Category Archives: Recipes

Recipes of food I’ve made, and wanted to share

Leftovers? A Tex-Mex feast is in your future…

I opened the fridge yesterday, and looking back at me was the remains of last night’s braised pork roast, and the remains of a roast chicken I bought from the local mega-mart for a quick lunch a couple days ago, and an idea struck me almost instantly.  It rarely happens like that, but this time it was a brilliant plan.

I whipped up a quick enchilada sauce (recipes aplenty on the net, but here’s what I did…

  • 1/4 cup oil (light olive)
  • 1 finely diced onion, but grated is fine (even a couple tbsp dried would work)
  • 2 cloves crushed or grated garlic
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup stock or wine, or mixed
  • 1 tbsp powdered cumin (or crush some seeds)
  • 1/2 tbsp powdered coriander (or crush some seeds)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a shallow frying pan (not a saucepan) fry the onions in the oil until beginning to take a nice rich brown colour.  Add the garlic and fry for about 1 minute.  Add all of the spices and herbs (not the salt and pepper).
Add the flour, and cook for about another minute, before adding the puree and stock/wine.
Simmer until about the thickness of the tomato puree.  Add more stock if too thick.
Taste, and season.

In another frying pan, I added about 2 cups of oil, and brought it up to a low frying temp.

The Chicken

A great snack, or part of a Tex Mex Feast

A great snack, or part of a Tex Mex Feast

Then I chopped up the chicken and added some cheese to it (I used some cheddar I had grated in the fridge, but crumbled feta or cotija would have been better).  To this I added the Mexican spice trinity (Cumin, Coriander, Chilli), and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Opening a pack of corn tortillas (and they need to be corn, not flour), I dredged them quickly in the hot oil to soften.  Just a few seconds each side.  Then I dropped some of the mix into the middle, and simply rolled them into a tight barrel (about thumb thickness) before placing them seam down on a baking tray.

Setting them aside, I turned my attention to the pork.

The Pork

Slightly over cooked, but bursting with flavour, and very simple to make.

Slightly over cooked, but bursting with flavour, and very simple to make.

The pork was already somewhat shredded from the braise, but if your using a normal roast pork, I would wrap it in foil with some stock or a can of tomatoes, and cook it for a couple more hours to make it shreddable.  Fatty cheap cuts are best, like a shoulder or butt.

Using the corn tortillas again, I dredged them in the hot enchilada sauce to soften.  Then I wrapped the pork mix in a barrel about the size of a golf ball in diameter.  Note I did not season the pork more.  That’s what the sauce is for.

Placing the pork enchiladas in a baking dish, snug but single layered, I then covered them in the remaining sauce, spreading it evenly.  Top the dish with some cheese, and maybe some sour cream at this point (though I added the sour cream at serving).

The Cook

Cook the Enchiladas covered for about 10 minutes, then uncover and add the taquitos to the oven.

Cook for 15 minutes, or until the taquitos are a nice light golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve them with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, diced onion, some cilantro, cheese, a home made guacamole, and sour cream, all nicely presented in separate bowls for people to help themselves.

It’s a simple meal, thrify if you want to just use leftovers, but good enough to do from scratch as a purpose meal.  It’s amazing delicious, and you’ll look like a food hero in front of your friends and family…of just make a ton of taquitos to enjoy with a cold beer while watching the football!

Pita Pockets – A Healthy Choice for the BBQ

Pita Pockets or Kebabs are a great fast food alternative.  They’re fresh, healthy, and packed with great flavour.  Making them at home is not only easy, it’s delicious, and very easy on the budget.  These are ideal for hot day, or for when friends drop around.  There’s nothing more social than people constructing their own dinner using the ingredients you have laid out.

Traditionally these would be made with lamb, but here is a recipe for a chicken version which is lighter, but still very more-ish.

Fresh, healthy, and delicious.  Chicken Kofta Pita with Couscous

Fresh, healthy, and delicious. Chicken Kofta Pita with Couscous

Chicken Kofta

  • 1kg Chicken Mince (I would use breasts or thighs chopped up in a food processor)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced or grated
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 20g Salt (or a seasoning like Vegeta)
  • 1 tbsp, or about 3 cloves, grated or crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp ground sage
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flake

Mix all of the above ingredients and form into large thumb shaped (and sized) pieces, or wrap them around a kebab stick.  Chill in a fridge for about an hour.  Fry or BBQ until done.

Tzatziki

Controlling the amount of moisture in a tzatziki is critical.  Suspending the natural yoghurt bundled in muslin (or a clean chux cloth) over a container to catch the excess water makes a “labneh” which is a bit like a zesty and creamy feta.  Alternately, you can blend a 50/50 mix of Danish style feta with Greek style natural yoghurt or sour cream.

