April 27, 2010

Vegetable lasagne

I have just come from the kitchen and thought I'd better get this down now while it is still fresh in my mind.  I haven't had vegetarian lasagne in a long, long time. I think I have been put off it for two main reasons-
1) It takes hours to prepare
2) The boys will hate it

If I get one out of two then that is OK. I am as surprised as you are when I tell you that I was 100% correct- the boys hated it!
 Actually that is not really a fair statement because Max didn't even taste it. I picked him up from a late birthday party at a rock climbing centre and on the way home he asked what was for dinner "lasagne" I said. I got the face wiggle and the air pump, all good!

We get up stairs, I start cooking and about half way into the prep Max and his brother are sitting in the loungeroom playing when my little foodista asks "does the lasagne have any meat? (long pause and crashing of pots), mum.....mum DOES IT HAVE ANY MEAT????"
To this I simply lift my head and shake 'no' hoping not to attract Alex's attention, but thanks to Max's dispeasure he adds...

"Oh that is it, I am NOT having any dinner" (yeah, well I also know that you just polished off four slices of pizza and a massive piece of chocolate cake so thank your lucky stars my boy!).

In a way I was happy not to see him sit at the table with his usual dark cloud over his head whenever I serve a vego meal. So Max sat on the couch (with a full belly) and read the adventures of Astrix while Alex graced us with his presence. Don't worry my bubble soon burst when Alex found the eggpalnt under his beloved mozzeralla cheese.
Nic and I managed to polish off two delicious pieces of lasagna while master Alex picked out all the pasta coated in pesto and crunchy cheese, ate those and then told me it really isn't a good idea to make that ever again.
Sorry boys but I am hear to tell you I will be making it again, for two reasons-
1) It was so yummy
2) It was really quick and easy to make
 Of course it isn't as quick as a pasta cabonnara but from start to scratch we were were sitting down eating dinner in just over an hour and that is pretty good for a lasagne (cooking time included).

I was suppose to bring home some parmesan cheese from work (I've been saying that for about a month now much to Nic's disgust), so I had to make the pesto without cheese and I have to tell you it was totally fine.
To spice up the dish a little I popped in a teaspoon of leftover Ethiopian chicken spice mix we had in the cupboard and it was a fantastic idea. The cinnamon and chilli flavours complimented the vegetables really well and blended beautifully with the pesto (minus the cheese). I highly recommend you make the Chicken dish- get the leftover spice mix and then make the lasagne- two meals for the week!

(On a side note the Ethiopian chicken is another Saveur recipe we revisit often).

Vegetable lasagne
Pesto sauce
2 garlic cloves
2 cups basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
good pinch salt and pepper

Place garlic cloves into a food processor and turn on until chopped.
Turn off, place in basil leaves and process again until leaves are roughly chopped.
While motor is running slowly add oil followed by pine nuts and seasoning.
Once all blended and combined remove to a small bowl and place to one side.

Tomato sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon spices (if you want to try this mix one part paprika, 1 part cumin, 1/2 part cinnamon & 1part chilli powder for a quick alternative)
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup tomato puree (or tomato passata)
1/2 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper

Heat a medium sauce pan on medium high and add oil.
Once oil is warm add spices and onion, saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring.
Add tomato paste and cook out for another 3-4 minutes, stirring.
Add tomato puree, cherry tomatoes and seasoning, bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and place to on side until needed.

Other ingredients needed
1 eggplant, sliced and chargrilled
2 zucchini's, sliced and chargrilled
2 capsicums oven roasted and peeled
1 pkt lasagne noodles
4-6 mozzerella balls, sliced
(I chargrilled my vegetables while the sauce was simmering to cut down on time)

Putting it all together
Preheat oven to 200.
Grease a 8x8 inch pyrex dish with butter or cooking spray.
Place a small amount of tomato sauce on the bottom of dish then lay down two sheets of lasagne, covering the bottom of the dish.
Cover with slices of cooked eggplant and then smooth 1/2 the pesto sauce over eggplant.
Add two more lasagne sheets, side by side.
Layer on grilled zucchini slices, cover with more tomato sauce then another two sheets of lasagne.
Cover with strips of roasted capsicums, add the rest of the pesto and smooth over peppers.
Place the last two lasagne sheets side by side, add extra eggplant slices and remaining tomato sauce.
Once tomato sauce covers lasagna sheets and eggplant, place on a layer of sliced, fresh mozzarella cheese.
Pop dish on your middle rack of your oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, let rest for 5-10 minutes then slice and serve.

