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imageRam and I have been clearing out the pantry and using up items rarely used. And one of them being couscous. My experience with couscous is quite limited. I bought it with the hope of doing some salads or dishes but never got around to it. But every time I think of couscous I still recall the couscous soaked in ragout which I had in “Ragu” which was sublime.

I first scoured the internet for ragout recipes but I didn’t have ingredients for most of them. I lost my patience and said you know what I am just going to let my creativity out loose.

It was so yummy I just had to write this down. And fairly healthy too. Come on what can beat that! Flavours and healthy food in the same sentence, how often does one hear that!

Ingredients:

2-3 red onions chopped long
1 head of garlic
2 tsp chilli flakes
4 tomatoes roughly chopped
2-3 tsp of capers
1/4 pumpkin chopped into small cubes
1-2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 pinch of nutmeg powder
1 tsp of cumin powder
1 tbsp of honey/ 1 tbsp of brown sugar
4 cups of stock
Salt to taste
2 tbsp olive oil

For the couscous:
2 cups couscous
2.5 cups hot stock

Method:
Heat olive oil in the pan. Throw in the chilli flakes, garlic and onion and sweat it down until it starts to brown. Add your cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin and salt. Then throw in your capers and tomatoes. Let the tomatoes shrink in the heat and then add your pumpkin and give it a good old toss. After a couple of minutes or so, add your sugar/honey and then pour in your stock. Close with a lid, turn down the heat to medium and let the mixture stew nicely for a good 30-40 minutes with the occasional stir.

This is the same concept as tagine. When something is cooked with a closed lid the flavours expand exponentially. The ragout takes on the vapours, aromas, its own juices heightening the flavour to extents unimaginable. The explosion of flavours is something undeniable even for a fussy eater.

When that’s stewing on, add 2 cups of couscous to a saucepan/bowl. Add the 2.5 cups of stock. Use cling wrap to close the couscous and let it sit for 5 minutes. After this time, remove cling warp, using a fork fluff out the couscous. Just be mindful different couscous have different cooking instructions. So cook the couscous according to your packet instructions.

When serving, portion out some couscous in a pasta bowl. Ladle out that gorgeous ragout and here comes yet another surprise. Some of my avocados were starting to ripen, so for garnish I just shaved off the avos on top and the creaminess of avocados just worked. I don’t know how, somehow everything gelled and made sense. Were it not for remembering portion control I would have gone back for seconds or thirds.

What better way to end your Sunday than a hearty home cooked meal that takes your taste buds around the world.

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Cool bananas……

Banana cake with chocolate icingApart from “Cool Bananas” being a kiwi slang meaning “Awesome”, there is yet another thing that is ‘awesome and renowned,’ and that is the good old Kiwi favourite – Banana Cake (aka) Banana Loaf / Bread.

Mind you I have tried the odd banana cake here and there which weren’t great from few local bakeries and some of them prepared by others which left me pitying their futile attempts at besting a traditional entity.

Finding a good tasting banana cake was just about forgotten when along came a banana cake in its most simple form, without icing or cream, in a good old lunch box. My colleague offered it to me which I sampled and it was love at first bite and I felt compelled enough to ask for the recipe so I could trial it. My colleague who in her offhand casual manner said … ‘Hmmm, it’s just the Edmonds recipe that almost everyone follows’. She said she just whipped it up last night because the bananas were going off and she didn’t want it to go to waste.

And wind to flashback, there I was imagining me making ‘hard to swallow’ and ‘Ugh’ faces of the number of times I had to force myself to finish over ripe bananas to just keep it from going to waste. But voila…here was a simple sensible idea to make use of the bananas before they become worm food. And I have it on good authority that the blacker the banana skin the better your cake’s going to turn out.

