live life, celebrate food, share both with those you love

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Crunchy chips, fries, pomme frites... whatever you like to call them!

Ever wondered how to make super crunchy chips? Do yours always come out soggy? The secret is to twice fry...
  • Peel and slice potatoes into chips - fat or thin, it's up to you.
  • Half-fill a large deep heavy-based pan or electric deep-fryer with vegetable oil, and heat to about 140ºC. (You can purchase a thermometer from a home ware shop or heat the oil until its moderately hot)
  • Add chips and cook for about 8-10 minutes or until just tender. To check this, you should be able to easily stab with a fork.
  • Remove the chips with tongs, drain well on absorbent paper, put on a tray and refrigerate until cold.
  • Just before you want to eat them, fry chips again in really hot oil - around 180ºC - until crisp and golden.

Tips for success:
  • Starchy potatoes work best, like sebago, coliban or nicola.
  • Chips become really crunchy if they go from very cold to very hot. It's best to cook chips straight from the freezer, but that can been quite time consuming, so from the fridge is fine.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Sticky Asian Chicken Drumsticks

My hubby loves chicken drumsticks!  So when they are cheap, I buy a few kilos, portion them and put them in the freezer.  The problem I have is my mum only ever ate chicken breasts, so I don't actually know what to do with drummies... but I'm learning!

Hubby remembered his mum used to slow bake drumsticks with soy sauce, but neither could remember what other ingredients made up the sauce.  So off to the internet I went and I actually figured out the original recipe - big pat on the back for me!

This is a great mid-week meal as the total prep time is 5 minutes, is cheap and can easily feed a crowd.  Also, if you have a slow cooker, feel free to use it for this recipe.
Ingredients
- 6 chicken drumsticks
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 c soy sauce
- 1/4 c brown sugar
- 400gr can of crushed tomatoes
- Steamed rice to serve

How to...
- Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius.
- Heat a little olive oil, over a medium-low flame, in a oven proof dish that's large enough to hold the drumsticks in a single layer.
- Add the drumsticks and fry each side until starting to colour.
- Whilst the drumsticks are frying, mix the onion, garlic, soy, sugar and tomatoes in a bowl.
- Add the tomato mixture to the drumsticks and move the chicken around to coat.
- Place the lid on top of the dish, or cover with foil and place in the oven for an hour - don't worry if this dish cooks a little longer, it shouldn't dry out too quickly.
- I like to take the lid (or foil) off for the last 15 minutes to let the sauce reduce a little and make the chicken that little bit sticky.
- Serve with rice, spoonfuls of sauce and chopped fresh coriander.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Banana-su!

If you're living in Australia, how excited are we that Banana prices have FINALLY come down?! For those of you not in Oz, prices hit $15 per kg, instead of the usual $1-3 per kg, due to natural disasters which destroyed crops.  So if you were lucky enough to eat a banana over the winter months, you are obviously a kazillionaire!

Anyway, a few weeks ago a morning news team were lucky enough to travel to NYC for the week - how do I get a job on that show??  The lovely ladies on the show were raving about a dessert they'd picked up from the ridiculously famous Magnolia Bakery called Banana Pudding.  Luckily, I was able to find the recipe all over the web and decided to try it out.  It was yum-O!  And very popular at the dinner party I took it along to.  Mind you I did make a few adjustments as the recipe is from the US and we don't have all the same ingredients Down Under.

Word of warning... this is not diet friendly... but it's totally worth cheating!  On the up side this dessert can be made in advance and just like Tiramisu, tastes best a day or two afterwards.

