May 30, 2010

20 minute pasta....again!

I'd love to tell you I just finished roasting a delicious pork belly and served it with the beautiful Jerusalem artichokes I saw in the fruit shop the other day but, I am really here to serve up yet another delicious, quick and speedy pasta dish.
 Can you eat to much pasta?
I have asked myself this question a few times and my final answer always comes down to- no.
I know no other dish that can be prepared in such a short time, using a variety of fresh ingredients and able to fill ravenous tummies of all ages and sizes in under 15 minutes ( that is when I am feeling super quick!).
With our weeks whizzing by at an alarming rate these days, I know I don't always have time to make the meals I use to. One lesson I have learnt though is to have an array of ingredients on hand, just in case I have a creative urge and time to kill.
This nights meal was one I put together because I was a) craving bacon b) needed to use up the feta I bought for another meal that didn't get used (creative urge was foiled!) and c) randomly bought some fresh thyme because I thought I needed to stop buying basil and coriander for a change.

The beauty of bacon is that is goes with just about everything! There isn't an ingredient that I can think of in my fridge that wouldn't compliment it (besides yogurt of course). So coming up with this combo really wasn't a biggie, I merely pulled out the leftover contents of my fridge and popped the pot of water on to boil.
I guess I'm blogging about this everyday meal just in case someone is stuck in the pasta rut and needed a little inspiration. Next time you reach for that packet of pasta and are wondering what to put with it, dive into the back of your fridge and see what is lurking, you could come up with a taste sensation or your new favourite combo.

Bacon, zucchini and feta pasta
1 tablespoon butter
2 rashers of bacon, thinly sliced
1-2 medium zucchinis, grated
juice and rind of one lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup crumbled feta
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
chili flakes (optional)

While pasta is boiling, heat a medium frying pan on medium heat and add butter. Once melted add bacon and saute for a few minutes.
When bacon in browning add zucchini, salt and pepper and half the lemon juice- once you have squeezed in the juice, place the whole half in with your zucchini and stir to combine.
When zucchini has wilted (about 3-4 minutes) at garlic and thyme.
Drain off pasta but keep about 1/3 cup of pasta water and add to your zucchini and bacon.
Remove lemon half from dish, add pasta, feta and lemon zest.
Stir to combine then serve

May 25, 2010

T-bone steak with spinach and mushrooms

I think it is fair to say we are having red meat withdrawals. Maybe I am imagining it but I think we are all looking a bit twitchy and deficient these days. I was just thinking to myself I really feel like a juicy steak when Nic blurted out that he thought it had been ages since we last had some beef, and perhaps I could pick up some steaks on my next run to the butchers.
 Coincidence or just great minds thinking alike? Anyway I gave him a knowing smile and headed out the door for another crazy day at the office.
Work has been really busy these past few weeks, so it's fair to say I do forget a lot of things when I drag myself home in the evenings. And it is also fair to say dinner is not all ways on my mind until I've picked the kids up from school, sat them down with homework, hung the washing out on the line (or pulled it in). It is not until I am standing in the kitchen staring at the fridge wondering if there is anything inside that I can put together and happily call a meal.

With Nic's beef comments earlier that morning and my hankering for some red meat I was actually on top of this evening's meal. Earlier in the day I marched myself over to my butchers (helps that he is just across the road from work)  and purchased half a cow.......OK, so it wasn't really half a cow but these t-bones we bigger than my hand! My butcher even made the comment that I could buy two and share them.
Please! I could only imagine the horror and pain it would cause if I rocked home with 2 t-bones for four people. I can just see all colour drain from Nic and Max's faces if I told them they had to SHARE.

So, I was at home steaks in hand while potatoes were boiling away on the stove top.
 The first vegetable dish that popped into my head was sauteed spinach with loads of garlic and a good squeeze of lemon. Yum, what else would work with this meal.....mushrooms.  I was in the kitchen dicing my onions, slicing mushrooms and adding a big slab of butter to the frying pan when the penny drops- the kids would NEVER in a million years eat spinach and mushrooms, even if it was served with half a cow- what to do??
I did the only sane thing I know, I kept on sauteing my spinach and mushrooms while popping a few stalks of broccoli into my potato water and then once it was almost ready, tipped the water out, added some extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning then popped the lid on until the steaks were cooked.

