dinner

The cheek of it all! – Morrocan style beef cheeks

The saying goes ask and you shall receive. My sister in law asked for beef cheeks and she received them – slow cooked with Moroccan style spices until fork tender and served with a side of roast cauliflower and chickpea salad. Clearly she knew who to ask! B;D

Braised meats are a delicious and simple way to create family favourite meals. Whilst they require time to cook, they are not in fact time consuming to prepare. After sealing the meat and creating the liquid for the beef to cook in, beef cheeks are a great meal that can be left to cook whilst you go about your day.

I have cooked beef cheeks a variety of ways over the years they have come back into vogue – from a carmelised sticky deliciousness as a result of being braised in stout beer to a lighter red wine braise to my version with the Moroccan style spices.

Beef cheeks become a beautiful braised meal when left to stew in their own juices – jokes aside, they do really benefit from a long slow cook as the muscle itself is quite tight and when braised whole keep their shape quite well for presentation. You can also use the cooked cheeks for a ravioli or cannelloni filling – just fork shred the tender meat, mix through some leftover braising liquid to moisten and stuff your cannelloni shells or fold into your silky pasta dough. Easy and delicious. If you’re not up to filling your pasta, just fork shred the beef, add some liquid as before and toss through some pappadelle pasta for a lovely ragu style sauce. Topped with some shaved pecorino (a hard goat’s cheese similar in style to Parmesan) it’s definitely a winner for entertaining guests or just enjoying at home.

The accompanying salad was inspired by some very delicious cauliflower combinations I have discovered in cafe’s and health food shops recently. I must admit cauliflower was a vegetable I studiously avoided for much of my adult life. As a child I absolutely hated it. No matter if mum tried to dress it up with creamy sauce and golden melted cheese – underneath was still the dreaded cauliflower florets. What I realised was I really don’t like boiled cauliflower unless it is then pureed into a soup. I tried cauliflower as an adult again in said salads and found myself really enjoying it. It was because the cauliflower was only lightly cooked and still had some crunch. Then I discovered roast cauliflower. Now we were talking. I didn’t assume this could be done – roast a vegetable that is usally steamed or boiled?! But you can and let me assure you, it is delicious.

You can coat the florets with some olive oil and salt and pepper to ensure a nice even golden colour and if you like a bit of spice, add some chilli powder to the salt blend before sprinkling on. The cauliflower takes about 30 mins at 170 degrees to cook to a tender but still firm texture. I popped some baby tomatoes I had rolling around the fridge in and a salad was born.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match salad ingredients to suit your tastebuds either. I added chickpeas, spinach, coriander and flaked almonds to the mix. The dressing? A lovely avocado dressing I found in the local fruit shop – something a bit different to the usual but you could easily whisk up some orange juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning for this combo.The dressing just caught my eye so I decided to go with it!

Feel free to experiment and let me know how you you went with your own recipe variations and happy cooking!

 

 

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Shepard’s Pie the chef way

Sous vide. Two simple words that either have you drooling at the thought of luscious proteins or have you going sous what?? Sous vide cooking for clarification is: sous vide

suː ˈviːd/
adjective & adverb
 
  1. 1.
    involving or denoting a method of preserving food by partial cooking followed by vacuum-sealing and chilling.
    “a convection oven can be used in sous vide operations”

Thanks wikipedia! Now we have that clarified (sort of) it essentially entails the slow cooking of proteins in a sealed bag in a water bath of a  maintained temperature not usually exceeding 65 degrees Celsius. Sounds complicated right? it is actually so much simpler than it sounds. I have also heard good things about slow cooking in general and this is sort of another notch up from that. The idea is the low temperature slowly coagulates the proteins and create a soft, unctuous mouth feel as opposed to the quick heat of pan frying or grilling which can toughen proteins if overcooked. My foray into the sous vide method came from Aldi (gotta love it) have a slow cooked/sous vide on sale with a vacuum sealer. Lucky me snatched the last one up on a Wednesday afternoon but I had to order my vac sealer online as these were all gone. Being winter casseroles and stews are always a winner but I have to admit I sometimes feel the meat just kind of cooks and goes a bit, well you know…nothingy. The sauces are always amazing but I just felt the meat could be a bit tastier. So here we were. Me, some diced lamb, a vac sealer and a sous vide. I admit, I had a complete brain fart when sealing the bag…I forgot the whole vacuum part vacuums the contents…including moisture…so a little hint when sealing a bag for any purpose – vacuum when it is just a fillet or protein on it’s own fine – vacuum when you have put a little stock and butter in..not so fine. Just seal. Don’t vacuum. Messy lesson learnt! So now to the fun part. I used diced lamb from a butcher, added some beef stock (not homemade but I have found a range of free range stocks called Momo’s Meal’s which are as true to home made as I have ever seeen), butter, rosemary and garlic and set my temp at 60 degrees for about three hours. The result? Deliciously cooked, soft buttery lamb pieces. Amazing. So how did I turn this into a Shepards pie? Keep reading dear followers and I will reveal how to make Shepard’s Pie the chef way! 😉   IMOK_lamb with blackboard   Shepards Pie (serves four with vegetables on the side or two very hungry people)