Ingredients
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
- 1 pack of instant vanilla pudding
- 2 cups cream (original recipe says 3, but I found this too heavy)
- 3 or 4 bananas, thinly sliced
- 1 pack of Sponge Finger biscuits (smaller pack is enough, 395gr)
- Toasted flaked almonds or hazelnuts or a crushed up Flake chocolate bar
- Frangelico, or liqueur of choice (optional)
- Milk (optional)

How to...
- Using a cake mixer (or a medium bowl, whisk and a little elbow grease) beat together the condensed milk and the ice cold water until well combined, should take about a minute.
- Add the pudding mix and beat until dissolved, about 2 minutes.
- Cover and refrigerate until set, about 3-4 hours or overnight.
- Once the pudding mix is set, beat the cream just until stiff peaks form - but not until it's stiff and butter like.
- Fold the pudding mix into the cream until blended and no steaks remain.  The mix should be pale yellow.
- In a large serving dish (glass is prettiest) arrange one third of the sponge biscuits on the base of the dish and sprinkle generously with liqueur for adults, or milk for kids. If it's easier you can quickly dip the biscuits before you layer the dessert.  But don't soak as these biscuits will fall apart very quickly.
- Then layer a third of the bananas and gently spread a third of the pudding mixture on top.
- Repeat the layering process so you have 9 layers in total, finishing with the pudding mixture.
- Sprinkle the toasted nuts or chocolate on top, cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.
Whoops! Forgot the chocolate!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Oils, ain't Oils!

You can flavour oil a few different ways, but my two favourites are: 

Instant flavour
Pour some oil in a pan and before you heat or cook anything, add some strong flavours like garlic, chilli or fresh rosemary.  To do this cut your chilli in half, slice the garlic nice and thick or clean and dry well a few sprigs of rosemary.  Add them to the oil, then turn on the heat to low.  As the oil heats it will draw the flavours out, which will flavour whatever you throw in next.  The trick is to throw out the garlic and chilli before they go brown as the garlic will get bitter and burn long before anything else gets cooked.  This works well with any strong ingredients that have really strong flavours.  You could even cool the oil, add some vinegar or lemon juice and use as a dressing!

Make it intense
Grab a clean (preferably sterilised) bottle with a screw top lid.  The neck has to be wide enough so you can push your flavours into the bottle.  Push through garlic, chilli, porcini mushrooms, rosemary, citrus peel, whole peppercorns - whatever flavour you want the oil to have.  Add in the best quality olive oil you can afford - opt for an extra light virgin oil as the flavour is the most mild.*  Close the bottle and place in your pantry for at least a week so the flavours draw out into the oil.  You can now use this to cook or as a salad dressing.

* note - extra light virgin olive oil is extra light in flavour only, the fat or calorie count is exactly the same as any other olive oil.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

I love you... I love you not

I'm not sure why, but every time I try to walk past a Greek cafe, I must peer into their window and look for a Greek Yoyo... and if I see one, I MUST buy one.  So you would think that I have a deep love affair with the Greek Yoyo... but you would be mistaken!

I do love all the core ingredients.  I mean whats not to love?  A creamy, custard center, sandwiched between two sponge-cake like biscuits, with a swirl of chocolate icing smothered on top.  Yet every time I bite longingly into one of these delights... I'm disappointed!  The spongey biscuits are too dry.  Or the custard is still grainy.  Or the chocolate icing is too sweet... and yet, as shown in the pic, I must devour one if I see one!!

What's your weird love/hate relationship food item?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Beef Burgundy alla Julia Childs

Ever since I saw the movie Julie and Julia, I've been obsessed with French cuisine!  Much to the dismay of my waist line... SO much butter! The main dish featured in the movie is Boeuf Bourguignon, translation: Beef Burgundy.  This is by far, one of my all time favorite Winter meals... especially with Parmesan mashed potatoes!  It's everything that comfort food should be rich, hearty and delicious... could be the fact that it involves an entire bottle of wine :) 

And since Mother Nature has stolen our Spring and plunged us back into the wet, Wintery chills... what better time to make this divine dish! Please note, it takes 2-3 hours to cook, but who wants to go outside when it's raining?
My idea of a TV dinner, mmmmm!
The original recipe can be found here, but it's quite labor intensive, so if you're after a simpler version, keep reading... please keep reading!