Dinner was awesome! We all got our red meat fix for the next month, boys happily ate lemon broccoli and potatoes while Nic and I ate every last bite of our meal and even picked up the bone for a bit of a gnaw.

May 23, 2010

Apple and rhubarb slice

It is wet, cool (I just can't say cold when the highs are still around 20 degrees during the day) and clouded over here in Sydney. Winter is coming and I for one am getting excited about winter warmers around the dinner table. One of the great things about reading blogs from all over the world is my  massive recipe collection I now have at the touch of a few buttons. I have written down ideas over the past year of recipes I must try when the weather gets a little cooler and when it starts to warm up again. There are so many fantastic blogs out there and some extremely creative bloggers!

Today's slice comes from my mate over at armchairchef-bryan. A few weeks ago he dug up a favourite post of his for his 1 year blogger anniversary, so I thought to myself, well if he thinks it deserves more love and attention then I should really give it ago, after all, apples are everywhere and it hasn't stopped raining in the past 5 days, so what else am I suppose to do but cook?

Now Bryan I have to warn you I did play around with it a little and I may have tried to make a few short cuts due to me being me.... so please take no offence when you see my end result. Talking of my end result, at first glance pulling it out of the oven I was a little disappointed as I had your buttery looking version in my head and when I pulled mine out of the oven, I knew instantly I shouldn't of put the bread in the toaster to colour and then turn it into breadcrumbs (I know, I know but I was rushing Bryan!).

 OK, so on to the most important factor- flavour.
OMG!!!! So, so yummy. I didn't end up pulling it out of the oven until late at night and the house was filled with beautiful caramelizing butter and sugar aromas with pangs of apples and rhubarb running through the  house. In Bryan's original recipe he used three different types of apples which gave me the idea of using granny smiths and rhubarb- why not?

It is general consensus in our house that this slice is awesome! however I am deciding weather or not to stick with the toaster breadcrumbs or following Bryan's recipe and making it look more appetizing and this is why.... When some of the boys friends came over last week I sliced up a few pieces for a snack. My boys knowing how good it tasted gobbled down their pieces greedily while their friends eyed off the rest and said thanks but no thanks. I'm thinking the darker crumbs of 'toast' didn't sell the slice to them which means more for us!
Which ever version you think is better my only advise is to MAKE IT. We are down to the last few pieces and I'm already wondering when I can make it again.

Apple and rhubarb slice
3 slices bread- make into breadcrumbs and then toast in oven for 5 minutes
(Or my version, pop bread in toaster then turn into bread crumbs- this is uglier but faster)

 Shortbread Base
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
110g Unsalted Butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Toast bread crumbs then set aside.
In a food processor add flour, sugar and salt, pulse until combined, then add cold butter and pulse until you have what looks like a breadcrumb mix. ( should take about 20 seconds)
Line a 25 x 36cm lamington tray with baking paper and lightly press the shortbread mixture over the bottom of the tray.
Bake for 20 minutes.
While the base is cooking prepare the topping

Apple Topping
125g unsalted butter, melted
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely sliced
400g rhubarb, peeled and thinly sliced (approx. 4 sticks)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
2/3 cup castor sugar
2 tablespoons plain flour

Melt your butter on medium heat then leave to one side until needed.
Place sliced apples and rhubarb in a large mixing bowl and add cinnamon, toss to combine.
In a small bowl add sugar and flour together then take the crust out of the oven when ready.
Sprinkle half of the sugar and flour mix on top of the shortbread; add your apple and rhubarb mixture to the shortbread then sprinkle the rest of the sugar flour mix on top. Sprinkle on your breadcrumbs then drizzle the melted butter on top of the whole thing.

Pop it back in the oven and bake for 50 minutes. About 1/2 way through you will want to pull it out and press the filling down with a spatula to even it out. Cool for about 20 minutes.

