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Eggs in Prosciutto Baskets


My husband is an early riser and at the weekends he’s always up before me. So he gets the coffee ready and checks his email. I usually awake to the aroma’s of freshly brewed coffee; that’s because my husband brings a cup to my bedside table (along with a pastry). By the time I’ve had my first cup, I’m ready to make breakfast. My daughter loves anything that has prosciutto in it. She normally dissects the dish leaving the prosciutto to the side which she then eats as the very last thing (saving the best for last!). Anyway, this is an ultra easy dish to prepare.

Ingredients:
Prosciutto slices (1 slice per egg)
Fontina cheese (about 1 oz. per dish. more if you like)
eggs

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 200c. Grease muffin pan (muffin size 3″ wide 1.5″ deep). For this size of muffin pan, cut the prosciutto in half and fit the slices such that they form a basket to hold the egg. Add the cheese and then the egg to each prosciutto basket.
Bake 10 minutes. Remove by running a knife around the outer edges of the pan and lift out with a fork or spoon.

The Culinary Chase’s note: Feel free to experiment with different cheeses, bearing in mind that the prosciutto will add a salty taste to the egg. You can also add pesto before the egg. The next time I make this I’ll saute some onion & sprinkle that in before adding the egg. Serve with chopped tomato.

Pumpkin Risotto


For some cooks the word ‘risotto’ conjures up long hours in the kitchen. However, risotto is quite easy to prepare so don’t be put off making it because someone told you it’s time consuming. Just remember that a good risotto means choosing the right kind of rice such as Arborio or Carnaroli as these will release starch and create a perfect creamy mixture. Risotto originated in North Italy (Eastern Piedmont and Western Lombardy) where rice paddies are abundant. It is one of the pillars of Milanese.

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
500g pumpkin, peeled and diced
800ml chicken or beef stock (heat it up until hot)
1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
60g. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Method:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and sauté the onion and garlic until golden. Add diced pumpkin and 1 cup of boiling broth, cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the rice, stir and add a ladleful of boiling stock. Before adding each ladleful of stock, make sure the previous stock has been completely absorbed into the rice. Be sure to gently stir with a wooden spoon as you don’t want to mash the rice. This process of adding the broth & stirring should be about 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the remaining butter and parmesan. Serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s note: You want the broth to be hotter than the rice, so that when you add it to the pot it doesn’t cool down the rice, (which would detract from the quality of your risotto) so be sure to bring it to a boil. Adding butter at the end is known in Italian as the “mantecatura.” As the butter melts it coats each grain of rice, yielding a richer, creamier risotto.

Nyonya Rice Salad


This dish is typical in northern Malaysia and is usually served as part of a banquet.

Ingredients:
150g flathead fillets (can use any firm, white flesh fish)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, drained and coarsely chopped
700g (3 1/2 cups) steamed jasmine rice (about 240g uncooked), cooled
1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
4 snake beans, finely chopped (alternatively use green string beans)
3 shallots, thinly sliced
45g (1/2 cup) desiccated coconut, roasted
Pinch of caster sugar
5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (can substitute for zest of lime)
1/2 cup Vietnamese mint, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 small Lebanese cucumber, seeded and finely chopped

Preparation:
Rub fish with 2 teaspoons sea salt, then heat oil in a frying pan, add fish and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until golden. Drain fish on paper towel, cool, then flake into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

Add soaked shrimps, rice, lemongrass, snake beans, shallots, roasted coconut and sugar, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and gently combine. Gently fold in hersb and cucumber, then transfer salad to a large bowl or plate and serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s note: This dish is lovely on its own. If Thai basil is not available then use regular basil. I used only one shallot as the one I had was large, however, you can always add more if needed. Don’t be put off by the pungent smell of the dried shrimps. Once soaked in the hot water, the smell is reduced and adds a nice salty flavor to the sweetness of the coconut.


Nyonya food is an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Malay dishes thought to have originated from the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) of Malacca over 400 years ago. This was the result of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and local Malays, which produced a unique culture. The ladies are called nyonyas and the men babas. Peranakan means “locally born” in the Malay language.

Porcelain is another important part of Peranakan households. Most of these wares have intricate motifs of flowers, butterflies and phoenixes in bright yellow and rose pink, unlike typical Chinese porcelain.

This is a ceramic nyonya dish I bought when I lived in Singapore. It comes with four sections; each able to hold different foods. I have used it on a few occasions and not only is it a lovely display piece for your table, it’s always a topic of conversation.