So here was my first day of leave in yonks, I pulled out my never-before-used Edmonds book and located the recipe for Banana Cake. I am not a huge fan of chocolate icing on the banana cake, but chose to do with this icing to indulge my chocolate loving (choc-crazy) Mother in law 😀

Ingredients:
 
For the cake – 
125 gms softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3-4 bananas)
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp hot milk
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
 
Method:

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add mashed banana and mix thoroughly. Stir baking soda into hot milk and add to the banana mixture. Sift baking powder and flour into the mix and fold. Grease a 20 cm round cake tin or loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave in tin for 10 minutes before turning it on to a wire rack. When cold, ice with Lemon or Chocolate icing or dust with icing sugar.

For the icing –

1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa 
2 tsp softened butter
Few drops of Vanilla essence
1 tbsp boiling water
 
Method:

Sift icing sugar and cocoa in a bowl. Add soft butter and a few drops of vanilla essence. Pour in boiling water and beat well. Spread immediately and leave it to set.

If you looked at the above list and thought it was too much trouble, don’t be….it looks laborious but its anything but. Whip it all together and you have a star!

Okay, that’s me over and out, time to go bananas………!

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8 months back when we moved into our own place, many were the plants and trees that we couldn’t identify at the peak of winter. And this one particular tree kept us guessing for at least a good three months. And lo behold, one fine spring morning we saw the most precious of pale pink buds glued to those branches.

Who would have thought that this one bald leafless, dwarf like tree would flower into the most beautiful pink blossoms and few months down the line, give us such luscious fruits? My first experience of nature’s bounty in my own backyard especially in my first year in our home was memorable.

Peaches hung off our tree like bunches of golden tennis balls with a slight pinkish red blush. Here we were thinking we’ll let those peaches grow nice and big and ripe and we’ll pluck it off our trees. What a wrong move that was! By the time we headed into our backyard with our buckets and broom sticks, we found that some of our sneaky feathered visitors had made a meal of nearly 70% of those fruits. Even with the rest of the peaches that we could salvage, we got quite a sizeable number.

Peaches

And here we were reveling in this gorgeous spring offering, we found that we obviously couldn’t keep all these gorgeous fruits to ourselves. We gave away dozens to extended family and friends. And were still left with lots more.

If someone said twiddling thumbs was a sign of idleness, I wouldn’t agree to it. So here I sat twiddling my thumbs thinking up ways to use the remaining peaches. I thought I’ll play word association so I can come up with some ideas and surprisingly came up with quite a few words – Peaches and cream, Peach Cobbler, Peach Strudel, Peach Conserves, Caramelized Peaches with Ice cream….not bad for an off the top of my head response.

I decided to go with Peach Cobbler as I recalled the fact that many books I had read made a mention of it and I was of course craving for cake and something ridiculously sweet as always.

Peach cobbler-will post my own pic soon

Googling the first recipe that came along, I scanned the ingredients and method. And I found that it was easy as pie too!!! My sous chefs mum and Ram did a fine job of the prep and I must commend them on their enthusiasm and efforts. The prep took all of 15 minutes and the baking 40 minutes. End of the happy hour, not having any more patience to wait any longer, I happily cut up some chunky pieces of the hot Cobbler the moment I took it right out of the oven and we heartily enjoyed that rustic country-style dessert late afternoon. Every mouthful was peachy perfect. And not too shabby for a maiden attempt if I can say so myself. I highly recommend this recipe. The measures were perfect for me.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/peach-cobbler-recipe/index.html

It was perfect the way it was even without the ice cream/whipped cream serving suggestions.

Coming up next, time for some good old home-made Peach Conserve.

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Pasta alla Vodka

Probably one of my best ever pastas, this was again an adaptation which was way better than the original especially since I incorporated some of my favourite ingredients(mushrooms and onions).

Ever since my sister said she had tried out a Vodka pasta back home in one of the restaurants, the idea of using Vodka in a pasta was quite enticing. And I just had to try making it at home. And it was every bit delicious and mouth-watering.

And the law of diminishing marginal utility went for a toss right out my kitchen window.

