Lunch with Friends

Greek Pastitsio (Lasagne), Spinach Pie and Marshmallow Brownies

Where do I begin?

We had friends over for lunch. Nice way to spend the day before I have to go back to work tomorrow!

I have to post this but I’m so full from stuffing my face over lunch today as well as being utterly depressed about having to go back to work tomorrow that I think I can only manage to tell you what we ate and post the photos…leave the recipes for another time.

I will say that my handsome man’s nonna gave us some of her home made pasta and I used that to make The Pastitsio, which is the Greek version of lasagne. The difference being that instead of using lasagne sheets you use long spaghetti – pretty thick and tube like – and top with a bechamel sauce, making sure that the meat sauce is not too saucy…there you go, no recipe required!

I will, however post the recipe for The Spanakopita…maybe tomorrow. It’s delicious and just like my mother, I never use phyllo pastry, but make my own. However, I have recently found one imported from Greece in my local continental supermarket (I may never make my own again, it is so good!)

I have also already posted The Brownie recipe but this time I topped it with marshmallow fluff and choc chips and placed under the grill (the broiler?).

Anyway, right now I feel like I’ve eaten so much that even my fingers are struggling to type.

We started with a selection of dips, garlic crackers, fennel salami, feta cheese and amazing marinated baby figs. We then indulged in the utterly yummy spanakopita fresh from the oven. The Pastitsio was next and it was so tasty with the home made pasta that I think I will never buy store bought pasta again. I eat salad all year round so I made a green salad with cos lettuce, cucumber, parsley and parmesan cheese. Brownies, as above, for dessert with coffee.

WOW! I’m off to bed and it’s not even 8pm!

In Love With Leeks

Potato and Leek Soup

Still Winter…Still Cold!

I really shouldn’t complain about winter in Melbourne. Yes, the air gets chilly…Yes, it rains…Yes, it gets dark early…but it NEVER reaches sub zero temperatures. In fact it hardly ever gets close to zero and it doesn’t snow! You could of course go to the snow resorts and do some snow stuff but as I grew up around the corner from the beach, I am more of a beach girl.

The fact that I like to pretend during winter that it is summer by turning up the central heating and dressing like I’m on a tropical island is a clear indicator that I’m not about to visit the snow resorts anytime soon. I have been to said resorts and it was really cold outside and the sky was an amazing blue but I stayed indoors by the open fire drinking wine for most of it! ¬†Snow looks awesome but seeing it on the telly is quite enough for me.

All that aside, I don’t hate winter. My birthday is in winter. I love to wear boots. I love drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows. I love slow cooked comfort food. I cook more in winter than I do in summer. I love winter food, especially soup…pumpkin soup being one of my favourites. Potato and Leek soup comes in a close second best for me.

I worked out, as I was making potato and leek soup for dinner tonight, that I hadn’t made this for about 2 years. How do I know? I remember that I made it as a starter for guests one winter night (I remember meals by the company with whom it was shared)…also by the fact that these guests have never been invited back to our house as they are not very pleasant people…I was pleasant and hospitable, cooked a crankin’ meal but no dice…they ain’t comin’ back!

So, of course, the poor soup copped the blame and it has taken me 2 years to separate my distaste for those people with the soup. It’s like when you get food poisoning and you can’t eat whatever made you sick ever again. In light of this, I added some spices this time, so it’s not exactly the same soup…a new beginning…welcome back potato and leek soup ūüôā

Potato and Leek Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 – 3 tbs olive or garlic oil
  • 1 brown onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 4 medium (about 700g) peeled desiree, pink eye or pontiac potatoes, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 leeks, pale section only, washed, dried, thinly sliced
  • 1.25L (5 cups) vegetable stock
  • pancetta
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) thickened cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbs finely chopped fresh parsley

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until the onion softens. Add the potato and leek and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until leek softens.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and gently boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until potato is soft. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.

Transfer one-third of the potato mixture to the jug of a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a clean saucepan. Repeat in 2 more batches with the remaining potato mixture.

Finely chop pancetta and fry until crunchy. Tip out onto absorbant paper.

Place the soup over medium heat. Add the cream and stir to combine. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until hot. Taste and season with salt.

Ladle the soup among serving bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and top with fried and crunchy pancetta. Serve immediately.

Restocking

Meat Shopping

The end of the holidays are upon us here in Melbourne. Back to school on Monday and back to planning ahead for the evening meal. No more last minute dinner plans and no more “There’s plenty of time for that to defrost.”

My freezer was looking rather sad. To be honest I had used up every bit of meat I had bought a couple of months ago and it was time to restock. My pantry was still bursting at the hinges so no problem there but the freezer contained nothing more than a box of imported bake in the oven pretzels, (I don’t even know why!), a box of frozen raspberries and two freezer bags of my handsome man’s nonna’s home made spaghetti, which we are making this Sunday.

