food photography

The road to becoming a chef – part one

My career has had some really interesting and hard moments contributing to some amazing opportunities and learning experiences. The path to being a chef is one that is chosen for a variety of reasons – some have a history of cooking in their family, some just like the idea of the job and for some it is a lifelong passion that takes them to the stove.

My journey to the professional kitchen started at home. I didn’t always want to be a chef. To be honest my first love was art and I saw myself as an art teacher – the practical part of me considered this to be a safe bet – explore my interest whilst having a steady income – or so my childhood brain reasoned.

I always loved being in the kitchen though. It wasn’t uncommon for one of our household duties to be to peel potatoes, top and tail beans or just generally assist in the kitchen. I didn’t know it at the time but I was lucky in that my mother loved to cook. She experimented, she explored and she included me in these adventures. My father was also instrumental in my food fascination – an Italian farmer turned builder, his green thumb saw our large backyard vegetable garden turning out fresh crops of seasonal produce year after year. Both these things I just accepted as what our family did – I didn’t realise that not everyone’s house has a vegetable patch the size of most courtyards or that their mums actually like to cook meals for six hungry mouths.

I was also one of those kids who grumbled that their mum made their biscuits for their lunch box – why couldn’t we have the ones off the shelf like all the other kids? The horror I know. A defining moment for me in how simple food cooking with love can be an invitation is a strong memory from primary school – it was multicultural day and we could dress in national dress from other countries and were to bring a plate of food to share. We had a Polish costume (my mums heritage) on hand for just that occasion but the food part wasn’t prepared yet. My mum offered me a plate of freshly cooked pikelets with a smear of strawberry jam on top. I was mortified. Pikelets? Really? But soon I was to be shamed more at myself for my behavior as my classmates eagerly devoured the plate of treats and told me how good they were. Needless to say I ate my words along with the pikelets that day. That memory serves as a gentle reminder to me often of the power of simplicity and has shaped the foods I enjoying cooking and the meals I relish.

Having access to fresh seasonal vegetables and even visiting the produce markets at Rocklea as a child also shaped my interest in food. Dad planted all sorts of vegetables – from the much maligned (by me) broccoli and cauliflower to the crisp and sweet greens beans and my favourite, the deep red tomatoes. It wasn’t uncommon for him to return home from the local fruit shop and delicatessen with a tray of fresh peaches and paper wrapped parcels of salami and prosciutto.

 

(picking oranges with Dad)

Having so many varieties of foods growing in my backyard taught me about the seasons, the work and care that goes into producing such crops and the joy of eating fresh foods. As we we used to fight over mum’s salads, from the crunchy slightly pickled cucumbers to the finely shredded bitter radicchio dressed in olive oil and vinegar. We used to love biting into the leaves of cooked artichokes, fingers dripping with dressing as we scraped the leaves with our teeth before indulging in the soft choke in the middle. All of these sides were simple home cooked fair but they revealed the simple pleasure of sharing food together. I used to love peeling roasted chestnuts with my Dad that had been buried in the coals of the barbecue whilst we ate, their scored skins gently cracking open and the nut becoming golden and inviting. These moments were about food as an invitation to come together and share – share our meal, share our stories, share our love.

As I grew older I started to contribute more and more to the family meal times. I found myself enjoying the process and starting high school introduced me to Home Economics. Here is where I started to really relish the joy of following a recipe and turning out food items others wanted to taste before they had come out of the oven or off the stove. I was lucky to have teachers who were just as passionate as me and guiding my love of food and nurturing my budding talent, allowing me to extend myself and try new things.

By senior year Hospitality as a subject was calling. Here was my chance to really see what possibilities could await in a career in food. Each lesson was a chance to push myself and try new things. Work experience at the Sheraton Noosa opened my eyes to a whole new world. Again I was lucky as my teacher knew I was contemplating a career as a chef, so she allowed me to spend the four days in the kitchen, versus swapping into another area after two days, as was protocol at the time. I felt so at home. I knew that this was where I belonged.