Shepard’s Pie the chef way
Recipe Type: Dinner
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500g diced lamb
  • 6 cloves garlic (reserve four for roast garlic – see notes)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 750ml beef stock
  • 2 stalks of rosemary
  • 100ml milk
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 potatoes
Instructions
  1. In a vacuum bag place 2 cloves of garlic, lamb, 250ml of beef stock, 2 tbsp butter, salt and pepper
  2. Seal and set at 60 degrees on sous vide for about 3 hours
  3. Remove lamb from bag, strain and keep liquid from bag
  4. In saucepan bring remaining stock to a boil, take out about 3 tbsp and mix into flour to form a paste
  5. Stir paste back into hot liquid and whisk to remove any lumps and thicken
  6. Add juices from bag
  7. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer and thicken. Adjust seasoning to taste and cook for about ten minutes over low heat
  8. Whilst sauce is cooking, peel and chop potatoes into cubes. Place in a saucepan and just over with water, salt water
  9. Allow potatoes to come to a simmer and cook until a fork can be pushed through easily
  10. Strain and place in a saucepan with milk and remaining butter. Mash with fork or masher until smooth and hot, add roast garlic
  11. Add lamb pieces back to sauce and allow to simmer for a minute or two
  12. Spoon lamb mix into either individual ramekins or large bowl and top with mashed potato
  13. Cover with foil and grill for two minutes then remove foil to allow to golden under grill
  14. Serve with your favourite green vegetables and enjoy!
Notes
To make roast garlic without having to have the oven on, slice the garlic and simmer in water until just soft. Drain water and add vegetable oil to pan. Cook over gentle heat until golden. A low heat is essential to avoid burning the garlic. The pre-boil allows the garlic to cook before gaining the colour
 

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8 Easy hints and tips for dinner party success – the food!

Following up from my last blog of tips and tricks for dinner party success comes the most important part. The food!

More often than not this is the part that brings the most stress to the host’s planning. What to cook. How will it look. Will there be enough. Will everyone like it. Or will I have blue soup a la Bridget Jones?

Fear not though, I have compiled a simple list of eight tricks and tips that will have you trotting out the good china and stemware in no time!

1. Cook what you know

Now this may seem like it defeats the purpose of a dinner party when you bring out a new recipe and claim ‘ oh this? it’s just something I whipped up’. Yes we may all long for those moments but if you are a newbie to the dinner party scene, it’s best to start simple and build your way up. A chef doesn’t suddenly know how to make a twice cooked cheese souffle. They learn how to make a roux, a bechamel, how eggs work and then, then they learn the souffle.

In the world of “here’s one I prepared earlier’ it is easy to become disillusioned with cooking at home and making food you love. The best tip I learnt from my first head chef was to ‘cook what you know’. I used to do a lot of cooking competitions as an apprentice and they were about as stressful as a dinner party can get.

My head chef was adamant though that I chose menu items I knew from the restaurant or family favourites and he would help me take them to the competition level with either a bit more sophisticated plating (more time in a competition vs restaurant service) or more sophisticated ingredients if it was a family recipe. This meant going into the competition I knew what I was doing, how long it would take and having practiced, what may go wrong and how to fix it. Now you are not going for medal with a dinner party but you still don’t want to spend time making food for it to be a bit average because it took a wrong turn.

imok_confused.jpg

2. Keep it simple but take it up a notch

Simple doesn’t have to be boring. Sometimes the most complicated looking foods are actually a series of quite simple steps put together elegantly. Many a time I  have looked at a recipe book and thought, ‘how on earth do you make that?’ to be pleasantly surprised when I have read the methods and thought “I can do that, and that and that’, it’s just a case of doing many small steps for an elegant meal.

My advice? Hunt down recipes that are foods you make yourself but done a little differently. Sometimes there will be a garnish or method that changes one aspect to go from eh, to wow!

Consider using egg rings to plate risottos and create a neat circle on the plate, experiment with cutting ingredients a little differently to look a little special, instead of mince for a Shepard’s pie consider diced lamb for a little something something. It doesn’t have to be a big effort to make an impression.

