May 29, 2011

Pistachio and Persian feta stuffed dates

A blog I love to turn to is dinnersanddreams. I enjoy reading Nisrine so much that I purchased her cookbook, Marrakesh Express by Nisrine Merzouki. Her blog is full of fabulous photos, recipes and wonderful stories of how food has influenced her life thus far.

Late last year when I had time to read a lot more blogs than now, I enjoyed seeing what Nisrine was up to and her ideas for pre dinner eats or more commonly known as a mezze platter. Dates seemed like a favourite and something I never really used unless I was baking a sticky date pudding or making a fruit cake. I made a mental note to buy fresh dates and give them a go.

It has only taken me the good part of a year to finally honour this decision and I am now kicking myself as to why I waited so long.
I knew I wanted to stuff the dates with something yummy, so I took myself off to our local Harris Farm store (veggie market) and decided to let my taste buds decide. Harris Farm is full of fruit and veggies, an array of nuts and an even bigger selection of cheeses- my kind of heaven!

I stopped by the nuts and scooped up a bunch of pistachios before thinking of the price and then moved swiftly toward the cheese section to really get my mouth watering, (OK, so nuts aren't my favourite but cheeses are up there among my top 5 ingredients to eat/cook of all time).
Because I wasn't thinking with my hip pocket, my eye quickly and efficiently located the row of marinating Persian fetas and I snatched up a tub marinating in saffron and chili oil so fast, even a chameleon would have been proud.

At home I was like a kid in a candy shop. I decided to let my mind wonder and see what happens....I was excited with the result.

Of course I made way to much feta stuffing; no matter it was so tasty and delicious that I knew I'd find some other way to use it. Take for example our dinner last Wednesday. I was due at yoga within the hour, Nic was late home due to a late class and I really needed dinner at least cooking while I pulled my limbs every which way at yoga. Italian sausages where on the cards but to make it a memorable dinner I needed to make a delicious salad. In the end I made a quick potato and bean salad, cut up some cherry tomatoes and finished the salad with dollops of pistachio and feta!

I was told the boys loved the salad and asked for seconds.
What started out as an idea thanks to a blog I have been scouring for the past year, ended up being a fantastic pre dinner drink bite, and a wonderful cheese spread to have lurking in the fridge when I really needed a little help taking a family meal from OK to fabulous!

Persian feta and pistachio stuffed dates
1/4 cup pistachio nuts out of their shell
1 date
1/4 cup sultanas
1/3 cup Persian feta (flavoured with saffron and chili)
8-10 fresh dates
Put pistachios in a food processor and pulse until chopped evenly (approx. 40 seconds).
Add the date and sultanas. Pulse until evenly chopped (approx. 20 seconds).
Add feta and pulse until just combined. Taste, adjust flavouring with salt and pepper if  needed, remove from processor and place in a small bowl until needed.

Slit dates on one side to remove the seed, do not cut through.
Once all seeds are removed, stuff with cheese spread, clean up the edges and serve.

May 25, 2011

Oven-roasted nuts

No one does roasted nuts quite like Americans. I am not a big nut lover, in fact two cashews are about my limit, however, I have been known to eat more than my usual two when roasted.

Nic on the other hand loves them! He will happily pop handfuls into his mouth and think nothing of it, as do Max and Alex. When we had friends around the other night I was thinking of ideas as to what I could serve with pre-dinner drinks. I had planned on stuffing dates (that blog will be along shortly) but needed something to compliment yet not over shadow the dates. Perhaps it was Nic's suggestion, I'm not too sure but somehow I ended up serving sweet/chili nuts that would of impressed my American friends.
When we lived in the States I use to get served salads that contained nuts. My first thought was always- Oh great! but as I started eating I realised the nuts were interfered with and in my option it's the only way to go!

I'd love to tell you a funny story or have more to add but to tell you the truth, I'm exhausted from a big week in the kitchen and I have to be up at five something tomorrow morning, so I will leave you with this very easy and tasty recipe I happened to concoct. I am sure it could be played with to taste even better but I have to say I was pleased with this and even managed to eat a few myself!

