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The Taste of Down Under

Posted Jul 29 2009 10:02pm
I think I need to be restricted from watching Iron Chef; I get too many ideas. Not for the sake of the recipes, but for the presentation. I was watching an episode a few days ago and this one chef, I can’t remember his name, had the most interesting styles of presentation and it got me jotting notes down in my notebook as well as drawing plate arrangements. I recall reading in one of my books that Hubert Keller draws his plating arrangements up to seven times before he is satisfied with the overall finished product. It is so funny how obsessive I’ve become about presentation and taste over time. My family laughs at me taking pictures upon pictures of my finished product, but, I know deep inside my soul is contented with my behavior. If they really didn’t care, I wouldn’t have gotten my $500 camera for my birthday. It just appears funny that someone would literally sit there and take pictures of their food before they eat it. In my opinion, it gives the food cooling time prior to eating. Heh, right?

My inspiration for this recipe comes from my desire to explore different ethnic flavors, but, this flavor isn’t really a slap in the face oh my god sort of ordeal because it hits close to home. Well, not 100% close, but, not that different as, say, Asia or Russia. Apricot Chicken is a rip-off of African cuisine, sort of how Chicken Tikka is in England. Apricot Chicken happens to come from Australia. There are many variants of Apricot Chicken that use canned and pre-done ingredients. I, of course, took a different route and found myself cooing with delight for more than one reason. One of them being that my taste buds are revitalizing once again since I’ve been sick with a double ear and sinus infection for nearly a month, seriously. My senses of taste, smell, and hearing have been gone since the second week of July. I still can’t hear 100% nor taste either and it kills me. Thankfully, I tasted the dish enough to reiterate the delicious flavor marriage. Anyway, the tanginess of the apricots blended smoothly with the creaminess of my coconut milk (the new nondairy addition of mine that Phillip, of course, detests due to the lack of sweetness. I know we‘ll be buying nondairy and regular milk, I‘m sure, in our house). The pumpkin, of course, harmonized with the textures of the chunky quorn and snappy peppers. God, I think I could eat that again. Of course, my addition with pumpkin is never-ending; and, yes, it is used in Australia - ha!

Sugarcane is also cultivated in Australia, which is the secondary ‘star’ of my recipe. I originally wanted to skewer the potatoes with the sugarcane, but, I couldn’t find any raw sugarcane to mold into my desired shape. I purchased a can of sugarcane to attempt to make skewers, but unfortunately, they were too soft to mold, so, I proceeded in simply steaming the potatoes with seasonings in a foil packet in the oven with the sugarcane to impart the sweet aroma. I couldn’t tell you if it worked since I couldn’t really smell it but I’m sure it did. I think. The potatoes did have subtle sweet notes to them so maybe it did work. Since I do have extra sugarcane, I’ll try it again to confirm my assumptions. For presentation stake I then after skewered the potatoes. The affect came off in my mind more like a Hawaiian bonfire or even stretching in resemblance to a fondue pot. That’s an idea - pumpkin nondairy fondue with potatoes…oooh..

Now, you may be inquiring about how do pumpkin, apricots, and sugarcane fall into the category of Australia? Ever heard of the Aborigines? The aborigines were the original inhabitants of Australia, dating back to at least 40, 000 years ago. The main occupation or I suppose means of living were acting as hunters and gatherers, seeking out whatever food was available. Around that area and within that climate at the time, nourishment sources fell upon tubers, seafood, marsupials, grubs, and insects - until the Europeans came over. After which, they adopted many of their food styles, habits, and unfortunate ailments. From being healthy, they became worse off from the ‘strange’ and new foods they sampled like sugar, flour and so on. I could have created a recipe involving grubs since there is one on the net about it, but, I decided not for mean time and present a more European influenced recipe. I find any excuse to eat a whole pumpkin…I really do.

Pair this plate off with a lovely fresh green salad and you’re set for the evening and then some. Oh yes, I was. I told Phillip he better pray that there is some method of obtaining pumpkin when I’m pregnant. Yeah. Otherwise he’d be in for it.

Apricot "Chicken" Stuffed Pumpkin
With Sugarcane Steamed Potatoes

1 small sweet dumpling AKA Kabocha pumpkin

Apricot “Chicken”
1 cup quorn, or, ½ cup cooked chickpeas
1 small apricot, ½ inch diced
½ small onion, diced
¼ green pepper, diced
1 small clove of garlic, minced
½ tbsp cornstarch
½ cup nondairy milk
1 tsp celery seed (optional)

S
ugarcane Steamed Potatoes
2 small red potatoes, quartered
1 stalk of sugar cane, chopped
½ tbsp nondairy margarine
2 tsp dill
1 tbsp water
Salt and pepper to taste

A day in advanced or hours prior, de-seed and roast the pumpkin in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, approximately. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on the size of your pumpkin. Dig out the innards, save for a later use or later blissful consumption.

For the potatoes:
I like red potatoes for roasting. They aren’t as starchy as a Russet or Idaho and hold their shape better. Sometimes, depending on my digestive abilities, I choke on starchy potatoes but I seem to be able to swallow gold, red, and purple potatoes. Occasionally I have trouble with satsuimo and boniato too. I wouldn’t advise using sweet potatoes because of the sugarcane unless you like to have an uber sweet sweet potato. That is your decision.

Preheat your oven to 375.

In the center of a large sheet of tin foil, nestle together the sugarcane and potatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and dill. Pull two ends of the foil up until they meet then roll them down to close. Fold the other end the same. With the remaining open side, drop in the ½ tbsp nondairy margarine and 1 tbsp of water. Fold up the foil end and set the packet in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

While the potatoes are going, you can start chopping vegetables. Chop the onions, peppers, and apricot in bite size pieces. I used quorn, but, you can substitute with beans or even tempeh. Tofu is another option but I think, unless it is pressed, the texture may be too soft. In a nonstick pan, or one sprayed with cooking spray, sauté the onions and peppers until soft. Add the apricot with a bit of water to refrain sticking and let it cook down. As the apricot begins to soften, add the quorn. When the quorn seems to absorb some of the liquid, mix the cornstarch into the milk and add it to the pan quickly. Add salt, pepper, and celery seed. Stir until the liquid thickens, then set aside.

The potatoes should be done by now, so, remove them from the oven and then turn on the broiler. Get your pumpkin ready, fill it with the apricot chicken mixture and then pop it under the broiler until the top gets crispy brown - maybe 3 5 minutes, I didn’t count but it was rather fast. Once the top is browned, you’re ready to serve. You don’t have to skewer the potatoes like I did, but, you know for the sake of presentation you can.

Having fun with food is, after all, part of enjoying food.

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