Tag Archives: cooking

Stuff it…

It’s funny what subjects get under a persons skin (pun intended), and one of those for me is stuffing.

I love stuffing. As an economical side dish for a deliciously roasted fowl, there isn’t much that can top the humble stuffing.

Unfortunately, it can be fraught with danger.

Cooked inside your bird of choice, you need to over-cook the poultry if you want to cook the stuffing buried deep within the cavity sufficiently to avoid a cross contamination bacterial explosion, and I don’t need to paint that picture for you. The problem with that, is you risk ruining your roast.

So, what is the solution?

Don’t cook your stuffing inside the bird.

Normally, I would cook the stuffing separately in a small roasting dish and serve it with the meal fresh from the oven, however this past Christmas, I had a light bulb moment.

COOK AND SERVE THE STUFFING INSIDE A WHOLE PUMPKIN!

Safer than cooking stuffing in a bird, and easy to turn into a vegetarian delight

Safer than cooking stuffing in a bird, and easy to turn into a vegetarian delight

First, select the pumpkin. I suggest a Kent, or a Jap pumpkin for up to 8 people. Using a sharp thin bladed knife, cut the top off of the pumpkin and mark a notch to help align the lid and base later. Now clean out all of the seeds and fiber…don’t forget the lid. At this time you can choose to scrape flesh out to make more room for stuffing, but don’t make the walls to thin.

Fill with your favorite stuffing, bake, and serve!

What’s that? You don’t have a favorite stuffing recipe?

Well here’s one I prepared earlier…

A good stuffing starts with good bread. Use a nice heavy loaf, like a genuine sourdough or Rye.

Cube it up and toss with oil and salt. I also like to add fresh garlic and fresh rosemary, if I have it on hand.

Cook in a moderate oven until golden brown. congratulations, you just made the best croutons you’ve ever eaten. Put them aside, those you don’t eat immediately anyway, and remember this technique for the next salad you make.

Cook some wild rice, per the directions. You won’t need more than 1/4cup uncooked.

Fry some mushrooms in olive oil, with something porky (chorizo, bacon, etc) and a couple of anchovies. You won’t taste the anchovies, just the seasoning they provide. If you don’t want to, skip it…but add some worcestershire sauce later.

Add some diced onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent. At this point, I also like to add some slivered almonds or Pine nuts.

Add in some rosemary, thyme (not much, it can overpower), and some ground pepper.

Deglaze the pan with a little red wine, Port, or Brandy, and cook it down so there is barely any liquid left.

Now add the rice and mix together.

Take the pan off of the heat, and mix in the croutons.

In another pan, or microwave oven, heat up about half a litre of chicken stock until almost boiling. Pour enough into the mix to make it moist, but not sloppy. Taste and season.

Then bake it in a dish, or a pumpkin like above.

Serve it next to a roast chook or turkey, and lap up the accolades (as well as enjoy the stuffing with the generous scoop of pumpkin).

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A use for all that Feta!

A few days ago I posted a blog entry about my misguided attempt to corner the market on Feta (see post here).  I can now report that I have successfully used the last of the cheese, and a good portion of the olive oil keeping said feta in pristine condition.

Blocks of Feta

We had a few friends over last night, for a bit of a game night, and I decided to recreate one of my all time favourite dishes for them; a dish which uses, as one of the key ingredients, copious amounts of Feta cheese.

I remember as a young adult, we had a “pot-luck” at work, whereby everyone brought in a tasty dish for morning tea and lunch.  I think it was to celebrate someone’s birthday, but whilst the reason for the spread may be lost in the grey mist of history, the delicious Filo Pastry encrusted “pie” brought in by Anna (a lovely Greek lady who worked part time in the back office) will never be forgotten.  I immediately fell in love with Spanakopita.

Flaky and cheesy...a heavenly pie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250ml) olive oil (light Olive oil)
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch shallots (spring onions), finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1.5kg baby spinach (fresh)
  • 400g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 200g full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 12 sheets filo pastry
  • Salt and Pepper

Method

Remove the stalks from the spinach, then wash in cold water.  Once well washed/rinsed, spin in a salad spinner or dry thoroughly using paper towels.  Roughly chop the Spinach.

Eating your greens has never been so tasty

Heat about half of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and add the diced onion with a pinch of salt sprinkled all over.

You’ll want to use a light olive oil, rather than a virgin (or extra virgin) because the extra refining raises the smoke point, stopping the oil from burning.