Dukkah


Dukkah (pronounced ‘do -kah’) is an Egyptian blend of coarsely ground nuts and spices. Use it by dipping bread in extra virgin olive oil then into the Dukkah mixture. I remember the first time I encountered this curious looking mixture when I was still living in Singapore. My husband and I went out for dinner at The Cellar Door and while we were waiting for our drinks, we were served Dukkah with bread. We looked at the waiter and asked what it was and how to use it. From that moment on, I had Dukkah in the fridge ready for consumption!

Ingredients:
125g sesame seeds
50g coriander seeds
50g cumin seeds
75g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
30g Maldon sea salt (please don’t use table salt!)

Dry roast all spices individually until fragrant; don’t burn:
1) Sesame first, quickly pan fry (dry pan), stir and then remove
2) Add coriander and cumin together and dry roast until fragrant
3) Roast macadamia nuts in oven until golden brown, 200c for about 5 minutes (let cool before processing)

Place spices in a spice grinder or pound with mortar and pestle. Grind to a rough consistency. When macadamia nuts are cooled, place in a food processor until fine but not a paste. Combine spices and nuts with sea salt and pepper to taste. Store in an airtight container preferably in the the fridge.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: You can also substitute the coriander and cumin seeds for ground coriander and cumin. Other ways to use Dukkah:
* Spread pita bread or pizza bases with some olive oil and Dukkah, and then lightly grill. Cut into wedges and serve.
* As a crust or breading for foods like lamb, shrimp, fish or chicken.
* Sprinkle over salads or pasta dishes.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich


Ok, so the photo isn’t so hot but the sandwich is! It’s been a favorite of mine for a very long time. For me, it’s a classic staple and when one is running short for time or you just don’t want to spend any time in the kitchen, this fits the bill.

Ingredients:
2 slices of bread
grated cheese – about 6oz. (such as cheddar, fontina, mozzarella)

Traditionally the bread is buttered but an alternative is to brush one side of each slice of bread with olive oil. Place 2 slices on a work surface, oiled side down. Distribute the cheese evenly over 1 slice. Top with the other slice of bread, oiled side up.

Stove Top Method:
Heat the skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwich in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, or until the underside is golden brown and the cheese has begun to melt. Turn the sandwich with a spatula, pressing firmly to flatten slightly. Cook for 1 minute, or until the undersides are golden brown. Serve immediately.

Sandwich Maker Method:
Preheat the sandwich maker. Follow directions for sandwich assembly, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

What’s in a Name?

I’m always intrigued to know where words originate and wondered how the word ‘sandwich’ came to be. Some believe it was named after John Montagu who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Legend has it that in 1762 he asked for meat (most probably salted beef) to be served between slices of bread to avoid interrupting a gambling game.

However, the first recorded sandwich was by Rabbi Hillel the Elder in the 1st century BC. He started the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices and wine between two matzohs to eat with bitter herbs. The filling between the matzohs served as a reminder of the suffering of the Jews before their deliverance from Egypt.

It is said that Peanut Butter sandwiches were created by the American soldiers in World War Two. The soldiers combined bread, peanut butter and jelly from their c-rations (ready pack meals). This filling spread through the ranks and when they returned home after the war, peanut butter and jelly sales soared. Food historians have found nothing written about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before 1940. It would seem most likely that this would be the birth of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Oh, the stories a slice of bread can tell! What’s your favorite sandwich?

Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Peppered Honey


When figs are in season, this is the time to make this recipe. As a matter of interest, fig newtons and dried figs are NOTHING like a fresh fig! A fresh fig tastes like a mix of a peach and a strawberry! Figs won’t last long at room temperature, but a mildly cool refrigerator will keep them several days. Figs with light brown to violet or greenish brown in color are the best ones to eat fresh. Figs provide more fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable. The fiber in figs is both soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are important for good health. Figs can be used as an appetizer, in a main dish or as a dessert.

1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 fresh figs
1/4 cup soft fresh goat cheese

Mix honey and pepper in small bowl. Starting at stem end, cut each fig into quarters, stopping 1/2 inch from bottom to leave base intact. Gently press figs open. Spoon 1 teaspoon cheese into center of each. Arrange figs on platter and drizzle with peppered honey.

Makes 4 servings.