This will always taste better the day after but we loved it on the night.

April 26, 2010

Lamb Salad-Saveur style

Succulent slices of lamb, roasted pistachio nuts, capers and roast garlic vinaigrette are a few of the flavours that went into this delicious dish and I cannot claim credit for any of it. Here at the Baker residence we have decided to dip into the culinary world of Saveur magazine for a few weeks and try some of the hundreds of recipes I have collected over the past 7 years.

I LOVE Saveur magazine as I have said many times. Nic and I have also made quite a few recipes over the years and always enjoyed the end result. However, like many other families out there we got caught up in the 'usual' family cycle meaning making the usual meatballs, making the usual roast chook. Now there is nothing wrong with this and I am certainly not complaining about the lack of flavour, but it was time for a change of flavours in our household. I/we wanted to taste other people's food.
 Don't get me wrong I love experimenting with flavours, textures and ideas but I also love to taste the way other people think when preparing food.
A prime example was this delicious lamb salad I found in issue 123 (page 66) of Saveur.
 The heading splashed across the magazines front cover states "Why lamb rules", and there on the front cover are two fabulous looking cutlets you just know taste sweet, juicy and down right delicious--of course I wanted to flip the page and read it from cover to cover back in 2009 and again last week!

I have made many a lamb salad and eaten oodles of lamb cooked in many different ways but one thing that stood out in this recipe was the use of mushrooms, capers and anchovies all mixing in with the regular lamb flavours (rosemary, roast potato wedges and thyme just to name a few). We added this recipe to our weekly list.
Another aspect to this challenge was for ME to follow the recipe as closely as I could. I am not allowed to do the usual skimming through the recipe, not really reading the method (thinking 'of course I know how to make a roast lamb salad')and doing what I think best. NO, I am making an extra effort to follow instructions and looking forward to the end result- untampered to the best of my ability.

Now having said that, I did need to change a few ingredients--for example when I asked my butcher for lamb top round he just looked at me and asked what the heck I was on about. In the end we both decided a butterflied leg would be a great substitute. Second, the recipe called for oyster mushrooms.....I love oyster mushrooms however the boys think they taste like a slippery, slimy- yeah, I don't think I need to go any further, you get the drift! Instead I bought enoki mushrooms and thought they would work a treat. My third and last sub was frisee lettuce. I once served this to the boys last christmas. Alex didn't touch it at all while Max chewed through a few leaves telling me it tasted like chewing on thorns, I just stuck with arugula leaves.
I'm not to sure I am allowed to reprint this recipe (copyright etc) so if you pop on over to Saveur's website, you can look it up in their archives, just remember it is from issue 123 and simply named 'Lamb salad'.

Ok now for the Baker families opinions:

The dressing of roasted garlic, sherry vinegar, capers, anchovies and olive oil was fantastic! A crisp, rich and tart flavour all rolled into one and when paired with the lamb itself, you couldn't stop eating it.

Alex being Alex decided he didn't like lamb (?) but loved the dressing so he sucked the salad dressing off the arugula leaves (no surprises) and lamb. Devoured all the oven roasted potato and rosemary wedges and of course didn't touch the butter and thyme sauteed mushrooms.
Max ate everything except, wait for it, the mushrooms!
I would definitely make this salad again, however I did find it took much longer to prepare than I thought it would, but maybe that was because I followed everything to the T? Not sure but next time I will no doubt take short cuts and possibly make the dressing ahead of time--great BBQ salad without a doubt.