Blend the following:

  • 1 cup of the labneh, mentioned above
  • Squeeze ½ cup grated cucumber wrapped inside a cloth or paper towel to remove moisture
  • 1 clove crushed or grated garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • Salt to taste

Harissa

I love Harissa, but my family are not a huge fan of capsicum flavours.  It’s a great size dish to flavour boost anything, like a sambal might, or a punchy Mexican salsa.  Tonight it’s served on top af a couscous.  Here is an adaptation that I think is packed with flavour.

  • 2 long mild chilli’s or a roasted capsicum (can buy them preserved in jars or cans), finely diced
  • ½ finely diced or grated onion
  • 3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • Salt to taste
  • Dried chilli flakes to taste
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Chopped fresh basil or mint

Fry the onion, anchovy, garlic, and diced chilli with the cumin and coriander over a medium heat until the onions are soft.  Add the red wine and cook until almost all the wine has evaporated.  Stir in the tomato paste and worcestershire sauce and continue cooking for about 5 minutes to cook out the paste and develop the flavours.  Taste and season.  Add basil or mint and drizzle in the olive oil while stirring to incorporate.

Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup boiling water (or stock, you can use a cube or seasoning powder)
  • ¼ cup almond slivers
  • oil or butter
  • Toast the almond slivers in a pan until lightly golden

Add the couscous and almonds to the boiling water/stock (season with salt if using water).  Stir quickly and cover with a lid, removing from the heat immediately.  After 2 minutes, add the oil/butter and stir with a fork to fluff it up.

Putting it all together

Slice up some cucumber, tomato, and onion. Chop up a fresh lettuce, and mix with chopped parsley and coriander.  I also like to add some sliced avocado, but that’s me.

Slice open some pita bread, and stuff it with the lettuce mix and cucumber/tomato/onion (as you like).  Add the chicken kofta (you could use falafel for a vegetarian version).  Sauce it with the tzatziki.  To take it from a fast food snack to a meal, serve it with a side of couscous topped with a flourish of harissa.

Strawberries – A shot of Summer

Wimbledon begins today, and other than the Tennis, nothing screams Wimbledon more than a bowl of sweet fresh Strawberries.

You can almost feel the warm glow of sunshine just looking at these beauties.

You can almost feel the warm glow of sunshine just looking at these beauties.

Very easy to grow, it is a fruit that seems to capture the essence of Summer more than any other, and no fruit seems to find it’s way into more sweets and preserves.   Prolific even in small pots or hanging planters, no garden seems to be complete without strawberries painting daubs of red in amongst the green.

Ice creams, jams and preserves, or fresh atop a pavlova or cheese cake, everyone has a favourite use for the strawberry.  I find it’s combination of sweetness and tartness pairs beautifully with salted pork, and like cranberries with turkey, strawberry jam and ham are a match made in heaven.  But for the freshest fruit picked at the peak of the season, nothing beats strawberries with lightly whipped or clotted cream…except maybe the following.

Strawberry Liqueur

  • 1 kg strawberries (you can use frozen if fresh are unavailable)
  • 750g white sugar
  • 400g water (a splash over 1.5 cups)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1.2l cheap Vodka (or everclear diluted to 40% abv/80 proof)

Remove the greenery from the strawberries, and halve them before adding them to a large pot.

I said remove ALL of the green stems...

I said remove ALL of the green stems…

Add the sugar, lemon juice, and water.

Use a vegetable masher to give the strawberries a head start.

Crush the strawberries using a vegetable masher to give them a head start.

Bring to a slow boil and then simmer for about 40 mins, or until the fruit has broken down into a pulp.  Do not let the mix boil too rapidly, and make sure the pot you’ve used is large enough.  It can and will boil over the rim of the pot and make a horrible jelly mess all over your stove.

Strain through a fine sieve.

Using the back of a spoon will help get most of the juice from the pulp.

Using the back of a spoon will help get most of the juice from the pulp.

Discard the leftover pulp.  You can use it in a smoothie or on ice cream if you like, but it will be quite seedy.

Allow the mix to cool, then add the vodka.  Decant the liqueur into bottles.

This will make about 2.5 litres of roughly 20% abv liqueur, which makes it superb for cocktails, or a sweet shot all by itself.

Of course, a twist on a Wimbledon tradition doesn’t hurt anyone.  Pour a 3/4 shot into a shot glass and top with cream.

All England Club, eat your heart out.

All England Club, eat your heart out.

Genuine Mexican Delicacy: Chilli Relleno’s

When I mention the words “Mexican Food”, what comes to mind?  Nachos perhaps, covered with melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream?  Crunchy tacos filled with mince and lettuce, topped with cheese and a salsa?  Maybe Fajita’s (pronounced fa-hee-tahs), with sizzling strips of beef or chicken served on a warm flour tortilla with grilled onions and capsicums?

