June 28, 2011

A lamb burger to sink your teeth into

I went to pick the boys up from school today and I was greeted with sniffles, red noses and turned down mouths and yet they seemed perfectly happy. Max is just like his dad, even when he looks like death he never complains about it and just keeps on going. It was only when he told me he was cold that I took notice.
This is the boy who wears shorts and a t-shirt 365 days a year, I mean he was still wearing shorts in November in Chicago!

With that said I packed them off home, cancelled swim lessons and asked the boys what they felt like for dinner (maybe that sounds odd but I knew Max would be thinking of the closest meal time).

BURGERS was the reply I got from both boys and I could of almost sworn it was rehearsed!?

Luckily I picked up some lamb patties at the butcher the other day, so I went to work building MY ultimate lamb burger.

Before I popped the lamb burgers on the grill, I minced a clove of garlic added it to some natural yogurt, finely chopped coriander and added lots of cracked pepper with a hint of salt, stirred it together then left it to meld while I got the rest of the ingredients together which consisted of:
-avocado slices
-tomato slices
-kalamata olives, pip removed and ripped in half
-Persian feta (so good!)
-red oak lettuce leaves
-country grain buns

OK I was ready! Once the lamb was cooked a lovely medium rare, I started stacking and salivating.

With the first bite I was hooked and the way Max gulped his down he must of thought the same. Nic was also loving it, however, he thought it needed a slice of beetroot.
I disagreed and told him when he makes them I'd be happy to try it. Alex said they were yummy.....then decided he didn't like the lettuce (ice burg only apparently) then there was something wrong with the olives....then it was terrible that his brother said something awful to him (nothing was actually said, just the throws of being a bit under the weather I think?).
When dinner was all finished and all that was left on his plate was the lettuce, Alex comes over to me and looks me in the eye and tells me dinner wasn't really very nice. This was when I said 'time for bed!'

Besides my 5 year old opinion I declare lamb burgers a fast, healthy and superb dinner of the fast food variety!

June 26, 2011

Pulled pork from the neck of the beast

I was at the butcher the other day asking for something inspiring. The lovely Aaron just looked at me, muttered something about indecisive cougars and told me to just pick something.

'What did you say? back up the truck my friend, you called me a what??!'

After a tongue lashing from me and stating a few facts (being number one that I am NOT yet in my forties so out of cougar range and secondly happily married so strike two buddy boy!).
Aaron is a lovable 20 something lad with a devilish twinkle in his eye; a tongue lashing from a regular is just what he needs, mind you I have got to find a way to stop him calling me mum in front of other customers...he's ageing me terribly with the locals!

I walked away that day with a lovely piece of pork neck so I forgave Aaron and promised to make something delicious that he may taste if he stops calling me mum!

 Pork neck isn't really a popular piece of meat; maybe it is the name that puts people off or the fact that it isn't a common cut used in recipes. It is a pity because it is a beautiful, flavoursome cut perfect for pulled pork or cut into steaks and BBQed! The piece I had was frozen, reserved for mincing which is the norm.

Of course I really wanted to do BBQ pulled pork, however, when the day finally came for me to start cooking I was short of hickory chips for the BBQ and time- I am always short on time! With this thought in mind I decided to dust off my slow cooker once more and put it to use.
This recipe was made up with two different ideas in my head. I was still wanting to BBQ the slab of meat because I wanted that lovely smoky flavour but I also had a lot of fennel seeds in my pantry and love the combination of pork and fennel. Finally I decided to combine ideas I picked up from other bloggers and see how that turned out.
Most rubs I looked at had brown sugar in them which is totally fine but the problem I had was I knew I wanted to sear off the piece of pork before adding it to the slow cooker and if I rubbed in the brown sugar it would of burnt before I could get a nice colouring on the meat. In the recipe you will see I added the sugar at the end as this dish really needs the depth of sweetness to really pull it together.

Slow cookers are perfect for slabs of meat (I have never been a fan of cooking smaller cuts in the slow cooker as I find it overcooks the meat and it has a funny after taste to it). Arriving home after a big day out to a fantastic smell of braising meat is pure heaven!

What's even better is pulling the pork apart while still warm then reducing the sauce slightly (with added sugar) before pouring the juices all over the meat and having heavenly soft tacos for lunch the following day. Especially since we spent the morning at the footy field watching Max's team play a great game of football on a sunny winter's morning here in Sydney.

OK so I didn't quite manage to make the BBQ version, however, if you're after a delicious braised pork dish and don't have hours to hang about the house- pull out the slow cooker!

Braised pork neck
1 kg piece of pork neck (your local butcher should have this cut, however, it maybe in the freezer so just ask)
3 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt flakes
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
For the dry rub: place whole peppercorns and fennel seeds into a mortar and pound into a powder or pop in a spice grinder to blend.
Add remaining spices together then pour on to your piece of meat and rub it into the flesh and fatty bits until evenly coated.
Leave outside on the kitchen bench for 1 hour.

