebuds : )
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
Night Noodle Markets, Sydney Food Festival

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wedding Cakes! (Almond Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Filling, and Triple-Berry Buttermilk Bundt Cake Frosted in Coconut)

Last weekend I was invited to contribute to the hubs' best friend's wedding by helping out with the wedding cakes.  Very exciting!  And my first 'wedding cake' attempt.  The bride decided she wanted a table of homemade cakes to which everyone could help themselves.  Love this idea, and it's the same thing my brother and his wife did for their beautiful Louisiana wedding (my mom's famous peach cobbler featured there).  The Aussie bride had already lined up a few of her soon-to-be-hubs' grandmother's famous ginger loafs, her maid of honor's mother's chocolate cake, and a lemon-lime citrus cake.  I spent a little while perusing my favorite cook books and food blogs and finally decided that there had to be at least two bundt cakes if a Texan was contributing to the dessert table.  The plan was to do an amaretto-almond cake from Southern Living and a triple-berry buttermilk cake from Smitten Kitchen.  Both had rave reviews and the pictures online looked divine.


Perth grocery stores at the end of winter/beginning of spring stocked no berries except for blueberries.  Undaunted, I bought a bag of frozen mixed berries and just picked out all of the strawberries so only blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries remained.  The batter was incredible, and I waited eagerly for the cake to bake.  I know from experience to grease and flour a bundt pan within an inch of its life, and some of the SK reviews had mentioned the cake sticking in the pan.  I let the cake cool almost completely before turning it out, and ran a plastic spatula all along the edges of the pan, but a few pieces of stubborn fruit still stuck to the sides.  I picked them off the pan and reattached them to the whole, but the surface of the cake was not smooth like the cake pictured on SK.  My bad for using frozen berries instead of fresh : (  Lesson learned.  Surely, I thought, the thick powdered sugar frosting will cover up any pock marks.


When glazed, this cake looked *nothing* like the beautiful one gracing SK's page.  It may have been the ugliest cake I've ever seen.  In distress, I searched through my sister-in-law's kitchen pantry to find something, anything to fix it.  I'd already baked the first cake, expertly drizzled almond glaze down its sides, and topped it with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.  It was magnificent.  Even after I'd scrapped the Southern Living recipe (amaretto is so expensive!) and gone with a Martha Stewart version instead.  But this triple-berry monstrosity was not presentable.  Not for a wedding, not for a house-warming gift, not for a 2-year-old's birthday party, not anywhere.  With three hours till the wedding, I almost left it on the counter for my sister-in-law's man to devour and baked a chocolate bundt cake instead.


I found a package of shredded coconut in the back of the pantry.  Perfect. Berries and coconut will be fine.  So I covered the entire cake in mountains of coconut, filling in the little holes where the berries had sunk or dislodged with more icing, more coconut.  It was not the most gorgeous cake in the world, but it was no longer the ugliest.  And it was the first to go at the wedding!  I had a small slice of both to taste them (yum), and the next time I turned around and spied the cake table, it was gone, with barely a coconut shred remaining.  Like all weddings, the little stresses in the build-up didn't matter in the end: everyone enjoyed great company, good food and drink, silly pictures and dancing.  It was a fabulous celebration.

Hope you've had time this year to party with those you love and share cake with a crowd in celebration of something wonderful-- a wedding, a birthday, a new life, or a sweet goodbye and good luck.

Southern Spoon Blog: Almond Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar filling
almond bundt cake with brown-sugar almond filling, topped with almond drizzle, sliced almonds, and powdered sugar (Martha Stewart recipe)

Southern Spoon blog: triple berry buttermilk bundt cake topped with lemon glaze and coconut
triple-berry buttermilk bundt cake with thick lemony glaze, dredged in shredded coconut (Smitten Kitchen recipe)

Simple Soy Salmon with Honey-Ginger-Chili Glazed Vegetables

Had an absolute craving for salmon on the way home from work today, and I knew there were some fresh carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms sitting in the fridge.  The resulting dish was an easy combination of ingredients I mostly had on hand (minus the fish), and it was ready in about 20 minutes.  Super weeknight meal: fresh, fast, and satisfying.

At the advice of the hubs, who picked up this tip from his father, I keep a big chunk of ginger root in the freezer at all times.  It comes in handy for quickly spicing up an average meal into something delicious.  Just break or carefully cut off a piece from the frozen chunk, slice the outer layer off, and chop while frozen.

Southern Spoon blog: soy salmon with honey-ginger-chili glazed vegetables
salmon and mushrooms basted with soy, crisp-tender veg glazed with honey, ginger, and chili
During our first year of dating in England, the hubs and I regularly cooked meals together in our tiny, shared graduate student kitchens.  His Dad's honey-soy stir-fry made frequent appearances because it was easy, cheap, and delicious, and it fulfilled the hubs' craving for Australian-Asian food the way homemade fajitas helped my Tex-Mex fix.  I'm sure our respective housemates didn't appreciate the strong smells that billowed from the kitchen, but that stir-fry was one of my favorites.  I've deconstructed it here into a main fish course and side of broccoli and carrots.  The ginger-honey-chili glaze for these vegetables is a winner, and it's a perfect contrast to the salty soy-basted salmon.   I usually have rice in the pantry, but was out this evening.  To make this meal stretch further, just make a pot of fluffy basamati rice and serve the salmon and mushrooms over the rice, with the glazed vegetables on the side.
Southern Spoon blog: soy salmon with honey-ginger-chili glazed vegetables
soy salmon and mushrooms
with honey-ginger-chili glazed broccoli and carrots
Chef's note: one of the best parts of this dish is the salmon skin, so make sure to get fillets that still have the skin on them.  Trust me, even if you don't usually prefer to eat the skin of cooked fish, this recipe might just change your mind.  It cooks up extra crispy as you panfry the fish and soaks up lots of the delicious soy sauce.  Along with the little slices of mushroom in the pan which soak up the soy juices, the skin and mushrooms are little explosions of flavor as you eat the mild, tender salmon.

Simple Soy Salmon with Honey-Ginger-Chili Glazed Vegetables
Serves 3

2 large carrots
1 medium-sized head of broccoli
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (I used rice bran oil)
2 tablespoons honey
1-inch slice of fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (to taste)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 500 g package (about 1 lb) deboned salmon fillets, skin on
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (make sure to use gluten-free soy sauce if cooking g-f; sub coconut aminos if desired for paleo-friendly)
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Wash and peel the carrots, trim the tops, and wash the broccoli. Chop the carrots into long sticks, about   3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Cut the broccoli into long, thin pieces, slicing each floret in half. Chop the ginger finely.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to the boil. Add the carrots, cooking for about 3 minutes. Then add the broccoli to the same pot and cook together with the carrots for about 3 more minutes. Drain the vegetables with a colander.

In the same pot (now empty), pour about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the honey, chopped ginger, chili flakes, and a pinch of sea salt. Bring to low heat, and add the carrots and broccoli back to the pot, tossing gently to coat them with the glaze. Continue to keep the vegetables over low heat while the salmon cooks.

Meanwhile, heat a wide skillet over medium-high heat, coating the bottom with 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add the sliced mushrooms, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down to medium. Push the mushrooms to the edges of the skillet, and coat the bottom of the skillet with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Place the fish fillets, skin side down, onto the skillet, leaving a little space between each fillet if possible. Drizzle the soy sauce over the top of each salmon fillet, and top them off with a few pinches of freshly ground black pepper. Cook fish until just cooked through and opaque, approximately 7-9 minutes.

Serve immediately. Place a fillet of salmon on a plate and garnish with the mushroom slices, arrange glazed broccoli and carrots on the side.