Sadly, wrong on three counts.

Mexican food is one of the most loved foods in Australia at the moment, yet in truth, we’re actually eating Tex/Mex food…not original Mexican fare at all, and I think it’s time we all learnt a little bit more about true Mexican cooking (and perhaps a little about some of the pronunciation).

The fact is, Mexican cooking is something we can and should all adopt.  Authentic Mexican food is not born from modern kitchens and closely guarded recipes or techniques.  It traditionally makes the most of the cheap cuts of meat from old animals that served duty as egg layers or beasts of burden, so Mexican food makes delicious use of cheap ingredients using simple techniques and very little kitchen trickery.  Its a food that is ideal for the household on a budget, and these days, who isn’t?

Mexican food is more corn than flour…ground maize (or masa) that is formed into a dough (for tortillas; pronounced tort-ee-yah) or a cake (for tamales) and used to carry tid bits of slow cooked cheap cuts of meat, or to soak up the flavours of a punchy mole (pronounced mol-ay) or sauce.

Mexican food uses foods that are readily available, and therefore cheap to find.  Small amounts of slow cooked shredded beef, pork, and chicken (meat and offal) is what you’ll find on taco’s and inside burritos, not minced meat and not choice steak, and you’ll almost always find it served with a hunger buster like beans or rice.

Seafood is used more often that you think, with much of Mexico’s population living along coastlines.  Fish and shellfish are as likely to be in a stew or taco as shredded chicken.

And of course there’s chillies.

So Mexico is famous for hot food, no doubt, but not all chillies are hot…and many Mexican dishes rely on the flavour of the chilli itself, rather than the heat it may bring, so there are many dishes that use varieties of chillies (or peppers) that have little or no heat at all.   On the mild side are Capsicums and, if you can find them, Pobano’s and Anaheims…also called “Bull Horn Chilli’s” in Australia.  Hot Chillies are usually used sparingly, to add a zing to normally delicate dishes, while the milder chillies are used whole, as an ingredient or vegetable/fruit in it’s own right.

Look for chillies that are longer and narrow, rather than ball shaped.

Look for chillies that are longer and narrow, rather than ball shaped.

Which brings me to my most favourite of all Mexican dishes.  It’s a dish of stuffed chilli’s, usually stuffed with a mild melting cheese (traditionally queso, a Mexican cheese, fried in an egg batter and served with a smooth salsa or a Mole.  It’s as easy to cook as it is sublime to eat.

Chile Rellenos (pronounced re-yen-nyohs)

  • Look for chillies that are longer and narrow, rather than ball shaped.  Larger is easier, smaller works too.  Try Bullhorns for mild…Jalapeno’s (pronounced Ha-leh-pen-yohs)if you’re more adventurous.
  • Make a slit in them and extract the seeds.  Try to keep the slit as small as possible, but large enough to do the job.
  • Blister the peppers in a scorching oven, or over a gas flame, and place them in a plastic zip bag to steam a little.  You really want to blacken the skins here, it makes a big difference.
  • Remove when cool, and gently scrape the skin off.  It should peel off quite easily.
  • While they’re cooling, think about a stuffing.  It’s a great use of leftover rice, or you can simply use some mild cheese.  The key is not to overpower the flavour of the chilli.  It’s a delicate dish.  Gently stuff your chilli’s with your stuffing, and set aside.
  • Separate a few eggs, about 1 for every two small to medium chillies, and beat the yolks with a generous pinch of salt until light.  You can add some corn flour or rice flour to the yolks too, it will help with the final batter, but just a tablespoon or two.  Now beat the whites, with a splash of white vinegar, until peaks form.  Stir in half the whites into the yolk mixture to combine.  Gently fold the yolk mixture back into the remaining whites.  You want to maintain as much volume as you can.
  • Put a frying pan on the stove, medium heat, with about a 1cm layer of neutral oil.
  • Dollop some of the batter into the pan into a shape and size that matches your chilli.  Now put your chilli to bed on this batter.  The batter will keep it off of the bottom of the pan.  Cover with another dollop of the batter and shape (or add more) until the chilli is completely covered.
  • Cook until the bottom is browned, and turn over, cooking until the flip side is brown.
This method is a revelation.  Master this and you'll be egg battering everything.  It's is fool proof.

This method is a revelation. Master this and you’ll be egg battering everything. It’s is fool proof.

 

 

 

 

When done, serve with a nice salsa and a dollop of sour cream.

When done, serve with a nice salsa and a dollop of sour cream.

Some other tips for authentic Mexican?

