March 29, 2011

Pasta pie by my mother-in-law

Nic has been off across the other side of the world this week while the boys and I were lucky enough to have Pam, Nic's mum offer to help us with the day to day runnings of our family. Nic was giving papers on 16th Century Italians in Montreal, the jist of the paper I believe was about a donkey!?

 I know, some people have all the fun jobs!

With my leg still in the boot and the boys still wanting to eat (funny that), it was Pam who came to the rescue and did 99% of the cooking this week. I guess this is why I have been a little vacant in the bloggers sphere.....that and some ridiculously early morning starts that I don't wish to remember!!

My favourite dish of Pam's was a pork fillet cooked on the barbie, however, today's blog I will turn to the boys favourite meal of the week and also our dinner tonight seeing as she made enough for two dinners. Tonight also being Nic's first dinner back in the country. Does this make me a bad wife, leaving his first home cooked meal to his mum to make for him instead of his wife?

Pam gave me this recipe a few years ago. She plucked it out of one of her favourite magazines and told me it was a must for a growing family and I agree whole heartily. I was teaching a class when she served this to the boys last night (funnily enough it was a vegetarian class). I am not surprised they are in fits of excitement, the meal is a lasagna made with spaghetti instead of lasagna sheets. It is reheating while I type and I am salivating!

If you need any more convincing this is a kids favourtite- when I pulled it from the fridge to bring to room temp, the boys just got back from their swimming lessons. When they rounded the courner into the kitchen Alex pumps the air with his fist and says "yeah, yeah I LOVE this mum, you should learn to make it"
Learn I will Alex, but for now, lets all enjoy Grammies leftovers; thanks for a great week Pam!

Pastitso (macaroni and meat pie)
 Serves 6-8

500g long macaroni (or spaghetti)
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 eggs- lightly beaten.

Meat sauce
1 large onion
1 clove garlic crushed
2 tbsp butter
750 g (1 1/2 lbs) ground beef
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup stock
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp sugar
s and p

Cream sauce
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 egg lightly beaten

Cook macaroni until just tender. Drain. Pour melted butter over it in pan plus other ingredients except eggs. Add them when cool. Toss
 Cook meat sauce for 20 mins
 Make cream sauce.
 Add 1/2 cup of this sauce to meat sauce.
 Assemble in buttered oven dish (13 by 9 by3 ins).
Place half macaroni on base. Top with meat sauce. Cover with rest of macaroni. Pour over cream sauce. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 50 min until golden.
Rest for 10 min.

March 20, 2011

Lentil and lots of veggie soup

For the past two nights I have been woken by the early morning rains. We haven't had much rain (in Sydney, sadly I can't say the same for parts of QLD and Victoria) in past months. So when I hear it on the roof, I lay quietly listening to it falling and enjoying the stillness of the house, after all it is usually around 4.30 am.

Since breaking my ankle I have to wear shorts. I could wear skirts if I had them but lets face it, I'm not really a swoosh, swoosh skirt kinda girl.
With the mornings cool and rainy, I want nothing more than to pull on a pair of favourite jeans so I can feel snug and warm. It's not that I'm cold, it's more the comfort factor I'm after. I love my shorts, but they are no comfy jeans!

Last week another fave blogger of mine TKW blogged about lentils and I was reminded of how much I love eating lentils. Then, I wondered why it was that I haven't made them in months? They are pretty simple to whip up, full of nutrition AND my kids will eat them up without complaints. A no brainer really......

Feeling like I need a comfort blanket wrapped around me I decided I'd make a batch of veggie and lentil soup. I revert back to the same recipe for two simple reasons a) It is very simple to make and b) I can load it full of vegetables the boys would not usually eat. The whole vegetable fight really does frustrate me. If I serve roast pumpkin Max will refuse to eat it stating "I hate pumpkin mum, how many times do I have to tell you??", yet he saw me chopping wrinkled mushrooms (again they get the same response), dicing pumpkin, potato and carrot when he cautiously asked me what I was making.