Cook for about 3 minutes until the onion is translucent, then add the green onions and garlic.  Cook for about 2 minutes more, stirring, and add about 1/3 of the spinach.  Once the spinach is wilted, add the next third.  Cook until all is wilted, then add the final third.

Cook until all of the spinach has wilted, and any liquid is cooked off.  When you hear the sizzle of frying spinach and onion, you will know you are good.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, crumble in the Feta.  You will want to create a fine crumble (I use the back of a fork), but still have some pea sized lumps for texture.  Add the ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and nutmeg.  Grind in some fresh black pepper (optional) and a pinch of salt, and mix thoroughly.

When the spinach mix has cooled a little, add to the cheese mix and stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius (about 400f).  In a greased rectangle baking dish, layer about 6 layers of filo pastry, brushing each layer with the olive oil before putting on the next.  You want the pastry to come up the sides of the pan slightly.  Filo is tricky to deal with, so follow the instructions on the box.  Also, do not worry if it tears and breaks.  Just layer it as evenly as you can.

Spoon in the spinach and cheese mix.

Top with the last of the filo, again brushing each layer of the pastry with olive oil before applying the next.  Score the top to let out some of the steam.

Bake in the oven until the top is golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and let it cool before serving.  It’s also delicious cold, or at room temperature, so leftovers are an absolute treat.

One slice is not enough. It's a dish you will come back and pick at until it's all gone.

I hope you enjoy the dish as much as I, and my guests, did.  I actually made a couple of pans, and the photo is of the smaller one I had hidden away to eat the next day.  I knew the main pan would not last the night.

Enjoy the meal.

It all boils down to this…

Throw some roasted bones in a large pot of water, and add some aromatic veggies; onion, celery, carrot, some garlic…maybe a bouquet garni, and let it boil for a while.  Skim off any foam that gathers on the surface, and when the time is right…strain, remove the fat, and voila.

It’s a process that stock makers all around the world are familiar with.  You really haven’t cooked, until you’ve made a stock from scratch, and it’s just one of those simple and economical things you can do that seems to set apart a meal from the ordinary.  It’s a magical thing.

Or is it.  Consider what is really happening here.  Water, one of the most corrosive compounds on Earth, is stripping away the flavour from ingredients in your stock pot, and you just happen to be harnessing that small piece of science.  All of that deliciousness is separating from the original structure…the bones, or the chunky vegetables, and being suspended in the liquid…to create a power packed and tasty fluid to use in a thousand different ways.

It’s really a great process to use to your advantage, and a process to totally avoid if you are not planning on making a flavourful stock.  If you want to take a lovely head of cauliflower, or a handful of Brussels sprouts, and turn them into flavourless piles of mushy awfulness, throw them into a pot of water and boil them.  Or do it, but then toss away the veggies, and drink the broth.  Boiling food is just bad food science, unless it’s the resultant liquid that you are looking to use.

Tonight, for dinner, I tossed a handful of Cauliflower florets with some cherry tomatoes in a little olive oil, salt, and garlic, and then roasted them in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.  I would have taken a picture of it for you, but they really didn’t last long enough.  Roasting Cauliflower just brings out a sweetness that you have no idea even exists in the vegetable, until you roast it.

Think of a horrible food memory as a child, something that you hated eating and would hide stuffed in your pants pocket, just so you could leave the table having emptied your plate.  9 times out of 10, it was a boiled item.  Half of those, probably Brussels sprouts.

Well, take that food item and try to cook it using a dry method.  I say dry method, because even steaming is corrosive to flavour, if less so than boiling.  Take those sprouts, and toss them in some oil, and maybe a little salt and pepper.  Maybe some other spice or herb that you like.  And them roast them.  Even stir-fry them.  Anything but boiling, steaming, or microwaving.  You’ll be amazed at the difference.

Peas…well, I only heat peas, so I toss them in a pan of butter over a medium heat.  Maybe a 1/4 cup of water in the pan to generate some steam, but as soon as they are hot, they are done.  Same method for Broccoli.

Frozen mixed vegetables…one of my favourites.  Don’t mock, even a good cook is entitled to a short cut, but for gods sake don’t boil them.  Same method as the peas (maybe add a tablespoon of honey too)…or…spread them out on a baking tray and drizzle some oil on top.  A sprinkling of salt, and 10 minutes in a hot oven should do it.  Sweet and juicy.