  • Slow cook your meat for your tacos and burritos, and try chicken (pollo) or pork (carnitas).  I cannot say this enough.  Ditch the mince!
  • Look for Corn Tortilla’s, not flour.  Maize is Mexican…wheat not so much (it’s also gluten free folks).
  • Play with chilli’s…even mild ones have amazing flavour.
  • Use shredded cabbage on your taco’s, not lettuce.
  • Try fish or prawns on your Taco’s…in fact, prawn tacos (or tacos de camarones) are by far the best tacos you can eat.
  • Make your own salsa!  Don’t buy the stuff in jars…it’s just rubbish  Use google for some ideas if you need, the results are amazing.

Remember, you don’t have to eat expensive to eat well.  Enjoy a Mexican feast today, and maybe even throw a Mexican themed party and try some authentic South of the Border cuisine.

Budget Brilliance – Part 1 “Steak on a shoestring”

When it comes to meat, and particularly beef, there are a few truisms that everyone should know.

  • The more a muscle works, the tougher it is to eat, BUT the more flavour it has.
  • The closer to the horn and the hoof, the more work the muscle does.
  • Tough cuts of meat should be tenderised before eating.  This can be done mechanically (mincing, chopping, perforating), chemically (acids: marinades, or enzymes: kiwi, papaya), or by cooking for extended periods of time.
  • Tender cuts of meat are expensive, whilst tough cuts tend to be cheaper.
  • Restaurants buy the best of the tender cuts, leaving the public to fight over the second grade leavings…whilst quality tough cuts can be found for a fraction of the cost.

So, knowing the best way to tenderise a tough cut of meat will mean you can not only save plenty of dollars from your beef budget, but you can get the best of the the most flavourful options available.  It’s a win-win situation for us all.

Let me introduce you to what is arguably (though almost certainly dollar for dollar) the finest steak that you can buy.  When the purse strings tighten, and I have the kind of hunger that only a steak can satisfy, there is only one cut of meat that I turn to.

Skirt Steak.

Skirt Steak comes from the cows diaphragm, so it is a muscle that is used every second the beast is alive.  The unique qualities that make skirt steak so attractive is that the muscle fibres are uniform in direction, and long in design.  This means that whilst the steak is tough as old boots, thanks to it’s constant use, it is also very easy to mechanically tenderise…and it has flavour in spades.

  • You can see there is a little surface fat, which can be easily trimmed, but very little marbling. Skirt Steak is very lean, and great for heart health.
  • The fibres (running the length of the steak, and vertically, are very distinct and easily recognised. This is important later.

Step 1, and possibly the hardest step, is to find your Skirt Steak.  Granted, it’s not the most popular of steaks on the market (despite my loud, but singular efforts), so don’t count on your local box grocery store to have any.  Hit up a local butcher instead.  If quality meat is what you want, you should be building a healthy relationship with your butcher anyway, and buying your meat from a source that knows it’s stuff.

Step 2, bring the meat to room temperature, and fire up your bbq.  You want a heat source that is as hot as you can get it.  You can cook this indoors, but I’d recommend a cast iron pan, 20 minutes preheat on a max burner setting, and several gas masks for the smoke you are about to produce.  For me, it’s a flat out BBQ preheated to pizza oven or tandoor proportions.

Step 3, trim and season the meat.  There can be an opaque membrane left on the muscle, and you should do your best to remove this.  Trim the fat off as well, if you so desire.  As for seasoning: I use cooking (or Kosher) salt, and little else.  The salt will help draw a little protein ladened moisture to the surface and assist in the creation of that tasty crust.  Note, this DOES NOT SEAL IN THE JUICES.  That is a cooking myth.  It does, however, taste delicious 🙂

Step 4, prepare a place to rest the meat after it’s cooked.  And by prepare, I mean chop up some fresh herbs with a little garlic, oil, and salt/pepper.  By laying the freshly cooked meat on this when resting, you will do more to add the fresh herbal goodness to your steak(s) than by trying to add them prior to cooking.  Also have a sheet of aluminium foil ready.

Step 5, cook the meat.  Medium rare is best (in my opinion), and it is not the thickest piece of meat on the market, so it wont take long.  My preference is to cook for a couple of minutes on one side, then rotate the steak 90 degrees to allow the criss-cross pattern to form.  After another minute, turn the meat over and repeat.

Step 6, rest the meat.  This is probably the most important step in affecting the final result of the meat.  Rest it for at least 10 minutes, and even 15 if you can.  Use this time to make a salad, or prepare your other dinner elements.

Step 7, the slicing.  This is the critical stage that will turn your shoe leather into butter tender slices of steak.

  • Look at the steak, and note the direction of the grain.
Well rested, you can see the juices that have reabsorbed into the meat.  It makes me hungry EVERY time I look at it.

Well rested, you can see the juices that have reabsorbed into the meat. It makes me hungry EVERY time I look at it.

  • Using a large sharp knife, slice thinly (5mm slices) ACROSS the grain.  Lay the beef on a cutting board in front of you, with the grain running left to right, and slice vertically (at 90 degrees) to the fibres.