"lentil soup"was my reply.

"Oh the one with yogurt and lemon on top? I LOVE that soup!"

This is when I couldn't resist asking him why then does he say he HATES pumpkin, mushrooms etc..?
"Oh, I don't know. But when it is in this soup it just tastes yummy" with that he turns and runs off to play more of his Harry Potter game with Alex and I'm left none the wiser.

My recipe is very much slap dash but it seems to work. I know your suppose to soak lentils but today I just went ahead and cooked them straight out of the bag. It takes a little longer but nothing to worry about, especially when it is a rainy, dull day outside. If you are going to make this, I'd advise to make a big pot, because the flavours just keep on getting better. Guess what the boys will be having for school lunch tomorrow with a few carrot sticks and tortillas to sop it up with!

Brown lentil and veggie soup*

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 1/2 cups brown lentils
2 teaspoons salt

4 potatoes, peeled and roughly diced
11/2 cups pumpkin, peeled and diced
5 mushrooms, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced

4-5 cups beef stock (or vegetable....even water is fine)

In a large pot, heat oil on medium heat then add onion, garlic and garam masala. Stir for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
Add lentils and salt then continue to stir until lentils are well coated, about 3 minutes.
Add all your vegetables and sweat for 5 minutes, then add your stock, making sure the liquid covers your veggies and lentils by at least half and inch.
Bring to the boil, stir then reduce to a medium low heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check your lentils are softening then continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes.
Once your lentils are soft but not falling apart and your vegetables are all soft, grab a stick blender (or potato masher) and blitz it for a few seconds, just to make a soother consistency. Turn off the heat and proceed with the next step.

1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 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.

 Add your onion mixture to your pot of lentils and stir to combine.
Leave standing so the flavours meld together for a few minutes then serve with a drop of natural yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a few chili flakes and fresh coriander (or basil).

* I really do throw in what ever vegetables I want to use up, so one day I'll use parsnip the next it will be beetroot or turnips- any root vegetable is perfect.

March 17, 2011

Shamrock cookies

It's St. Patrick's Day today and I was enjoying it at 6am this morning while piping icing onto a clients batch of shamrock shaped cookies I was madly finishing off for there 8am delivery. It would of been fine if I'd had a little extra warning, but that's not how the catering business works and I'm almost going to change the company name to however, this is another story for another day!

When I was asked if I'd make 120 cookies shaped in the shamrock pattern for St. Pats Day, I instantly thought of a great cake supplier I use for bits and pieces, I was so confident she would make them that I said, no problems!
It wasn't until I rang and rang and when someone finally took my call, I was told that 'yeah, that's a great idea and all but NO, I won't make them...'

It was at this time when I knew I'd have to do it myself.  It's not that I'm lazy, it's just that I didn't really have a great recipe in mind, and I thought if I have to make 120 of them, then I'd want to get the recipe right the first time.  I'm sure everyone understands the frustration of following a recipe and then being bitterly disappointed when your final result doesn't taste or look anything like you were hoping for?

I was airing my opinion (what a surprise!) to one of the guys at work when he told me about a great shortbread recipe he had used once. I paid attention because Dean knows a lot more about the sweet side of a kitchen than myself and I was after all the help I could get.

I have to say, after looking at the recipe and then taking Deans advise on the sugar (meaning split the sugar quantity into half icing sugar and half castor sugar), I was feeling kind of confident.
I love shortbread and I was not disappointed in this recipe- IT ROCKS! In fact he whole page was brilliant. I simply clicked on the amount of cookies I wanted to make and it did the calculation for me. 6 cups of butter and 7 odd cups of flour is a lot of cookie dough people!

The only way I could think of making these better would be to use Kerry Gold salted butter, but seeing as I can't get it here, I had to make do with everyday Australian butter (and believe me, if you have ever eaten Kerry Gold, you will understand my insistence).