Even something as simple as making your own ice cream to go with an apple pie will elevate it up a notch. Also consider making individual portions of an item for more elegant plating. There are so many lovely ramekins, pots and cups just waiting to hold casseroles, puddings and pies for a dinner party twist.

IMOK_panna cotta finished

3. Plan ahead

Planning ahead is a chef must do. Every day there is a list with a rewrite and scribbles and plans. A function on Saturday? On Monday we will chat about what needs to be ordered, what needs to be done a few days before, the day before and on the day. Think we do it all in the hours beforehand? Think again! There are many items that can be prepared in advance without compromising flavours. Curries, casseroles and stews are sometimes better the day before, vegetables can be topped and tailed, meat can be cut, potatoes peeled, pastry made ready to roll, ice-cream churned all in the days before the guests even arrive.

imok_signature-dish.jpg

4. Check portion sizes

Serves Four. Serves Two. Serves Six. All a good guide but who are these serving sizes for? Children, people on a diet, hungry guests? There is nothing worse that thinking you have enough food for everyone and realising that plates are a little sparse. Weighing your protein and sides and allocating a decent amount per person can go a long way to esnuring each guest have a decent amount of food on their plate. I have gone into detail with this Undercover Chef Tip Post about Weighing the Sides

IMOK_weigh the sides

5. Keep it easy on the day

I am aware the reason most people don’t like to host is the feeling you will be in the kitchen more than out with the guests. So how to tackle this problem? Choose dishes that can either be

– plated in advance i.e antipasto platters, salads without dressings

– kept warm in the oven i.e roasts, pies, lasagnas, some puddings

– don’t take long to assemble i.e bruschetta mix can be made ready to spoon onto crusty bread when guests arrive, fish can be pan fried whilst it’s vegetable casserole accompaniment is warming in the oven, a steak bbq whilst the plates of salad are ready in the fridge

The idea is to have as much ready as possible before your guests arrive to ensure you get to enjoy the night as much as they do

If you are wanting to use something like a pork or eye fillet consider pre sealing it so all it needs is a flash in the oven to be plate ready in no time.

Have water already boiling but sitting at a simmer so if you need to cook pasta it is ready to go. –

The more you can have planned ahead the more confident you will feel on the day

IMOK_me and finished lamb

6. How do it look when plated?

I am horribly guilty of this one. I have made a meal, had the idea in my head then gone…hmm…that looks really sad. Nothing is worse than this feeling especially when you have hungry guests waiting.

Again, chefs don’t always go with the first version in their head. Sometimes a colour is off, it needs a different shape, a different burst of flavour or something to make it pop.

How to fix this? Do a test run of sorts. Take your raw ingredients as best you can and try assembling them on the plate to see how it will work. Are the colours exciting or will you need a green herb garnish or some well placed salad leaves? Does the dessert need a puddle of sauce or would a spoon of whipped cream be better? Do the berries need to be cut smaller or are larger pieces ok?

Again, it all comes down to planning and what works for you. Sometimes you will find the dishes you thought would work to serve with don’t really. So you can either borrow new ones, buy some or change up how you present the meal. If you can tackle these questions in advance it can save a lot of heart ache later.

pinacolada icecream

7. Decide if each course will be plated or shared

Share style meals have become more and more popular as hosts have realised that it can take a lot of the stress out of a first time dinner party by creating share style meals that can be put down along a beautifully set table and the guests help themselves.

Of course, plated dining can be an experience in itself but if you are not confident just yet plating up individual meals for 4 or more people start simple and work your way towards this if you choose.

There are so many lovely serving platters and bowls on the market that can be served at the table without detracting from the dinner party vibe. Don’t be afraid to mix and match serving platters for a quirky feel. Match everything if you love it but don’t do a dinner party style for the sake of it, go with what works for you when you have the time to do it and it will feel joyous and fun for everyone.

antipasto

8. Have fun

Having a dinner party is about sharing meals and sharing a space around a table with friends and family. Host a dinner party and have fun and enjoy yourself. It’s not a reality tv competition, everyone is there to enjoy your food and company and enjoy themselves so join in the vibe.

family cooking collage

Love these tips and want to put them into action with a little more help? Send me your ideas and feedback to [email protected] and we can create a fun and easy packages to have you hosting dinner parties in no time.

 

 

 

Hints and tips for dinner party success

Have you ever read a lovely cookbook or foodie magazine and thought, “If Only”. If only I could make that food for friends, if only I could create a lovely table setting, if only if only. Well, what if having a dinner party is easier than you think?

About three weeks ago it was my 30th birthday. A couple factors weighed into deciding what exactly to do for my birthday

1) I am a chef

2) I love to entertain at home

3) I am half Italian

4) I have a courtyard and a brother who also loves to entertain thus access to tables, chairs and a gazebo

I think we all know where this is heading! The decision to entertain at home was a pretty sure thing especially as the guest list was numbering around 25. Now I know some of you reading this would be going into cardiac arrest at the thought of entertaining 25 people…at home! But it can be easy. Well sort of.