There is nothing left to do but enjoy the steak.  I promise you that this is a dish to try at home.  Whether you cook it for yourself, your family, or a crowd of friends, you will be seen as a food hero when you lay this platter out.  And just what is the best way to enjoy the results?

Watching your weight?  As healthy as it is delicious.  Unless you include the baked potato...in which case it's a little more delicious than healthy!

Watching your weight? As healthy as it is delicious. Unless you include the baked potato…in which case it’s a little more delicious than healthy!

A classic use for skirt steak, and delicious in  anyone's language.  Just add guacamole, sour cream, and saute'd onions and capsicums.

A classic use for skirt steak, and delicious in anyone’s language. Just add guacamole, sour cream, and saute’d onions and capsicums for world class Fajitas.

There is a bun under there somewhere.  A steak sandwich is about as Aussie as it gets.

There is a bun under there somewhere. A steak sandwich is about as Aussie as it gets.

Grow your own Chilli’s – Week 2

Last week, I wrote a post about my ambitious attempt to plant 15 varieties of Chilli’s, bedding down 4 seeds of each for a total of 60 plants.  What I am going to do with 60 Chilli plants, should they all be successful, is beyond me, especially as one of the varieties will grow to be 4 metres tall and produce more than 20kg chilli’s in a season (and I planted 4 of these seeds too).  I guess those who have followed my blog thus far have realized that I am not one to think things through to their conclusion much of the time.

Still, the start of week 2 is here, and what an exciting week 1 it was!  It was way more exciting than watching grass grow, which is odd because here there was not even any plants to watch grow.  That was, until this morning…but more on that later.

It turns out that I really do need to water these things daily.  The paper egg cartons are a great idea, but they wick the water away from the soil very readily, especially with the ocean breeze blowing across them.  I learnt very quickly that a 2 day watering cycle wasn’t going to work.  Not only were they bone dry at the time of watering, but one occasion I found one of the cartons on the floor, contents partially spilled.

I am not sure if it was the wind that blew it of the table, I actually doubt it, or whether it was some wicked local animal playing mischievous games with my crop.  Number one suspect is my English Staffy, Brunson, but he denied any knowledge.  As you can see by the photo, however, he is hardly a dog to be trusted.

Brunson: Suspect #1, can’t be trusted.

I recovered about 4 seeds from the mess, and given the bulk of the soil was still in the cartons, I am pretty sure that most of the seeds stayed in the carton.  I did replant the escapees, and topped up the lost soil, so let’s hope that tray sprouts some time soon.

Today we are going to reveal the seeds planted in tray 1.  The seeds in tray 1 were given to me by Cecil at work, and I am not 100% sure of the actual varietal.  I can only go by what he has described, and maybe make some assumptions.

Tray 1, with 3 kinds of chilli’s

As it so happens, tray 1 is also the home of my first sproutling.  This morning, when I opened the cartons to water them, I noticed one of the seeds had burst forth a pale green shoot.  Very excited, especially as I didn’t expect any action until mid way through week 3.

My first chilli!

Seed #1:  Round Red Mild Chilli.

This is the seed that has sprouted for me already.  If it is as described, I will probably save these chilli’s for one of 2 uses:  stuffing (with a cream cheese mix) or pickling.  From the description, it is either a Pimento (very mild) or a Cherry Chilli (mild).

Seed #2:  Mild Bell Chilli

So, to me, this is a capsicum, or Bell Pepper.  It may end up being something more similar to a pimento, which is pretty much what I imagine Seed #1 to be, given the vague description given to me.  This blog entry is rapidly going down hill!  If it is the Pimento or Cherry Chilli, I’ll be looking to do the same as seed #1.

If it is a capsicum, I will be eating these raw…or roasting them and preserving them in oil.

Seed #3:  Long mild chilli

Again, a very vague description that could mean anything, however I am thinking they are the generic “Red Chilli” and “Green Chilli” which is common in mega marts around here.  Quite mild, i’ll be using them to give flavour to salsa’s and mild curries, as well as using them for Taco night, given the kids are not exactly chilli heads.

Pickled Chilli’s
(recipe courtesy Jamie Oliver)

  • 600gr / 1lb 5oz medium green chillies
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 6 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 litre / 1 3/4 pints white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

Stuffed Cherry Peppers (or Pimento’s)

  • 100g chopped and seeded Kalamata Olives
  • 100g soft goats cheese
  • 50g plain yoghurt
  • 1 lg garlic clove, minced

Blend ingredients and stuff the chilli’s.  Serve raw.  Pickled chilli’s can also be used here.

or

  • 150g cream cheese
  • 100g dried apricots, diced fine
  • 20g slivered almonds, toasted
  • pinch salt

Blend and stuff into chilli.  Wrap chilli with bacon or proscuitto, and bake in a hot oven until tender.

Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Next week we’ll cover the seed that have been planted in tray 2.  Hopefully i’ll get a few more sproutlings, and hopefully my wife will remember to look after whilst I am out of town this week, lol!

As always, enjoy the meal.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I am not much of a baker.  I think that good cooking requires an understanding of balance and flavour combinations, whilst baking requires precision.  Baking is as much about controlling a reaction, as it is developing flavours, and I just don’t have the experience in the genre to be able to do it well.

My style of cooking usually involves looking a recipe and using it as a base for inspiration, taking the concept and making it my own.  Vary from a recipe for a cake, or a cookie, at your peril.  You’re not just altering the taste, you’re altering the behaviour.  And whilst that’s not quite as important in general cooking, when baking you can be left with disastrous results.

So, when my family requests something for desert, I usually shudder a little on the inside.

A cake I can actually bake…well, almost

Fortunately, here is a recipe that I have been able to tweak and reproduce consistently.  I am not going to say I’ve “mastered” it, because I haven’t.  In fact, tonight this cake ended up being cooked in two sessions.  The second session because the first slice through the middle demonstrated that I had cooked a very pale looking lava cake.  Unfortunately, this cake should not flow.

All you need to make the magic happen

Ingredients:

Base

  • 60g Softened Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 x 440g Sliced Pineapple (in juice, not syrup)

Batter

  • 125g Softened Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Caster (or Superfine) Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cups Self-Raising Flour
  • 1/3 Cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Essence
  • 1/3 Cup Crushed Pineapple

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a baking dish with baking paper.  Drain the pineapple slices, and dry them on a paper towel or absorbent cloth.  Whip the brown sugar and 60g Butter until creamy and spread the butter/sugar mix on the bottom of the pan.  Place the pineapple slice on top of the mix.

Cream the remaining butter and sugar, then beat in the vanilla, and the eggs, one at a time.  Add the milk and self-raising flour, 1/3 at a time, alternating each addition.   Stir in the crushed pineapple.

Pour the batter onto the pineapples, and smooth the top using a spatula.

Ready for the hot box…get baking!

Cook in the 180 degree oven for 45 minutes, and test with a skewer for doneness before removing (a step I failed to do).

Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a dish and peeling away the paper.  Let cool a little longer and serve!

Finished! Well, almost. Those bakers out there will notice the tell tale pale gooey centre threatening to erupt from between the rings of pineapple. 10 more minutes, and it would have been perfect!

Anyway, cooking time aside, the result was delicious.  The texture of the base (which obviously becomes the top) is such a great contrast to the moist cake and soft pineapple.

I would certainly recommend serving this whilst still warm, with a generous scoop of Vanilla Bean Ice-Cream.  Unfortunately for us, we were fresh out of ice-cream (or cream for that matter).  Still, the cake was delicious enough by itself.

Curried Balsamic Onion Jam

Ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 5 Large Onions (about 1.3kg or 3 pounds)
  • 1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp Curry Powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp Salt
  • Chilli to taste (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Butter

Method:

Beautiful Onion

Peel and slice the onions about medium thickness.  I use a mandolin for speed and consistency, but be wary.  Mandolins can bite.  Always use the guard.

A medium thickness slice

In a large saucepan (with a lid), over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to become fragrant.  Add the onions, and sprinkle the salt on top.  Then add the Curry powder, and place the lid on the saucepan.

Add the curry powder and salt

Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions have broken down, and have become translucent.  You want them cooked, but not caramelized.

Cooked but not caramelized

Add the brown sugar and vinegar, and stir to combine.  Put the saucepan back on the stove, and cook while stirring, until all of the liquid is about gone, and the mix is resembling a sticky jam.  Taste, and season accordingly.

Cooked and ready to bottle

Put the mix into sterilized jar, and keep in the fridge for use.

Finished, and ready for the Steak Sandwich

Best uses?

  • Hamburgers/Steak Sandwiches
  • A great topper for Roast Pork or Lamb
  • Serve with your favorite Chop
  • A spoonful on top of Mashed Potatoes
  • Serve alongside a piece of fried cheese, like Haloumi or Saganaki

This is probably close to a chutney really, but it doesn’t have any of the fruitiness that most chutneys have, by virtue of the fact that it is only made from onions!  Still, it packs a huge hit of sweetness, which is nicely balanced by the spice of the curry and the acidity of the balsamic vinegar.  Without any chilli added, it is as mild as the curry powder you choose, but I would recommend you choose the best curry powder you can find.  It will make a difference.  I added about a teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder at the end, and it has a small kick that would be mild enough for all but those really sensitive to the heat.

