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Daily decadence doesn’t mean you’re a slave to the stove

 

 

Creating and preparing food is a part of my life. I’ll admit, some days when I get home from work buttered toast is about as bothered and I feel like being. It all comes down to one question though.

What to have for dinner? Everyone has lamented this question at least once. More often than not the answer to this question is to make the usual go to meal. Busy lives, limited time and other things to do can take you away from the stove and experimenting with something new.  Not to mention the cost of new ingredients and the risk of it not working. Time and money wasted.

What if the decision could be made easier by changing up the favourite dishes you have to create a new take on the skills you already have? Trying something new doesn’t have to mean creating a whole new dish. You know what you, your partner or possibly the family  like to eat. These are the keys to a fabulous meal. Fresh ingredients can lend themselves to all sorts of meals. Bolognese sauce can be teamed with spaghetti, made into lasagne or rolled into arancini. A whole chicken can be broken down into pieces to create stock, breast pieces for schnitzel, the thighs for stir fry. With a little know how creating new meals can be easy.

This week I had the pleasure of creating a meal for my friends and of course comes the question – What to cook? Roast chicken pieces came to mind, a Greek salad and some potatoes. A simple meal really. What can make the difference is the way it is cooked and prepared. Greek salad can be fancied up with a few simple tricks. Instead of cutting everything into cubes you can mix it up. Slice the tomatoes, make cucumber ribbons, thin strips of capsicum and crumbled fetta, all of a sudden the simple salad is a worthy side dish. Roast potatoes? Cut them into uniform wedges and they will happily sit on the plate below the pride of place roast chicken pieces. Set the table with cutlery, napery and a water glass and suddenly the meal becomes an elegant dinner without taking more than an extra ten minutes to bring some care and attention to your meal.

 

Simple ingredients for a delicious meal

We easily assume that a decadent meal must include ingredients such as truffle, expensive wine, wagyu steak and more. Perhaps for some, but not always. What if decadence is just sitting at a table, savouring each bite and enjoying the fruits of your labour. What if decadence is about just stepping it up a notch from your usual repertoire with a tweak that has your family clamouring for more. Or just you licking the bowl for seconds 😉

Stepping it up a notch can be easier than you think. Remember your favourite childhood meal? I used to love when my mum cleaned fresh squid from the fish monger and sauteed it with garlic and parsley. So simple. Stepping it up a notch? Grill it on a bbq, squeeze on some lemon and create a herb salad with some cucumber ribbons, roast cherry tomatoes, pickled red onions and suddenly you have a bistro esque meal all in the comfort of your own home.

Where to find your inspiration? Books, magazines and cooking shows can give you inspiration for different meal ideas. Chefs often look at other menus, current magazines and online forums for new trends and methods. Food has seen so many trends come and go. What remains though are the skills and techniques behind the dishes. Like a helping hand in the kitchen from someone who has many a meal under their belt? Drop me a line and I can show you how. Happy eating!

Not just a pumpkin scone – my mother’s pumpkin scones

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Well actually, this is a recipe for pumpkin scones, but not just any pumpkin scones, old school recipe from the 60’s pumpkin scones -mmmm. Once again I baked some treats from my mother’s high school recipe book and happened across the pumpkin scones and with a 1/4 pumpkin looking forlorn in the fridge and no immediate use in mind a scone it was destined to become!

A few hints for getting the pumpkin to the mashed stage as per the recipes request

– steam if you can don’t boil: pumpkins already have quite a high moisture content and boiling floods them with even more creating a sloppy mash even if you drain it well – steaming prevents this from happening thus ensuring you won’t need to add a lot of flour to compensate

– if you can, bake the pumpkin at a low heat (150 degrees Celsius) until soft for a lovely texture – the low heat ensures the pumpkin doesn’t over colour

As these are home made pumpkin scones and thus have no preservatives if you’d like to have them for more than a couple of days (if they can stay around that long!) freeze them and defrost and toast for an afternoon tea later in the week. Once again I served mine with apricot jam (its a weakness) and lashings of butter. Delicious!