April 19, 2010

Cooking school practices

I know I have been a little absent this week, it is not through lack of interesting food by any means. As some of you may remember I bought a catering business with another chef at the end of last year. It is all going well and the stress hasn't killed us yet, so we decided to mess with it a little and find a bigger space with the hope of adding on a cooking school.
 To cut a long and stressful story short, we found the bigger space, so big in fact we decided to add on a cafe out the front, cooking school in the middle and catering kitchen in the rear.
Mad you might be thinking?
With that said, my partner and I have been playing around with food ideas, trying to come up with some interesting classes for the folks of Sydney.
 We will be offering basic cooking classes, specialty classes and also kids' cooking classes but we also wanted to offer something extra- a chef's table for those cooks out there who want a one-on-one personal lesson with a chef. With the Chef's table you can help design your own menu, prepare the meal and then invite 6-8 of your friends to come for dinner and taste your menu. The fun part is you get to go home, pop your glad rags on grab your partner and come out for the dinner you created, leaving the plating and washing up to us. We are excited and can't wait to get the bench tops up and ovens in to get this show on the road!

Just to wet your appetite here are a few images we have been playing around with.
Below is a delicious gravlax of salmon filled with an avocado, dill and wasabi oil filling topped with caviar.....
and we couldn't go past the classic melon and prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella and basil for those warm evenings. Can't you just feel the champagne bubbles tickling your nose! 
I'll keep you up dated on the progress and hopefully have some images of the glamorous new kitchen really soon.

April 14, 2010

Apple turnovers for you and a four year old

Alex has been nagging me senseless to come and cook at his school. I have promised him I will, just as soon as I have a spare afternoon (something a 4 year old gets very tired of hearing!).

Last year when I was working 3 days a week, I spent one morning at Alex's then preschool 'cooking' with him and his class. It was great fun. At first I had a bit of a panic attack because cooking with 18 three to four year olds wasn't something I ever thought would be fun, let alone think of doing more than once in my life.
However, when your son keeps on going on about the apple turnovers he once made, while at the same time staring up at you with his big blue eyes and pulling on your jeans saying, 'let's make those again, can we, can we, can we mum?', you have to resign to the fact that it WILL happen again and sometime soon.

To make life easier I decided to come up with a fool-proof recipe so the kids can do more of the work and I can be more of a 'helper'.
 The kids can make one each and take it home for their whole family to try (I can't run the risk of eating some other kid's booger smeared turnover- a little lesson I learned from the last time!).
If all goes well I'm planning on doing the class next week so I'll let you know how it goes but until then, if you have a youngster floating around or just want an easy recipe to whip up in under 20 minutes then pre heat your oven, pull a sheet of puff pastry out of your freezer and get to work!

Apple turnover
3-4 sheets of frozen puff pastry or sweet short crust
50 g unsalted butter, melted
4 small granny smith apples, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon heaped brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1-2 tablespoons demerara or raw sugar (optional)

Remove sheets of pastry from freezer, preheat oven to 180c and spray oven tray with cooking spray.
Place the next 5 ingredients into a medium bowl, stir to combine.
With a small knife (butter knife is fine if kids want to do it), make slits in the middle of the pastry like goal bars, leaving about 5cm from each end of the pastry.
Place apple mixture on a 1/3 of the pastry long ways, brush one end of the pastry with egg wash then fold over opposite end to make a fold.
Once ends are joined, grab a fork and press down edges to seal.
Brush the top of pastry with more egg wash then sprinkle on demerara sugar.
Place back in fridge for 5 minutes to firm up pastry.
Once pastry is firm, bake until golden in colour.

Cool, dust with icing sugar and eat as is or with your favourite custard, ice cream or cream

April 13, 2010

Lamb meatballs with an eggplant & tomato sauce

Who doesn't love a good meatball..(bar the obvious of course)?

