Putting on the ritz

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I am probably not the only person inspired by the recent New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker episode featuring caramel garnish.  With my sister and sweet-toothed brother in law due for dinner later in the week, what better and tastier way to impress than a simple bowl of ice cream crowned with some caramel finery?

I have had a life-long fear of creating anything involving molten sugar, following my mother’s dire warnings of children disfigured permanently following coconut ice and the like gone wrong.  This may have been a ploy on her part to discourage rampant sweet-making and resulting hyperactivity.  But now dear reader, as a fully grown human being, I am pleased to report that I am ready to tackle this one head on.

Caramel garnish is not a field I feel I have the expertise in to start making up my recipes willy-nilly.  Not to worry, the internet is most obliging on the matter of caramel garnish.  I used this lovely blog’s Decorative Caramel recipe.

So, one needs to begin with melting some sugar.  Taking a deep breath and banishing fears of third degree burns, I put my pot of sugar on the heat.

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The idea is you melt it until it starts to go amber.  I found this took what felt like an age, to the point where I was contemplating googling ‘caramel not going amber’, except for abundant warnings about turning your back on the caramel for a mere second and finding the whole lot reduced to a smouldering mess.  That would not be an auspicious introduction to decorative caramel.

Lo and behold, after looking like a strange alien-like bubbly mass for at least fifteen minutes, it developed a most attractive warm amber hue.

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And now for the tricky bit.  The internet, with a cavalier attitude, tells you to simply dip your spoon into the caramel and drizzle it onto your baking paper in attractive shapes.  And for the real over-achievers, you can make baskets, spirals and I don’t know, probably name cards for your dinner guests.

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Frankly, getting any kind of shape out it took a few goes.  We had some wonky hearts and some spiral whirly things.  The Mr also made some rather rude shapes but I will not include photographs of such base humour.

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You will notice some of the shapes are a bit bubbly…perhaps I needed to leave the caramel to settle down a little, or boil it more softly?

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Once the shapes are all laid out on the baking paper and your caramel is all gone (or starting to harden, as in my case), you can leave them to set and peel them off the baking paper when they are ready.  As it’s winter here and our heating is on a lot, I found mine were going a little sticky, but I popped them in the freezer and this restored them to their crunchy glory.

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To serve, I impaled the garnishes atop a mound of vanilla ice cream and we smothered the ice cream with Martha Stewart’s easy caramel sauce.  Successful dessert and not a third-degree burn in sight.

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What to do with parsley?

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I have recently taken up gardening.  That is a sentence I never thought I would write.  Yet, here we are, and so far I am enjoying it immensely.

My Italian flat-leaf parsley in particular is going great guns.  The picture above may not look as impressive as other, larger members of the foliage kingdom, such as lavender bushes or small shrubs.  But given I have never been able to keep even a pot plant alive (ask my mum), the fact that my parsley is springing forth in several locations in my garden is very, very exciting.

So, now that my parsley is healthful, if not quite yet in abundance, I am lead to the question of what to do with it.

A quick google leads me to some interesting facts about parsley.  According to legend, parsley is dedicated to Persiphone and  will only grow once the seed has visited Hades seven times.  I hope this does not mean there is some kind of fast-track between Hades and my garden.  It is also said that parsley will only grow well where a strong woman dwells.  But of course.

This is all very interesting but does not answer the question to hand of how I want to eat this stuff.  So, left to my own devices, I have come up with this recipe for Parsley and Mint Yoghurt Sauce.

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To make my Parsley and Mint Yoghurt Sauce, I used:

One handful of parsley

One handful of mint

A pinch of cayenne pepper

One garlic clove

Half a lemon

3/4 cup or so of plain yoghurt

One tablespoon of sour cream.

The method I followed is:

Crush and dice the garlic, and loosely tear up the parsley and mint.  If you have one of those little whizzy-chopper things, great.  A food processor would work too.  Put the herbs and garlic in the bowl and whizz them up a little.  Without electrical intervention, I think slicing, dicing and mixing by hand would do the trick.

Add the yoghurt, sour cream and cayenne.

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Squeeze in the juice from the lemon half.

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Whizz it up again until it is as smooth as you like.

And you’re done.

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The Mr gave me a hand photographing the sauce,both by itself and atop of dinner. We had to confess it does not look amazingly appetising either tout seul or in the company of dinner, resembling somewhat the great green glob from outerspace (or Hades, I suppose, if you follow the aforementioned legend).  Let me assure you however, the taste is quite lovely and made a good accompaniment to our meal – I served it slathered on top of potatoes roasted with their skins on, in paprika, olive oil and black pepper; chicken breast grilled in lemon juice, and a little stir-fried silver beet.

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I have a little left over, and can confirm it also works well as a dip with carrot sticks.  As my parsley shows no signs of slowing down, I will be making this again.

Here’s the recipe in one go, without pictures:

Parsley and Mint Yoghurt Sauce

Ingredients:

  • One handful of parsley
  • One handful of mint
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • One garlic clove
  • Half a lemon
  • 3/4 cup or so of plain yoghurt
  • One tablespoon of sour cream.