(work experience at Sheraton Noosa)

Soon after I started cooking more interesting foods at home, our Sunday lunches turned into my chance to cook two to three course meals to test my talents. Recipe books were poured over as I sought inspiration for meals. I remember one of my first dishes was pumpkin soup. I was so proud as I created the cream swirl and sprinkled chopped up parsley on top. Another successful recipe was chicken tortellini but I was soon regretting embarking on such a labour intensive recipe. It seemed I was eager to try it all.

Of course with any learning curve there were also the flops. The big ones. My family still snigger occasionally and bring up what they refer to as the crème caramel surprise. The surprise was how awful it tasted. Imagine seven eager faces looking to my creation (my siblings had partners over at the time) and this awful slurping sound coming from the dish as I upended it – this was followed by a pale sad caramel gushing out before the undercooked custard flopped unceremoniously to the plate. Needless to say we didn’t all rush in with our spoons for a taste of that one.

These moments though taught me to keep trying. To investigate what went wrong and how to fix it. It taught me that attention to detail when cooking can mean the difference between success and failure. I hadn’t cooked the caramel enough before adding the custard mix contributing to the watery undercooked mess that day. Years later I could turn out over 50 individual crème caramels that had a beautiful dark caramel and that much sought after wobble on the plate. That one setback wasn’t going to inhibit me from trying again.

I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t choose to be a chef. It seems to be in my blood. My hands itch when I haven’t cooked for a few days, especially on holidays. My childhood adventures created a pathway for my adult realization of a dream. Stay tuned for my next exploration of becoming an apprentice and cooking in competitions in front of a crowd.

What is creating Christmas Magic with Luisa and Jennie?

xmas collage

 

Christmas can be an interesting time of year. People are either stressed out shopping for the “perfect” gift or looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the break. Sometimes you may be like me for the last 14 years in the hospitality industry and you are dreading the onslaught of Christmas parties that bring long lunches, busy shifts and not a lot of holiday cheer.

So what if we could change this? What if we could create some Christmas magic that brings joy, happiness and sparkle back into your life? Regardless of your religious beliefs about this season, the universal desire to be with family, celebrate love and cheer and create a special time to come together and take a moment to appreciate all that we have has no boundaries. 

This year I am looking forward to Christmas as a time to stop, reflect and appreciate this year, my family, my partner, friends and my job. Christmas magic for me is also about taking the time to create gifts from the heart for those around us to show our love and appreciation for them. Simple gestures that reflect the recipients taste, likes and hobbies can go a long way to creating a gesture of love. 

When I was younger my mother always helped me create birthday cards for my classmates. At the time I found this horribly embarrassing and wondered why I couldn’t just buy birthday cards like everyone else but as time has passed and I have found the cards I made for my parents I can’t  help but smile at the memories and creativity that has gone into each one. 

Tapping into our creativity in a supportive and fun environment goes beyond that which we are making in front of us. This space can allow us to nurture our skills and the pleasures we take in forming beautiful foods, objects and decorations. In my busy weeks at work I lost sight of the pleasure of doing something different and creating something beautiful. I started to come back to the simple childhood pleasure of colouring in and this joy and fun has led me to creating a Christmas class with my friend Jennie. We would like to invite you to come play with us, taking time to nurture your creativity and explore what else you could make and have fun with. We come with many years’ experience playing with recipes, creating sewing or craft projects and delighting in homemade objects with a recipient in mind. 

What if you and your body are yearning for a space to come play with beautiful ribbons, sweet smelling spices and fun to play with salt dough? What if it didn’t matter what you created but just that you allowed yourself to create and just choose to have some fun with it? Interested? Yearning to join? For more info on the class click here for the nitty gritty and to book. We hope to have you join us for some Christmas magic soon.

 

Undercover Chef Tip – Having your cake and cutting it too

Undercover chef tip - Cut the cake

 

Ever starting cutting up a beautiful birthday cake and found by the third slice it looks a little less than beautiful? So what to do? 