Zucchini sliced length ways and tossed in oil and salt, then on a hot BBQ until just cooked…corn, still in the husk, roasted in a max oven, or slowly turned on top of the BBQ as the outer husk leaves dry and blackens before falling off…these are regular items on our kitchen table, and veggies often become the star of the meal.

Boiled veggies are responsible for more food phobias than any other cooking method out there.  Don’t perpetuate the inhumanity, the food cruelty.

What different cooking methods do you use for your veggies?  Any good ideas out there I can try?

The Pathway to Redemption – Make your own Salad Dressing

Nothing represents our failure as a culture as much as Salad Dressing.  I know that’s a big statement, given all of the issues we are facing in the world today, but Salad Dressings have to be one of the most vile and evil things that we can possibly buy.

Let me explain.

First of all, the recipe for a basic salad dressing is:

  • 1 part vinegar
  • 3 parts oil

And that’s it.  End of story.

So, here’s a homework project.  Check you pantry.  Do you have oil?  Do you have vinegar or lemon juice?  Great!  Or…if not…get some the next time you are at the store.  It doesn’t have to be fancy oil or vinegar, just plain old vegetable oil and white vinegar is fine…for a start.

Grab an old jar from that cupboard full of old jars and lids that ‘someday’ you are going to find uses for, and add a splash of vinegar.  Don’t add much, just a good pour.  If you have to have a measure, go with a 1/3 of a cup or a couple of shot glasses full (my personal favourite measure).  Then add roughly three times more oil.  Cap it and shake it.

Now make yourself a basic salad.  Just lettuce.  Fancy lettuce, plain lettuce, bagged lettuce, whatever you want.  Drizzle on some of the dressing, and toss the lettuce around (best to use your finger tips, and toss gently).  You want to just coat the leaves.  And you are done.

Taste it.  How good is that?

Now, think about some variety.  A pinch of salt…a spoon of garlic…a turn of fresh cracked pepper…even a little bit of sugar.  What’s that?  You want to get fancy?  Try a different oil, get a different vinegar.  How about lemon juice instead?  Or….how about some herbs, or a spoon of mustard…a dollop of mayonnaise…and now you are really cooking.  I mean, really cooking…literally and figuratively, and we haven’t even addressed the salad mix yet!

So why is Salad Dressing so evil?

Well, $15 a litre, for a start.  Emulsifiers, preservatives, and colouring agents, that’s why.  The fact that we allow a market for Salad Dressings to even exist, is proof we are spiraling down a drain of culinary helplessness.  Billions of dollars are spent on this ridiculous convenience, not counting the cost to the environment in plastic bottles and packaging.

You see, a salad dressing is analogous for all cooking.  It can be complex, or it can be as simple as 2 ingredients.  The point is, sometimes we buy things for no real reason, and all we are really doing is spending money that we could be using elsewhere, and filling our bodies with the ingredients and chemicals that food companies use to make their profits.  Salad dressing is not a convenience food, so quit buying it.  Instead, spend the money on some quality vinegar and oil.

Returning to the basics can be a very eye opening experience.  Food doesn’t have to be, and should not be, a complicated chore.  Don’t let Masterchef or MKR or Top Chef fool you.  You don’t need a degree in cooking, or be practiced at complicated techniques, to make good food.  Keep it simple, and most of all, keep it home made.

For gods sake people, make yourself a salad dressing.

Tips for a perfect Salad Dressing:

  • Vinegar is roughly 5% acidic…so is lemon juice.  If you are using something less acidic, such as orange juice, use more of it.
  • Dried herbs will take some time to release their flavours into a dressing.  If you have fresh herbs, add them to the salad, instead of the dressing.  Dried herbs are fine, but the dressing won’t benefit from them until a few days soaking.  You can shortcut this by simmering the herbs in the vinegar before making the dressing, but you will want to cool it down before adding to the salad.
  • A salad dressing doubles as a killer marinade.  NEVER forget that tip.
  • Try an Asian flair…a dash of soy, a splash of sesame oil, and a blob of honey (maybe some Chinese 5 spice or fish sauce too).
  • Most of all, have fun and play around with flavours…but never forget the basics.  1 Part Vinegar, 3 Parts Oil.

My competition Bio page!

This is the link to my bio page for the upcoming Jamie Oliver cooking session!  Keep posted for an opportunity to vote for me, pretty please!