fish pasta recipes

Fusilli with smoked salmon, spinach, lemon, creme fraiche, etc etc

We had good company tonight, and good pasta to go with it.

Ian, Lisa and Caroline came over for dinner, and we all caught the bus to New Farm from Toowong together.  So there was no time for fussy cleaning up or doing dinner preparations before people arrived.  But we’d planned for this, and I am growing less concerned about mess as I get older, so there was no drama.  We arrived, cracked open beers, and set out olives, brie, grilled eggplant and crusty bread, to sit and chat for an hour.

Then I headed into the kitched to make the main meal.  Two big pots of water on the boil, one for pasta and one for green beans.  Some cherry tomatoes halved and put in the oven for a quick roast.  Wash a big bag of baby spinach, flake about 300 g of smoked salmon fillets, take the zest and juice of one lemon, chop a bunch of dill. Put 500 g of pasta on to cook.  When it comes off, drain it and put the pan back on the heat.  Add the spinach, wilt for a minute, then add back the pasta, together with the salmon, lemon, dill, a couple of spoonfuls of baby capers and several spoonfuls of creme fraiche.  Stir over low heat until the creme fraiche is melted.  While doing this, chuck the green beans in to cook for 3 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold water.  Pull the tomatoes out of the oven and dress with garlic oil, salt, pepper and the leaves from a bunch of oregano.  Serve up the pasta, and on the side the roast tomatoes and the blanched beans.  Open the third (or fourth?) bottle of wine and dig in.  Pretty good for less than 20 minutes’ cooking.

Afterwards, retire to the lounge room for more wine and, a little later, gelati. Think about how lovely your life is and how much you like your friends.  Enjoy.

eating out

Thai Wi-Rat

Tedster and I went out tonight for dinner in the Valley before going to see Frost/Nixon (excellent, by the way).  It was clearly an evening of all-round fantasticness, because the food was exactly what I was after too.

We had deliciously hot duck larb, crisp and cooling green pawpaw salad, and sticky rice.  It was perfect.  Food for two plus one beer was $33.  The rest of the menu looks good too – lots of things I’ll go back to try, like black pickled egg salad, and other things I may or may not work up the courage for, like steamed boneless chicken feet salad and spicy soup with ox liver and tripe.  Discovering this place has made me intensely happy – I have been searching Brisbane for good Thai ever since we got back.

The deets: Thai Wi-Rat, Thai/Lao food, 20 Duncan St Fortitude Valley, 3257 0884.

birds mexican-ish recipes

Duck carnitas on NYE

I’m compelled to blog tonight’s dinner, not only because it was quite tasty, but primarily because if I do so I will have blogged at least one meal a year for 10 years and I hate breaking that kind of streak.  So let me tell you about how, after spending the afternoon in 35°C heat thinking that a salad for dinner would be perfect, I ended up eating at 11 pm after pot-roasting duck legs in half a kilo of lard for three hours.

A couple of years ago, when we were in Dublin, we had a fantastic dinner at Carolin and Dave’s place, of soft tacos with duck, black beans, feta and pomegranate seeds.  It was the kind of meal that sticks in your memory and I’ve always wanted to recreate it.  They made duck carnitas by cooking confit duck legs on the stovetop until they were falling apart, and although this involved slightly more cooking than the salad I’d initially been thinking about, I figured I could deal with it with the help of an electric fan and two or three cold margaritas.

That of course required me to be able to find duck confit in Toowong or New Farm at 4.30 pm on new year’s eve.  Not a chance.  Even Rayner’s butcher, with their cabinet full of a dozen different cuts of duck, couldn’t provide. In that insane state that I sometimes get into when food is concerned and the shops are on the verge of closing, I decided that I would just buy fresh duck legs and semi-confit the bastards myself before making the tacos.  Naturally!  After all, it was only 30°C by then.