For the braising liquid:
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 tin whole peeled tomatoes (strained)
1 cup chicken stock
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
1/3 cup brown sugar

Putting it all together:
Turn on your slow cooker to HIGH and add bay leaves, wine, tomatoes, stock and garlic and leave to warm.
Heat up a frying pan to sear the pork neck. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of salt and rub in 2 tablespoons of rice bran oil then sear until all sides are nicely browned.
Place pork neck into your slow cooker, pop the lid on and leave for 5 hours.

After you've gone out for a lovely day, come home lift off the lid, gently pull out the piece of pork neck and it should look like the picture below.

While it is still hot, get two forks and begin pulling the meat apart. While you are doing this, add the brown sugar to your sauce and put in on a medium heat to simmer for about 5 minutes or until it slightly thickens. Strain the juices over your pulled pork while it is still hot and cool the meat in the sauce for best results.

June 19, 2011

Miso and flathead meal

I am not sure why I have waited so long to blog this meal? At the time I remember looking in the fridge to find not much in sight. The fish shop is closer than the butcher so that was pretty much how I started preparing dinner....with a quick dash down the street!
It must of been a Wednesday night because I was trying to get dinner organised before heading off to yoga. I remember this because yoga starts a bit later (7pm) and I am always wondering what is better- eat before I go or when I come back?

Whenever I take the boys along to buy fish they always want calamari or flathead. I didn't have time to cook calamari so flathead won but you could use salmon, snapper...any white fish really.

Of course when I got back home, I didn't have any potatoes for chips and the rice bucket was empty (I would also like to add that it must of been a busy day for me to be so flakey- that's my story and I'm sticking to it!). Digging a bit further in my cupboards I found a packet of dried udon noodles I'd bought at least a year ago. I'm not sure why I have waited so long to use them, but I have to say they were perfect for my 20 minute meal.

Flying by the seat of my pants I filed through my cupboards a little more to find my emergency lunch supply also known as miso soup sachets, something I can't live without. If I'm having a big day at work and forget to eat or just haven't the time, I dump a sachet of miso paste into a mug, pour in boiling water and in seconds I have something hitting my stomach before I feel sick.

Having said that, I decided to make a meal size miso and udon noodle dinner with pan seared flat head.
Running out of time for  myself to eat before yoga I was really looking forward to this meal.
Once I had it sorted in my mind, it was a very quick meal to throw together.
With veggies cut and water boiling, I quickly blanched the vegetables off (carrots, peas, beans, shredded spinach) then using the same boiling water, cooked the noodles.

With the vegetables and noodles all ready to go, I divided them between 4 bowls and then started cooking the fish. Because I had to leave just as Nic came through the door I put the kettle on made up some miso broth and then all Nic had to do was finish cooking the flathead and ladle on the broth (which also reheats the noodles and veggies). Fresh chillies were added to adult bowls while the boys went a-la-natural.
 This was a great late night meal, not only is it fast to put together but it also healthy and delicious!

June 12, 2011

Paella with friends

About a year ago I met a lovely lady at Max's AFL club (Australian football league). We had just moved into our new neighbourhood and was on the look out for like minded people. I have to admit I didn't have much luck with group gatherings. I wasn't sure it if was due to the fact that I hadn't been back long in Australia or if it was me entirely who didn't fit into theses somewhat clicky groups? To tell you the truth, I am still not sure, however, each week we turn up and watch Max play the game he loves and each week I wonder if I'll ever fit in?

A year ago I met Natalie. She looked like someone who liked a bit of a chat...so I chatted. We hit it off, made plans to see each other socially, however, it never eventuated. I was always working, she had things going on in her life etc, etc.
It wasn't until the second year of our kids playing footy that we finally sat down and made a proper date to do lunch.

This date was today. It was decided last week that we would get together after footy and have lunch, catch up and open a bottle of vino. This weekend also happened to fall on a long weekend and a rainy weekend at that. The day was planned, after footy we were to go around to Nat's (thankfully she only lived up the road) and I would cook a paella. I know she invited us over to her place but me being me I wanted to cook and had paella on the brain.

It didn't take much to convince Nat that it was a good idea for us to come over and let me cook.
I was excited,  I had just found a fabulous local deli that sold traditional Spanish paella rice (bomba), paprika and chorizo sausage. All I needed to do was take a trip down to the fish markets and buy the rest of the ingredients for a feast.

The boys blitzed their footy match while it poured with rain (rain seems to help them?).  I couldn't think of anything better than sitting through the rest of the day slowly sipping on a glass of Shiraz while cooking paella and talking with friends.