Ingredients
- Olive oil
- 4-6 slices bacon, sliced into 1cm strips (the amount depends if you prefer short or long rashers)
- 1kg gravy beef cut into large cubes, 3-4cm approx
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 carrots, sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp plain flour (or cornflour for gluten intolerance)
- 1 bottle (750ml) of your preferred red wine - I use Pinot Noir
- 1 Beef or Vegetable stock cube
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- Bay leaf
- Button mushrooms, halved or quartered
- Small handful fresh parsley, chopped
- Butter

How to...
- Preheat your oven to 160 degrees celcius and put a large heat proof casserole pan on a medium to low flame (I use a shallow 30cm cast iron pan, with a lid, for this dish)
- Add a little olive oil to your pan and gently fry off the bacon.  Keep the heat low to avoid splatters.  Once slightly browned, remove with tongs and set aside.
- Allow pan to reheat - don't drain off fat!
- Special note: dry the beef using paper towels! There's several scenes in the movie revolving around this French tip and it's amazing the difference it makes. Your beef will actually brown and turn crisp instead of stewing! This adds to the rich flavor of the dish.
- Fry the 'dried' beef a few pieces at a time in the hot pan. Once brown on all sides, remove and add to bowl with bacon.
- You may need to add a splash more olive oil to the hot pan at this point and add the onion and carrots.  Cook for a few minutes to soften.
- Return the beef and bacon to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add flour. Stir to coat and allow to sit for a minute or two, so as to create a 'crust' on the meat.
- Add a little wine and use a wooden spoon to gently scrape any yummy bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the rest of the wine, stock cube, tomato paste, garlic, thyme and bayleaf and stir gently to combine.  The meat should almost be covered, but it's ok if a little of the top is poking out of the liquid.  If you need more liquid add a little water, but don't over do it, or you'll have a watery casserole.
- Turn the heat up to allow the casserole to come to a simmer. Then cover with lid and place in the oven for 2.5 - 3hrs.  It's done when the meat falls apart when stuck with a fork.
- Just before serving saute the mushrooms in a knob of butter until slightly browned and sprinkle with parsley.  Add to the casserole, stir and serve generous ladles full with creamy, parmesan mashed potatoes... YUM!!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Mmmmm... muffins!

How good are muffins?!  Ok, well they're not great if you're watching your weight or listening to a personal trainer, but everything in moderation right??  That's why this recipe only makes 6 full size muffins, so you won't feel 'as bad' :) Of course you could use this same recipe to make 12 mini muffins or double it and make 12 FULL size muffins.

Oh and you could freeze any leftovers... IF there are leftovers!
mmmm, white choc and raspberry... they didn't make it to the freezer!
Basic muffins
1 c self raising flour

1/4 c caster sugar
1/2 c milk
20g butter, melted
1 egg
For flavor ideas... see note below.
 
How to… 

- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.

- Grease a 6 cup capacity muffin tray (or 12 cup if you're doubling the recipe)
Quick rule: always place your dry ingredients into a bowl and then gently mix in your combined wet ingredients
- Place the flour and sugar in a bowl.
- Mix the milk, butter and egg in a seperate bowl.
- Add the wet mix and your choice of flavor to your dry ingredients and mix until just combined. (Over mixing will give you tough, chewy muffins)
- Spoon the muffin mixture into your prepared muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
- Let muffins cool in pan for 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool... mind you, I think these muffins are best enjoyed warm!

Popular Flavors

Here's a few suggestions, but use your imagination and come up with your own favorite!
Choc Chip - add 150g of your favorite chocolate chips
White Choc and Raspberry - add 100g of chopped white chocolate and 1 c of frozen raspberries (don't thaw the berries)
Apple and Cinnamon - peel and roughly chop 2 apples and add 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
Banana and Walnut - peel and mash an overripe banana and add 1/2 c of walnuts.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Andale, andale, arriba, arriba!

Worth the wait, I promise!
It's time I finally reviewed my all time favorite restaurant: MAMASITA! If you haven't heard of Mamasita, you must either a) live in a cave, or b) you're not from Melbourne.  If you do live in Melbourne and haven't been to Mamasita, what's wrong with you?!

