Easy but not necessarily cheap!

I managed to get away from home last week. My bestie and I headed down the coast for a few days of eating, drinking and general slothliness. The weather has been totally schizo here in Melbourne – worse than usual!

So we left on a really warm but wildly windy morning, enjoyed a very warm and calm evening and woke to a freezing cold, miserable rainy with hail day the next day – schizo, yes, but perfect for lounging.

We had brought so much food with us – we did not need to leave the house for anything! Good  thing considering the weather.

Of course time away for me means plenty of cheese, avocado, bread and wine – so I bought lots!

I bought my favorites: Roquefort, D’affinois and Jarlsberg! The bread was still warm when we bought it and I chargrilled some zucchini and capsicum…so good!

Nigella Lawson made this wonderful ‘dip’ in an old episode and I have been making it ever since.

Roquamole – easy to make, not cheap but definitely worth it!

Ingredients
1 cup crumbled Roquefort
1/4 cup sour cream
2 ripe avocados
2 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions
1/4 cup jarred sliced pickled green jalapeños (I also added red chillies)
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Directions
Crumble or mash the blue cheese with the sour cream in a bowl. Mash in the avocados. If they are ripe, a fork should be all you need. Roughly chop the sliced jalapenos and stir them into the mixture along with the finely sliced spring onions.  Add red chiilies if you like – I like!!!!!

Toast some Turkish bread rolls and spoon this on top – or on crackers or even just by the spoonful.

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Creamy Pasta Bolognese (Pastitsio)

There is nothing special about this. I’m not a chef nor am I an exceptional, super refined, make everything look awesome type of cook. I just have an absolute love of how food makes me feel.

My mother began her work as a domestic at The Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne in the 1950s – without a word of English, she cleaned, mopped, swept and changed sheets on beds – she pushed trolleys and was always on time for work and never missed a day. Her boss liked her and promoted her to the kitchen.

There weren’t any Greeks working in the kitchen so mum learned to speak English very quickly. My grandmother was a wonderful cook and had taught my mother a thing or two about food. Mum was pretty disgusted with the quality of food and how it was being prepared at the hospital. She remembers quite clearly a day when she became very frustrated watching the cook trying to make a simple dish – with very little English and a lot of nerve, mum pushed the cook aside and took over the preparation of the dish – she became the head cook there with no qualifications and not being able to read or write a single word in English. They just told her what was to be prepared and she did it…and she did it for the next 30 years!

She had her photo taken and published in the newspaper in the 1970s with the Prime Minister of the time (Malcolm Fraser) who was in that hospital for an operation and was genuinely shocked with the quality of the food – he asked to meet the cook as hospital food is never good and wanted to know who was preparing his meals. Of course his meals were being specially prepared for him – by my mother and a very small team of people – you couldn’t dish up the same crap you gave to the common folk now could you!

So, this is how my love for food began – I watched mum and listened and shopped with her. She taught me to make this when I was about 8 years old – I had to make the béchamel sauce and I remember the milk splattering all over me and mum telling me ‘a little at a time’ and ‘whisk gently until combined…now add more…’ always grate fresh nutmeg in’… sometimes she would slap my hand and take the whisk and say “watch – learn!”

So, mum had come over on Tuesday and we had lunch and a glass of wine together and I made this while she was at my place and gave her half  to take home to share with dad. Yes, it would have been much easier for dad to come over to eat as this is not easy to cut up while it’s hot but as dad said… “Nah, can’t be arsed moving from the couch – Greek news is on – send some home will ya!” – Yep, that’s my dad!

It’s pure comfort food and reminds me of my childhood.

I guess there is something very special about this after all.

You are meant to let it set and cut it in squares - but I can never wait that long!

You are meant to let it set and cut it in squares – but I can never wait that long!

I just love it creamy like this!

I just love it creamy like this!

Holds its shape better and tastes even more wonderful the next day!

Holds its shape better and tastes even more wonderful the next day!

Enjoy

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  •  ground beef (or ground lamb, or a mixture of both)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 bottle tomato puree/pasata
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (or Kefalotyri if available)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pkg. #2 Macaroni for Pastitsio. You can substitute with rigatoni or penne. I used these shell like ones because that’s what I had.
  • 4 egg whites (reserve the yolks for bechamel sauce)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • For the bechamel sauce:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 litre milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten lightly
  • a pinch or two of ground nutmeg

Begin with the Meat Filling:

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.  Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.

Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and allow sauce to simmer over low heat for about 20 – 30 mins. I really like to cook it down and not too watery at all.  While sauce is simmering put water on to boil for pasta.

Cook pasta noodles according to package directions and drain well.  Rinse noodles in colander under cold water to cool them slightly.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in pasta pot and return cooked noodles to the pot. Stir in beaten egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the noodles.

Brush the bottom and sides of the lasagna pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with half the pasta noodles and press down so that they are somewhat flat.

Add the meat filling in an even layer to the pasta. Top with remaining pasta noodles and flatten top layer as best you can.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C degrees while you prepare the béchamel  sauce.