Dinner parties do strike the fear of failure into people’s hearts but it doesn’t need to be so. With planning and attention you can make having a large dinner party a breeze. It will be work in regards to planning aspects but at the end you get to kick back and enjoy yourself without having to be kicked out at a certain time. Plus your bed is just a few footsteps away. Magic.

Now to make sure you have a successful party there are some things to consider:

1) Do you have enough room?

There was for me – if not consider renting a hall or other space in your area

2) Is it all weather appropriate? Being a winter party warmth was a priority. K-mart was having a sale on small fleece blankets so I scooped up about 10 for $3 each to keep legs and shoulders warm as gazebos don’t really have the space to have a gas heater under and we weren’t going to eat around a fire so this was a second best thing idea and it actually worked – everyone was cozy. What I didn’t anticipate was the chance of rain. It did spit during set up which created a crazy scramble for shifting the covers and it did eventually rain hard which saw everyone run onto my balcony which was accommodating for sitting and chatting but not eating. Next time I would need to consider splashing out for a marquee just in case or finding an actual venue. So consider the following weather solutions – hand held fans for a summers day (make it a kitsch Spanish theme and it won’t seem out of place!) or pedestal fans placed inconspicuously around, an open fire (there are many great fire pits available from bunnings for a decent price) or gas heaters for winter or just blankets if need be. If it rains will your guests still be dry and comfortable? If there is a lot of sunshine will they get burnt easily or be shaded?

3) Do you need to rent/buy your set-up?

If you have to rent/buy all your tables, chairs, crockery, glasses and cutlery etc are you wanting to spend the $$$ on this? If so, no drama but it is something to consider in your budget. There are many great hire places that can do package deals and even deliver for a small percentage on top.

As aforementioned I could use my brothers tables, chairs and gazebo. The plates, cutlery and glasses I actually owned. Yes…a table setting for 25 people..how? I collect mismatched plates for blog props (check) and cool water glasses on sale (check) and have inherited a couple of cutlery setting between my own, my partners and my families (check check) so that just left table cloths, napkins and decorations to purchase. Easy

4) Are you comfortable cooking?

If you are not a confident cook consider a caterer to help with more complicated aspects or wrangling someone who knows someone who can help.You can make the nibbles or dessert whilst they take care of the main part leaving you to sit and enjoy yourself. Catering may seem like an indulgent choice but if you just need some aspects taken care of, not the whole meal, it can be money well spent. Or if you know someone like me who has an undercover chef package, I can be there on the day helping you along making you feel more confident in your kitchen 🙂 This has been the creation point for this service as I know what it is like to want to have a celebration but not just leave the work to someone else all the time. By having a cehf in your kitchen you can have some tips and assistance without the stress of going alone. Even I had my head chef from work (connections I know!) on hand on her weekend off to help me and join in the celebration at the same time. Otherwise, if you’re really unsure,  share style take-away such as your favourite Indian, Chinese or Thai can be a simple solution for share meals and you just focus on creating a lovely table setting and drinks.

5) Do you have a dishwasher?

I don’t. I did cook a lot of the food the day before but still, 25 people have a lot of plates, platters and some saucepans. I was lucky that a few friends pitched in and got the washing up down between us for a bit before dessert, but had they not the mountain would have been a bit ordinary. Something to consider with larger dinner parties. Hiring glasses and plates or using quality disposable options (there are many nice eco-friendly options available) can take care of the clean up mountain if you choose

6) Do you know how you would like to set the table?

A great party of having a dinner party at home is being able to theme the party and match your table accordingly. My birthday was an Italian feast so I googled, and searched Pinterest for ideas and inspiration. I was going to go the full blown cheesy Italian red checked tablecloths etc etc but I decided to tone it down a touch but still bring a sense of trattoria and tradition to the table setting. Never underestimate your ability to get creative with inexpensive items. My tablecloth? $10 from k-mart but I covered it with a roll of brown paper down the middle as a runner giving it a rustic feel but also toning down the white non-linen table cloth feel. Placemats? I didn’t really want to buy 25 red placemats for this dinner party so solution? Red wrapping paper cut into  placemat sized squares to sit under the plates. I had used tinned tomatoes and white beans in some of the menu so I bought Italian branded ones and kept the tins to hold my grissini sticks on the table. A little rustic touch that recycled my packaging from my ingredients. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a big impact. A little creativity can go a long way especially if you have magazines and pinterest at your fingertips. Just don’t get lost for hours like I do! 😉

The real secret to dinner party success? The age old adage of K.I.S.S – keep it simply simple (I know it’s keep it simple stupid but I think that’s a bit mean!) Start off with some basic ideas and menu items and build your way to a party for 25 in no time!