I made myself comfortable in Natalie's kitchen while I cooked lunch. Even though it took a little longer than I thought (shouldn't of had a glass of wine first!) the end result was fantastic!!

When cooking a paella, you really need to go as traditional as possible. I bought authentic rice, chorizo and paprika which made the whole process that much easier. Seeing as I wanted a seafood paella, I made my own prawn stock the night before. I peeled about 250 grams of prawns, sauteed the heads and shells, poured in about a litre of water with a teaspoon of salt and then simmered it for 30 minutes before straining.

We weren't sure how the boys would react to paella seeing as it was a first for all the boys. I am happy to report they were just as excited as the adults. As we found out, it was a great way to introduce them to pippi's and mussels. They were excited by the shells and eagerly slurped down the pippis and just so happened to like them!
A wonderful afternoon was had, great food and wine was consumed and I am happy to report a wonderful friendship has blossomed, it's just a pity it took a year to finally organize.
Thanks Nat and Baz and we look forward to another lazy Sunday afternoon!

Seafood and chorizo Paella
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 red capsicum (pepper), diced
pinch saffron threads
1/2-1 teaspoon smoked paprika (Spanish variety best)
250 grams fresh calamari cut into rings
2 chorizo sausage, sliced
1 litre prawn stock (or chicken)
500grams Bomba rice
1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper
8 mussels (I used green lips)
2 cups fresh pippis (or clams)
12 peeled prawns
1/3 cup frozen peas

Get out your 40cm paella pan and add oil on a medium high heat.
Add onions, saute for 1-2 minutes then add garlic, red capsicum, salt and pepper and saute for 3-4 minutes.
Add saffron and paprika, saute for 3-4 minutes then add calamari rings and chorizo slices. Cook until calamari turns white and sausage smells fantastic!
Add stock and bring to the boil. Once simmering shake in the rice and cover completely with liquid. Add tomatoes, shake to cover (DO NOT STIR).
When paella is boiling, reduce to a light simmer and leave for 20 minutes, giving the pan a shake every 5 minutes to make sure even cooking.
After twenty minutes, add mussels, pippis, prawns and peas. There is no need to stir in, just cover with a lid (or another paella pan) and continue to cook for 5 minutes or until mussels open.
Remove lid, check that all liquid has been absorbed, if there is a little remaining, turn up the heat and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Serve piping hot.
Note: You should have a lovely crust on the bottom of your pan and that is what you want. The rice caramelises, this only happened on one side of my dish, I think I needed a bigger burner but it was still a fantastic flavour.
This feeds 3 adults and 3 hungry kids very well

June 7, 2011

Mini beef and basil meatballs

It was swimming night tonight for my boys. It used to be a half hour of sitting pool side breathing in heavy chlorinated air while watching the boys swim laps of the pool but then somehow that changed.

Somewhere along the path I must of had a conversation with the head swim teacher about Max's advancement. I think in this little chat, I wasn't really listening.......or it was never mentioned (?) that the next level up for Max was squad and that is another 30 minutes of poolside fun. For the past 3 terms, I have had to coax Max into returning to the pool. It's not that he doesn't like the water, he just isn't really into the lessons (surprise, surprise). In all honesty I wanted the boys to be able to swim confidently so I didn't have to freak out or go into panic attacks every time we were around water and that was it. Squad didn't enter my mind.

I am happy to say in Max's case, I have accomplished this with hours of poolside waiting (Alex is still in the throws). I was not, however, really ready or prepared to sit poolside for an hour of more laps! Call me a bad mum, I don't care, but an hour of sitting, waiting and getting a little dizzy on chlorine fumes isn't high on my agenda and apparently Max's either. As we were driving home tonight while I was wondering what to cook for dinner Max interrupted my thoughts with,

"Mum, do I have to do squad next term? It's a bit boring.....it's just not really my thing"

Music to my ears! I held back my excitement and did my usual "....are you sure? you might really enjoy it next term?"

His answer was short and to the point, it was the first time I was happy to hear a sullen "NO" come out of his mouth. Of course as soon as we pull into the garage, my smile fades and I am bombarded with the crys of:
"What's for dinner?"
"I'm soooo hungry, when am I going to eat dinner (whimper, whimper)"
"Where's dad? why isn't he cooking dinner....mummmm what can we eat???"

This is when I run a bath and make them wash their hair. Apparently this is a torturous request I ask of the boys, so they sit in their quietly hoping I'll forget they are there. Little do they know I do it simply for some piece and quiet while I make dinner.

I had some pasta in the fridge but wasn't sure what to put with it.  I picked up the remaining beef mince I had left after making pasties for the weekend and thought I'd be pushing it to feed the four of us. I searched a little more then had an idea. Running with the thought of mini meat balls I pulled out a bunch of basil, spring onions and started chopping.

