Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Article...on me!

I've been reading the very talented and witty Charlotte's Great Fitness Experiment for at least a couple of years. The girl is hilarious, honest and can contort herself into a mean pretzel-like configurations! When she tweeted a couple of weeks back to ask if anyone had tried hypnosis for weight loss, I jumped at the opportunity to discuss my "hypno" experiences. Little did I know (okay, I totally did know, but thought it would be fun!) that the story would be picked up by Shape magazine. So here you go, guys - the wonderful Charlotte on hypnosis, weight loss and yours truly can be read here*.
[EDIT: I've had a number of people contact me to ask about my hypnotherapist. If you're in the Melbourne area and interested, check out her website]

*FYI: the totally knobby looking photo of moi was taken at Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian. For those who are interested, you can read about our time in San Seb here and here.  

Triple "P" pasta

As much as I love making pasta from scratch, there are occasions (more often than not for me at the moment!) when something quick and easy is called for. On my Sunday afternoon walk, some beautifully thin slices of prosciutto caught my eye in a local delicatessen. Together with some pantry basics, fresh herbs from the garden and frozen (yes, I am realistic!) peas, my beloved and I enjoyed a fragrant and delicious meal....

....and you can too!

Quick and easy triple "P" (prosciutto, pea and parmesan) pasta 
Serves 4 
1 packet of fettuccine or other pasta (store bought)
1-2 cups of frozen peas
3tbs olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
6-8 thin slices of prosciutto
2-3 cloves garlic
1 bird's eye chili 
herbs from the garden (I used flat leaf parsley, basil and oregano)
a generous handful of good quality parmesan to serve

Boil pasta until al dente. Drain.
While pasta is draining (can you tell I'm a fan of minimal washing up?), heat olive oil in pot. 
Because you're awesome at multitasking (I knew it!), defrost peas in microwave.
Add crushed garlic and chili to pot, followed by prosciutto.
After a couple of minutes, add the peas and stock to the mix. Allow to cook for a few minutes before throwing in a couple of generous handfuls of fresh herbs.
The mixture may appear to be a little runny at this point, but don't you worry - it'll coat the pasta just perfectly!
Return drained pasta to pot and stir sauce through well.
Serve immediately and top with parmesan and cracked black pepper. 

Best enjoyed with a glass of vino...or two!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pavlova for two

A couple of weeks ago, I was alerted to an online event known as the Great Australian Pavlova Blog Hop (kudos to the creators - a brilliant idea!). This delicacy of the the Oceania region (debate rages across "the ditch" as to whether it originated in Australia or New Zealand...) is consistently a crowd pleaser and is especially wonderful at this time of year, when sweet berries, cherries and other early summer fruit are plentiful. Having not made a "pav" for a number of years (from memory my last attempt included a good dose of hazelnut meal and was delicious), the Blog Hop provided a timely opportunity to revive this classic dessert. Rather than a regular sized cake, I opted to create a smaller version of the classic - just enough for my beloved and I to enjoy with a cup of fresh mint tea (plus some leftovers for work tomorrow).

So here it is folks, my lemony pav, topped with fresh pomegranate arils and passionfruit.

Pavlova for two
3 egg whites
2/3 cup castor sugar
2 tsp cornflour 
1/2 tsp white vinegar
200g crème fraîche
1 lemon (juice and zest)
whipped cream (as needed to thicken topping)
2 tbs icing sugar
2 passionfruit
1 pomegranate 

First things first: preheat oven to 13C.

Next, carefully separate egg whites from yolks. Be vigilant about this and take your time - even a little speck of yolk can ruin this dessert.

Our felines thought that the lack of yolk in today's pav was a pretty good deal!