Love some more ideas or someone to lend a hand? Drop me a line at [email protected] to have a chat. Feel free to share some of your dinner party success stories here. Happy dining!

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie!

Dean Martin, I am sorry for using your song as a blog title. Well, not really to be honest because I tragically love that song to death and can often be heard singing it at home. To myself. Shamelessly.

But really, who doesn’t love pizza? When friends are coming over it can be easy to become frantic and wonder what to cook that is easy and sociable at the same time. My solution? Home made pizza. With the abundance of decent pizza bases make your own at home can be a fun experience as you create a topping bar and each guest makes their own pizza ensuring they are happy with the topping and there is a sense of fun to the experience instead of just dialing a number and waiting for a delivery of usually sub average take away pizza.

The great thing about pizza is that the toppings are limited to what you have on hand or really enjoy. Of course, nothing beats tradition such as pepperoni, four cheeses, prosciutto and rocket or margarita but when you are cooking at home I will look the other way when you break the rules, don’t worry.! 😉  I like to keep it simple with my toppings with prosciutto, rocket and Parmesan being my simple go to. My partner is a fan of the everything possible school of pizza toppings but again, this is where compromise is a beautiful thing in that we both get to have pizza our way by making our own.

Home made pizza bases are very simple to make. You can even freeze the excess dough before proving it  to have a quick mid week meal without fuss. Just roll the dough into individual sized balls, wrap well in cling film and freeze for about a fortnight or so before use.

So crack out the mixing bowl and roll up your sleeves to knead as you create you own pizza bases and have a great night in!

Home made pizza base

Ingredients

600g  of flour

1 teasp salt

1 sachet of dried yeast

1 teasp caster sugar

60ml olive oil

375ml lukewarm water

Method

1. Combine salt and flour in mixing bowl

2. Empty yeast sachet into warm water with sugar and mix. Allow to sit for about 5 mins or until mix is foamy and yeast is activated

3. Add olive oil to yeast mix and create well in middle of flour

4. Pour in liquid mix and using a knife cut the flour into the mix until well combined

5. Place rough dough onto floured bench and knead for about ten minutes until the dough is smooth and firm. Alternatively if you have a mixer with a dough hook, place inside and knead on low speed for ten minutes

6. Remove from bowl and place in large clean bowl with oiled sides. Place in warm area and cover with cling film

7. Allow to rise and prove for about 30min – 1 hour until doubled in size

8. Knock back and knead again, separate mix into appropriate size to cover your tray. Usually about 100g of mix will cover a 20cm round tray thinly which is how I like my bases

9. Top with your favourite ingredients and bake at about 180-200 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the base is golden

10. Cut up and enjoy!

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Undercover Chef Tip – Keeping it warm

Nothing is worse than creating a nice meal and have it go cold because the weather outside is a bit chilly. So how do you keep your food as warm whilst you eat? Warming plates under a low grill before you put your food on allows the food to stay warm whilst you eat without having to microwave it again whilst you are plating up the food for everyone. Just make sure you check your plates are safe to be heated and make sure you don’t blast it under a high grill, just allow them to warm gently under a low grill and take care to handle with them with a cloth. Plate up your food and relax because it will stay warm and taste delicious!

Buying your pumpkin and eating it too! How to make sure you make the most of pumpkins in your fridge

When the weather turns cold you can’t but help to think of warming dishes such as stews, casseroles and roast meats. The usual suspects also feature – roast vegetables. I am a big fan of roast vegetables as to me it brings out the sweetness and flavour of the root vegetables giving them a satisfying and unique flavour.

Alas not all vegetables for roasting are root vegetables and pumpkins are one of the exceptions. Their inviting orange flesh can be used for sweet or savoury dishes and it is very universal vegetable (fruit if we are being particular with the seeds/flowers and all) to prepare.

One pumpkin can be a task to get through for a single person or even a couple, so what do you do when you have a whole or even half a pumpkin rolling around in your crisper?

As mentioned, the most popular choice would be roast pumpkin closely followed by the sweet counterpart of pumpkin scones. Again, these tackle some of the pumpkin’s offerings but how do you utilise it without having an array of pots and pans?

I roasted my pumpkin two ways. One features garlic salt whilst the other is given a spicy kick with a chilli and lime salt. You can roast all the pumpkin at once, but create some different flavours to keep the leftovers interesting. No one really enjoys eating the exact same thing three days in a row and this is a way of mixing up the flavours whilst not wasting your crisper contents.