I use lamb meatballs as an 'in' when it comes to using eggplant in my sauces. For Nic and I it isn't a problem but the boys are totally against it when spotted. I don't hide vegetables, but I will cook them down for maximum flavour.......if this process happens to breakdown the vegetable in question and make it look like part of the tomato sauce then lucky me!
My 'best' eater is trying to have a sea change and thinks that it is his right to announce to the world that all things HE doesn't like will kills us all. I can usually ignore the rambling but when it affects the way his little brother looks at food, well, it is something I can't ignore any longer, dammit!

I was experimenting with this recipe, as I wanted something that I could serve as an appetiser (so it has to have a punch of flavour) or as a main course. I am pretty happy with the end result but I will need to have a bit more of a fiddle until I am completely satisfied. If you're at all tempted to give it a try then please go ahead and let me know what you think......I am always open for ideas and suggestions.

Just in case you're wondering, the boys ate it all up. Max did spot a piece of eggplant that still held onto its shape but Alex had already finished by this time so I didn't have to snap his head off when it came to letting the cat out of the bag so happy days!

Lamb meatballs with an eggplant and tomato sauce

For the balls:
800g lamb mince
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper, ground
1 egg
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

100g eggplant I1 small finger eggplant), diced
1 small fennel bulb, diced
1 tin whole tomatoes, drained and diced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2/3 cup stock (chicken or veg)

Pre heat oven to 180C.
When preparing the meat balls, place all the ingredients into a medium bowl and mix until well blended.
Roll into small balls then place on a greased baking tray leaving a little space between each ball.
Bake in oven for ten minutes.

For the sauce heat oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat..
Add onion and garlic, then saute until soft.
Add eggplant, fennel, salt and pepper and stir to combine. You will need to stir occasionally so they eggplant softens evenly (aprox. 8 minutes).
Add diced tomato and vinegar, stir to combine. Once boiling, turn down you heat so your sauce simmers for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a lid on.
Add 1/3 to 2/3 cup of stock (depending on how running you like your sauce) and your meatballs and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and rest for  a few minutes before serving with soft polenta, mash potatoes or in a sub sandwich

April 11, 2010

Cinnamon rolls

I didn't sleep well last night. You know when you wake up tossing and turning, almost itching to get out of bed? That was me. It happens every time I try a new recipe and it states....'place dough in fridge overnight'. I'm like a kid at Christmas-

'what will it look like, did I put enough yeast in?....god I hope this works'

Cinnamon roll recipes have been around forever and a day, this I know but I have never made them. I almost did a few years back but then I went up to our friends parents house where we were introduced to Bonnie's blow your mind pecan rolls- I got intimidated and decided to put it on the back burner for a little while longer.

Call me crazy but I really didn't have a lot of confidence when it came to yeast and dough. I'd have a go but my heart really wasn't in it and you could tell in the end result. It wasn't until my year in West Virginia where my beautiful neighbour, Wendy helped me connect with baked goods. She introduced me to her three day in the making bread (which we still make every week, something Nic has taken over due to my lack of presence at home these days) and she also taught me to love the process of bread making.

After reading one of Armchairchef-bryan blogs on cinnamon buns a few weeks ago I decided it was time to get in there and have ago. His buns looked divine and his method sounded laid back and relaxed, so I thought if I don't do it now then I'll never do it.
I changed a few measurements, so I've written it up hoping other Australians will give it a go in terms they are more comfortable with, like grams and celsius but for everyone else who wants a great cinnamon roll recipe click on over to Bryan's blog for his version, as you can see it is a winner!

Cinnamon Rolls
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup castor sugar
2 teaspoons dry yeast (I keep mine in the freezer so it is always good to go)
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups plain flour
1 1/4 cups wholemeal flour

240g unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/4 cups castor sugar

1. In a mixing bowl add water, sugar and yeast, stir with a wooden spoon then leave to activate (approx. 6 minutes).
2. Once activated, add melted butter, salt and flours. Begin to kneed with a dough hook on low speed until well combined. Turnout onto floured surface and kneed for 2-3 minutes then spray your mixer bowl with cooking spray and place dough back inside, cover with glad wrap and leave to rise for 3--40 minutes.
(if you don't have a mixer, gradually mix with a wooden spoon and then turn out onto a floured surface and kneed for a few minutes until well combined and smooth)
Once risen, knock down with your fist, recover then place in the fridge over night.