May 20, 2010

A quick fish dinner

I think it is quite acceptable for me to post a 'quick' meal after such a long break. I have been trying to get to the computer all week but I keep getting caught up with work stuff! (which reminds me I need to put on my dough for pita bread, as I need to knock out 60 before tomorrow......welcome to a caterers life!).

My MIL was up in Sydney this week and popped over for dinner on Tuesday. We hadn't had fish for what seems like forever, so when we were discussing dinner at breakfast, it was arranged Nic would pick some up on his way home from work this evening. It is at this point where the dinner plans went by the way side and nothing else was planned until 30 minutes before we needed to be eating. As I opened the fridge door, I was holding my breath and praying I had enough veggies in the crisper to get us through this meal.
Now because my MIL was over, I didn't want to have an argument with the boys on eating veggies (thought I'd save that for another day), so I was a little worried when my eye first fell upon the swede I brought (a vegetable I love roasted but the rest of the family thinks disgusting!). As luck would have it I managed to find some beans and corn and then knew exactly what I'd do with the fish.
Whenever I get fish I immediately think of salsas. Not sure why but I do love the fresh, vinegary flavour of diced tomatoes mixed with vinegar, oil and herbs. Any salsa compliments fish brilliantly and is also something the whole family loves- which is a bonus when guests come for dinner!

While my potatoes were roasting in the oven, I diced up the salsa, popped the corn and beans on to cook and then finished the salsa. Nic walked in the door with the fish and we were eating a delicious meal within ten minutes. The only problem was, we all wanted seconds!
I used dill for the herb as I has quite a bit of it in the fridge but basil, thyme or coriander would work just as well.

Bean and corn salsa
2 whole fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, diced finely
2 corn cobs, cut all kernels off before cooking
1 cup beans, cut into 5cm pieces
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Pre-cook your corn and beans until colour brightens and then refresh in cold water, drain and set aside.
In a medium bowl add chopped tomato, onion, dill, vinegar and oil.
Mix, add vegetables, season with salt and pepper and leave for 5 minutes for flavours to meld.
Serve with pan seared fillets of fish and roasted potatoes.

May 11, 2010

Lentils we love

I think by now it is clear my eldest son is not ever going to be a vegetarian. And I think after reading my blogs for a while, readers have come to realize I am as stubborn as a mule when it comes to feeding the family good, tasty food even if that does include the odd meat free variety. I put up with the moody pouts, whining and dry reaches from the boys, as I live in hope that one day they will see I was only trying to develop their taste buds and introduce them to flavours of the world.

So after having said all of this, you will note my surprise and shock when Max scooped up his last spoonful of lentils on this nights dinner and stated
"FINISHED!.....hey, can you believe I finished before ALL of you AND it was vegetarian!!?"
He was right, I was lost in quiet high fives with myself while grinning at him and patting myself on the back. That fact that he went on saying it was pretty good, actually (yes, he really talks like this, bless!) made my day.

Lentils are fabulous and super good for you, and the fact that the kids will devour them with the help of a few chapatis is all good in my books.
Ever since travelling to Turkey in my early twenties where I was introduced to a delicious lentil soup served with natural yogurt, fresh lemon juice and chili flakes I have been hooked on this combination ever since.
 I pulled my fridge apart to see what I could add to my lentil dish. The pumpkin was on its last legs and I thought it would be a great way to thicken my broth and add a bit of depth to the dish. As you can see it is a simple, quick recipe to whip up; perfect for dinner on the fly.
I even took the leftovers to work for lunch the following day and fed them to my business partner and barista. Lisa wanted the recipe as she is always looking for recipes that are gluten free and filling, while Brett informed me the following day, he had loads of energy for his squash game that evening and now wanted to eat lentils before each game.......loving the lentils!