Despite this somewhat snarly lead-up, it actually worked out pretty well.  Pot-roasting doesn’t require you to be in the same room as the oven, which is a big plus, and the long cooking time meant that we could sit on the couch drinking the aforementioned margaritas and chatting for a good chunk of time.   I modified a recipe for duck carnitas and roasted peach salsita from the book Mod Mex by Scott Linquist and Joanna Pruess, which I found on Google Books (bless them).

The carnitas were great – the flavours of the roasting liquid really permeated the meat, and it was very tender.  I changed a couple of things in the recipe: I only used a tablespoon of condensed milk rather than the cup called for, which struck me as a weird addition; I used half duck fat and half lard because I am moderately skint at the moment; I also cooked the meat for a bit over two hours and reckon it would be even better cooked for three, rather than the one and a half they say).  If I’d had the time and energy I would have cooked the mole they suggest to go with it, but since I had neither I just made the peach salsita, though using yellow-fleshed nectarines because I couldn’t find any ripe peaches.  When I make this again (and it will be when, not if, because it was great) I won’t add the orange juice and honey they call for at the end – it tasted superb before they were added, and was much too sweet (and too soupy) after they went in.

So, for future reference and tweaking, here’s the version I would start with next time:

Duck carnitas
Preheat the oven to 150°C . Take 4 duck legs, salt them liberally, and place in a bowl for 1 hour to remove excess moisture.  Pat them dry (and brush off any obvious salt clumps) and place them in a lidded ovenproof dish. Add 500 g of duck fat and/or lard, 12 black peppercorns, 6 bay leaves, 6 peeled cloves of garlic, 6 allspice berries, 2-3 arbol chillies, 1 stick of cinnamon, 1 cup fresh orange juice, 1 cup of light Mexican beer, and 1-2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk.  Heat on the stove until the fat has melted, then cover with the lid and place in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the flesh is very tender and almost falling off the bones.  Remove the duck legs, let them cool, then pull off the skin and throw it away, pull out the bones and put them in the stock bag of fowl bits in the freezer, and shred the meat.

They say to then cook the duck in a skillet with some oil for 2-3 minutes until it’s browning and crisping.  All I managed to do during this stage was make the duck stick horribly to the frypan – I really wish I had the faintest idea how to deal with meat – so I’m not sure I would do this part again.  The duck looked and tasted pretty damn good even before this step.

Peach salsita
Fry a finely chopped small onion in olive oil for about 8 minutes over low-medium heat, until translucent.  Add two finely chopped garlic cloves and half a finely chopped serrano chili (or to taste), and saute for 1 minute more.  Add 3 ripe peaches (or 6 ripe nectarines), pitted and chopped into medium dice.  Continue cooking for 5 minutes or so, until the fruit is soft but still holding its shape.  Remove from heat and let cool. Taste the salsa, and if it needs sweetening add a squeeze of orange juice and/or honey (it may well not need either if the fruit started off sweet).  Add a pinch of salt to taste. Fold in a good handfulof chopped coriander leaves.

Use small tortillas to make soft tacos with the carnitas and salsita, together with whatever other ingredients take your fancy.  I think you need something a little moist and sticky to hold it all together – we used guacamole but sour cream or mole sauce would also work.

Ta-da, made it by midnight!  Happy new year chaps!


It’s just a silly phase I’m going through

Don’t get excited! You know I’m only here because it’s between Christmas and New Year and I’m kidding myself that I have time for this in my life.  But let’s see – maybe if I don’t have to code the bloody RSS feed by hand I might actually drop by now and then.  You never know.

There won’t, however, be many photos of food.  The sun sets in Brisbane at afternoon-o’clock all year round, so we rarely eat dinner in daylight, and food photographed by electric light is actively un-appetising.  I take hope from the fact that one of my long-term favourite food blogs, Hungry Tiger (currently offline?), is also infrequently updated and photo-less, and yet remains inspiring to me.

Finally, after this ungracious re-beginning, a very genuine thank you and apology to all those people who emailed me over the last year or so asking where I was, and received no reply.  The answer was that I had my head up my academic posterior, alternately panicking and blissfully enjoying myself (kinky!).  I anticipate lots more intra-posterior insertion in the year to come, but I will try and extract myself now and then.