I was delighted with the end result. The cherry tomatoes were a great base to compliment the fresh flavours of spring onion and basil packed into the meatballs. Sweet little tomatoes simmering with garlic...what could be yummier?

These would be great on their own as a pre dinner, mezze plate bite or as I did, mixed with ravioli or any type of pasta. Actually, if there were any left over I'm sure the boys would of loved them for lunch in a wrap smothered with hummus and lettuce.

Hair was washed (you know I had to use the mummy voice and my eagle eye to get that done), bowls were licked and bellies were full all round.
A great idea if you have a little less meat than you would really like. Making the meatballs smaller, makes it look bigger and appeals to big and little mouths- defiantly worth a try, just don't expect leftovers!

Beef and basil meatballs
1-2 tablespoons Rice Bran oil (or vegetable)
400g - 500g beef mince
2 large spring onions, chopped finely
6-8 basil leaves, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
salt and pepper to taste
2 punnets cherry tomoates
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
5cm piece of parmesan rind

In a medium bowl mix together beef, spring onions, chopped basil, garam masala and salt and pepper.
When very well combined, roll into teaspoon sized balls and put to one side.
Make sure your tomatoes are cut in half and the garlic is sliced before starting to cook
Heat a large frying pan on high heat. When hot, add oil, swirl around the pan quickly then drop in meat balls and brown.
When brown on one side, turn and brown the other. Make sure you do not cook all the way through (see picture to the right).
Remove balls from the frying pan and leave to rest.
Place frying pan back on the heat and toss in chopped tomatoes with a good pinch of salt.
Saute for 2 minutes then add the garlic slices and saute for a further few minutes.
Pop in your parmesan rind then place meat balls back in.
Turn heat to a low simmer, place a lid on and cook for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, remove lid, give the pan a little shake to loosen the sauce and cook for a further 5-8 minutes.
Remove from heat and serve with pasta or cool and serve as you would like with shaved parmesan cheese.

June 5, 2011

Chocolate cake for afternoon tea

I woke up this morning craving chocolate cake. This is weird for me because I am usually about all things savoury- cheeses, cured meats, pickles, olives....etc. I remembered reading the kitch's blog a month or so ago and she posted about her delicious family chocolate cake, so the first thing I did was jump on to see.

There is was, a great big chocolate cake, slathered in sweet, sweet icing- exactly what I was after! It all went pear shaped when I read the ingredients to find I was lacking in one ingredient....an ingredient I knew I couldn't possibly make the cake without- LARD! or as my dear friend Kitch puts it, shortening.

I'd just been out to do my weekly shop and picked up some chocolate, butter, eggs and icing sugar.....didn't think of lard. It is silly really because so many American recipes call for it when baking. Why American recipes I hear you ask? I'll tell you why, no Australian cake has ever been as moist and quite as awesome as our American friends and I know shortening has a lot to do with it (but I just forgot).

Feeling a little defeated while staring at that deliciously, massive cake on my computer screen, I decided to look for another recipe. The first 5 all told me to use lard/shortening....dammit!
I mentioned to Nic I was having trouble finding just the recipe I wanted when he informed me chocolate cake wasn't his first choice so perhaps I could make something else? This is when I responded with,

'Nice try buddy, but it's not about you......it's all about my cravings today!'

Just when I thought all hope was lost, I remembered a cookbook I had stashed away in the depths of my cookbook bookshelf.

Jackpot people!

Not only did this recipe not contain lard, but I instinctively bought some honey that very morning with no rhyme or reason and honey was one of the key ingredients.

The recipe is very simple and has never failed me. It always turns out moist and has a fabulous frosting to slather all over it.
I'm sure you all know what the boys and I did this afternoon while sipping a mug of tea.
I will make Aunt Lee's chocolate cake...I've just got to search for some shortening.

Recipe from The Complete Book of Baking

Family chocolate cake
3oz dark chocolate buttons
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup castor sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup self raising flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking power
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
2 oz dark chocolate buttons
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degree and grease a 7 inch cake tin.
Place chocolate and honey into a small heat proof bowl over a saucepan of water and melt. Once melted, cool.
Cream butter and sugar then add cooled chocolate mix and beat together.
Add eggs and beat until well combined.
Sift all dry ingredients together then stir the dry ingredients a little at a time, alternately with vanilla and milk.
Pour mixture into cake tin and bake for 40-45 minutes.
Once cooked turn out onto a wire rack and cool.

Frosting: place chocolate and water in a saucepan and slowly melt over low heat.
remove from the heat and stir in the butter, keep stirring until butter has melted then beat in the icing sugar.
Keep beating until smooth then pour over the top of cool cake and spread evenly.