Lentil curry (but not really hot, just yummy....)
2 cups green lentils, pre soaked*
2 cups hot water
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons salt

Strain lentils from soaking water then combine with the above ingredients in a medium saucepan.
Place them on the stove and bring to the boil, stirring to combine.
Once boiling add-
1 cup green capsicum, diced
11/2 cups pumpkin, diced
Bring to the boil again, stir then reduce to a medium low heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

1 tablespoon oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 teaspoon cumin, ground

Heat a separate saucepan on medium heat.
Add oil and add onions, stir to combine and leave for 1-2 minutes.
Add ginger, garlic and saute on low for 3 minutes.
Add remaining spices, stir to combine and cook for a further 3 minutes on low heat.

Once your lentils are soft on the inside, add your onions and stir to combine.
Leave to let the flavours meld together for a few minutes then serve with rice, chapatis, a drop of natural yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a few chili flakes.
If I had some fresh herbs I would of added them also, alas I didn't and still thought it was really yummy.

*I soaked mine the night before as they need at least 12 hours of down time

May 9, 2010

Mussels with chilli sauce

I got a note in my mailbox last week, letting me know I had a parcel to pick up.
"A parcel?" I thought, what could it be as I couldn't remember ordering anything. The day moved on at a rapid pace and I never got around to the post office until the following day.
I collected the parcel still not knowing what it was, flipped it over to see who it was from and then as soon as I saw her name, the light goes on, my taste buds get excited and I start to salivate!

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine who I recently reconnected with on facebook posted a statement that she was cooking up some chili sauce and her house smelt amazing; to which I replied "Oh, I'd love to try some", not really thinking I'd get any.
To my surprise and excitement Miss K packaged up a bottle of her fine Asian chili sauce and shipped it to my door step- BLISS!!!
Just to give you a bit of background, Miss K and I first worked together at the Hobart Sheraton back in the day when there actually was still a Sheraton hotel in Hobart. We had a blast working with each other, especially since there were only three girls in the main kitchen and the rest were men (about 20 odd I think?). To say we had a bit of fun was an understatement. We also learnt a lot about growing up in a male dominated industry and how to handle ourselves, you know, move your way up the ranks without getting crushed and trampled.
Miss K and I lost touch when we went our separate ways in the food world. Miss K went on to work at some awesome kitchens around Australia, while I got itchy feet and started off o/s.
So, to say I was excited to get a bottle of homemade chili sauce from her is a bit of an understatement.  I knew her talent in the kitchen and was bursting to open the jar and get stuck in!

Of course I had a few hiccups, I wanted to make chili chicken that night, but couldn't because it was a footy training night which meant I needed a quick family meal in 20 minutes and I didn't think the boys would be happy if I burnt their mouths just to keep me happy.
The next night I was itching to eat chili, however I had had a big day at the office, Nic was coming home late, kids were tired and I needed to be somewhere right after Nic got home, so I wasn't up for cooking two separate meals.
I have to tell you I wasn't proud of my dinner choice (Max and Alex also agreed to this) but it was the only way I could get my hands on some of the chili sauce without cooking two meals........That's right people I had breakfast for dinner and you know I slathered that poached egg with Miss K's chili!

I LOVED every bite, so, so yummy; eggs and chili just belong together.

Anyway to cut a long rambling story short, the next night I took Miss K's advise (" tastes great with mussels") and got Nic to pick up some fresh mussels on his way home from work. I whipped up chili mussels for Nic and I while the boys had an omelet and veggies with their noodles (seriously, my wok isn't big enough to make noodles for four so I HAD to make it in two batches- perfect!).
The chili sauce on my egg was yummy but when I cooked the sauce with the mussels, it made a mind blowing sauce that Nic and I couldn't get enough of.

 Miss K, thank you SOOOOO much for our jar of pure pleasure. We are sure to lick it clean and then be totally depressed when it is all gone.

May 3, 2010

Max is in the kitchen

I tried a new tactic with the kids tonight after swimming lessons. Usually they are hungry, tired and want everything yesterday. This post swimming condition always gets to me and no matter how organised I try to be, it is never enough.
We walked in the door tonight and it started up, you know the drill-

'Ok, time for a bath while I get dinner on boys....'
'Oh come on mum, we are hungry......I don't want a bath...'
'Please hurry up, wash the chlorine off so your hair doesn't turn green and then get out....'
(my mum use to tell me the same thing about the hair, actually I use to go to school with a kid who's hair really did turn green because of swimming, and you know I get that story out whenever needed!)