Time for a shop at the wonderful meat wholesalers close by to my place. I love that place but today I wasn’t really looking forward to it. It was a cold, wet, dark and dreary day and that place is always cold…great to escape the heat in Summer but on a cold Winter day, it’s a killer. The people who work there wear gloves and scarves. This is an indoor place but the temperature is the equivalent to those meat lockers you see in the movies.

Shopping done and near frost bitten, I cranked up the heating in the car and I had made sure I had left the central heating on at home in order to thaw out as quickly as possible. Unpacking meat and bagging everything up is a big process for me and I leave around two hours to get it done (excluding the shopping…I’m talking just the bagging up of the meat).

I separate, marinate and label and date everything that goes in. Plenty of time spent doing this means loads of time saved later. You do this because as the meat begins to freeze, the marinating process has well and truly begun and as it thaws, it continues to marinate, leaving you with meat that is full of flavour and tender. Loads of time saved and great tasting food after a long, tiring day at work.

For minced meat (ground beef) I mix up all the spices and herbs I want with the meat and bag it, label it and it’s ready to go for bolognese or hamburgers. Legs of lamb are coated in garlic oil and dry rosemary, ready for fresh rosemary and garlic cloves once it’s defrosted. I probably only leave sausages and meats I might use for soup stocks unmarinated.

Here are some of the marinades I make up for the various cuts of meat that go into the freezer:

Honey Soy Garlic 

Ketchup Manis

Oyster or Mushroom Soy

Crushed garlic

Honey

Sesame Oil

Add this to chicken pieces like mini drumsticks, wings and strips for a stir fry.

Lemon, Garlic Oil and Mixed Dry Herbs

Use this on chicken breasts or thighs as well as to the above chicken nibbles or to lamb chops and shanks. I even use this on whole family sized chickens for roasting.

Red Wine, Mixed Herbs and Olive Oil

I use this on different cuts of beef; for slow cooking or steaks again as well as on lamb shanks and add some Middle Eastern Spices for a more exotic taste.

Lemon Grass, Ginger, Garlic, Sesame Oil and Tsao Xing Wine

I use this on beef or chicken strips for stir frying.

Maple Syrup, Light Soy Sauce, Chilli and Garlic Oil

I use this on pork ribs (I also use a tangy BBQ marinade for pork ribs)

There are so many different combinations you can use to marinate beef, chicken, lamb and pork…all wonderful and all great time savers when you’re ready to cook. I just take the bag out of the freezer before I go to bed and by the time I get home from work the next day, it’s ready to go!

Yes, you have to think about what you want to marinate your meat in and Yes, you have to decide what you will be eating the following night before you go to bed but I kinda figure that is half the fun. Just a peek into your freezer and seeing all that meat already marinated and just ready for you to say “Hmmm…I think red wine and chilli steaks are the go tomorrow night!”

I could go on and on and on but I think you get the picture. I love doing this and my bestie, who was with me today, absolutely gets a kick out of watching me do this.

I did this for her freezer a couple of months ago and she was just amazed how much her appetite increased. My bestie has Multiple Sclerosis and has had to give up work. Her appetite was almost non existant so I dragged her out and we shopped for meat and marinated, labelled and dated everything. I was thrilled to see her appetite soar purely because she didn’t have to think about anything too hard…just open her freezer and with all the tasty marinades she actually couldn’t wait for dinner and eat…a simple thing like this has changed her whole attitude to food and with frequent hospital visits and physio she hasn’t got the time or energy to think too much about what to cook…she now has us over for home made meat pies and beef stroganoff. She is motivated, healthier and happier.

This is not revolutionary but sometimes we get caught up in the day to day grind and we forget that food is not just fuel. It’s soul healing and wonderful and makes us who we are. If we just constantly shove crap into our bodies then we will constantly feel like crap!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from anti junk food, in fact I love it but you can’t live on it and with all this great food out there, why would you want to?

Make every night a special food night, make it a priority and enjoy!

Heavenly Herbs

Herb Scones

Here’s another one of those different country, different name things…we call them scones…you might call them biscuits. Here, our biscuits are always sweet with some sort of cream filling, like an ‘oreo’ or ‘monte carlo’ or a ‘tim tam’ etc…we’ve also just started to use the term ‘cookie’ for biscuits that look like cookies because that’s what cafes call them.

Scones have always been scones…something you have with strawberry jam and whipped cream…and of course there are your savoury scones made in the traditional sweet scone shape or the shape I made today. The recipe I used was obviously an Aussie one as they were called scones not biscuits but my friend commented today that I had made wonderful herb biscuits…I get confused but whatever you want to call them I don’t mind because they are wonderful.