Another advantage of the roasted pumpkin is that it can easily be transformed into soup and frozen for later. I actually prefer to roast my pumpkins and blend with stock for soup as I feel that just simmering the pumpkins doesn’t bring out the depth of flavour they achieve with roasting. If you have some chicken stock ready to go in the freezer as featured in my last blog, it can be as simple as giving the stock a simmer, blending in the pumpkin and dinner is served. Pretty simple right?

Try also pureeing some of the pumpkin after giving it a steam to keep the water content down and have it frozen ready for scone making or thin it down with the chicken stock as soup for more versatility too.

Roast pumpkin is fabulous tossed through leafy green salads or even in a potato salad for a splash of colour and a kick of flavour. They can also be mashed up and folded through a potato mash for a bit of different side to your roast, sausages or casseroles.

However you like your pumpkins they are great vegetable to keep on hand. Have a go at some of the recipes below and tell me how you went. Happy cooking!

salmon salad

Recipes

Creating your own flavoured salts doesn’t need to be a task. Having a mortar and pestle or even a decent small blender/spice grinder can have your creating fabulous concoctions that bring your dishes alive.

lime salt

Lime and Chilli Salt Roast Pumpkin

Ingredients:

2-3 tbsp rock salt or course salt for grinding

½ tea spoon chilli powder (adjust according to your spicy preference)

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

Method

Place all ingredients into a mortar and pound with pestle until salt is broken up and flavourings are mixed through. If blending, same method applies

NB: You can use the lime juice to pep up the pumpkin once it is roasted. By using the zest you’re releasing all the fragrant oils into the salt

herb salt

Garlic and Herb Salt

Ingredients

2-3 tbsp rock salt

1 tbsp dried garlic

1 tbsp dried herbs – I used my own dried rosemary

Method: Place all ingredients in mortar and pound with pestle until combined

NB: I use dried garlic and herbs as the oils from fresh garlic can make it hard to sprinkle as it will clump together. If you are basting a meat with blend, use fresh garlic as you can then rub it in. The same applies for the herbs. I dried my own rosemary by handing it upside down in a cool area until the leaves became brittle and is stripped them from the stalk and store in an airtight container

pumpkin on tray

Roast Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

½ roast pumpkin

1l chicken or vegetable stock

4 cloves of roast garlic (if you like, add these with the pumpkin when roasting)

Method

Bring stock to a simmer, blend in pumpkin with stick blender and garlic and season to taste

NB: If you are using an upright blender please do not blend boiling hot stock as it will pop the lid and you can burn yourself – in this instance just ensure your stock is full defrosted if using from freezer or just pour in from the fridge and blend – bring the soup to a simmer once blended.

soup

Chicken stock to beat the winter blues

You can certainly feel the chill coming into the air here in Brisbane. With the chill has come the winter cold into our household. With two residents coughing, sniffling and generally feeling sorry for ourselves it was time to bring out the old cure all, chicken soup. One of the hardest working kitchen staples would have to be stock.

Chicken, vegetable, beef or fish, these are the staples of many sauces, soups and dishes of any chef’s repertoire. So why make one from scratch in your own home? A home made stock can yield much more than a flavourful broth. When I make my chicken stock I use either a whole chicken or chicken legs. Why? I hear you ask. To have the delicious yield of the meat and to further flavour the stock. By making your stock at home you can also add more vegetable and serve them with the meat and you know exactly what’s in the stock.

There are a few guidelines though that will help create a successful stock each time:

– Cleaver the whole chicken or legs through the meat just to the bone to allow the lovely bone marrow to release and flavour the stock. If just using chicken frames gently whack the frames with the back of a knife to achieve the same effect

-Cut your vegetables to serving size so you can spoon these out with the broth and flesh at the end    –

-Use a pressure cooker if you can – the quick cooking method keeps the flavour in and reduces stove time

– Add garlic for cold busting properties

– Parsley is added to stocks for a burst of flavour, if you are cooking a stock for two to three hours add the parsley towards the end to keep the freshness in

– Don’t boil your stock just simmer it – boiling clouds the stocks ad produces a scum which can be skimmed off but a gentle simmer allows the flavours to develop

– With a pressure cooker the stock will only take about half an hour, without one gently simmer your stock for about three to four hours

– The stripped chicken meat can be used in the stock, tossed into a salad or in a roll. It is cooked ready to go so enjoy!

Chicken stock and soup is just the basic starting point for meals. You can use it to create pureed soups such as pumpkin or corn or as a base for casseroles instead of water. In my next blog I will show you how to make no fuss pumpkin soup from left over roast pumpkins. Yum!