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups SR flour

1 cup mashed pumpkin

60 g butter

1 egg

60g sugar

1/2 cup milk

Method

– Rub butter into flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs

– Make well in centre of flour, mix milk with egg and sugar, fold into flour with a butter knife

– Add mashed pumpkin and mix to soft dough

– The mix will be sticky, flour your hands and use a piece of baking paper to roll the dough out onto

– Once the dough is rolled to about 3 cm thickness cut into rounds with cutter and place on tray

– Brush with milk for a more golden colour if desired

– Bake in oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 10-15 min until golden

– Allow to cool, crack open, butter up and dig in. Yumm….

pumpkin scone ingredients

pumpkin scone dought rolled

pumkpin scone mixed

pumpkin scone finished v3

Teaching the art of the ravioli

I recently had the pleasure of teaching my pasta and in turn home made ravioli. We kept it simple with a spinach and ricotta filling but had a great time making it. Amy was so excited to be my first client of the In My Own Kitchen cooking lessons and her only instructions were to teach her something fun and healthy.

The recipe I used for the pasta is a pretty standard ratio and seems to work every time for me which is always a bonus. Depending on the type of flour you use and the size of your eggs on hand (I usually have large eggs) you may need to add one more egg if they are on the small size or a little bit of water in the mixing process if it’s just that bit too dry. Purest would use 00 flour or tipo 00 which is a high protein flour. The higher protein also means higher gluten, the ingredient that creates the chemical reaction in the dough allowing it to stretch and become silky smooth. This of course is a very simplified explanation of how gluten works in cooking and doughs, I’m sure a quick internet search could enlighten you more! 🙂 In any case, normal plain flour will do that trick but it may require extra rolling through the machine to ensure it is silky smooth. Be prepared, pasta making is simple but requires some love and patience to ensure you don’t have lumpy and tough dough.

Some little secrets for lovely pasta – rest it and relax it. Who doesn’t love a nice relaxing lounge around after a good workout?! Same goes with pasta and any dough for that matter. The kneading process is like a good workout, you are creating a frame work of ingredients that are forming together to make your tough. Think if them as muscles that are continually flexing and stretching. Now imagine trying to push those muscles into a shape after all that exercise. Not fun hey? Same goes with doughs. Allow at least 20 mins of resting, covered in cling film so it doesn’t dry out. This gives the dough time to relax the frame work and do it’s thing. In savoury and sweet pastry making this ensures the dough doesn’t shrink in your pan or mould due to the pressure the framework is under. The result? Silky smooth not shrunk dough. How does it get any better than that? You make ravioli of course!

Pasta can be flavoured with other ingredients such as spinach, lemon zest or lemon oil (just replace the olive oil in the recipe), herbs and colourings such as beetroot powder or squid ink. For ingredients such as spinach, it contains a high level of moisture so ensure you drain it thoroughly once cooked to ensure your dough doesn’t get sloppy. Hard herbs such as rosemary and thyme need to be chopped finely to ensure they don’t tear the dough when rolling as they aren’t as flexible. Otherwise open the pantry and experiment. One may even say, show me the dough!

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Right, to the ravioli – the recipe:

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Ingredients:

4 cups of plain flour

4 eggs

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1-2 tbsp water

500g spinach chopped

250g ricotta

3 cloves garlic – crushed

1 small onion diced

Salt and pepper

Method:

Pasta – place flour on bench and create small well in middle of flour mound

In a cup crack out eggs and whisk in olive oil and water

Slowly fold flour into eggs until mix comes together as rough dough

Start to knead the dough for about 5 – 8 min until the dough is soft and smooth – you can use a mixmaster, kenwood or kitchenaid with the hook attachment as well although i find you need to bring your dough together first and then place in the machine for smaller quantities.

Cover with cling film and place to side to rest for 10-15 minutes

Filling:

Saute onion in a pan until starting to soften, add garlic and continue cooking until golden and soft

Add spinach and allow it to wilt down, remove from heat and allow it cool to room temperature

When cooled, add ricotta, salt and pepper and set in fridge whilst making pasta

To assemble:

Break dough into smaller portions and roll pasta through machine starting at dial one and progressing to dial 5, creating long sheets NB: I used the attachment for my kitchen aid although you can find cheap and cheerful pasta machines in most cookware shops – a little more elbow greases is required but still creates great pasta!