Tucked away on Level 1, 11 Collins Street, this place is the real deal when it comes to Mexican cooking.  This is NOT Tex Mex! (Btw, Taco Bill is Tex Mex, not Mexican) Nothing is smothered in chesse, over cooked or comes with refried beans.  And there are no tacky ponchos, sombreros or fake cacti!  Having lived in both Texas and California and having the opportunity of visiting Mexico, I have long had an obsession with Mexican food in it's true form.  It's fresh, it's healthy, it's flavourful... whoops, I'm drooling on the keyboard!  Oh, and did I mention the entire menu is Gluten Free?  Can Mamasita get any better?!

All that being said, there is one catch... they have a no reservation policy - insert huge sad face emoticon here!  You should be prepared to wait at least 40 minutes (if you're lucky) for a table.  Mind you, my husband and I have noticed that if you arrive around 5pm, you should get seated straight away... if you wait until 6pm, the line will run down the flight of stairs and out the door... how I wish I was kidding!  So leave the kiddies with the babysitter and have a night out - you deserve it!
A fabulous array of Tequilas, Margaritas, Mojitos, etc.
Ok, ok, the food!  For a starter, you can't go past the Elotes Callejeros - just don't ask me to pronounce it.  This is based on a "street style" dish which is essentially chargrilled corn, smothered in just enough chipotle mayonnaise, a tiny sprinkle of cheese and a squeeze of lime.  It's slightly spicy, slightly creamy and oh so addictive!  It's the only way we eat corn at home now, yum!!
Must have!
Next, I would recommend a taco or two.  My personal favorites are the pulled pork and the grilled fish - amazing!  Don't be scared of fish tacos, they really are divine and so light.  The pulled pork is a must in my mind and has a scrumptious pineapple and onion salsa... For me, a visit to Mamasita is incomplete unless I've had one... or two...
Tacos the way they SHOULD BE!
If you've filled up on tacos, maybe finish off with a cheese quesadilla.  This is basically a cheese toastie, Mexican style, ie: two tortillas, cheese in the middle, cooked in a frypan until melted and crispy.  It comes with a drizzle of jalapeno salsa which cuts through the cheese perfectly.  It's a lovely little end or perfect with a few cocktails.

However, if you're still hungry grab a "Comida para la familia".  This is a family style dish, best shared with your date.  If you visit, during the cooler months, my other must have dish is the Estofado de Cabra, translation: Chipotle braised goat which comes with a roasted sweet corn paste - I wish I could get this recipe!  My husband and I usually share this dish with some tortillas and Plátanos Machos.  Goat is usually a little on the fatty side, but this slow cooked dish is pure Mexican comfort food at it's best.  I wouldn't class is as spicy, but there's definitely a hint of warmth to the dish, which is probably why it's usually disappears off the menu during the warmer months.

So grab your partner, date, workmate and drag them up to the top end of Collins Street for a true taste of Mexico... just remember to get there early... or wear comfy shoes for the wait!  I promise it's worth it!

Buon appetite!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Root vegies = cold water...

Ok so this is a very basic rule, but it's mainly been forgotten over the years. If your veg is from under the ground (potato, carrot, parsnip) you need to start cooking with cold water. But if the veg is from above the dirt (corn, peas, green beans) you need to cook in boiling water.

Now I'm sure there's a really technical reason as to why this is, but the easy version is most underground vegies are roots. They are dense, hardy, filling foods and need to be cooked slowly so they cook evenly. If you start cooking potatoes in hot water, the outside edge will cook faster than the inside and you end up with a crunchy centre. Other vegies, like peas, are much lighter and should be cooked very quickly in boiling water to lock in the nutrients.