The inspiration for the jam came from tonight’s dinner menu.  Having got my hands on some Eye Fillet steak, we had steak sandwiches with salad and chips, and the onion jam was outstanding on the sandwich.  It’s not always that the reality lives up to the inspiration, but tonight it did.

Enjoy!

Master stock – Are you ready for the commitment?

There are two things in a kitchen that say “I’m really serious about my cooking”.  One is a well aged sour-dough starter, whilst the other is a master stock.

Both of these things can, and do, last decades, and in some extraordinary circumstances, can be traced back to centuries.  Obviously, through use and replenishment, the origins of the stock or starter are long gone, but history behind these culinary natural wonders show a level of commitment that goes above and beyond what the normal home chef might do these days.

I have been wanting to get both going on my kitchen for quite some time, and thanks to a mid-week discussion at work, today marks the birth of my own master stock. The sour-dough?  Well, that will need to wait for another day.

A master stock is a flavoured broth that is used to poach meat; typically pork, fish or fowl (including chicken, duck, etc).  Originating in Cantonese cuisine, it’s base is usually water, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine).  To this liquid base, a variety of aromatics and spices can be added, though these usually include: star anise, citrus peel, peppercorns (often Szechuan), cassia bark (cinnamon), ginger, garlic, mushrooms, onions, and/or shallots.

My master stock consists of the following (at least for now):

Simple beginnings – The birth of my Master Stock

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 litres water (purified or filtered)
  • 1 cup Soy Sauce
  • 1 cup Chinese rice wine
  • 150g Palm Sugar
  • Peel from 1/2 mandarine
  • 4 x Star Anise
  • 4 x Cardamom pods
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Ginger
  • 1 Tbsp Chicken stock power (low sodium)
  • 3/4 Tbsp Peppercorns
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon

Method:

Bring all of the ingredients to boil in a large pot.  Reduce the heat and simmer for another 30 minutes.  Store in the fridge or freezer until next use.

Once used, top back up with water and flavourings as you see fit.  Bring back to the boil, and skim off any impurities.  Strain and store as before.

To use a master stock, it is heated in a pot to boiling before the meat is carefully lowered into it.  Then it is brought back to a boil, and then reduced to a simmer until the meat is almost cooked.  The pan is then removed from the heat and the meat allowed to cool in the liquid.  Once the meat has been evacuated, the liquid is returned to the boil, and any impurities skimmed off the top, before it is strained and stored (frozen, usually for home cooks) for use next time.  If needed, the stock can bee topped up with water, or dressed up with more aromatics and spiced, but the usage of the stock over time will gift it a complex flavour that makes each use more sublime than the last.

Keeping a good master stock is an investment, and takes a commitment that goes beyond the world of convenience we currently live in, which is a bit ironic given it is a very simple and quick way to supercharge the flavour in a chicken or slab of pork.  So, take the plunge today and start your own master stock today.  If you get a chance, let me know about your experiences, and what you put in your master stock to add flavour. And sometime in the near future, i’ll let you know how the chicken goes!

Enjoy the meal.

Chicken Lasagne – No boundaries, no borders

There are two schools of thought when it comes to regionalized food.

One school of thought is that you should preserve the recipes and techniques that are synonymous with all of the various regions and cultures found around the world.  That the dish “Spaghetti Bolognese” or “Pot au feu” should be recreated faithfully to the time honoured practices that have made the dish the signature dish of the area in which it was created.  These traditionalists argue that preserving the dish in it’s original form is preserving culture, and that changing it whilst maintaining the name is perpetuating a lie that will ultimately dilute the truth bring about it’s eventual demise.

Pot au feu - photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The other school of thought is that food culture evolves, and through exposure to new ingredients and techniques, tastes and recipes develop to maximize the environment of the day.  Culinary preservation is important to document, as history teaches us a lot about why we are what we are today, but preserving recipes for preservation’s sake is to risk losing potentially new and great dishes solely for stubbornness.

I actually take a very uncontroversial view, and believe that there is room for both.  I think that we should preserve dishes exactly as they have been created for centuries, and the food world should work together to ensure that proprietors and restauranteurs worldwide who carry out these traditions are supported and encouraged to continue through future generations…almost as living museums.  Whilst others use these creations as inspiration to take the dish elsewhere, in new and exciting directions.  All dishes, even the classics above, owe their creation to a single departure from some other dish, so you never know when the new gun Chef is actually creating the classic dish of tomorrow.  Even Lasagne, a dish that can evoke many arguments about how to create the best version, is an evolution of French and Greek recipes, with the catalyst change being the hottest new ingredient in the market place, the tomato (courtesy of Christopher Columbus).