Bechamel Sauce:

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste or roux. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.

Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.

Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks. Add pinch of nutmeg. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to heat and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir.

One way to tell if the béchamel sauce is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce holds a visible line then it is thick enough.

Pour the bechamel over the pasta noodles making sure to pour sauce down in to the corners as well. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan (or Greek equivalent) cheese. Bake in 180C degree oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.

Another Risotto

I think I’ve been making a different risotto once a week now for quite a while. I just can’t get enough.

I have loads of time on my hands and there’s a certain type of comfort I feel in standing and stirring the pot, only taking a break in order to sip my wine. I feel special – not, ‘don’t eat the paste’ special but happy and in love with the knowledge that making risotto is not a scary or indeed a fussy thing at all – I love making it and certainly love eating it.

I had brunched with the girls earlier in the day – I know right! – brunched! – Pft – so wanky but there you have it – we brunched! On my way home I found myself wandering through an amazing international grocers and found a wondrous collection of mushrooms and bags of carnaroli rice – dinner for the evening was set.

My parents have this thing for dropping by with huge amounts of things they find on special – so, another 5 kilo bag of red onions were begging to be used. Last time they did this I made French Onion Soup but as it’s just me here on my little lonesome now, that wasn’t an option.

I spent half the afternoon slicing onions and the other half caramelizing them. I now have a jar of sweet caramalised onions just waiting to be added to whatever they go with.

Mushroom and Caramalised Onion Risotto it was…and it was all mine! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 red onions, chopped
  • butter and olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • whatever mushrooms you like just use lots of them
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons dried herbs – I used an Italian mix
  • 1 cup carnaroli or aborio rice – I used carnaroli
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 litre (approx) vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon good flaky salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to garnish
  • some more butter and parmesan
  • caramalised onions

Place oil and half the butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Cook onions stirring, for 6-8 minutes until soft. Add garlic and rice, stirring to coat grains, then add wine and simmer for 1-2 minutes or until almost evaporated. Stir in stock, a ladleful at a time, allowing each to be absorbed before adding the next. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 20 minutes or until al dente (you may not need all the stock – I didn’t).

Drink wine while you do this otherwise go away and don’t make it!

Melt remaining 30g butter in a pan over high heat. Add the caramelized onions and chopped mushrooms and fry for 4 -5 minutes or until mushrooms are golden. Season.

Add the onions and mushrooms to the risotto and stir through. Add more butter and parmesan – love this risotto really creamy but not soupy so make sure you don’t over do the stock.

Serve risotto immediately and make lots of ‘mmmmm and aaahhhhh’ noises – drink wine with it… 🙂 🙂 🙂

lovely ingredients

lovely ingredients

 

 

mmmmeeeeaaatttt - for vegetarians!

mmmmeeeeaaatttt – for vegetarians!

 

frying the onions and mushrooms together makes the house smell awesome!

frying the onions and mushrooms together makes the house smell awesome!

 

I make myself so happy!

I make myself so happy!

 

 

 

Easter #1

Salted Caramel Easter Egg Slice

Thought I’d better get out of my lazy bender and post something. I’ve had writers block plus some really less than average cooking of late – nothing worth posting. Up until a week ago it was still too hot to even think about cooking or sitting still long enough to think of anything to say on this site. I just haven’t been able to get into the cooking/photographing/writing spirit this year. Energy levels and motivation have been at an all time low but am finally feeling a little more like my usual smart arse self. So hopefully that means some better food and more posts…maybe…

Easter has come and gone for most people but I have another Easter coming up in May, such is the joy of having a Greek background.

There will be some serious baking happening then and I will even take a day off work to keep up my Easter baking tradition with mum. Any excuse for a day off work…I will even become religious…

My partner’s family are Italian so there was a Sunday feast at their place. Some wonderful food and excellent desserts and the best red wine I’ve had for a long time. I contributed a couple of desserts. Dessert #1 was my Chocolate and Ricotta Cake which I have posted on here before, so I’m not posting it again…not even going to post a link to it – go find it if ya wanna! Dessert #2 was an icky sticky wonderfully sickening salted caramel chocolate easter egg slice – my brain almost melted from the sweetness but it was magnifico!

Here’s the recipe:

  • 375g dark chocolate
  • 125g caramel chocolate
  • 100g mini marshmallows
  • 100g shortbread biscuits (or your favourite plain biscuit)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 200g caramel filled Easter eggs
  • a pinch of salt

1. Line a square 19 x 19 cm / 7.6 x 7.6 inch baking tin with baking paper and unwrap the easter eggs so you are ready to go. Place the two types of chocolate in a large bowl and melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave. I always use the microwave for this as I generally fuck up the double boiler thingy.

2. Stir in the mini marshmallows, slightly crushed shortbread biscuits and dried cranberries. Ensure everything is evenly mixed and then place in the prepared tin pushing out to the edges.

3. While the chocolate remains melted, add the Easter eggs. Cut some in half to show the caramel. Sprinkle with a little salt over the top evenly and allow to set. Cut into sixteen generous sized squares.