Oh and here's a quick mashed potato recipe:
  1. Peel 1 medium potato per person - my interpretation of 'medium' is about the size of a tennis ball... I generally work on the old rule of "one spud per person, plus one for the pot" but I always make a little too much, it's my weakness! If the potatoes are dirty, give them a quick wash too.
  2. Dice the potatoes into 2cm chunks. (It doesn't have to be perfect, but the closer in size, the more even result)
  3. Put the potatoes into a pan and cover them with enough cold water to cover by about 1cm. Add a good pinch of salt and cover the pan with a lid, but don't close the lid completely or it will boil over and make a huge mess.
  4. Turn the heat on to high and bring the water to a boil. Once it's boiled, then turn down the heat to low.
  5. The potatoes are cooked when they are tender. To test you can pierce a piece of potato with a fork. If the fork goes in smoothly and the potato is soft, they are done. Or you can squash one against the side of the pan with the fork, but be careful not to push the boiling hot pan of water onto yourself!! It usually takes around 10-15 minutes for peeled, diced potatoes to cook - depends how many potatoes are cooking, etc…
  6. Drain all the water and then put the potatoes back into the pot - this helps some of the excess water to evaporate.
  7. Now for the flavours! Add a little more salt and some pepper. (not too much salt, you can add more later) Throw in a good tablespoon of butter and a splash of milk, then mash, mash, mash! The more you mash the smoother it will be. Or if you have a stick blender, use that - you'll have the most velvety smooth potatoes you've ever had... bliss! (but don't overuse the stick blender or you'll make a gluey paste!)
  8. Other great flavour options are a sprinkle or parmesan or cheddar cheese, a little garlic salt, fresh chopped spring onions... use your imagination!
There's heaps of potato mashers on the market, most of them are the same. Opt for something that's comfortable to hold and remember you're going to be pushing down on it, so look for something sturdy.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Portable, aka work, lunches

As promised in my last post, here are some tips! There are lots of options; you’re only limited by your imagination and the effort you put in. 

Leftovers (obvious ain't it?)
For me, this is the obvious choice – take leftovers from dinner the night before... assuming there are any leftovers! Get yourself some really good quality microwavable containers in various sizes. My preference is Tupperware, but get whatever you prefer - plastic takeaway containers are not a good option though, trust me! Some quality containers even have a divider in them, so your curry doesn’t touch your rice. Better yet, if you’ve got lots of leftovers, freeze them in individual portions so that you can grab one and go. Lifesaver when you’re running late!

Tips for leftovers:
  • Curries, stews, pasta dishes and some stir-fry’s are the best options, as they are easiest to reheat. Anything with a lot of moisture (or sauce) should reheat evenly.
  • If you’re reheating frozen food, try to defrost the night before for the best results.
  • Potatoes generally don’t freeze too well, so leave these out if you need to pop food in the freezer.
  • When reheating something that’s in one piece, like a wedge of lasagne, try cutting it into four smaller pieces first. This should (hopefully) give you four hot pieces, instead of one slab with an icy center – yuck!
  • Don’t like your rice soaking up sauce while it’s sitting in a container? Put your saucy meal on the bottom of the container and the rice on top. Once it’s warmed up, you can turn it out into a bowl – yum!
  • Frozen rice will reheat in about a minute on high!
  • Take precautions with microwaves as they all vary. Food might be searing hot on the outside but still frozen in the middle.
  • DON’T put foil in the microwave – it can explode.

Sandwiches / Wraps 

Sandwiches and wraps are another popular option for a workday lunch. The combinations of fillings are endless! 

Tips for sandwiches /wraps:

  • If you have a fridge at work, why not keep some staple ingredients to save transportation? Lots of office workers are near some sort of supermarket these days, so you could keep sundried tomatoes, cheese, spreads, etc in the fridge ready for when you need it. You might even purchase some items to share with another co-worker!
  • Hate soggy sandwiches? Lay your sliced tomato on absorbent paper towel for a minute. No more soggy bread!
  • Wraps store for about 12 months in the freezer and only take a few seconds to defrost.
  • Bread also freezes really well and lots of offices have toasters, so you could whip up a warm lunch in less time then it takes to go downstairs.
  • If it’s easier to bring in a fresh sandwich each day, Tupperware have some fantastic Sandwich Keeper boxes that will keep your sandwiches fresh for 24 hours! I use these all the time and swear by them. Definitely a case of “you get what you pay for!” (I don't sell them, I promise)

Salads

Salads are a great option in summer and are easy to throw together the night before, or with a bit of prep in the morning. If you’re going to eat salads for most of the week, why not do some prep on the weekend to make your mornings easier?