Whisk egg whites (like a crazy person....or alternatively with an electric beater) until soft peaks form (a good few minutes). Add castor sugar gradually and continue to whisk. Finally, whisk in cornflour and vinegar to achieve a silky, lustrous consistency. Split mixture in two and form roughly equivalent circles  on two baking trays lined with greaseproof paper, like so:

Place trays in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, after which time, allow the meringue to fully cool in the oven with the door ajar (approximately 20-30 minutes). 

During this time, combine lemon zest and juice, with crème fraîche, icing sugar and a few heaped tablespoons of whipped cream (to stiffen the mixture). Prepare fruit toppings.

Once the meringue has cooled, top the first round with the crème fraîche mixture. Place the second round on top and, once again, cover with the lemony-cream. Finally, spread passionfruit and pomegranate liberally. Et voilà - perfect pav for our small family!

Why I'll never do another spin class...

For uninitiated fabulous food followers, you may not realise that I had a full knee reconstruction in July after busting my ACL during a basketball match. Here's the grisly evidence:

I'm pleased to report that my recovery has been speedy and as painless as one could hope. Just last week, I was given the all clear by my surgeon to start slowly building up to a jog and to crack out the yoga mats - namaste!

Up until this point, I've been allowed only to ride my bike, walk or, rather comically, balance on one leg in water while my beloved used what he coined "turbulence sticks" to try to make me work to maintain stability. Thankfully, I love to ride my bike and did not want to overdo my rehab. This meant that until last week, this rather minimal level of activity suited me to a T.

Now that more strenuous activity is encouraged, I have decided to partake in a few classes (that do not require a great deal of lateral movement...yes, I'd still make a rather useless crab right now...) at the gym adjoining my work. My lunchtime yoga class was great - the instructor was amazing (I could have watched her headstand all day!), she was careful to ensure that I didn't contort myself into any potentially knee-damaging configurations and I felt stretched and rejuvenated afterwards. My evening spin class, however, was an entirely different matter!

Spin class participants are serious. Deadly serious. There is no fun, no spirituality and, for goodness sake, no smiling! Earnestness aside, there was pain...lots of pain...and not nice thigh burning quadricep pain. Oh no, this was numbness in my right foot, a massive whack to my recently reconstructed knee (yes, apparently one can injure oneself by bashing one's knee into the central bar of a spin bike) and, oh my goodness, "ladybit" pain. I'm convinced that the comando-style instructor has numb privates...or at least uses some sort of local anesthetic pre-class.

Strangely, as someone who adores bike riding, spin classes are just not for me. As I dismounted my heavy metal torture device (and feeling returned to a couple of places) I could not wait to hightail it out of the centre. En route to my car, I sauntered past a couple of basketball courts. The melange of basketball aromas (sweat, polished floor boards, the odd human skid mark...) hit me like a tonne of bricks. I kid you not, my eyes got a little moist (lame, I know!). In less than seven months I'll be back out there, throwing myself around like a crazy woman, but in the meantime, I have to find some more challenging (and importantly enjoyable) activities to get stuck into. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pasta from scratch - simply sensational!

In June, I fell in love with the food of Italy (see, for example: here, here and here). However, it was the locally made pasta that we purchased from a very small pasticceria in the Italian Riviera that made me race off to our local kitchenware store and purchase a shiny, new pasta machine within a week of returning to Melbourne.

While I am in no way near an expert in the art (and it is an art) of pasta making, I have enjoyed sensational results using my new contraption and would urge any pasta lovers out there to invest (approximately $20 for the machine and 45 minutes of your time) to make pasta from scratch. Here's my little guide to making simple spaghetti/fettuccine.

