Friday, July 15, 2011

A Reborn Pastafarian! :)

Being a follower of the much loved 'Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster', I figured it was time to make a beautiful pasta dish to honour 'His Noodliness'. :P... (Thanks A!)

I had a dish in mind that I had seen on the Food Network which won the first prize in the Ultimate Recipe Showdown; The 'French Onion "Soup" Mac & Cheese'. Being a lover of both these classics, I figured a combination of the two could only be the next step to culinary heaven.

Having gone through all the ingredients (a must!), I confidently set off to the Oysterbay deli with my shopping list, only to find that they were closed for the holidays! Drat and double drat! I asked a tourist for alternatives (lol) and headed off to Seacliff supermarket, which though expensively priced should stock everything required.

I had to make a few modifications with the ingredients as some were not available; instead of Gruyere, I bough mature cheddar and double gloucestershire cheese to add texture and depth of flavour to the dish.

(NB: For cheese nerds, here's some extra info: There are two types of Gloucester cheese: Single and Double; Single Gloucester is made from milk from Gloucestershire breed cows farmed within the English county of Gloucestershire.

Both types have a natural rind and a hard texture, but Single Gloucester is more crumbly, lighter in texture and lower in fat. Double Gloucester is allowed to age for longer periods than Single, and it has a stronger and more savoury flavour.

It is also slightly firmer. Both types are produced in round shapes, but Double Gloucester rounds are larger. Traditionally whereas the Double Gloucester was a prized cheese comparable in quality to the best Cheddar or Cheshire, and was exported out of the County, Single Gloucester tended to be consumed within the County.)

So back to the important stuff: 

Have any of you ever noticed that no matter how much cheese you add to a bechamel sauce, it will not get that lovely deep flavour you find in great pasta dishes in great restaurants? Yes? Well, let me share the secret with you here. You need a strong cheese with a more complex flavour than your basic mellow cheddar. Gruyere is traditionally used in French Onion Soup, but I found that a mature cheddar worked well too. Combining two cheeses also adds to the depth and complexity of the sauce. I will be trying an aged gouda or a smoked cheese next time. Let me know if another cheese works for you!

The second secret to making a great bechamel sauce is that you must whisk the milk gradually into the flour and butter mix (see recipe for instructions). You must continue whisking until the sauce gradually thickens, and then add in the cheese(s), whilst continuing to gently whisk/stir the mixture until all the cheese is melted in. Trust me, you will get the most scrumptious sauce this way!

This recipe is really delicious and the addition of the caramelized onions takes it to another level altogether! Try it and see if you decide to become a reborn Pastafarian too! :)

For more information about the many many different types of pasta available, check out this link:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Visit To Alexander's

Tucked away at the end of a long lonely road and almost impossible to locate, we finally found ourselves on the doorstep of the well hidden Alexander's. There was no one at the entrance and we cautiously made our way upstairs to the rooftop restaurant, appreciating the beautiful room decors on the way. Having heard that this place had great food, my friend and I were looking forward to a delicious finger licking, lip smacking evening.

We were greeted at the restaurant entrance by a very polite waiter who first asked if we had reservations. I had reservations about the needed reservations when I looked around at the many empty tables, but understood that as a hotel, they possibly cater mainly to their guests. Luckily though, this did not prevent us from being comfortably seated and politely reminded that we would need to make reservations for the future. :) Upon looking around, I quickly realized that there would be no (literal) lip smacking or finger licking taking place that evening! The restaurant is beautifully appointed but has a bit of a froufrou feeling to it.

After being served drinks and settled in, we looked at the menus. The menu itself was not very extensive but had a good selection of dishes. Personally I prefer quality to quantity any day. I could not resist ordering the starter of crab pate, since that is a favourite and hardly found in Dar! I followed that with a main course of Thai prawn curry served with fragrant jasmine rice. My friend opted for the chicken breast stuffed with cheese and spinach.

The starter arrived in good time and we tucked into the most delicious crab pate spread onto thin bread slices. The pate had a good texture, was not mushy or slimy and the seasonings were subtle allowing the crab to be the star of the show! A little lemon on the side would have been a good addition, but overall a great start to the meal!

We didn't have long to wait for the mains after completing our 
starter. With as little intrusion as possible, our excellent waiter (Victor) cleared the plates, brought in new cutlery and served up the main course.

My Thai prawn curry had a good numbers of prawns nestled within a thick aromatic sauce. The side of rice and vegetables was also substantial and well presented. I turned to see my friend’s course which was also a good portion, consisting of a big chicken breast and a large side of thick cut seasoned chips.

The prawn curry was delicately seasoned and the flavours played around delightfully in the mouth at each bite. The prawns themselves were not overcooked and the thickness of the sauce was well balanced. The rice could have done with some more jasmine flavour since I did not catch that lovely aroma at all. But it was well cooked and complemented the prawns perfectly. In my opinion, the vegetables were a waste of space!

I tried a bite of my friend’s meal. The cheese had melted into the tender chicken flesh and the spinach was well seasoned. Unlike many other places, the chicken had not been overcooked leaving it dry and tasteless. We were two well filled, well satisfied diners at the end of a delightful evening and have no reservations about making reservations here in the future!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Close Saves

You know one of the things I like best is when a dish you have completely given up on takes a turn for the better and transforms into an awesome surprise! I usually cook by instinct and this has been a saving grace many a times.......See the last two episodes in 'Close Saves!'

I was pretty confident about baking a delicious chocolate cake for my staff on the last day of work and got to work nice and early in the morning. It all started out perfectly using a new recipe which was chock a block full with scrumptious ingredients!

Everything was going well and I started getting a little cocky about how good this cake was going to be.... when I suddenly smelt something burning! No, it wasn't anyone turning green with jealousy over my cake, it was the cake itself!

I rushed to take it out from the oven and though the damage was minimal, it left the cake pretty dry. Hmmm..... now what? I thought to myself that chocolate and coffee make a great combination, so how about a coffee glaze? I found a great quick recipe on the net.....

Mmmmm.... this smelt gorgeous and I liberally poured the glaze over the cake, catching the access in a plate and pouring it on again and again and again..... I really let the syrup soak into the cake before serving and it turned into a soft moist delight for the senses! I highly recommend this simple glaze recipe whether you've dried out your cake or not! 

The second incident took place today.....

I am one of those people who can cook Italian, Mexican, Thai... you name it and I can make it. But ask me to make a good basic omelette or make the perfect fluffy rice, and I fall to pieces! Today was no exception. 

I had a gorgeous vegetable concoction simmering on the stove ready to be layered with the rice and baked for lunch... when I realised that my rice had overcooked and was now a soft mushy mess! Too little water and it was too hard, too much water and it's too soft! See what I mean???

Having decided there was nothing for it but to layer it and pray for the best, I suddenly had a brainwave! How about adding that mushy rice to the vegetables and creating a sort of risotto? Mmmm... I mixed the rice and vegetables together and it looked lovely... but something was missing..... aha! It was the cheese! I added a healthy handful of cheddar, some fresh herbs, stirred it all well, put it in a tray and baked it.... voila! Risotto Ala Close Save! :P

I got plenty of compliments on my 'risotto' so..... all's well that ends well. On a last note, it is important to remember that wonderful Julia Child's words if things don't go as planned..... 'NEVER APOLOGIZE'! :)