An easy solution is to warm up the knife in hot water to allow it to cut through the icing cleanly. 

So how do you warm up the knife easily? Just place some hot water in a measuring jug, dip the knife in for a few seconds, slice through with ease, wipe off the knife with paper towel, re-dip and continue to cut, repeating the dip and wipe with each slice. 

The result? Lovely clean slices that do justice to the cake. Woohoo. 

 

Got your cooking L-plates? Now check out my top utensils for success in the kitchen

When moving out of home for the first time or even just working out whether to update you current kitchen kit, the assortment of gadgets and do dads on the market can leave you feeling overwhelmed and scared of the monetary commitment to cooking. Fear not though, cooking delicious and interesting food doesn’t require a commercial kitchen or the utensils found in one. With my list of top ten kitchen instruments most if not all recipes can be made from scratch. I will also list my top ten appliances that can make tasks easier and quicker which are great when you’ve learnt the basics. So where do you start?

1. A cook’s knife.

A good quality, sharp knife will make short work of any task in the kitchen. The key note here is sharp – there is no point in spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy knife if you don’t know how to keep it sharp. Check out my post here on what type of knife to buy when you’re just starting out. Not sure how to keep your knife sharp? Check out my hints in this video here. No knife is worth it’s salt if the blade is blunt. All you will do is bruise herbs, mangle produce and butcher meat in the most unfortunate way. Have a sharp knife if you hand? Cutting onions will be a breeze and you’ll be slicing your way to success in no time.

2. A chopping board.

A large, sturdy and high quality plastic cutting board will allow you to prep what you need safely, easily and hygienically. Wooden boards are beautiful but for items other than bread, fruit and vegetables I wouldn’t use anything other than plastic. Meats, chicken and fish all belong on a non porous board you can clean and scrub. Many hospitality stores supply to the public and you can pick up a commercial grade board from there or other quality department stores.

3. Measuring cups

Measuring cups are essential for accuracy when following a recipe. After many years cooking in a kitchen I do have a good eye to gauge approximates for items such as herbs, vegetables, and fruit but when cooking pastry items I always measure accurately to ensure success every time. You don’t need to spend a lot on these – if you like novelty styles by all means enjoy but your basic supermarket variety will do the job just fine

4. Measuring spoons

These are essential. The difference in too much and too little baking powder, salt and spices can make or break many a recipe. Have you ever seen a cake explode from too much baking powder? or been a little overwhelmed by the amount of spices in a curry? I have and all from misreading and mis-measuring the ingredients. Using the spoons even for the most seemingly insignificant detail will eliminate the chances of these sorts of disasters happening to you.

5. Digital scales

Again for accuracy’s sake digital scales can be a must – many scales these days also have a ml measurement which means you don’t need to change bowls or grab the cups or jug to measure out multiple ingredients – you can just tare to zero, change to ml and off you go. Time saving and accurate? Who doesn’t love that in the kitchen!

6. Whisk, spoon and ladle

Now I know this is technically a threesome but when it comes to these sorts of utensils they tend to come as a group. Whisks are great for sorting out lumps, whipping cream and mixing cakes. The ladle will serve up soups, strain sauces and dish out casseroles. Spoons will stir, allow you to taste and even serve depending on the dish. High quality plastic ones will do a great job and if you feel like splashing out silicone versions are also melt proof and won’t scratch so are great to use on all your pots and pans.

7. Strainer/colander 

Now I know you’re wondering why this is on the top ten list – but let me tell you the humble colander can do a lot more than strain pasta and rice. Canned beans/legumes? Check. Storing fruits such as raspberries and strawberries in the fridge? Check. Strain yoghurt to make cheese? Check. (Just place a new kitchen wipe over a larger hole colander to strain). Keep flies away? Check. (Just turn it upside down over your food). Have one of those lovely enamel ones? They are great as a fruit bowl allowing air to circulate and keep your produce fresh. Convinced a colander is a good idea? Check.