Ingredients:

Fettuccine (Or any pasta of your choice) – 500 gms
Chopped Onions – 2 
Garlic – 6 cloves
Chopped tomatoes – 3 [Drain if tomatoes are juicy]
White Button Mushrooms – 1 cup
Red Chilli flakes – 1 tsp
Vodka – 1/4 cup
Heavy Cream – 3 tbsp
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 2 tbsp
Salt & Pepper for seasoning
Dried Mixed herbs – 1 tsp
Fresh sprig of parsley right from your garden
Grated Parmesan cheese
 
Method: 

Place pasta for cooking as per instructions on the cover and then get your pasta sauce going.

Heat Extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan. Add garlic, onions and red chilli flakes and sauté till turning a slight golden brown. Try not to brown your onions.

Remove saucepan from the stove, set aside and add the vodka. Place saucepan back on stove top and simmer for a couple of minutes till vodka reduces to half.

Then add mushrooms. Cook until slightly soft. Turn the heat up and throw in your tomatoes, cook well. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and add heavy cream. Season with the dried mixed herbs. Let it cook for about a minute.

And if your pasta is cooked to the right consistency by now, drain and wash with cold water in a colander and  add your pasta to the sauce and coat well.

Garnish with fresh sprig of parsley and grated parmesan, serve. Voila!!!… your Pasta alla Vodka is ready to be enjoyed!!!

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Thai Dragon Soup

Don’t ask me why it’s called Thai Dragon Soup. I couldn’t find any information on the background of it. But the soup was a warm saviour on a freezing cold night. I bet you there is no easier soup recipe than this. No blending, adding cream, no separate preparations yadi yadi da….All that is too much work.

But this Soup my friends is one of the easiest ones I have made. Sumptuous, nutritious and fulfilling. While browsing for ideas for quick dinner I came across a Thai Dragon Bowl Soup (http://gourmeh.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/499/) which is the original version and inspiration to my making this soup. My Thai Dragon Soup was an adaptation of that recipe as my fridge wasn’t as well stocked for a proper dinner that night.

Ingredients:

2 Capsicums sliced thinly;
2 Onions sliced thinly;
8-10 White Button mushrooms (any mushroom will do) sliced thinly;
8-10 Green Beans cut into 2-3 pieces each (longer the better);
100 gm Rice Noodle (Thick flat type);
6-7 cloves of Garlic crushed;
1 knob of Ginger peeled and crushed;
2 stalks of Bruised Lemon grass stalks;
2 Green Chillies slit;
Lemon Juice;
Worcester sauce;
6-8 cups of Water;
Salt & Pepper for seasoning;

I had no stock and I thought to myself if I dunk all veggies onto water with a bit of salt and pepper, my stock’s ready. So that’s exactly what I did.

Boil water in a deep saucepan. Throw in crushed garlic, ginger, lemon grass stalks & all the veggies and let it boil. Season with salt and very little pepper as we have added the chillies already. So mind the heat!

Once the colour of the water starts changing, add a small splash of Worcester sauce. It would roughly take about 15-20 minutes tops for the veggies to get cooked. When the water reaches a boil and the colour of the liquid turns a darker brown add the rice noodles. The stock would start to thicken after adding the rice noodle due to its starch. Boil until the noodles are soft and cooked through. Do not overcook as the noodle will absorb most of the stock which is why the noodle is added towards the end and is on the heat for just a little while. Once you remove the soup off the hob and let it rest for about a minute or so and splash in few drops of lemon juice which zests up the soup and takes it to a whole new level.

Yummy soup

Garnish with some coriander for that fresh flavour.

There you go!!! Hot Thai Dragon Soup to keep you warm and give you the comfort food feeling.

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Berrily crumbled III

Ay yay ay yay ay yay yay!!!

Loved every bit. Berry Crumble experiment was a huge success.

When I first saw the berries bubble away, I wasn’t so sure it was going to turn out the way my colleague’s had. And when I combined the oats, bread crumbs & butter, a little bit of hope flared.

And when I transferred the berry mixture onto the baking dish and sprinkled the crumb mixture onto it, the picture started developing much better. But not there yet.