I really was running out of time and there was no way I was mucking around with flooding the cookie with green icing, so with Deans help we coloured some fondant, got out the small cookie cutter and started cutting out green shamrock leaves. They needed to be hard so they would stand up on the shortbread so we left the leaves out to dry over night.
At 6am this morning I whipped up a quick and simple butter cream, piped a wee spot in the middle of the shortbread cookie to hold the green leaf on ( I was also hoping they would look a little more interesting for my clients) and then put them in the van and sent them on their merry way.

All in all, I was glad I had to make them, otherwise I wouldn't of found out about this great recipe. Now I'm off to the pub to pick up a couple cans of Guinness for the hubby and I tonight!

March 14, 2011

My meat man is 9 today!

I can hardly believe 9 years ago I was sitting up in bed at 8.30am feeling hungrier than I'd ever felt before. I remember thinking to myself 'Where are the lunch people???'
 Those dry cheese sandwiches a nurse dropped in my lap just after giving birth really didn't enter my stomach, instead they simply attached to the walls of my mouth and slowly turned into a paste with what little saliva I had before I swallowed. My stomach was demanding real food!

 When I was finally wheeled into a room and my squawking baby delivered to me, I couldn't quite believe what was happening. I knew the past 7 hours was hard work and a bit of a blur but it wasn't a baby I wanted to hold- it was a piece of steak, preferably smothered in mustard!

As I sit here 9 years on, I can laugh at myself because the little baby they laid in my arms instead of serving me a yummy t-bone steak would of been thinking exactly the same thing.
What I didn't realise at the time was the baby in front of me would turn into an eating machine and loves nothing better than a juicy t-bone to gnaw on.

We have been on quite a food journey thus far so I shouldn't of been surprised when Max approached me the day before his birthday party and told me what he wanted for a cake- a lemon butter cake with lemon curd in the middle and if I wouldn't mind also making some of that yummy chocolate ganache to go in the centre of the cake. Then he added, dad can make a Transformer symbol out of butter cream icing and that should do it- thanks!

I of course thanked him for giving me sooo much notice and asked him when did he think I was going to 'whip up'  chocolate ganache when it was already 8pm the night before his party as I was just starting on the cake. To this he responded "well OK, leave out the ganache but I still want mini burgers, sausage rolls and meat pies for my party tomorrow!"

You see people, I must of passed on a mental meat gene to Max nine years ago. Instead of oohing and arhhing over my beautiful new born baby I was obsessed with t-bone steak.

The past 5 birthdays after I get Max's food list (yes that is correct, I have been given a verbal/written list of food items he would like to eat on his birthday since he turned 4), I have to wonder if I really did mess with his head in our first hours with each other? If I had a craving for chocolate cake, do you think he would have a sweet tooth instead of a meat tooth?

Whatever the case, my first born is 9 years old today and I am happy to be serving his favourite meal of pork ribs. The day he informs me he is turning vegetarian will be the day I know he's found the beauty in girls but until then- ribs it is!

March 8, 2011

Grilling pork ball skewers

I was flicking through one of my favourite books the other day and noticed a great picture of  Vietnamese pork balls, grilled on a skewer. The picture was really appetizing and the thought of anything Vietnamese sounded delicious, so I flipped through the ingredients quickly, made a mental note to remind Nic to pick up some pork mince while shopping and kept this recipe filed for a meal this week.

Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid, is one of my most favourite cookbooks. I love the stories they tell of their travels with food, family and cultures visited. All their books have the most wonderful photography and last but by no means least, their recipes are fantastic. Straight to the point and very easy to follow.