8. Thick tea towels/oven mitts

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to take a hot tray out of the oven or take a pot off the stove and the thin tea towel allows the heat to come through creating a dangerous situation. Good quality thick tea towels can also do double duty ensuring your plates and cutlery are wiped dry not leaving half the water droplets behind. Stylish vintage tea towels also do double duty as a great prop for foodie photos celebrating you culinary masterpieces. You don’t need to spend a fortune on designer tea towels for quality – again most hospitality stores should stock the quality that chefs use – and we handle hot items all day.

9. Mixing bowls

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a recipe and running out of bowls. Nesting sets are usually easy to come by in most shops and even dollar shops can be a great place to find both metal and plastic bowls. Metal bowls are great for making sauces, melting chocolate or scrambling eggs over boiling water whilst plastic ones are great for everyday cooking. Glass bowls are stain proof and durable but avoid placing boiling water or soups etc in them in case they are not tempered and can crack. Glass bowls can also do double duty as for fruit, desserts and salads.

10. Mandolin/grater

A mandolin is one of the contraptions you see that can slice matchsticks, thicker batons, ribbons and scallops out of potato. Whilst a knife will do the trick when you are in a rush a mandolin can make short work of these tasks. Shredding cabbage for coleslaw is a breeze with a mandolin. A grate can also do the same making short work of carrots and cabbage. Pre-grated cheese can have anti-caking chemicals which can be avoided by grating your own. Make matchsticks out of raw beetroots for a nice change to a salad. Slicing your own vegetable chips or fruit to dry is also a snap with a mandolin.

We all scream for ice-cream

Summer days are meant for ice-cream. Cool taste sensations and flavours that delight the tongue, what could be more exciting?

Sometimes though, store bought ice-cream can reveal a whole lot of interesting additives, flavours, extenders (water, vegetable shortening, wheat starch) which I prefer to leave on the shelves, not in my stomach. So how you get your ice-cream fix without the stress? The joy that is no-churn ice-cream!

That’s right, no longer do you need to pull your mix out of the freezer and bend your beaters (a lesson I learnt all too well…use the heavy duty paddle next time Luisa…). With this recipe you just mix, whip, fold and freeze. Easy. I will include the traditional recipe as well if you do own a churner as these are also fabulous and a churner does make life a lot easier when creating fantastic ice-cream creations!

So why use sweetened condensed milk in these recipes? The ingredients of condensed milk are just milk, milk solids and sugar. When making traditional ice-cream you use milk, cream, sugar and eggs so this is great for those with egg allergies and there are no thickeners, additives, colours or preservatives. The condensed milk stabilises the ice-cream mix the way eggs do in the traditional recipes allowing you to have the same smooth texture without the fuss. The only difference for me was it is quite rich so a couple of spoons will do.

When creating your own mix, don’t be afraid to get creative with flavours for exciting combinations. Here are some of my favourites:

Hazlenut and chocolate – add a generous scoop of nutella to the mix. If making no churn stir into the condensed milk, if making custard add to the milk and cream mix

White chocolate and passionfruit – for no churn add 100g melted white chocolate and 100ml of passionfruit puree. For the churn, double the amount and add the chocolate to the milk when heating and passionfruit at end.

Strawberry – to make puree blend 150g strawberries with 2 tbsp of icing sugar and strain – add to mix

Malt – for the no churn dissolve 2 tbsp malt in 5tbsp of the pure cream warmed and add to the condensed milk. For the churned add the malt powder to the milk and cream mix when heating

Stay tuned for further recipes teaching you how to make praline mix in’s, fun serving ideas and home made toppings. Yum!

So without further ado, the no-churn ice-cream:

No Churn Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 1 can condensed milk (340g)
  2. 300ml pure cream
  3. Splash of vanilla essence
Instructions
  1. Combine vanilla and condensed milk
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks
  3. Fold through cream and milk mixture softly until well combined

And if you’d like to churn your own vanilla ice-cream?

Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 560ml cream
  2. 188ml milk
  3. 210g sugar
  4. 6 egg yolks
  5. 1 vanilla pod
Instructions
  1. Bring the cream, milk, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer
  2. Whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Mix through the cream and milk with the yolks
  4. Place back on stove in clean pot over low heat and stir until mixture thickens
  5. Strain and allow to cool and chill
  6. Place into churner and follow your machines instructions
Cooking out custard can be a bit tricky so here are some troubleshooting tips
  1. 1. It looks like scrambled eggs – your stove was too hot and the egg yolks cooked too quickly. Never fear, the solution is to allow the mix to cool a little, then add it to a blender and whiz until smooth and strain through a fine sieve. Make sure the mixture is cooled before blending otherwise it can overflow and cause burns
  2. 2. It looks watery and you’ve been stirring for quite a long time – you may need to increase the heat of your stove – a low to medium heat works well for induction and electric, gas should work quickly on low
  3. 3. I need to churn the ice-cream in a hurry – To cool the custard quickly, place the bowl of custard over another bowl filled with ice and water and stir the custard mix until cooled and churn

Cooking your best without the stress

What if creating in the kitchen could be fun and easy?

What if you could go from this:

frustrated cooking empty fridge man upset cooking

To this:

davin and erin jane family under cover chef simon

Any of these scenarios familiar? A whole lot of ingredients and no idea what to do? A mix that just hasn’t worked? Empty fridge and it’s dinner time? What if all these problems could be solved with ease?

After nearly 14 years as a chef and many more cooking at home, I have seen all sorts of interesting disasters and had to handle plenty of my own. But still cooking has been one of the most interesting and fun contributions to my life. What if the mistakes I have made and learnt from could be the key to showing you how fun and easy food can be? 

I have worked in kitchens all over the world from here in Brisbane to London and Canada. I have cooked functions for 100+ people and worked services where we served over 180 people a la carte and enjoyed every moment. Trust me, I’ve had my share of cooking disasters from burnt food to dropped food and everything in between. But still I have come back for more and kept creating delicious meals. 

So what is the magic element to not losing your cool when things go a little haywire? No it’s not a zen meditation and it’s not reality tv drama. It’s knowing what can be done, what can’t be saved and where to head to next. It has taken time and practice and now I am sharing these skills with you. 

How do you learn these skills to create ease in your kitchen? Coming in 2015 is my series of classes, “Cook your best without the stress”. 

What is cooking your best I hear you ask? It’s creating dishes you love with your own flair and flavour. This is not about following a recipe to the gram nor is it about flying by the seat of your pants when you are not ready to go solo just yet.

These classes are all about discovering your culinary talents and strengths and building on them. Love desserts? Let’s explore that. Can’t get enough of making pasta from scratch? Let’s see what else you can do with flavours and shapes. With a chef at your side guiding you, encouraging you and showing you the ropes cooking your best will be achieved in no time. 

I know that busy schedules, long work days and budgets can all contribute to stress at meal time. With planning, confidence in your skills and menu ideas the stress can disappear with ease. I would like to introduce you to a new way of creating in your kitchen; join me in having some fun, joy and ease in your kitchen today. 

So how do you start? Just register your interest by filling in the contact form with the subject “Cooking your best” and I’ll add you to the list. 

The fine print:

Classes are based on individual lessons created in your home with a private facebook group you are invited to join to share your progress, recipes and successes

You will receive a bespoke lesson plan based on what you would like to cook and learn

The minimum commitment is three classes at $400 total for 2 hours per lesson. Ingredients and travel time (if applicable) are not included. For full terms and conditions please see the FAQ page 

Full recipes, workbooks, notes and photos of your lessons and meals will be included emailed each week following the classes. 

Classes can be booked and started from January 2015

If you would like to book a group class please add this to the contact form and we can arrange a suitable package for group lesson. 

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Undercover Chef Tip – Saving the Herbs

Fresh herbs are great when you are making a salad or cooking and sprinkling them in. But what do you do with them when no further recipe ideas call for them later in the week? A great way to preserve herbs is to freeze them in olive oil or stock for later use. You can just pop a stock cube into a casserole, stew or curry and your herby burst of flavour will cook into the mix.