Oven roasted nuts
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup raw walnuts
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees
Place all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.  Line the tray with grease proof paper and place nut mix on the tray and spread evenly.
Bake for 10 minutes, toss with a spatula, cook for a further 7 minutes, toss again and then cool and serve with totally cold.

The boys are loving these for an after school snack.

May 22, 2011

Moroccan leg of lamb

The time has come people, when I am sick to death of the same old same old. Monday came around just as fast as last Sunday, I looked back on the week and thought to myself- nothing made that week a great week. We didn't do anything that stood out....come to think about it, we haven't done anything in the past 4 months that has been fun, engaging or memorable.

Last night Nic and I threw a dinner party. I was reminded of just how therapeutic it is for adults to come together over good food and wine and let their hair down. I feel revived (if not a little foggy this morning..) and most importantly happy that I have touched base with a few of the great people I know.
Dinner parties don't have to be a full on affair. I wanted to relax and enjoy my friends, so I decided to go with a leg of lamb on the barbie and a few other bits and bobs.

A little while ago I bought a Middle Eastern cookbook called A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. She is a fantastic food writer, her book was first published in 1968 and I bought my copy for $1.70 on the Internet. When it arrive it was as I hoped, the pages stained yellow from age, recipes short and simple yet enticing, however, my favourite part about the book is her style of writing. Unlike cookbooks of today where they get down to the business of glossy pictures and bold recipes and not much more, this book is filled with antidotes of the writers history with dishes not to mention the funny little quirky poems relating to food and culture. That's right, it is a cookbook that is a great read too! I mean when was the last time you read a cookbook that was filled with riddles?

"....Beaded, her head is high and she sleeps in a shawl. Guess who she is.
Answer: A corn cob..."

I love it!

OK so I am sure you now understand why I threw a Middle Eastern dinner party,  not only is the food delicious, tasty and easy to prepare but my new/old book provided entertainment too.... how many modern day cookbooks do the same?

My marinade for the lamb is a combination of a few recipes in the meat chapter of this book. I picked out the flavours I thought sounded delicious and then put them together as I saw fit. The end result was a yummy one which also gave me time to sit and relax with friends while the lamb looked after itself.

I served the lamb with Israeli couscous tossed through roasted pine nuts, currants, Italian parsley and mint. A very quick and easy side dish to put together. I cooked some of the long flat Italian beans in a tajine which complimented the lamb and couscous beautifully. The beauty of this side, is it can be made the day before and then simply reheated.

Lamb marinade
3 large cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon dried oregano
zest of one lemon
In a mortar, grind the above ingredients into a paste.
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoon olive oil
Grind remaining ingredients together (or place in a blender) until you have a thick paste. See below.

Once you have your paste, rub down your leg of lamb with paper towel then stab it randomly with a sharp knife to make incisions throughout the leg. 
With your fingers, begin filling the holes with your marinade then rub the remaining all over the lab joint back to front, top to bottom.
Leave for at least 4 hours before popping on the BBQ.

Just before BBQing, rub in a good handful of salt and pepper all over the joint.

May 16, 2011

Pumpkin and silver beet soup

Winter is here folks!

Maybe I have been in Sydney long enough to become acclimatised because last week I was cold. The wind was blowing in from the ocean and slapping us all in the face. I don't remember it feeling so cold this time last year, however, I may have turned into a wimp? (and I know all you Midwesterners are laughing at our 60 degree winters and thinking- toughen up!).

Shopping when I'm cold always makes me head right for seasonal produce. It's not raspberries or lettuce I want to see when cold, it's pumpkin (squash), potatoes and eggplant. Silver beet is also a vibrant and rich green standing out in the veggie isle saying- take me!
The problem with buying a bunch of silver beet for me is, I need to cook about 2-3 meals with it to use the whole bunch. Nic likes it but as he reminds me "I'm just not as passionate about it as you".  What I'm trying to say is, if I served it three times a week, I think I'd have a family strike on my hands (and just so you know, both boys swear they hate the stuff!).