A traditional Lasagne - Photo courtesy of Dee Catering & Logistic Services (Western Australia)

This version of Lasagne was inspired by a meal I had in a Restaurant that actually disappointed me.  I saw “Chicken Lasagne” on the menu, and ordered it, but felt the intensity of the tomato based sauce totally killed the chicken in the dish.  Two days later I created this recipe, or something very much like it (as I did not write the original recipe down, it was more the concept that I am replicating here).  In essence, it’s a blending of a creamy chicken Alfredo or Carbonara, using Lasagne techniques and pasta.  It’s one of those dishes that I make that seems to be an instant hit, yet no one seems to have joined the dots and made a version commercially yet…at least I have never seen one in any Restaurant or cookbook.

Chicken Lasagne with cream, bacon & mushrooms.

I hope you get inspired by it and give it a try.  Again, don’t pay too much attention to the recipe itself, just the idea…and make it your own.  Let me know what you do, and how it turns out.

The ingredients to make the magic happen...

Ingredients

  • 1kg Chicken Thighs (boneless & skinless)
  • 200g Mushrooms (Sliced)
  • 200g Rindless Bacon (Julienned)
  • 1 1/2 Red Onions (finely diced)
  • 2 Tbsp Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 3/4 Cup White Wine (good enough to drink)
  • Zest from 1/2 Lemon
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk or Cream (or blend)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup fresh Parsley (finely chopped)
  • 150g Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Cups grated Mozzarella Cheese
  • Salt/Pepper (freshly ground) to taste
  • Lasagne Sheets (fresh or dried)

Cut the chicken thighs into large cubes and add half to a food processor.  Pulse for 10 x 1-second pulses, then 1 x 4-second pulse (full seconds…one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc).  Turn out into a bowl, and repeat with the other half.  You can use chicken mince instead, if you want, the result will be more consistent.  You can also use breasts, which will actually whiten up the dish a lot, as thighs tend to be a bit grey.  I like the flavour of thighs though, so I tend to use them a lot.

Add oil to a large frying pan and add the bacon.  Cook until almost crispy over a medium heat, stirring often.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a bowl, and reserve.

Delicious rendered bacon

Add a quarter of the chicken to the bacon grease, and cook until almost done, trying not to brown the chicken at all.  Clear the centre of the pan by moving the cooked chicken to the sides, and add the next quarter.  Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked.  Using the slotted spoon, remove the cooked chicken to the bacon bowl, and reserve.

Move the cooked chicken to the edge, and add the next batch in the centre.

Add the onions and mushrooms and garlic, with a pinch of salt, and cook slowly until the onions are just translucent.  You don’t want any browning as it will colour the dish.

De-glaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice, and cook until almost evaporated.

Notice the base of the pan where I moved a spoon through the mix. When the liquid takes a while to fill the path made by the spoon, you've reduced enough.

Add the chicken and bacon mix, and stir to combine, then set aside.

Combine the chicken stock and milk in a microwave proof container, and cook on high for 3 minutes.  If it is not yet steaming, cook for 1 minute bursts until it is.  Careful not to boil the liquid, however.  Add the butter to a sauce-pan and cook until fragrant.

Liquid gold

Add the flour to the butter, and stir until all lumps are gone.  Cook for 1 minute and then add the hot milk/stock mix, stirring constantly until thickened (about the consistency of cream).  Remove from heat and add the Parmesan cheese.  Stir until all of the cheese is melted, the add the sour cream and stir until is well combined.

Added the Parmesan Cheese to the sauce...

Add the cream sauce to the chicken mix, and stir to combine.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the chopped parsley, and set aside.

Everyone in the pool! Now just the layers...

In a bowl, mix the Mozzarella cheese with the lemon zest.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350f).

At this point, we consider the pasta.  I just use bought dry pasta sheets, and place layer them as is.  I do not pre-cook them, and I try not to buy “Instant” either, as they are usually thinner.  If you are using fresh, or precooked, get them ready now, and hopefully you used the higher quantity of flour and butter (for a thicker sauce).

In a high sided baking dish, spread a thin layer of the chicken mixture, just enough so that you cant see the bottom of the baking dish.  Top with a sprinkling of the Mozzarella.  Layer the pasta sheets on top, without overlapping them.  Repeat this layering until you reach the top of the pan, at which point you do not add a layer of pasta on top of the cheese.

Just to show the layering of the sauce and cheese with the pasta.

Cover the lasagne with foil, and bake for 45 minutes (30 minutes for fresh or pre-cooked pasta sheets).  Then uncover, and bake for 15 minutes more.

Just out of the oven...now the wait.

It is important that you let the Lasagne cool before you cut into it.  You really want to let it sit, covered loosely with foil, for 90 minutes before serving…if you can.  Good luck with that.

Serve with a side of steamed broccoli, and maybe a nice bruschetta. Oh, and a glass of the white wine you used in the dish.

Again, let me know if this dish inspires you, and share with us all where you take it in your kitchen.

Enjoy the meal!