I wasn’t keen on the combination of herbs used in the recipe I followed so I used it as a guide and looked through my ever expanding pantry to find spices that I thought would spark these up a bit as I wasn’t going to put cheese in them.

I used all fresh herbs and freshly ground spices and they went beautifully with the dips we had at another girlie get together this morning.

Here’s the basic recipe and I will add what I used…you, of course, can use your favourite herbs and spices.

Ingredients

  • 2¬†cups flour
  • 1/4¬†cup fresh parsley¬†chopped
  • 1¬†tablespoon sugar
  • 1¬†tablespoon dill, chopped
  • 3¬†teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1¬†teaspoon fresh rosemary¬†or¬†1/4¬†teaspoon dried rosemary,¬†chopped (I used fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground garam marsala (you could use ready bought stuff but I always make my own)
  • 1/2¬†teaspoon salt
  • 1/3¬†cup butter
  • 1/2¬†cup milk
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
Method
Heat oven to 200C.
Lightly grease cookie sheet. In a large bowl, combine flour, parsley, sugar, dill, baking powder, rosemary, garam marsala, sweet paprika and salt; mix well.
With pastry blender or fork, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (this is what the recipe said but I always use my hands, using the traditional ‘rubbing in’ method).
Stir in milk and egg just until moistened.On floured surface, gently knead dough 10 times.
Place on cookie sheet; roll or pat dough into a 6″ round.Cut 8 wedges; separate slightly.
Bake for 15-20 min or until golden.
Serve warm.

Rugging up with Risotto

Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto

So, my second week of holidays and I have to say that I have now totally relaxed. I have also stuffed up my body clock, going to bed at all hours…sleeping during the day and staying up late at night…going back to work next week is going to be hell!

Last night my handsome man and I fell asleep on the couch at around 8:15pm and woke just after midnight…just a wee nap! Of course we were wide awake after that so decided a classic zombie film was in order. “Return of the Living Dead” and a bag of sweet chilli and sour cream potato chips and before we knew it we were hitting the sack at around 4:30am. Needless to say we were fast asleep on the couch later in the afternoon after a day out in the cold.

Groggy with sleep and a glass of wine in hand meant that some pottering in the kitchen was needed. It was cold outside and warm indoors, setting the scene for a creamy risotto. Fresh Asparagus in the fridge and Portabella Mushrooms in the pantry…all set to go. I always use butter – I love butter but you could use oil if you like and make sure you use the best parmesan you can find…It makes all the difference.

Ingredients

  • 50 g butter (use oil if you like, about a 1/4 cup)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves,¬†minced
  • 1/2¬†cup dry white wine
  • 2¬†cups arborio rice
  • 6¬†cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • fresh asparagus trimmed and cut into 3 cm pieces
  • 250¬†g¬†small portabella mushrooms,¬†sliced
  • 3/4¬†cup good parmesan cheese,¬†shredded
  • 70g extra butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Method
Heat butter or oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; saute gently for 3 to 4 minutes until softened. Increase heat to high.  Add rice and stir until completely coated with butter or oil and cook for 2 minutes. Add white wine and stir through until wine is almost absorbed.Add 1 cup of hot chicken broth, stirring constantly until most of the liquid is absorbed by the rice.Gradually stir in remaining broth 1 cup at a time; cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup.Heat 3 tablespoons oil and some butter in a large nonstick frying pan. Add asparagus and saute for 1 minute then stir in mushrooms. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until mushrooms just begin to colour.

Remove from heat and set aside and add to risotto when it is nearly finished cooking.

Risotto is ready after the last cup of broth has been stirred in and rice has thickened. If risotto is not ready, you can add hot water. It should be soft but with a little bite to it.Remove from heat and stir in extra butter, asparagus, mushrooms and parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper; top with additional shaved parmesan, if desired. Place lid on risotto and let stand for 2 minutes. This will help it become nice and creamy.

I Say Eggplant…You Say Aubergine

Eggplant Parmagiana

It’s difficult to remember who calls ‘what’ what…if that makes sense…

Eggplant = Aubergine

Coriander = Cilantro

Spring Onion = Green Onions = Scallions

Zucchinis = Courgettes

You get my meaning here. I tend to write in Australian English which by definition is British English but some of our food names are the same as American not British and sometimes it’s the other way around.

I also always use Aust/Eng spelling so many red lines appear under so many of my words as I type.

Some things, however are always the same and that is the joy one gets from eating simple dishes that taste amazing in the comfort of ones home…in any language.

Tonight’s simple dish of eggplant parmigiana is such a dish and if you will excuse me, I’m going to leave typing this for a while in order to eat this very dish with my very handsome man…

If you’re interested, that took around 30 mins to serve up, eat and chat…really was wonderful ūüôā

Ingredients

  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 4 small eggplant, thinly sliced
  • 700g jar Italian tomato pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 140g parmesan cheese, grated
  • 180g cherry bocconcini cheese, torn in half
  • 1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs

Method

Preheat oven to 200¬įC. Lightly grease a 5.5cm-deep, 20cm x 28cm (base) baking dish. Heat a barbecue grill or chargrill pan over high heat.