I wasn't planning on putting silver beet in my soup, I started out with a straight forward pumpkin soup- every one's favourite. But as I started peeling the pumpkin and chopping the vegetables I wondered if maybe I could sneak a bit in the soup.....I'd just tell everyone is was a herb if they asked.
As I was sauteing the silver beet I spotted a big, fat super red tomato on the counter that looked like it was about to burst (or go mouldy) if I didn't use it very soon, so I decided to pop that in the soup too. With the addition of turmeric and coriander I think I was going for a bit of an Indian feel so I grabbed the mint and yogurt naan bread from the cupboard and served that up for lunch also.

The soup was smelling fabulous and thank god because we were all starving (and maybe a little cold).
Once the soup was blended it was a lot darker than I assumed and thought I wouldn't get away with calling it 'just' pumpkin soup.
I was right, we sat down for lunch and both Max and Alex asked what it was, I stated it was pumpkin soup and they said "yeah...and what else??" tomato sprang to mind.....and herbs :).

With one taste and then another, I was happy to hear it was a massive hit. Alex asked me if I'd make it again and Max had two helpings....I even told them at the end that there was silver beet in it. For me the truth always has to come out.
 I want them to understand that vegetables they think they hate, can actually taste really yummy when mixed with other things. I think I will call this another victory for me and vegetable soups!

Pumpkin and silver beet soup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions
2 garlic cloves
3 stems silver beet
1/2 butter nut pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 lt chicken stock
1 large beef tomato
2 teaspoons salt

Peel and de seed pumpkin then cut into medium dice and leave to one side until needed.
In a large pot add oil and warm until it runs along the bottom of the pot (1-2 minutes).
Add onions and saute for 2-3 minutes.
Add garlic cloves, shredded silver beet and saute for a further 5 minutes or until leaves have wilted.
Add cubed pumpkin pieces, turmeric and coriander and keep cooking until the pumpkin is well coated.
Add stock and roughly diced tomato. Bring to a boil, add salt then turn the temperature back to a simmer and for for approx 25 minutes.
Once pumpkin is soft, remove from the stove top and put soup through the blender, mixer or stick blender and process until smooth.
Garnish with chili flakes or do as I did and add a dollop of lime pickle.

May 14, 2011

Lime pickle sandwich

I was giving myself an early mark from work yesterday. I'd had a busy week and I went in early to prepare my morning orders. It was around lunch time (1pm) that I remembered I had leftover tortellini in the fridge at home.
You know the feeling you get when you can taste your up and coming meal on the tip of your tongue?
 I entered the house starving hungry, pulled open the fridge door to discover my husband who HATES leftover anything had beaten me to it and took it to work!

After writing him a quick 'you ba#@$$! for taking the pasta' text, I then had to come up with something else. I looked in the fridge again and found it pretty much empty- typical for a Friday. I couldn't think right, I was hungry, so I took my pouting self off down the street to collect some parcels from the post office and to see what I could find while eating an apple to calm my nerves (I am seriously crazy when the hunger pains kick in).

Thankfully the apple subdued me enough to be in public, however, looking around at what was on offer for lunch nothing excited me. I was half way up the hill on my way home when I decided I'd have a silver side and cheese sandwich...toasted (I have to admit, this didn't excite me either but it was this or another apple!).

Opening the fridge door again I decided against the meat and thought I'd have a fried egg, cheese and jalapeno toasty instead, but as I reached for the jar of jalapenos I spotted the jar of lime pickle and thought that was a better option. I ended up only having mozzarella cheese left so now I was just brimming with excitement.

In the end I was in toasted sandwich heaven with my lime pickle, fried egg and mozzarella toasted sambo. The gooey cheese set off the tart and pickled limes beautifully, not to mention it all being wrapped in oozing egg.
When Nic arrived home that night, he was sorry about the pasta, however, I quickly told him of my creation where he smiled and told me it sounded like a Camilla sandwich indeed!

May 8, 2011

Nic works his magic....again

My sister rang me the other day. We don't talk much toward the end of the months because it's the busiest time for her at work...she practically lives there until months end is finished (some accounting term I have gotten use too over the years).