Simple home-made egg pasta
Serves 4 hungry people with a bit left over
5 eggs
500g Tipo "00" flour (available at all good supermarkets next to the regular flour)
a dribble (yes, that's the technical term!) of olive oil (if necessary)

Now the messy fun part begins!
Dump your flour onto a clean work surface and create a well in the centre. Crack eggs into this well (easier said than done - my first few attempts greatly pleased our felines as yolk dribbled over the side of the bench onto the floor...) like so:

Next comes the delicate part - using your finger tips to gradually "beat" the eggs, then combining the wet (eggs) with the dry (flour). Once you've done this (i.e. the eggs are no longer likely to make their way off the bench and into the mouths of your pets) the real elbow grease kicks in. I understand now why Italian nonnas have such great arms - combining these ingredients requires about 10 to 15 minutes of good hard kneading. If your mixture isn't coming together after around 5 minutes, a drizzle of olive oil may help. Conversely, should the dough be too sticky, add a little bit more flour. You'll know when the consistency is right - not too sticky, not too dry or flakey. Jamie Oliver (ever more eloquent than I) says: "You’ll know when to stop – it’s when your pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury."

At this point, it's time to fully wrap your little dough ball (I use a few layers of cling film to make sure I have an airtight seal) and rest for around an hour. I have put mine in the fridge and left it out. Both methods have yielded similar results. I think the fridge would be a more prudent option if you're leaving the dough for more than an hour - after all, no one likes rotten egg pasta!

Once the dough is rested, it's time to crack out your pasta machine. Separate your dough into around 4 sections (keep sections you are not working with sealed so they do not dry out). Dust your work surface with flour and roll out dough (a rolling pin is handy here). Feed rolled out dough through the machine's widest setting (number 6 on my machine). Next, set the machine down a setting (5 on my machine...duh!) and roll the dough through again. Fold the piece of dough in half and click the pasta machine back to its widest setting (6). Repeat the process 5+ times to make super silky, luxurious pasta.  

Once you're happy with the texture of your pasta start from the widest setting on the machine and work your way down (one click at a time) in order to achieve your desired pasta thickness (typically, a little thicker for spaghetti/lasagne sheets than for filled pastas). Don't forget to keep dusting your work surface with flour as required. Finally, run your pasta sheets through the desired "cutter" (note to self: find out if this component has a technical name!) on your machine - mine has two options: one for fettuccine; and the other for spaghetti.

You know the rest of the drill - whack your fresh egg pasta into a large pot of boiling water with a dash of salt and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes (N.B. fresh pasta cooks much faster than its dry counterpart). 

Top with your favourite sauce and enjoy - there's truly nothing like a bowl of al dente pasta (made with love and hopefully not too much sweat!) and a glass of red - food synergy, in my humble opinion!
Buon appetito!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Luv-a-Duck Chinese Peking Duck Review

My beloved is an absolute lover of all things duck. Peking, roast and (his latest favourite) san choi bau duck are all frequently ordered when we eat out. That's why I was excited when I saw Luv-a-Duck's range of options in our local supermarket. Being an extremely busy time of year for me (MBA exams anyone?), I thought this would be a nice way to surprise him.

Don't look to closely at that best before sticker (yes, it has been a while since I've blogged!)

The Peking duck pack is not light on the hip pocket. At around $20 (for the duck, pancakes and hoisin sauce), it is a rather expensive meal-in for two.

The duck packet suggested that I select from one of a number cooking methods. I was somewhat bemused by the suggestion of microwaving the meat. With visions of rubbery duck, I stayed well and truly clear of the microwave and opted for the oven.

So what did I think? Perhaps we should start with the boss of this family:

Not quite, little fella!

He was certainly a fan of the meal's aroma and may have even enjoyed a little morsel (yes, sadly my cats eat better than much of the developing world...)

The other male in this house happily chomped through most of the duck pancakes. I was a little less excited. The pancakes had a somewhat peculiar flavour (preservatives perhaps?) and the duck was only just sufficient for the two of us. As someone with a (quite possibly genetic!) need compulsion to feed people, I like to present a generous spread at meal time and this didn't quite fit the bill.

Don't get me wrong, the meal wasn't altogether bad. It would certainly be suitable for those lacking the time/confidence to purchase and cook duck without the guidance that this product offers.

Verdict: 6/10