I let it bake for about 15 minutes when I got a whiff of the butter and berry aroma. Awww, what a warm and buttery feeling it gave. I took a peek in the oven and saw that it started taking semblance to the actual picture. Another 10 minutes, it was all ready. I took a couple of ramekins and put some warm berry crumble. And wow, yummy is the word for it.

And here you go ……the fruits of my labour….hmmm…I should probably say berries of my labour.

The berry crumble I made

The berry crumble I made

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Ragu - Pt Chevalier

It has been ages since we went to a fine dining restaurant. This weekend I actually wanted to drive down to our favourite haunt Mecca in Mission Bay for some Coffee and Baklavas. But life as we all know is unpredictable and takes different turns.

While taking the motorway, Ram asked -“Hey do you want to may be try out the new joint in Pt Chevalier- “Ragu”?. I remembered vaguely Ram talking about the review written by the popular food critic Nici Wickes on NZ Herald. I said -“Well why not?”

We changed course, and it sure didn’t leave us disappointed.

When we were approaching the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the brick and cobbled path leading up to the door. Next came the signage, a picture display of a rustic iron saucepan with the word “ragu” on it. And I thought well that’s unassuming. I turned towards the door, I didn’t know what I actually expected. It was one of those doors without automatic swing hinges. Plain double wooden door like that of a really old hut. And I raised my eyebrows at the sight of it. We entered. We were welcomed with a friendly smile and asked whether we would like to start off with the bar and move to the table. And we thought lets start off with some pre-dinner drinks.

We took our seats at the bar stools. One of the restaurant staff gave us a wine list and left us to go over it. I was in no mood for alcohol tonight. And I thought I’ll ask for something non-alcoholic. When the staff came to take our wine order, I asked “what do you have that’s non alcoholic?”. And he immediately rattled off some a list of fruit juices and out came the last one a Hawkes Bay Ginger Beer. He said he did have Bundaberg too, but would highly recommend the Hawkes Bay Ginger Beer. I said I’ll go with his suggestion. Ram changed his mind and settled for the same as well.

While waiting for our drinks, I looked around at the interior of Ragu. The Interiors were warm and friendly, bordering on rustic with a splash of modern ensemble. The lighting was dim but just right, which allowed us to see enough of the people and food about to be served. To add to the charm, the waiter even lit tea lights in tiny candle holders which I though was cute.

Our ginger beer came and the waiter left us with the menu. I saw that the menu was split into two. Small Plate and Large Plate. I took my first swig of the Ginger Beer, the words ‘Smooth’ and ‘Delicious’ popped into my head. The fizz was just right and not overpowering and chilled to perfection. This Ginger Beer literally blew me away. Finest one I have ever tasted. To give you a parallel, it enjoys the position of a Glenfiddich in the Whisky League.

Then we placed our order from the Small Plate menu. We  ordered Smoky Babaghanoush with Ciabatta and Mushroom and Goat Cheese Risotto balls with Truffle Aioli. The babaghanoush was smooth and smoky living up to its name. I am yet to find a term so beautiful to describe the Mushroom and Goat Cheese Risotto balls with the truffle aioli. It was rich and buttery and the risotto balls were delectable, soft in the inside and crisp on the outside. What made it even more mouth-watering was the truffle aioli. The flavour was intense and nothing like I have tried before. And this dish definitely leaves you wanting more.

We then progressed to the main course, Ram ordered a Grilled Vegetable and Buffalo Mozzarella Ragu on gnochetti pasta. I chose a Marinated Chicken & roasted winter vegetables with Israeli couscous and Kasundi. The portions were huge and sumptuous. Both dishes were tasty however lacked the oomph that was present in the entrée.  We were so full that we took a rain check on dessert. But we might just pop in for more later.

On the whole, my verdict is Ragu is a very nice mediterranean-tapas style bar restaurant, offering a comfortable and cosy ambience, wih a friendly customer service. And if you are looking for somewhere new to go, this would be just the place you were waiting to try.

I rate them with a hearty 3.5/5. Hope the new kids on the block do well for themselves.

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