Tips for salads:
  • Slice up carrots, capsicum, cucumbers and store in airtight containers in the fridge.
  • Grab a big bag of mixed lettuce leaves or baby spinach from your local supermarket.
  • Rice salads can be made in advance and will stay good for 3 days. Add small amounts of different proteins, like grilled chicken or canned tuna, each day to make it different from the last.
  • Cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms and croutons will stay fresh for about a week and will jazz up any salad.
  • Can’t stand ‘rabbit food’? Bacon pieces and chunks of roasted potatoes will keep even the keenest carnivore satisfied.
  • Keep a bottle of two of pre-made dressings in your desk drawer or fridge. But be careful if you’re watching your weight as commercial dressing can be loaded with extra fat and sugar.
When I’m in a super rush, I’ll grab the following: 1 small can each of 4 bean mix, corn and tuna. When it's time to eat, I drain the cans, throw together into a bowl with a splash of vinegar and mix. Quick, healthy, cheap and delicious!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Want new shoes? Stop buying lunch!

Ok so we hear it all the time and for some of us the idea of a budget is ‘so lame’. But have you ever really stopped to think what buying your lunch every day is really ‘costing’ you? First, some facts, then, some tips... 

I LOVE! (img Tony Bianco Shoes)
Fact #1 – buying lunch is hideously more expensive
Don’t be fooled! You can almost always make your meals for at least half the price at home, sometimes even cheaper, ie: a cafe style coffee will cost about $1 to make at home vs almost $4 at a city cafe. Most lunches will generally set you back $10 on average these days and generally, that doesn’t include a drink. That equals $2,600 a year just on lunch! 

Fact #2 – store bought lunches have lots of hidden nasties
This is true whether you’re watching your waistline or just very conscious of what you put into your body. Most sandwiches that are for sale at your local cafe are double the size they were 5 or 10 years ago – that’s double the calories, double the gym sessions... you get the idea. There’s also loads of hidden salt, fat and sugar in almost everything we buy. Would you normally put THAT much butter, mayo, cheese, deli meat on a sandwich you made at home? And don’t even get me started on how some of the food is ‘hygienically’ prepared and stored. (That’s a rant for another blog) 

Fact #3 – I find most bought lunches are disappointing
Forgive this onerous generalisation, but for me it’s true. I’m always just that little bit disappointed with lunchtime fare. The bread is a little soggy, the tomato could have been riper, that’s not the cheese I requested but I can’t be bothered arguing because I’m running late for a meeting. Tell me you haven’t had a similar moment?! 

Fact #4 – everyone needs a day off!
I’m not saying that you should take every single meal, snack and coffee with you to work from home! I’m just as busy as you are and we all need a break. For me it’s Friday – I don’t cook a single thing on Fridays. It’s all lunch orders, take away and wine for us. Pick a day that works for you and make it one of your treats for the week.

Need ideas for portable lunches that are quick and simple? Check out my next post...


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

When I needed chocolate the most...

Last week, was a particularly miserable week. Not only had the weather taken another soggy, frosty turn, but work was, well... super duper sucky!

When I finally got home at 8:15pm on Wednesday night, the love of my life had a little surprise waiting for me - chocolate cake! But not any old packet mix cake, oh no! He pulled out all the stops! He made THE richest chocolate cake FROM SCRATCH with a choc-orange ganache = pure bliss!!

What has someone made you to cheer you up?

Buon appetito!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Recipe: "Red" sauce

Have you noticed it's all the rage to 'know what you're eating' these days. But I think someone should hold classes in how to read food labels! I can't interpret them!

However, one thing I do know is that commercial pasta sauces are SO high in sugar and salt, it’s ridiculous. Some can contain 6 tsps of salt for such a tiny jar, ick! And what's with all the sugar?? I do know that some Italians (not me) do put a small spoon of sugar in their sauce, but I think it just depends on the tomatoes they've used.


We Italians, normally call tomato based pasta sauces ‘red sauce’ and every Nonna has a signature recipe that they do all the time.