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The Need for Peas

Chicken In a Creamy White Wine Sauce

So, after having Friday off work thanks to this dreaded cold, I went in yesterday…and suffered!

The kids were quiet as they could tell I wasn’t well and they don’t like it when I’m angry. In fact no one likes me when I’m angry! I did however, keep in 3 boys at lunch time because they made my headache worse. No abuse of power here I promise. They were supposed to be working in groups and these three decided it would be funny to pick on the kid in the group who can’t read very well…result…half of their lunch time gone! Don’t mess with me when I’m sick.

My afternoon meeting also didn’t go down very well either. We were working in groups doing what we call a moderation task. This is where we swap essays from kids and mark each other’s work and then compare marks…keeps the marking process honest. Well apparently I’m a tough marker and the teacher didn’t agree that his student deserved such a low grade. Three of us marked it and two of us gave it a fairly average score and the third teacher gave it a much higher score. I was signalled out for an explanation…no depth…no voice…poorly constructed paragraphs….blah! blah! blah!

This process is fine when you are moderating with people who are reasonable but it was clear that this teacher wanted to jump the table and put my head through the wall. It’s not the first time I’ve had ‘words’ with him and he doesn’t like me very much. Of course when I get on my high horse I can come across as, how did another teacher put it? oh yeah! Intimidating and scary…anyway he took offense and I probably should have stayed home. Once my partners in crime and I got back to the sanctuary of our office we let rip about him… “he’s such a dick!”… “doesn’t know his arse from his elbow!” … “I just wanna punch him!” … (we spend way too much time with kids!) In fact it got ridiculous (I think ‘soft cock’ was mentioned) and we found ourselves laughing so hard, we couldn’t get in our cars to drive home especially after I came out with “Yeah! I wanna punch him…in the dick…with one of these…because I don’t really wanna touch him…”

I stayed home today…shouldn’t really be near people!

What does all this have to do with chicken? Nothing really apart from it was the only thing I got right yesterday. Except that I was so hungry that for the first time I forgot to take a photo…and it looked so damn good!

Chicken thigh fillets fried in oil and butter, in large pan until golden. Add fresh thyme sprigs and white wine and cook down. Toss in capers and place lid on so chicken cooks well. Remove chicken when it’s done and set aside. Add cream and wholegrain mustard to the pan and combine well with the white wine. Reduce a little then return chicken thighs and spoon over all the yumminess. Serve with salad or vegetables. I had a major craving for peas so I made a whole bag (peas being the only thing I buy that’s frozen) as well as some steamed baby carrots and corn cobs all drenched in some of the French butter I had left. So delicious and so sorry I didn’t get a pic…

Off to the doctor now and then back to bed 🙂

Truffle! Truffle! Truffle!

Truffle Oil Linguine

My day trip to the wineries not only saw me come home with some great wine, it also provided me with the opportunity to indulge myself in some other amazing food stuff…the nicest goats cheese I’ve ever tasted as well as a jar of chiili for cheese thingy and some very expensive but amazing truffle oil.

I was in food heaven on Wednesday but came crashing back down to hellish Earth bound reality today when I saw my bank balance! OMG! I’m now broke (thank you truffle oil!) and have to wait another week and a half til pay day…oh well at least there’s lots of goodness and love in my pantry!

My handsome man says I have ‘issues’ when it comes to the rapture I feel for food and great produce…seriously if he lived on his own he would probably buy plain label everything from the stupidmarket  because “It’s all the same isn’t it?”

Well, it isn’t all the same at all actually! As he has slowly but surely learned as I do not hear him complain when I serve up food he has sworn he would never eat because “Ive had that before and it was awful!”…Well, he hasn’t had it the way I make it – the Helen way! It’s been a great experience for me to know that I have opened up his world when it comes to food…and while we are on the subject of having ‘issues,’ this is a man who has converted our 3rd bedroom into a dvd store. He owns more than 12,000 dvd’s and a few hundred blu rays (yes, you read that right) and buys collectable figurines, mainly of the horror genre…talk about issues.

It would not be an unusual thing for us to sit on the couch, each on our own laptops for hours, not saying a word, him looking up movies to add to this months order and me looking up food things I can buy on line, or recipes, or my other love…shoes! A match made in addiction heaven!

Well, this post was supposed to be about the truffle oil linguine I made for dinner tonight. It doesn’t look like much but it tasted incredible and really, there are no words, just Homer Simpson like drool… 🙂

Ingredients

  • linguine
  • Salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • Few drops white truffle oil, or to taste
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • reserve some of the pasta water (about 1/4 cup)

Method

Make your linguine ( I don’t think I need to give you instructions for this).

In a bowl whisk the egg, cream, Parmesan, a few drops of truffle oil and white pepper.

Put the drained pasta back into the pan you cooked it in, then add the butter and about 1 tablespoonful of the cooking water. Stir to mix.

Stir in the egg mixture and keep mixing so that the pasta becomes smooth, soft and lightly coated. Taste to see if it needs any salt or any more truffle oil and add accordingly.