The Culinary Chase’s note: Depending on the size of the figs, I would serve two per person as three figs each might be a bit much. If goat cheese isn’t a favorite, you can always try other soft cheeses or try combining mascarpone and goats cheese. For a variation on today’s recipe, wrap thin slices of proscuitto around the cheese filled figs (omit the honey), put on a baking tray and grill in the oven until procsuitto cooks or cheese is caramel in color (watch closely as it’ll cook quickly). A simple but delicious dish.

Lahmacun (Turkish Meat Pizza)


This famous Turkish flatbread is often called pide. It makes a nice change from the Italian pizza and is designed as a meal however, you could serve it as an appetizer. Make your own pizza dough or use flatbread (pita) if you are short for time.

Topping:
2 red capsicums
1 medium eggplant
2 tblespoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g minced lamb (you can use minced beef)
1-2 teaspoons puree de piment or minced chili
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped flat-leafed parsley, plus extra for garnish

Place the red capsicums and eggplant directly over the flame of a gas burner or barbecue, or under a grill, turning often until completely blackened and soft. Place in a large bowl, cover with pastic wrap and let them sweat for 10 minutes.
Remove peel off all the blackened skin and discard. Remove the stalk and seeds from the capsicum and chop the flesh finely. Cut the stalk off the eggplant and chop the flesh finely.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Transfer to a large bowl with the red capsicum, eggplant, minced lamb, piment or chili, salt, sugar, lemon juice and parsley. Mix until well combined.

Preheat the oven to 230c. After the dough has risen, divide into 4 and roll and stretch out to 30cm x 18cm canoe-shaped flatbreads. Spread the filling over each dough base.

Bake on an oven tray covered with baking paper for 10 minutes or until golden but still soft. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a little parsley and lemon juice.



The Culinary Chase’s note
: The chargrilled eggplant comes off tasting as if it was smoked which adds a nice balance to the sweet taste of the capsicums & the hot spice of the chili. Other choice toppings to use: feta, chopped tomatoes and sprinkle smoked paprika over the toppings when taking it out of the oven. Pide can also be rolled up and eaten like a donair.

The Stinky Rose!


Almost every cuisine on our planet has found an important role for garlic and is among the oldest known horticultural crop. Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to garlic 5000 years ago and by the Chinese 2000 years ago.

Garlic’s good for you. Garlic acts as a warming herb for the digestion and respiratory tract and is an important antibiotic and antiviral remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other infections.

It’s an important herbal supplement for protecting the blood and cardiovascular system. Used regularly, it can slightly lower your blood pressure, reduce high cholesterol, and help prevent atherosclerosis. Garlic has long been used as a remedy for intestinal parasites.

When selecting a head of garlic, look for large, clean, firm bulbs with unbroken, dry skins. Remove any green shoots from cloves because they give a bitter taste that persists when garlic is cooked. Store garlic in a cool, dry place where air can circulate. Refrigerating garlic inhibits flavour and dehydrates the cloves.

To peel garlic, place clove on cutting board and gently press with side of knife until skin starts to break. Discard skin.

One of my favorite uses of garlic is pesto.

Pesto
100ml virgin olive oil
30 small fresh basil leaves (washed and dried; I use a salad spinner)
3-6 garlic cloves (start with 3 first, for taste and add more if needed)
30 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese
30 grams freshly grated pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
sea salt (to taste)

I use a pestle and mortar as I like to see the bits of crushed ingredients whereas the food processor tends to make everything smooth. Also, the pestle bruises the basil releasing its perfume into the garlic and pine nuts. Put the basil leaves and garlic in mortar and crush. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and crush until almost creamy. Add the pinenuts and continue to crush; stir in olive oil. If using a food processor, slowly add the olive oil. Stir in parmesan and pecorino. At this point, you may need to add more salt or any of the other ingredients to your satisfaction.

The Culinary Chase’s note: If you don’t have pecorino, just double the amount of parmesan. Asiago is another cheese substitute one could use that would compliment the nuts in pesto. I use pesto in pasta’s, sauces, in soups and as a garnish. If you have leftover pesto, put the pesto into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, remove from tray & put into a plastic container and place in the freezer for future use.

Above are polenta triangles with pesto, boccinchini and tomato slices. Grill under broiler for a few minutes or until you see the cheese starting to soften. Remove from oven, top with tommato slices and serve! Buon appetito!