Method:

  • Crush and dice the garlic, and loosely tear up the parsley and mint.
  • Add herbs and garlic to the bowl of whizzy-chopper thing or food processor and blend until finely chopped. If doing by hand, slice the herbs more finely  than loosely tearing,  add to a bowl and mix.
  • Add the yoghurt, sour cream and cayenne.
  • Squeeze in the juice from the lemon half.
  • Blend until smooth.

Asian noodle soup

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Gingery, salty, savoury and good; this Asian noodle soup recipe is something I muddled around with when I lived in London and frequently found myself in need of something comforting to protect against the long dark wintery nights.  This warm, spicy noodle soup is the equivalent of a cuddle for your tummy and brightens up the most blustery, cold mid-week evening.  So if your tummy feels in need of cuddling, go no further.

To make my asian noodle soup for two people you will need:

  • 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
  • A clove or two of garlic
  • Fresh ginger root
  • One red chilli
  • Green vegetables, such a broccoli, bok choi or beans
  • One pepper
  • One peeled carrot
  • 6-8 dried mushrooms
  • If you feel carnivorous, about 250g beef, cut into strips
  • Soy sauce
  • Seasame oil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Some nice stodgy noodles, such as Udon or Hokkien (I buy the wet, pre-cooked ones)
  • A little vegetable oil for greasing the wok

And now to get started….

Pour the stock into a saucepan and put it over a low heat. You want to gently heat it so it is warm but not boiling, and it can just sit there heating up while you get on with the rest of the soup.

Heat a wok over a medium-high heat and add a little vegetable oil, or spray with an oil spray, just to stop things sticking.

Peel and slice the garlic and cut up the chilli, de-seeding if you don’t want too much heat (I usually leave a few seeds) and add these to the wok.  Grate plenty of ginger, at least a tablespoon, into the wok. Leave it all in there to heat up and start to sizzle.

Whilst the garlic-chilli-ginger trio is doing its thing, slice up the green vegetables and de-seed and slice the pepper into strips.  When the contents of the wok are getting nice and fragrant, add the greens and pepper strips and stir  about a little.

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If you have decided you are feeling carnivorous, turn the heat up a bit and throw in the beef ever so quickly, just to brown it a little. This is because you are about to add the stock, and you don’t want the beef getting too tough before the stock has a chance to poach it gently.

So, carnivorous or not, at this point, ladle the warmed stock from the saucepan into the wok.

Add about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, 4-5 drops of seasame oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and stir it all into the contents of the wok.

You may be thinking I have forgotten about the carrot, but not so!  Using a vegetable peeler, peel ribbons of carrot into the soup.  I add the carrot at this point so it doesn’t get too soft.

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Finally, add your dried mushrooms, using your spoon to hold ’em under for a little while if need be.  These mushrooms can be a little stinky and fusty-smelly for some, and for this reason I keep mine in an airtight jar.  They have a lovely strong, savoury flavour however, and add a delicious depth to this dish, and I’d never make it without them.

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Turn the heat down to low and let the soup simmer away gently for 15-20 minutes, without letting it boil.

About five minutes before you serve, prepare the noodles (at least, do them this way if you are using the wet, prepared packaged ones like I do).

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Boil the kettle and place the noodles in a heat-proof bowl.  Pour the boiling water over the noodles and let them sit for up to five minutes.  Use a fork to shake them up and separate them a bit, and then divide between two deep bowls.

Ladle the soup over the noodles in each bowl and you’re ready to go.

Tuck in and be comforted!

Here’s the ingredients and method in one go, unbroken by pictures, for your ease of use….

Asian noodle soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
  • A clove or two of garlic
  • Fresh ginger root
  • One red chilli
  • Green vegetables, such a broccoli, bok choi or beans
  • One pepper
  • One peeled carrot
  • 6-8 dried mushrooms
  • If you feel carnivorous, about 250g beef, cut into strips
  • Soy sauce
  • Seasame oil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Some nice stodgy noodles, such as Udon or Hokkien (I buy the wet ones)
  • A little vegetable oil for greasing the wok

Method:

  • Pour the stock into a saucepan and put it over a low heat. You want to gently heat it so it is warm but not boiling, and it can just sit there while you get on with the rest of the soup.
  • Heat a wok over a medium-high heat and add a little vegetable oil, or spray with an oil spray.
  • Peel and slice the garlic and cut up the chilli, de-seeding if you don’t want too much heat (I usually leave a few seeds) and add these to the wok.  Grate plenty of ginger, at least a tablespoon, into the wok. Heat.
  • Slice up the green vegetables and de-seed and slice the pepper.  Add to wok and stir.
  • If you using beef, turn heat up, add to wok and brown briefly.
  • Ladle the warmed stock from the saucepan into the wok.
  • Add: half a tablespoon of soy sauce, 4-5 drops of seasame oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice; stir into contents of the wok.
  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel ribbons of carrot into the soup.  I add the carrot at this point so it doesn’t get to soft.
  • Add the dried mushrooms.
  • Turn the heat down to low and let the soup simmer away gently for 15-20 minutes, without letting it boil.
  • About five minutes before you serve, prepare the noodles by placing in a heat-proof boil and covering in boiling water, let sit for up to five minutes.
  • Divide noodles between two deep bowls.
  • Ladle the soup from the wok over the noodles in each bowl and serve.