3. Before going to bed, pull out a block of butter so it is ready to go for the morning.
Morning time...
4. Remove dough from fridge then make your cinnamon butter by putting butter, sugar and cinnamon into a medium bowl and stirring to combine.
Lightly flour your bench, turn out dough and roll into a rectangle shape (30 x 40 cm).

5. Once rolled spread dough with your cinnamon butter then roll into a long log.
Once you have a log shape cut into 12 pieces, line a baking tray with baking paper (allowing paper to go up the sides as well) and place rolls onto baking tray.

6. Preheat your oven to 160c then cover rolls with glad wrap and leave to prove for 30 minutes.
Once proven, place in oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven, flip rolls onto serving platter exposing awesome, sticky cinnamon side then eat!

*For those of you who don't own a rolling pin, don't give up- I left mine at work so I used the empty wine bottle from last nights dinner and it worked a treat!

April 10, 2010

Re visiting fish tacos

I have been retrying a lot of my recipes these past few weeks and on Friday night (last night) we reconnected with fish tacos. I looked up the original recipe I had written when I was writing recipes for kidspot and put it into action once again but with a few slight changes.
Instead for putting the marinade ingredients into the blender, I decided to use the mortar and pestle as I was after a recipe with big flavour, not just quick preparation. I was not disappointed. It is like everything in life, if you're after a quick fix by all means use the fastest approach, BUT if you have a few extra minutes pound away in your stone mortar and you will be justly rewarded. The colour was sensational, not to mention the smells of coriander, garlic and lime juice wafting around the kitchen.

I proceeded to follow the recipe but remembered I used corn the last time I made it but couldn't find it in the recipe and I didn't want to dirty another pot (I really hate dishes!) so I shredded my cobs of corn, scattered the kernels around the fish just before popping it in the oven to cook. Fresh corn is wonderful raw, so a little roasting with the fish would only bring out a great fresh flavour.
Popping the fish fillets into a hot oven for about 7 minutes is a very healthy way to prepare these tacos, the marinade really opens up and flavours the fish and corn, while the fillets remain flaky and juicy. Once they are cooked I remove them (along with the taco shells) from the oven, cut into a rough dice, then serve hot with diced cucumber, quartered cherry tomatoes, shredded lettuce and some lime mayo that I whipped up while the fish was marinating.
Yet again this was a big hit with everyone. The crisp taco shell pares beautifully with the fresh condiments, flavour packed fish not to mention the tangy lime mayo.

For the recipe click here.

April 7, 2010

Pork tenderloin with salsa verde

Pork is really underrated in Australia, I think I have mentioned this once before. I was talking with a customer the other day and she was asking me what would be a healthy meal other than chicken. When I suggested pork she quickly added 'but that is so fatty'--not true!

After living in the States for a good while, I got to realise a few things and one of them is -pork is not our enemy.
Didn't we have that ad a few years back 'get some pork on your fork'?
 I am sure that must of been in Australia because whenever I sung/verbalised that phrase to my American friends, I was always looked at with a curious look (more than usual!).
Pork tenderloin is just as mouthwatering as eye fillet if you ask me. It is extremely versatile, tasty, and simple to cook.
I came up with this little number a little while ago, while living in Virginia. I had to do a cooking demo at a client's house and she requested pork and something to do with vegetables. I knew this lady was a foodie so I had to come up with a really yummy, interesting, and flavour packed dish.
At the time I was having a bit of a thing for herbs and sauces. I decided I wanted to serve the pork and veggies with a bread based salsa verde (the Italian way). The end result was a huge success. Not only did the meal take a very short time to prepare but they loved the fact that they could use the leftover verde for a pasta sauce later on in the week.