Spray both sides of eggplant slices generously with oil. Grill eggplant, in batches, for 2 minutes each side or until charred and tender. Remove to a plate. Spray with oil.

Place one-third of the eggplant over base of dish. Top with one-third of the pasta sauce, basil, parmesan and bocconcini. Repeat layers twice with remaining eggplant, sauce, basil, parmesan and bocconcini. Top with breadcrumbs. Spray with oil. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbling around the edges and golden. Stand for 10 minutes. Serve.

More on Pizza

Potato Pizza

Once again I made pizza for dinner. It seems to be a once a fortnight thing for me now. My partner’s pizza generally stays the same but I tend to change what I have depending on my mood and whatever I am craving at the time.

It’s the same dough recipe I have used before but for some reason it turned out better than the others. Looking through the pantry I noticed the potatoes and realised I had a craving for them. I also had some D’Affinois Cheese which had been a part of a wonderful platter of bits and pieces from lunch with the girls a few days ago. So my potato with cheese and rosemary pizza was born. Getting the cheese out of the fridge resulted in an even bigger surprise. I found an unopened tub of garlic dip which I had bought from a new gourmet supermarket close by.

This pizza was getting better and better.

I made the pizza dough and spread really tasty olive oil over the base. I do have to say here that this oil comes from my dad’s olive groves in Greece. His nephew looks after them and sends dad oil every year which he then bottles up for us. It’s not a cooking oil but for salads and used to drizzle over feta cheese or olives. It has a peppery taste and can be quite over powering if used in larger quantities. Perfect for pizza!

I then spread a heap of the garlic dip over the base and arranged thinly sliced partially cooked potatoes over it. I topped this with the wonderful creamy D”Affinois Cheese and scattered rosemary sprigs over the lot.

A seriously scrumptious pizza. You must give this a try ūüôā

Red Letter Day

Red Velvet Cake

July 5th, four years ago was what I consider a Red Letter Day for me. It was the day I went on my first date with Mr Handsome. I had known him for a while but this was our first date. It was a date that changed my whole life. It was a date that breathed air into me. It was date where I welcomed the universe back into my life. It was a date that I will never forget.

Four awesome years later, Mr Handsome still fascinates me and makes me laugh…Corny?…Maybe!

But it is what it is…and that is…Wonderful!

So, on the night of our 4th anniversary of that date (we are not married, so we celebrate our 1st date) I made us a Red Velvet Cake.

I have never made one before and I was quite pleased with the outcome. It didn’t have that metallic aftertaste many people talk about because of the food colouring. The texture was great but the cream cheese frosting could have been beaten more and maybe a little less butter as it wasn’t as white as I would have liked it but it still tasted great.

The Happy Anniversary lettering is wonky but then again so am I…I don’t care much for perfection in this area. I’m not competing on Master Chef and I certainly have no desire to bake/cook for a living. I bake/cook purely for pleasure and am delighted by the wonderful process of putting this with that and it turning into something that becomes a part of some of my best memories.

So, Happy Four Years Mr. Handsome. Here’s to many, many more.

(I haven’t included the recipe here as I used a combination of 2 different recipes I found on line and they have disappeared…strange…very strange…when I find them, I will post the recipe)

Dairy Free – Leave out the frosting

Dairy Free Chocolate Cake

I mess around with things…can’t help it. So when a recipe says it’s dairy free and to dust the cake with icing sugar – I go ahead and make a thick vanilla frosting with butter etc…

I was actually looking for eggless cakes – there was only one egg in the house and as I’m now on holidays and planned to spend the whole day in my pj’s but wanted to bake a cake, I needed to find a recipe that didn’t contain eggs.

Anyhoo…I found one. No eggs, milk or butter. It was the most delish cake – moist and chocolately. I’m going to use this recipe from now on.

Of course you don’t have to pile on vanilla frosting and chocolate sprinkles but I was in a fun mood (Holidays!…Yay!…)

Ingredients

1 1/3 cup unsifted plain flour

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 tsp bicarb of soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbspn cider vinegar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup water

1 tbsp icing sugar

Method

Pre heat oven to 190C

Grease and flour a 20cm cake tin.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarb of soda and salt.

Make a well in the centre and add vanilla, cider and oil. Gradually stir in the water.

Continue stirring until thoroughly blended but do not over mix.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 25 – 30 mins.

Cool in tin for 10 mins then take cake out and cool completely on wire rack.

Sift the icing sugar over the top and serve.

Obviously mine does not have a light dusting of icing sugar but a thick layer of vanilla frosting with chocolate sprinkles.