For a bit of a spicy kick you can also turn your stock into a Chinese master stock. Sounds impressive but it really is quite simple. The use of fragrant spices turns a simple stock into a complex broth just begging for silky noodles and shredded chicken. The best part of master stock is it can be kept for months in the fridge with a quick boil each week to ensure it doesn’t go off. I use my master stock as a quick meal as well by throwing a few dumplings in and slurping it down. Delicious!

So what’s the recipe? This one uses chicken drumsticks as a) they were on sale and b) if you’re not after a big yield of simmered chicken this is just right. The master stock follows below

 Simple Chicken Stock

Ingredients

6 chicken legs cleavered into bone

3 carrots peeled and cut into 3 cm circles 3 sticks of celery cut into small sections

4 garlic cloves

1 cup parsley stalks and leaves 1

onion cut into quarters  

Method

Place all the ingredients except the parsely into a stock pot

Top with water until covered with about 10cm of water

Bring to a simmer and leave for about an hour before adding parsely

Keep simmering for another two hours Remove chicken from pot, strip from bone

Keep vegetables (celery and carrot) and cut smaller if you like or keep chunky and rustic

Strain stock and cool in fridge if not eating straight away

If using for chicken soup, bring to simmer, add chicken meat and vegetables

Remove from heat, ladle into bowls and enjoy with generous chunks of fresh bread. Winter cold be gone!  

My version of Chinese master stock

NB  I use chicken as the base for this as I eat it with the broth and it gives it some depth. The addition of onion and carrot is also my variation as I like to eat the carrot as well and I feel onion is just delicious in any broth too. Not traditional ingredients but then it’s my version of the recipe so enjoy!

Ingredients

3 litres water

1 Whole chicken or 6 chicken drumsticks

1 brown onion

2 carrots cut into small pieces

½ cup light soy sauce

½ cup chinese cooking wine

¼ cup brown sugar or chinese rock sugar

50g fresh ginger (I sometimes put mine under the oven grill to bring out the flavour)  

Spice Bag – These spices are used to flavour the broth – for easy removal place in a muslin square and secure with string before adding to stock. If I am grilling my onion and ginger first I add the spices for a minute to bring out their flavour

5 garlic cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 cinnamon sticks

10 g (2 tsp) dried mandarin peel (available at most Asian grocers)

4 whole cloves

4 star anise

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 large red chilli  

Method

Place all ingredients into a large pot and cover with water If using pressure cooker, allow to come to steam and drop to simmer for about half an hour

If using stock pot, bring to gentle simmer and allow to cook for 2-3 hours

Remove from stove, discard spice bag, keep chicken meat and carrots, discard remaining ingredient and strain stock

If using as a base for marinades etc, bring to boil before storing in fridge in sealed container

Will keep for a long time (months) if boiled weekly If using as soup, bring to simmer with shredded chicken, carrots, cooked rice noodles and broccoli.Serve with a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of fish stock to taste.

 

You don’t win friends with salad….but I still love them

Pinterest Calamari

 

The title refers to one of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons wherein Lisa begs Homer to have a vegetarian BBQ and the family starts a song reminding her that ‘you don’t win friends with salad’ yet come summer and BBQ season, a good salad is always appreciated.

So what makes a good salad? To me it is the variety of textures and flavours. I love salads. It is my go to food any time of the year. In winter it is a warm salad with grilled vegetables or baked pumpkin, summer lends itself to crisp lettuce, vine ripened tomatoes and refreshing cucumber.

To flesh out a salad protein such as chickpeas, quinoa or meat is always a good start or a decent serve of carbohydrate such as potato, pumpkin or rice.

Fresh is always best so try to pick the crispest lettuce, nice ripe tomatoes, crunchy celery, green herbs and a variety of colours in your ingredients.

If in doubt, keep it simple. It is easy to throw the whole contents of the crisper in a bowl but there is an elegance in three or four quality ingredients combined and dressed to impress.

My Top Five Salads:

1. Asian Coleslaw – Crunchy, Tangy and add some fresh chilli for a spicy kick. What’s not to love?

2. Greek Salad – The taste of the Mediterranean in a bowl. Creamy fetta marries perfectly with tangy tomatoes and cool cucumbers for a summer treat

3. Baked potato salad – For a twist in the classic, bake your small cubes of potatoes first and dress when warm with a combination mustard and mayo dressing

4. Chickpea and kale – Pack a protein punch with a combination of chickpeas, finely diced red onion, shredded kale and pumpkin seeds for crunch. Top with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing and you’re good to go

5. Broccoli and spinach – Finely chop your raw broccoli, toss with baby spinach leaves and dress it up with flaked almond and dried cranberries. Great for a sunday bbq

 

 