I have to say I haven't called her in a few weeks myself due to a couple of massive weeks at work. You know that feeling of - please, just let me make it through to the end of the week before falling apart, please!
 Well that is how I have felt. I even rang my mum and asked if she would fly up to help me cook for a few days. Sadly the airlines of today love to make up these ridiculous price tags for last minute bookings- I was back to praying.

I am happy to say I have finally managed a day off, and on Mother's Day never the less!

Anyway, back to my phone call with Tarsh. She was telling me The D-man was as fabulous as ever. She was oozing happiness when she told me he sent her a beautiful bunch of flowers yesterday to cheer her up after a massive week at work.
Wow! I said, young love doesn't it rock! The next sentence to come out of my mouth was, 'I can't remember the last time Nic sent/gave me flowers'.......I guess that is what happens 10 years on? and then I stopped myself and remembered the past week.
 It was in the middle of the week. I'd risen at 5am to get morning tea out for 100 people, plus the rest of my bookings for that day. I didn't manage to finish everything before I picked the boys up from school, so I dashed out grabbed them and had them come back to work with me while I tied up a few loose ends (something they loathe more and more these days).
 I finally finished up at around 4.30 and remembered Max had footy practice at 5pm. we made a mad dash for home, I threw a packet of rice crackers and a mandarin at the boys before jumping back into the car and heading out to football training where I spent the next hour on the phone with last minute clients trying to book in for the following day (I mean seriously, you know the meeting is going to happen so WHY leave your catering to the last second??)

We finally arrive home at 6.30pm and I'm trying to think about dinner, yet all I can think of is how sore my feet were and wondering if I have enough food to feed all these extra clients (a bad habit of mine, I fine it hard to say no!).
As I put the key into the door, I notice the smell of lamb cooking from the hallway was in fact coming from our apartment. Could this be true? Nic was already home?
It was music to my ears and heaven to my nose. Nic ordered us to the table, he had made a fabulous dinner of grilled lamb chops and a delicious Greek salad with pan fried haloumi instead of feta- I was in heaven!

I am so happy for my sister to have The D-man to spoil her and treat her as she deserves, I have never seen her happier. I however, really don't need flowers as much as I think I do- after all I have a husband who knows just when to have dinner on the table, pour me a glass of wine and listen to my endless conversations about flour less chocolate cakes; why do I have to make a billion sandwiches and when can I retire??
I think my Mother's Day came early this year and that was perfect for me.

May 5, 2011

Beer battered fish with an edge


Almost every Friday Nic gets a text from me or a phone call which goes something like this-

"Do you feel like fish tonight? I think fish would be good...."

Where he replies...

"Do you want me to get some fish on the way home?...."

"Yes please!!!!" is what I usually type back, or if I've had a shitty day, I'd be a little more sarcastic and say something like......"seeing as you pass the fish shop on your way home then it would be a good idea....yes!"

(lucky for him I am usually the bubbly, stress free wife....Ha,haa)

Last Friday I was in need of some fish. I looked in the fridge and it wasn't a pretty sight. When I can see every shelf in the fridge I know I am in trouble. The vegetable crisper had a few scraggy veggies in it and some limp basil and coriander leaves. There was a possibility of turning that into a meal as I spotted some rice noodles in the cupboard, however, I needed something to really feel like we were sitting down to dinner not lunch.
The boys were not impressed when I said we were having fish for tea. Max has decided he really isn't a 'fish' eater anymore...
"I prefer some baby octopus or maybe some prawns.." (maybe I should of just gone with a couple of crayfish! that's lobster tails for my US readers).

I could feel the whining build and the fish hadn't even arrived yet, so I threw caution to the wind and PROMISED it would be yummy. This was a hard promise in my mind due to the lack of food I pulled from the fridge!

By the time Nic got home with the fish, I'd made a rice noodle salad out of all the leftover, end of week vegetables and herbs and I have to say it didn't look to bad. I'd decided I'd cut the fish into bite size pieces and cover them in beer batter for something different.
I hadn't made a beer batter in yonks and only recently had battered fish that was bloody awful, so I wanted to remember how yummy it really could be.