Max was the first out while Alex was pretending to be a deep sea diver. When he reached the kitchen you could almost trip over his lip it was so long. I decided to go for a diversion tactic and asked him what he would like for dinner
OK I said, we have mince or sausages, what will it be?
"Oh, lets just have sausages.."
"shall we have them with salad and oven sliced potatoes?"
"Yeah....that's good"
and for some reason I then asked..
"Do you want to make the salad?"
Sure enough the lip was scraped off the floor, a smile appeared and he was bustling around the fridge before I could utter another word.

Max is 8, of course he should be in the kitchen helping out with dinner and what a great way to start. Max picked out all the ingredients, made the salad dressing and took great delight in putting it all together.
 I forgot how helpful and interested kids are in and around the kitchen. I spend all day cooking so when I am home I kinda want to get it all over and done with, however just seeing the concentration and determination on his face to make the best salad he could, was enough to remind myself to invite him in and help cook the evening meal more often.
Once he has mastered cutting soft ingredients (cucumbers, tomatoes, olives etc..) we'll then move on to the harder ones (potatoes, apples etc).
Great work Max and the salad was a perfect match with our Italian sausages and fennel and sea salt roasted potatoes (BTW, these were really, really good!)

(Smashing of the garlic is always a winner)

(squeezing of the lemon is always harder than it looks)

Here it is Max, your salad!

Max's family salad
1 tomato, sliced
1/2 cucumber, sliced
7 olives, stoned and sliced
1/2 green capsicum, cut into pieces
3 handfuls of mixed lettuce

Place all ingredients into a salad bowl and pour over dressing just before serving.

lemon and basil dressing
1 garlic clove, smashed
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 basil leaves, chopped
salt and pepper

Smash garlic with something hard then place in small container with lid.
Add remaining ingredients, place lid on and shake vigorously.
Pour over salad just before serving, removing the garlic clove.

May 2, 2010

Schnitzel Holstein

After last week's Saveur-a-thon Nic and I are of the opinion that we should search out a few more of the healthier recipes. When we were putting together last week's 'collections' we looked greedily at the pictures,  read out some of our favorite ingredients and thought nothing about the weeks meals as a whole. This is why we managed to eat not one but two types of crumbed meats, lots of fried food and very little vegetables!
Now don't get me wrong, we loved every last bite, however I think this week needs to be re-directed at a more family health conscious level... there will be no more crumbing of meat and lashings of butter in our house much to the boys' disgust.

On that note I'd like to tell you about the lovely veal schnitzels we ate last week.
When I first saw the picture in Saveur mag (issue 74, page 87) I've gotta tell you I wasn't jumping out of my chair to make it. Nic on the other hand couldn't wait for his veal schnitzel.
My most awesome butcher  came to my assistance and just bashed and crumbed a few veal schnitzels minutes before I walked in, so that cut my prepping time in half- something I am always happy with!
At home reading down the list of ingredients I realised I need to ad lib a bit and make this into more of a 'family' meal. For one thing, both boys were not even touching the anchovies, let alone the pickled beetroot that the recipe suggested as a serving accompaniment. We talked Max into at least trying some capers with his veal, telling him they are very salty and acidic- he loved it (all his favourite flavours).
Of course Alex didn't want a bar of it so he enjoyed his schnitzel and fried egg with oven roasted carrots and potatoes but wouldn't eat the pumpkin.

This is a very quick and easy meal to prepare and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of flavour. Adding anchovies and capers really cuts through the richness of the egg, while the texture of the schnitzel had us gobbling down every last bite.
 I don't know when I will go back to this recipe again but I am really glad we chose it (I think I need to thank Nic for this one). I always forget about the beloved schnitzel yet every time I make it in whatever form, it always gets rave reviews from my carnivores!