Revisiting the recipe I found for pork balls was interesting. When it finally came time for me to actually READ the recipe I was in for a surprise, you see I had a time limit of 40 minutes to get dinner made and on the table and after reading their recipe I discovered I was about 30 minutes out of time with half the ingredients missing! Not to feel beaten, I decided to follow the flavour pallet of the dish, but do it in a Western way- speed it up, use the ingredients at hand and hope for the best. (I also made a promise to myself to make the real recipe soon seeing as I was very impressed with my slap dash version- I can only salivate at what the real recipe tastes like!).

Super quick grilled pork balls on skewers
3 sprigs of spring onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves, peeled and cut in half (I used big cloves)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I used Thai but if you have Vietnamese even better)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground cracked pepper
1 lime leaf, stem removed and sliced

500 grams pork mince (try to get some with extra fat for excellent results)
pinch salt (optional)

In a food processor add spring onion, garlic and fish sauce then blend until roughly chopped.
Add sugar, pepper and shredded lime leaf then blend for about 10 seconds until it turns into a wet paste.

Remove lid and add pork mince with a pinch of salt then process until well combined, approx 8 seconds.

OK that's it, mix is made!
Now wet your hands with a little water and begin rolling balls, about a heaped teaspoon of mix per ball.
Once you have all the balls rolled ( I think I ended up with about 25-30 ), place 4-5 per skewer and line them up so the meatballs are touching each other. You want to use the fat of the pork to infuse the balls together so they don't spin around and fall off your stick!

At this stage I popped them in the freezer for 15 minutes so they wouldn't fall off the stick (meat is very soft). When I pulled them out of the freezer, they were firm and much easier to handle.

So, while the skewers where cooling off in the freezer I pre lit my BBQ and by the time it was ready to sizzle so were my skewers.

Spray your pork balls with oil and then place them on your grill while it is on a medium high temperature. You want to get grill marks but you don't want to char the little fellas!
Cooking time was about 10 minutes.

Once they were ready I ran out of time to make a wonderful sauce to serve with them (you know how it is, chasing the boys to get their school work done, running the bath etc....), so while the meat was resting I whipped up some udon noodles and veggies and served the pork ball skewers on top.

End result- delicious!
Alex was very upset he only got one skewer and this is coming from the boy who never finishes his meat serving, meanwhile Nic and Max were to busy devouring theirs to comment. I feel I didn't do the Alford/Duguid recipe justice, but I have to say these were so quick, easy and moreish that I'll defiantly be making them again.

March 6, 2011

Baby Q has landed

 Well the time finally came when Nic and I brought last years Christmas present to ourselves- a BBQ. It's not that we couldn't agree, or that we are not very excited about it- quite the opposite.
It has taken all of three months for us to find a spare hour on a weekend where were could go and select one. I guess having me rocking around on one good leg and one booted one does have advantages!

We are smitten with our perfectly sized Weber baby Q, that we christened it straight away.  In my mind I was going to cook the chook as soon as Nic assembled the Q. Nic, had other ideas!

Your right, I shouldn't complain. It is great to have a partner who is as excited about cooking on the grill as I, but as you all know it is always cool to have the 'first' go with anything new and I think we both felt the same way. This is why, in my mind he had the chicken stuffed with onion, basil, lemon and butter before I could hobble my way over to the kitchen. By the time I'd turned around and began hobbling back toward the balcony, the chicken was cooking away. Oh well not to worry, I have 'dibbed' cooking the steaks Nic bought for sometime during the week and the whole family is getting excited about the other delights we can throw on the barbie.

I am also ecstatic to be able to FINALLY use the cedar paper my good blogger friend Bryan sent me all of about 6 months ago. There is a blog about BBQing salmon coming very soon!

Nic's delicious roast chicken did not disappoint. He served it with roast potatoes and lemon drizzled steamed broccolini. A very simple and flavour packed dinner that was effortless to throw together which gave us more time to eat blue cheese and crackers while sipping a refreshing gin and tonic.

I'm thinking the month of March is going to be dedicated to BBQing- Max has already put in his orders for ribs, pork belly and burgers!