As I was putting the flour into a bowl I also grabbed a few spices to help jazz it up a bit. It wasn't until I started cooking the fish bites that the aroma hit our noses and my creation came to life. I have to say, it smelt so good that Max came over for a look and actually stopped screwing his nose up at the idea of fish for dinner.

After Max and I sampled a wee piece we were hooked and couldn't fry them fast enough! You see what I did was put a little bit of Chinese 5 spice, coriander and turmeric into the batter.

The crunch of the battered fish bites was a perfect match for the rice noodle salad that was laced with a lime and herb dressing.
 I have to say it, both Alex and Max asked for seconds of the salad and said I must make it again. Sadly I didn't really pay much attention to the salad, due to the lack of ingredients I had on hand so I'll have to have another play around with that one before I write up a recipe.
I can however, give you a fabulous beer batter recipe!

Spiced beer batter for fish
1 cup self raising flour
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
salt and cracked pepper
about 1/2 bottle of draught beer (I used James Boags)

Place flour and spices into a bowl and add seasoning (about a teaspoon combined).
Grab a whisk and start whisking in your beer.
Pour in a good 1/2 cup first then check thickness of the batter. Keep adding until it is like clagg glue (do you remember this from school?).

Once you have your batter right, cut your fish into bite size pieces.
Fill your wok (or large frying pan) with canola or rice bran oil (my favourite) until it is half full.
Heat up your oil, test to see if it is hot enough by sticking a wooden skewer into the oil. It bubbles appear around the edges of the skewer then your good to go.

Drop your fish pieces into your batter, then gently remove excess batter and pop your bites into the oil.
Once browned, turn fish over and cook until all over colouring.
Drain on paper towel and repeat process. Sprinkle with a little sea salt for added yumminess 

May 3, 2011

Basil, honey and garlic veggies

T-bone steak was on the menu the other day which is an absolute favourite of mine when in need of an iron fix. Cooking the steaks on the Baby Q is a no brainer, however, I wanted a bit of a flavour surge. We have had a bag of carrots in the fridge for about a week now (I had good intentions on making a carrot cake but.....) and I do love carrots but the boys really don't like cooked carrots and I couldn't think of anything more hideous than eating raw carrot sticks with a bleeding piece of meat.

Broccoli is one of the top contenders in the vegetable category. For some reason both boys absolutely love broccollini and I think it has something to do with the stem? If I served up a plate of broccollini florets I'd have two savage youths on my heels making my ears bleed with the winging. BUT, if I use broccollini it is always the first to go? Bizarre!

Anyway, cutting the carrots into sticks makes them a little more interesting on the plate and hopefully a little more delicious for the young masters.

Yet again I pulled out the mortar- this seems to be my thinking stone. Whenever I am not too sure what to do, I peel a few garlic cloves and start pounding until the smell hits my nostrils and I get a few ideas on what to add next.
These veggies take about 5 minutes to make. I serve them quite crunchy because that is what we like, however, if you prefer 'cooked' vegetables just leave the lid on for a bit longer.

They went down a treat and I even got asked for seconds by both boys (I had to pick myself up off the floor when I heard this, believe me). They would be fabulous with just about anything ranging from steaks, pork fillet to fish so next time you are wondering what vegetables to serve with your meal- pull out your wok (or frying pan) and whip these up.

Carrot and broccollini stir fry
1 bunch broccollini, ends cut on a diagonal
3 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 cloves garlic
good pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup picked basil leaves
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing cooking wine
2 teaspoons honey

Prepare your vegetables then put to one side.
In a mortar, place garlic cloves, salt and olive oil then pound until garlic is broken into pieces.
Add basil and pound until a paste has formed.
Add oyster sauce, vinegar and honey, stir to combine then leave until needed.

Heat a wok on HIGH heat until very hot. Add in your vegetables and a tablespoon of oil and fry for 1-2 minutes.
Add fish sauce, cover wok with a lid and steam slightly.
Once vegetables have wilted a little pour in your sauce, toss to coat vegetables then place the lid back on and steam for 2-3 minutes.
Taste a veggie to see if it is to your liking, then remove from heat and serve asap.