Place sheets down on floured bench and spoon mix out even rows approx 2-3 cm apart

Brush around the filling with water or 1 egg yolk beaten to create a seal

Lay a second sheet of pasta over the sheet with filling and press down around the filling

Cut into squares around the filling and pick up each pillow and press around to seal fully

Ravioli is ready to cook

NB: Ravioli can be frozen raw when laid flat on trays with cling film separating each layer

 If the pasta tears when making ravioli discard torn portion as any holes or rips will cause the filling to come out

Pasta sheets can also be cut into circles to make ravioli for a dinner party look

To cook:

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

Gently place ravioli into pan ensuring there is plenty of water and room for the ravioli to move around

Allow to cook for approx 5 minutes or until pasta is soft to the bite

Remove from water with slotted spoon and place in oiled dish ready for sauce

Ravioli fillings are as limited as your imagination – keep it soft though for ease of handling

Some suggestions:

– sweet potato, marscapone and caramelised onion

– chestnut, chicken and sage

– rabbit and thyme

– pumpkin and walnut

Most importantly, have fun, for that is what cooking is about 🙂

How to Have your Lamb and Eat it Too!

I take it in turns with my family to cook dinner or dessert and tonight’s feast with be braised lamb neck cannelloni with a roast tomato sauce.

I am such a fan of meat braised on the bone. The smells, the juiciness and the succulence of the meat falling off the bone is enough to make me swoon.

The plus side of slow cooked meats is that they are relatively cheap. That is until they become fashionable again and your previously $2/kg meats sky rockets to $10/kg…beef cheeks anyone?

Alas I digress. I cheated a little in this recipe as I currently can’t remember where I have put my pasta attachment after bringing it home from work thus I used pre-made lasange sheets. When I find the attachment I will update with a pasta recipe. Nothing beats fresh pasta though these days the store bought varieties are improving.

So, the recipe! This will serve four as an entree or three people as a main with a salad or other yummy side

Ingredients:

6-8 lamb necks

1 onion – chopped into chunks (it’s a braise, precision is not required here)

1 carrot – chopped in chunks

2 stalks of celery – chopped into chunks

2-3 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup white wine (whatever is opened in the fridge but make sure it’s not too old – bad wine is never a compliment to good cooking)

Chopped hard herbs – oregano, rosemary, thyme

4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped

1 jar of tomato passata (the jars of tomato puree)

salt and pepper

 

Method:

1. Brown the lamb necks in a heavy based pan in a medium – high heat on both sides. Don’t be scared to eave them to brown, this caramelisation imparts a lovely flavour into the cooking liquid.

2, When browned add the wine to the pan with the necks still in, remove necks and add carrot, onion and celery and allow to simmer with 1 cup of water.

3. Add garlic, herbs, seasoning and tomato paste and allow to come to a simmer.

4. Lay necks over bottom of oven proof dish and pour cooking liquor over to cover. Add water as required to cover ingredients  Season to taste but remember it will be cooking for awhile so the liquor will reduce and become saltier in time. For more flavour add herbs and garlic, easy on the salt to begin.

5. Place in oven and cook at 160 degrees for approx 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the necks easily come off the bone. the necks can also be cooked in a slow cooker according to manufactures instructions.

6.  When the lamb necks are cooked, remove from cooking liquor and strain the sauce. Allow the necks to cool enough to handle before removing meat from bone.

As specified this recipe is best started a day ahead to allow the sauce to sit overnight to allow the fat to come to the top. If you don’t have the time/inclination, not a worry just strain the fat off the top and proceed with the recipe.

7. To finish the sauce, remove the fat from the top and strain the vegetables. Place in a clean pan with the passatta and bring to a simmer. Allow to bubble and reduce, checking the seasoning. It shouldn’t require more salt as the reduction again will intensify the flavour. Allow to simmer to rich saucy consistency.

8. When the lamb neck is cooled and pulled off the bone, cut into even sized pieces as shown in the photo.

9. To assemble cannelloni, if using ready made sheets place on board as shown in picture. Spread a small portion of the meat onto the pasta sheet and spoon some sauce onto the meat to add some moisture to the cooking process.

10. Spoon enough of the sauce into an oven proof dish to cover the bottom. Roll the cannelloni up and place in dish as shown in picture. When all cannelloni are complete, cover with enough sauce to coat evenly and cover dish with alfoil. Place in oven at 175 degrees and back for approx 15-20min until the pasta is cooked.

11. You can sprinkle with cheese before cooking or after as desired. Serve in bowls with extra sauce spooned in the bottom with some crusty bread and a nice green salad on the side. Bon appetit!

 

 

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