Defrost the olive oil frozen herbs for dressings or stir into pan when cooking onions and garlic for a recipe. Not only do you get to use up your herbs but you then have some stock and oil ready to go when you need it.

Sad wilted bunches of leftover herbs in the crisper be gone. You’re welcome.

Ask Luisa – have a cooking question? Just Ask!

Apologies for the bad ghost busters reference, it almost had to be done. The inspiration for this blog is thanks for a lovely friend asking about what to cook for dinner based on the ingredients she had. I realised that this is not uncommon for me as I have family often calling for a quick chef questions – i.e. How long should this take to cook? When would I know if this is ready? What cut of meat would suit this? And my favourite, It has turned a funny colour but smells ok, should I cook it?

I love these sorts of questions. It stimulates my cooking brain and allows me to delve into my knowledge to produce my version of what I would do in these circumstances. Just as I call my builder brother for advice on what to do when my shower screen comes off or a tap is leaking, so too do I give the cooking solutions.

So what was the prompt for the initial cooking question? Well J and I have been taking turns making dinner for each other each Monday and I had whipped up the fresh pasta with tomatoes and olives and other goodies as found in my cooking for a crowd blog. J wanted to replicate a similar dinner with a slight variation on ingredients that she either had on hand or had picked up from the supermarket.

My Advice?

1. Don’t bother with the bottled tomato sauce – if you have delicious fresh tomatoes on hand, don’t bother with bottled sauces – whilst they can seem like an easy and simple option they totally kill the freshness of the other ingredients

2. Forget the carrot – I only use carrot and celery when making bolognaise – i saute this off before adding the mince and allow it to cook out. If you’re not using mince, don’t bother with carrot – it won’t add anything

3. Grill the eggplant and zucchini – pan fried eggplant can be a bit, well blah. To me the smokiness of a bbq or even a grill caramelising it brings out the sweetness and subtlety of it. Same with the zucchini. Technically they are fruits so applying that sort of heat allows for a lovely golden caramel which creates gorgeous flavours. I would do the same when making a vegetable lasagna instead of just layering the raw vegetables.

4.  Use the oil from the semi dried tomatoes to coat the vegetables before grilling if you’d like some extra herby punch. I always keep those sorts of oils at they have infused with the tomato and generally have a herb mix in them so creates all sorts of delicious.

5. Saute the onion and add the tomato – by caramelising the onion and adding the tomato you get that brilliant sweetness and tartness together. Good balance means you don’t need to add sugar as some sauce recipes do. Allow the tomato to saute a little and bring out it’s own juices. Help it along a little with some water and you have a fresh yummy sauce.

6. To finish, add the grill vegetables to the tomato mix, stir in the olives and semi-dried tomatoes, top with torn up bocconcini and fresh basil if on hand. Buon appetito!

So who do you call when you don’t have a chef as your sister/friend/partner? Well, me. I am more than happy to answer any and all cooking queries be it simple or complex. If I don’t know the answer then I will try and find out for you. After all I have many chef friends on call too so if I can’t help, I’ll test their skills to see if they can.

So how can you enlist my help? Just ask: on my facebook page or email me at [email protected]

What sort of questions can I answer? Hopefully anything. If you have baked a cake that hasn’t quite worked let me know what ingredients you used, the pan size and oven temp and we can nut it out. Something too salty, sweet or spicy? Check the forum for reference material.

Not sure what to do for dinner with what you bought? Either check my recipes page for inspiration or upload a pic of the ingredients to the facebook page or email me, I’ll give you a recipe if you’ll let me share the yummy finished product. How easy right?

So what’s the catch? I hear you say. None at all. I love to share my foodie knowledge and stretch my chef brain. If you’d like me to come to you and hash out a variety of recipes or recreate some of your more epic disasters to see where you went wrong then we can arrange for a lesson at cost. But the simple questions and advice? Happy to help.

Love to enlist my help with some cooking lessons? Check out my services page to see if we can find a match to fit.