I had a hankering for a seafood salad so I am going to share a grilled calamari and prawn salad. The ingredients are pretty simple and the method quick thus making for an easy mid-week dinner. I love to use fresh herbs in salads to create a bit of punch and flavour but you can always chop them up in a dressing if you don’t like leafy herbs in your dishes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

salad ingredients

4 squid tubes

250 g prawn meat

1 cup shredded wombok cabbage

1/4 large cucumber cut into thin strips

1/2 large capsicum diced into small cubes

1/2 cup of Thai basil and coriander

1/2 cup spinach

1 small can chickpeas

150 g butternut pumpkin sliced

2 tbsp Thai seasoning mix from gourmet garden tube

Juice one medium lemon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Dressing

3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

2-3 teasp fish sauce

Juice one lime

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp thai seasoning mix

squid

 

 

Method:

– cut squid tubes in half and cross score. Place in bowl with prawns and marinate with Thai seasoning mix, lemon juice and olive oil for half an hour (I use the tube mix as easy, fresh and no fuss)

– heat grill or fry pan to medium heat, cook sliced pumpkin until soft, set aside

– heat grill or pan to high, sear squid until opaque and almost cooked through, add prawns and cook both until opaque and cooked through

– remove from heat and cut tubes into 5cm strips

– mix salad ingredients together, add squid and prawns

– pour over dressing as desired and enjoy!

 

sallad complete

Easy Peasy Lamb Burgers

Creating interesting and nice dinner options can be a bit of a chore when you really aren’t sure what you feel like and the thought of opening a recipe book seems too much like work. Well for me it’s a lot like being at work but that’s another story! I decided burgers were on the cards and to ramp up the fanciness and exclamations of oh la la’s I decided to make lamb mince patties.

To me the secret of a good burger pattie is some spice, some herbs and something to create moisture when you are cooking the meat so you don’t end up with a round pattie of well…mince really. Some may argue with me but I don’t believe that mince in inherently tasty unless perhaps you make your own but not many people have a mincer these days nor the inclination to fire it up. So how to make mince tasty I hear you ask? And why is moisture important?

Salt and pepper are a good start as a seasoning but think of complimentary flavours. For lamb, morroccan style spices work well, or fresh herbs and garlic are always easy. I went with a morroccan spice blend, thrown together from the spice rack in my cupboard. Why moisture I hear you ask? Some minces have a lot of fat, some not so much. As fat melts is creates flavour and moisture which in turn help create plump and juicy burger patties as opposed to dry and crumbly ones. If you lean towards the well, lean side of mince you need something else besides fat to create moisture and flavour. I used grilled eggplant due to their high water content (they are like a sponge, trust me) and some breadcrumbs soaked in milk. This is a little chef secret. If you are gluten free by all means use gluten free breads crumbs, they are more a medium to absorb the liquid and then release it as the temperature rises and it turns to steam. Lactose free, just use water, it will work just as well.

Im all about fuss free cooking so I grilled my eggplant in rounds with the onion and then added it to the blender with some extra spices, the milk soaked breadcrumbs, gave it a whizz and added it to the mince. I formed the patties and let them sit for about and hour to firm up before grilling. I used grilled capsicum and zucchini, bbq sauce, some of the grilled onion and spinach leaves to top the bun. I also toasted the bun on the BBQ for some extra zing. Feel free to use what you wish, hommus or yoghurt dressing would be lovely, rocket or plain lettuce, sliced tomato and cucumber, the freedom to choose is yours! These burgers can also be made in advance and frozen, or made, eaten and the leftovers frozen for another scrumptious meal. You can make smaller meatball style for a canape or to fill a wrap as well.

Ingredients:

– 1 Packet of lamb mince (usually 500g)

– 1 eggplant

– Two carrots

– 1 Capsicum

– 1 red onion

– 1/4 cup chopped parsley

– Moroccan or otherwise seasoning of your choice

– 2-3 slices of bread or one bread roll

Method:

1. Soak bread in just enough milk to cover

2. Slice eggplant and onion and season with spices and brush with olive oil. Split open capsicum lengthways, remove seeds and brush with olive oil.

3. Grill eggplant, capsicum and onion until softened. Set capsicum aside for burger topping, place eggplant and onion in a food processor.

4. Chop carrot into small enough pieces for processor, add to eggplant and onion mix with bread and seasoning to taste, blend until smooth paste

5. Fold through mince until well incorporated

6. Form into patties or meatballs and set in fridge for at least one hour NB: The larger the patties the longer the cooking time so ensure the patties are of reasonable thickness so as to not burn before cooking through – approx 2cm would suffice

7. Grill or pan fry the patties until golden and cooked through

8. Assemble burgers or wraps with toppings of your choice

9. Assume burger grip and tuck in