I'm not a Nonna, not even quite a Mamma yet, but here’s a super basic ‘red’ sauce and you can change it into a bagillion different sauces. As you can see from the pic, I normally double or triple it and freeze it in small snack sized bags which serves around 2 people.



Basic red sauce – ‘Napoli’ style 

1 onion, diced finely (brown or red)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
Butter
2 x cans tomatoes or jar of Passata (Always buy Product of Italy, they just taste better and they should be whole not diced, as the diced are more watery. I blend the canned tomatoes as we don’t like chunks)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
Small sprinkle of chilli flakes
Salt
Pepper
Fresh parsley and basil

How to… 

- Heat a heavy based pot and add a good glug of oil and a small knob of butter – it’s a flavor thing.
- Gently cook the onion for a few minutes to soften, but not brown. Then add garlic and cook for about a minute.
- Add the tomatoes and stir in the bay leaf, oregano, about a tsp of salt and a good crack of pepper – a tiny sprinkle of chilli flakes really livens the sauce without making it spicy.
- Bring to boil and check your seasoning, you may need a little more salt.

- Simmer lid off for around 20 minutes, the sauce should reduce and thicken up a little.
- Add fresh chopped herbs to finish off.

Variations
Parma Sauce 

My husband loves Chicken Parmigiana which is just a cooked chicken schnitzel, topped with a little sauce, a sprinkle of cheese and melted under a hot grill.  Kids love this too and it's a great way to hide vegies if you have fussy eaters.  I add a grated carrot and finely chopped celery in with the onion, or you could pan fry separately and add the sauce to combine.

Bolognese
Add minced meat (pork and veal combo is traditional) after you’ve cooked the onion and garlic. I also like to add mushrooms or peas (at the end) just to be different, and a little water if it’s too thick. A beef stock cube is a good idea too for a really robust sauce.

“Meatball” 

This is too easy!
- Make the sauce.
Buy some quality Italian sausages.
- Pinch the sausage about an inch from the end between two fingers and drag along the skin to create little “meatballs”. Drop straight into a hot frying pan, fry off, then add some sauce. YUM!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Recipe: Cookies, nom nom nom!

I'm not sure what 'made' me have to bake cookies last night... it could've been the bub I'm currently incubating... or the fact that a radio star has been forced to wear a Cookie Monster outfit to the snow this week... or the episode of Everyone Loves Raymond on TV last night that revolved around girls scouts selling cookies... the universe conspired and I HAD TO OBEY!

Enjoy with a glass of cold milk :)

Makes 40 small or 20 large cookies.

Ingredients
125g butter, room temperature
1c brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
2 c plain flour
100g chocolate, chopped
3/4 c coconut or chopped nuts or rolled oats

Method
- Preheat oven to 190°C
- Using a cake mixer or handheld beaters, beat the butter and brown sugar until pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs and vanilla and mix to combine.
- Add all the dry ingredients and mix well. You want the mix to come together but don't over mix the dough.  
- For smaller, flatter cookies, roll out teaspoons of the dough onto a cookie sheet or flat tray, leaving a little room for spreading.
- For larger, cake like cookies, roll out tablespoons of the dough onto a cookie sheet or flat tray, leaving a little room for spreading.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden.  Cookies firm up as they cool, so don't worry if they feel softer then you like.
- Using an egg flip, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Tip: for a crisper cookie, flatten the dough ball out a little before you bake.

Monday, 1 August 2011

How many chickens can I squeeze into my freezer?

Last night I got home, cold, hungry and broke.  My only option was to cook but what could I do in hurry? After having a quick look in the freezer I noticed I had some frozen chicken thighs, already cleaned and sliced up, perfect for a 15 minute curry and I knew we'd have enough left over for lunch the next day - two meals covered with half the effort!

When storing food, the best time saving tip I can give you is: store food in a way that is useful for you! Well, preparation is super important too... ok, so maybe that's two tips.