Vegetable Salad with Curry-Soy Vinaigrette


This is a family favorite and not only is it delicious but easy to prepare. It’s a unique way to serve 5 vegetables in one dish and the vinaigrette enhances the flavors of the vegetables. At our family reunion this summer, I made this and while everyone enjoyed it, my sister Patrice waxed lyrical about it. I have to admit the aromas of this dish do have you coming back for more. Pair it with rice and salmon especially if some of your family or guests are vegetarian.

Serves 8

For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons Dijion mustard
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

For the salad:

1 lb. Tomatoes (I use cherry tomatoes as they’re sweeter)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 bunch broccoli cut into 1.5” florets
1/2 head cauliflower cut into 1.5” florets
1/2 lb. Turnips peeled & cut into 1/4” thick rounds & the rounds halved
1/2 lb. Haricots verts or other thin green beans trimmed
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)

Make vinaigrette:
Mix all the ingredients in a small plastic container, cover and shake until blended.

Make salad:
Cut tomatoes into quarters. Cook broccoli, cauliflower, turnip & haricots vert in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes then drain well (can also use a microwave to partially cook the vegetables). Toss warm vegetables with tomatoes, shallots, chives, cilantro & vinaigrette.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Vinaigrette may be made 8 hours ahead & chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before using. This salad can also be served at room temperature. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with other vegetables you like. Use this recipe as a guide and create your own vegetable dish. Enjoy!

Moon Cakes and Mid-Autumn Festival

Yes, it’s that time of year where retailers and bakeries are promoting the ubiquitous ‘moon cake‘ to help kick off the The Mid-Autumn Festival. In Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, it may be referred to as the Lantern Festival.

The Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. In the Western calendar, the day of the festival usually occurs sometime between the second week of September and the second week of October. At this time, the moon is at its fullest and brightest, marking an ideal time to celebrate the abundance of the summer’s harvest. The traditional food of this festival is the moon cake, of which there are many different varieties. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Chinese Lunar New Year).

There are many tales about the significance of the mooncake:

Children are told the ancient story of the moon fairy who lived in a crystal palace and came out only to dance on the moon’s shadowed surface.

Another legend links them to a mythical day when 10 suns appeared at once in the sky. The emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. When the task was accomplished, he was awarded a pill that would make him immortal but it was only eaten by his beautiful wife Chang E. After taking the pill, she floated all the way to the moon and it is said her beauty is greatest on the day of the moon festival that takes place on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.

There is a saying in Chinese that marriages are made in heaven and prepared on the moon. The man who does the preparing is the old man of the moon (Yueh Lao Yeh). This old man, it is said, keeps a record book with all the names of newborn babies. He is the one heavenly person who knows everyone’s future partners, and nobody can fight the decisions written down in his book. He is one reason why the moon is so important in Chinese mythology and especially at the time of the Moon Festival. Everybody including children, hikes up high mountains or hills or onto open beached to view the moon in the hope that he will grant their wishes.

In the most famous legend, however, mooncakes are used to conceal secret messages sent among Chinese revolutionaries plotting the overthrow of the Mongol invaders in the 14th century.

In Chinese celestial cosmology, the moon represents the female principle, or yin. During ancient autumn Moon Festivals, women took center stage because the moon is considered feminine. Only women took part in Moon Festival rituals on the night of the full moon. Altars would be set up in households, and when the full moon appeared, women would make offerings of incense, candles, fruit, flowers, and mooncakes. Today, Chinese celebrate the festival with colourful lanterns.

Besides its significance in Chinese history, mooncakes play an important role in August Moon gatherings and gift giving. These palm-sized round cakes symbolize family unity and perfection. Some mooncakes have a golden yellow egg yoke in the center which looks like a bright moon. They usually come in a box of four and are packaged in tin boxes with traditional Chinese motifs.

A traditional mooncake is made of a sweet bean-paste filling with golden brown flaky skin. The top of the mooncake is embossed with the insignia of the baker molded into the golden brown skin. It takes 2 to 4 weeks to prepare the bean-paste. Because making mooncakes is labor intensive, many families just buy them from bakeries.

Mooncake molds are custom-made with the insignia of the baker. Many Chinese people are willing to pay a higher price for mooncakes from reputable bakers. Thus, the baker’s insignia is very important. To adapt to today’s health conscious and Westernized lifestyle, many bakeries offer miniature mooncakes and fat-free mooncakes. Some are made of yogurt, jelly and fat-free ice cream.

Steeped in tradition and history, this is no ordinary cake!