Happy cooking!

Cooking for a fussy crowd – dinner made easy

Cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming when you need to consider different dietary needs, possible allergies and personal preferences. It’s enough to make anyone just order takeaway and not bother!

Seriously though. how do you cook for friends, your family and everyone in between and ensure that all tastes can be met?

1. Ask some questions – if it is a dinner party and there are guests coming you don’t know very well (extended family perhaps or new partners, friends of friends) don’t be afraid to ask if there are any intolerance or allergies. Sometimes people don’t eat seafood but aren’t necessarily allergic so a little investigation can ensure a lot less embarrassment when the meal is served.

2. Do some research – with the rise in preferences for low sugar and gluten free intolerance’s there are many meals and combinations that can cater to these needs without excluding these guests from the main meal everyone else is having. Gluten free pastas, breads and dessert ingredients are now readily available, the nutritional content of many recipes are also easy to find and even vegan recipes can be a great change from the meat eating norm for a dinner party. Have a browse through recipe books in a library, check out dishes online or ask friends their favourite techniques for inspiration.

3. Have fun making variations – what if you didn’t need to make a whole new meal, what if you just changed one thing for one person? Now I know not everyone is keen on catering to meal time whimsy’s and who won’t eat what and how but you can allow personal choices with minimal effort with a little planning. How on earth I hear you say? Well here’s the clincher of this blog – how to cook pasta for two who love fettucine cabonara and two that really don’t like cream pasta. Read on and learn.

Cooking for one of my couple friends each week (we take turns doing dinner or dessert – kinda neat) has brought about some great creativity – they have different tastes, dishes, personal favourites to me and my partner. So what do you do when one of the asks for fettucine cabonara which my partner loves and myself and her partner really don’t like? You diversify – I like pasta and so does he – so solution? Just different sauces. Dinner is at their place to allow their child to have his usual bedtime which means I have the opportunity to explore my planning skills.

Cabonara in advance? Pasta in advance? How? I hear you ask. Well you can cut the onion, bacon and in our case mushroom (they like it that way) and have it ready to pan fry and add the cream too, almost like a cooking show where the bowls are convinelty at arms reach! Even better, if you want to do dinner in a hurry, you can panfry the ingredients and have them ready along with the pasta pre-cooked and cooled so if it is for a dinner party you just need to warm the mix in a pan, add the cream, dunk the pasta in boiling water and they will all come together ready in 2-3 minutes. Easy! So what are myself and her partner having? Fettucine as well but our sauce is just a simple combination of the same onion base with the addition of cherry tomatoes, spinach and olives. Cutting the tomatoes and squishing them a little in the pan with some olive oil creates a light sauce together with the salty yum of the olives and spinach creates a simple and tasty dish without a lot of effort so everyone can eat well but eat what they want.

Of course, this sort of effort is completely up to you. For me I was chopping up the onion, bacon and mushrooms anyway so a little slice of tomatoes and shred of spinach wasn’t anymore effort really. When the pasta is cooked I just divided it in two and one went in with the cream, the other the tomato and dinner was served. Easy peasy 🙂

So what other variations can you make:

1. No seafood –  divide sauces (pasta or curry) in two and one half can have prawns for seafood lovers and the other chicken. Same sauce, different protein. Same with salads or sides. Same same but different protein.

2. Crumbles/tarts/pies – make individual ones so gf can have their variation without fuss

3. Vegetarian/vegan – have a meat protein on the side to add to the dishes for the hardcore meat eaters i.e grilled chicken, fish or a steak can be added to a salad, pasta or casserole

4. Sugar free or low sugar – check what they can have and create accordingly either for them or for all i.e sweet potato mash instead of plain potato, wholemeal flour for pasta etc etc

It does take a little planning but that planning means a lot less frustration and effort later and then you will create you own repertoire to have on hand when the moment arises if you least expect it. Let me know what variations you have discovered and how you cater for different tastes or food requirements in you household. Happy cooking!

[yumprint-recipe id=’3′]

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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