It's essential that you store items in a way that best suits your cooking style.  For example, I have two freezers... hey I'm European; I only know how to feed 20 people at a time!  Unlike me, you might only have a freezer the size of a shoebox, so buying in a large quantity might not be an option.  That's ok, but if you optimise the way you prepare and freeze your meats/meals, you'll maximise your space and save time.

Whenever I buy chicken fillets, I always buy in 2 or 3 kg lots - depending on the storage space left in my freezer and the cash in my purse.  But it's how I prepare and store the chicken that is a real time saver.

To store items in the freezer, I use ziplock bags or good quality, airtight plastic containers.  (Obviously containers are better for the environment, but sometimes I run out)

How can I say 'no' to that face?! :)
Firstly, if you've bought chicken breast fillets with the skin on, you'll need to pull it off... unless of course you're making something that requires you to leave the skin on.  I normally pull it off and give to my very grateful puppies - but not too often or they get fat and the Vet yells at me!

Next, separate the tenderloins - it's the little flappy bit underneath the breast.  Again these should just pull off.  Tenderloins are great in a stir fry, on a skewer or crumbed as quick mini-schnitzels.  They cook very quickly so I normally store them all together in one bag, but store them flat so they'll defrost quickly.

Now, slice up 2 of your chicken breasts into strips... now you have about 500gr of stir-fry strips or taco strips ready to go!

Freeze the rest of your breast fillets as singles or doubles depending on how you normally cook.  Singles fit perfectly in the snack size ziplock bags and you should be able to fit between 2-4 fillets in a sandwich sized bag.
Thigh fillets are great for curries, casseroles, bbqs - anything with a longer cooking time or intense heat.  Chop some fillets into nice, big chunks, great for a curry or casserole.

Lastly - and most importantly - grab a permanent marker and write the contents and date on the bags!!  Or put stickers on your containers.  I also include the approx weight just as a quick reference point.  Oh and don't forget, you can only freeze items for certain periods of time.  (Check out my Freezer Guide)

Can anyone make raw chicken look glamorous?!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Recipe: Asian pork mince stir-fry

I call this dish "Asian" as it has definite Asian influences (soy, coriander, cashews) but I doubt it's very authentic... however it is a bowl of yumminess!
Om nom nom!!

It's my 5 yr old niece's favorite dinner, makes great leftovers, is SUPER quick to make and is such an easy dish to modify! If you don't have green beans, use carrots or water chestnuts or add all three to bulk out the dish. Don't like fresh coriander? I won't judge you... ok maybe a little... use fresh basil, or thai basil. You get the idea!

This also makes a great filling for San Choi Bow, Spring Rolls or an Asian Omelette - if you're not sure how to make these dishes, I promise I'll post details in the very near future!

Ingredients
500gr Pork mince
2 tbsps sesame oil
3 spring onions, finely sliced
2 clove(s) fresh garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
Fresh chilli (as much as you like, or none for kiddies) deseeded, finely chopped
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c oyster sauce
1/2 c water
1/2 chicken stock cube
2 tsps brown sugar
300 g green beans, cut into 2cm lengths
Small handful roasted cashews, chopped
Small handful fresh coriander, chopped
Cooked rice to serve

Method
- If you haven't got cooked rice, get this going first as it will generally take the longest to cook.
- Make sure everything is chopped and ready to go - you should be able to get this to the table in 10-15 minutes!
- Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, water, stock and brown sugar in a bowl and set aside for later.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium to high heat.
- Add oil and heat until smoking.
- If your frying pan is big enough, crumble all the mince into it and cook for a few minutes, breaking up lumps as you go. You want to brown the mince all over. (If your pan is small, do this in batches)
- Remove the mince from the pan and set aside.
- Reheat the pan and cook the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chilli for 1 minute.
- Add beans and stirfry for 2 minutes.
- Add cooked mince and sauce mixture and allow to cook for 2 minutes or until sauce has reduced and thickened a little.
- Add cashews and coriander, mix well and you're done!
- Serve immediately with cooked rice.

NOTE: I've noted this recipe as Gluten-Free, but you MUST check your labels to ensure this, every product is different and some manufacturers are sneaking gluten into their products.