May 1, 2011

Roast pork at its best

With the Easter break all over and our guests back home, I believe I am getting some sort of normality back into my daily grind. I have just been flicking through my recent pictures of past meals and wondered where to start? Should I post about the wacky tuna and sausage dinner I, not first up you might think I totally lost the plot so I'll save that one for later.
I was leaning toward the dinner I made on Friday but then I have a few from when my friends were here that I must get down before I forget what I actually did!

I think it is fair to say that most people from my generation grew up with meat and three veg as the standard evening meal. When you read about this staple it is usually in the the negative. People talk of how boring their family meals were....their mum (or sometimes dads but let's not forget this was in the 80s!) used to boil the crap out of the veggies and ditto with the meat.
It's about now when you'd expect me to have a story up my sleeve about one of these kind of meals when I was a kid, alas, it will not happen. Don't get me wrong, I also grew up with meat and three veg, but I also grew up with a mum who LOVED cooking. If there was a cookery book to read, she would have read it. When we moved from Darwin to Tasmania mum had enough cookbooks and knowledge to start a restaurant and that is exactly what she did, but that is another story entirely.

I have to say, I continue this theme today in my family meals, however, I try to make at least one part of the meal a little interesting. It's not hard to slather a beautiful piece of meat in a marinade before popping it into the oven or Weber, you've just got to a) remember to do it and b) have an idea of what will make that piece of  meat taste awesome to the whole family.

Because I love my butchers and trust them explicitly, I never have to worry about the meat being too tough, old or butchered badly and this is a huge plus in the meat world. Many a time I have sent meat back to the butchers from kitchens I have worked in as a chef because the cut of meat was butchered badly or they sent me mutton instead of lamb (trust me, you don't want to be on the end of that phone call when I have had 2-3 complaints from customers about the lamb being tough!) so having a good supplier is a big tick in my books.

I am still madly in love with my BBQ, so of course I was going to put my rolled pork roast on to cook, and I wanted to maximise the flavours of the Baby Q and the marinade- smoky and charred!
As usual I want a no fuss family dinner, so while the roast was coming to room temperature (always the best thing to do when cooking meat, to get the best possible flavour and have it cooked perfectly). I pulled out my mortar and pestle and started pounding together the garlic and basil. For those of you who own a thermomix, you can make this even easier by adding all the ingredients to your thermo and blitzing it for 10 seconds (that's for you Lisa!).

Once you have your marinade pounded, you cut slits into the top of your pork roll, breaking through the skin and piercing the flesh underneath. I make about 4 deep slits on top and then about two underneath.
Before you rub the marinade on, grab a good handful of sea salt and rub it into the meat. Pork can take a lot of salt and it also helps to make the skin crackle.
Once the salt is rubbed in, then start slathering on your marinade, stuffing it in the slits and everywhere else.
From memory, I think it is 20 minutes per 500g of meat? Gosh, I'm not 100% as I usually eyeball it. Anyway after 40 minutes, you can stick a knife in the the middle of your pork roast and then feel the tip to see if the blade is warm. When it is ready, cover the roast in foil and rest in a warm place while you get your veggies on.

When I know where my pork has come from I always like to cook it a little pink. Before living in the States I would never of done this, I thought it was wrong. Working at the fabulous restaurant Campagnola, where we use to have our own pig farmer bring us organic meat, I learnt that you can cook pork as you do lamb for a beautiful, sweet and succulent flavour.

OK, the meat's rested, asparagus and corn blanched and smothered in butter and lemon juice and the mash potato is already to go, my delicious, no fuss family meal is ready and gets devoured in minutes. This is a classic family meal but with a bit of extra flavours thrown in, it really does make it a memorable meal to revisit.

Basil, mustard and honey marinade
1/2 bunch of basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 heaped tablespoon seeded mustard
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Place basil leaves, garlic cloves (peeled) and olive oil in a motor and crush until in a paste.
A hand blender will also do the job.
Once a paste has formed, add honey, mustard and pepper then stir to combine.
Set aside until needed.