One of my testers, Barbara, uses this recipe quite a bit. She told me it was a great crowd pleaser and quick to prepare especially if you make the verde and marinate the pork the night before.
Of course when I cooked this I didn't make it the night before, however I did have the luxury of an extra half hour up my sleeve. So with the music cranking out the tunes, a cold beer in hand, I took my time in the kitchen and was not disappointed. In the original recipe I served this dish with couscous, but I forgot that (and didn't think to look at the recipe that was inches from me) and proceeded to par boil new potatoes, sliced them and popped them on the grill along with capsicum, zucchini and green beans.

 To my surprise, Max didn't like the verde, or was it the colour he didn't like? Anyway he didn't even taste it (sticking your tongue out in the same direction as your fork with the green stuff on the end is NOT tasting as far as I am concerned), while Alex on the other hand spread it all over his pork and of course, left his zucchini- will I ever win that battle?
The boys and I throughly enjoyed getting some pork on our forks and also looked forward to leftover pork sangos for lunch the next day.
 If your ever looking for a healthy change from chicken, I highly recommend a pork tenderloin for any occasion, be it roasted, stir fried or pan seared- you wont be disappointed.

April 5, 2010

Mum's steak and kidney pie

We have had a glorious long weekend away at the beach for Easter. Although it rained harder and longer than I have seen in a while we all managed to have a brilliant time. Max and Alex caught quite a few good waves on their boogie boards, Nic mastered body surfing and I managed to run up cliffs without having a heart attack, thus, allowing myself some guilt free chocolate, wine and cheese to see in our afternoons!
Before we left for our weekend away I had the good sense (for a change) to look/cook ahead. I popped into my butcher on Wednesday, picked up a fresh lambs kidney, a kilo of beef round and knocked up my mum's version of steak and kidney pie.
Now I know there are some of you out there who won't be fans of kidney BUT when you combine it with lots of cracked pepper, a few herbs and then really chop up the kidney so it is more flavour than texture, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

I remember when I was an exchange student in New Zealand many, many moons ago. I was with a group of 'new' friends so I didn't want to upset the balance of cool/not cool, it was lunch time and I was hungry so I decided to grab a pie for lunch and join the rest of the gang just 'hanging' around the streets of Masterton (you know, not wanting to miss a beat at the ripe age of 16).
It was about now when I learned one of my first lessons in food disappointment.
I often dreamt of mums cooking when I lived away from home. I'd left mum, dad and Tarsh to the delights of mum's freshly baked scones, chicken pies and sticky date puddings just to name a few (it was at this time we lived in an inn, so there was always yummy goodies in the fridge) and I arrived at a local farm house where I stacked on a few pounds in my first few months. My host mum decided to put the lot of us (three teenage girls) on a diet which consisted of dry crackers, sardines and alfalfa- I kid you not!

To say I lost a bit of weight is putting it mildly, when I finally returned home from N.Z a few months later, my parents thought I must of had anorexia as I was as thin as a bean pole. Anyway, I got a little side tracked.
 Due to this 'diet' and pining for mums baked goods I saw a sign in the shop for pies and I just had to have one.
To say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly. My first bite of a pie, in what seemed like months (but really only about a week) left me with a vial taste in my mouth. I was waiting for the rich, peppery flavour of mum's steak and kidney pie to tantalise my buds and all I got was two big chunks of kidney in a luke warm, and very average gravy mix. I spat that pie out as fast as I could and choked on the bitter taste of some old ewe's kidney- UCK!

Ok this blog has taken a turn from my original idea but I'm going with it.

I introduced the boys to my mum's version of steak and kidney pie tonight, after our camping expedition and I am happy to report one out of two were smitten with it.
Max of course questioned me on what a kidney was, why do you eat it etc,etc. I re told the story I have just told you, Max took his first bite and didn't look back.
Alex wanted to love it due to the fact it was a pie but couldn't get over the peppery taste, so he ate all the pastry, wiped the sauce off the steak and just ate the meat and salad.

We are going home for Christmas this year so I must add this one to the list of foods I'd like to eat while I'm back in mum's kitchen- something I sure will please her to no end! ha,haa