Friday, 31 March 2017

Out for the day then feed a group? Eeek!!

During the week, I got wind of an impending family get together, which was going to wind up leaving the small group at a loose end. Eat out? Not on my watch!!

I put out the offer of a casual feed if anyone wanted - just asked that each of the three couples provide a bottle. Great!! I didn't need to drive.

In a situation like this, you want nice fresh food, but you will be away from home, so how to achieve this poses some issues. I decided to make 3 items - one which would improve overnight, one which took less than 15 minutes to cook, and one which was a combination of these. 6 people, so it should be plenty of food too.

Everything needed to be eaten from ramekins or in the hand.

A big pot of Chilli Con Carne was first cab off the rank. Slow cooked, and definitely improves over 24-36 hours. I have a new recipe which oozes smoked paprika - a true winner. (Recipe and photo later.)

A margarita pizza always wins guests over, and no veggoes in my family so plan to add bacon. I made the base while the Chilli cooked - if you have a bread maker this is a piece of cake. If not, a small effort of rising and kneading. I dry fry my pizza bases to get some char marks. Leave it to go cold, then put in a large sealable bag and into the freezer to stay fresh overnight.

Item 3 has to cook quickly. I have a recently discovered specialty which I showed in my last blog - a penne with chorizo and bacon, tomato cream sauce with pine nuts. Perfect. No action required on day 1.

Day 2. Water the herbs so they are nice and fresh. Take pizza base from the freezer. Chilli can stay in the fridge for the day. I make fresh pasta, so I get that going. It can happily sit, covered from flies, for the day. I pre chop the onions, bacon and chorizo and bag up into the fridge. Roast the pine nuts and keep aside. That is all I can do for this until the guests are here.

Assemble the pizza. Brush the base with extra virgin olive oil. (Don't worry if it is still frozen, it won't be for long.) Put chopped bacon on if using, followed by chopped tomatoes, torn basil leaves and mozzarella cheese. Cover loosely and put in the fridge.

Go and do your family duty.

Uggh. Done.

OK fire up!! The family arrives in a hit, so somebody needs to be deputised to ensure everyone has a drink if they want and generally host. Get to work. (Not sure yet if I will include the half-drunk video.......)

Get the pizza and the chilli out of the fridge. Heat the oven to 180C.

Put the chilli on the back burner and give it a stir every now and then. Job done. Pop the pizza into the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

Boil a large pot of well salted water and put the pasta in - 6 mins for fresh, or according to packet instructions for dried.

Get a large pan out, and heat some oil in it. (I use rice bran oil for cooking. High smoke point and it doesn't kill orangutans in the making.) Fry off your bag of onion, bacon etc., on medium heat for 5 minutes.

Once the onions etc. are nice and soft and the bacon is cooked, stir in a tin of diced tomatoes. (I get very nervous if I have less than 4 tins in my pantry.....) Once that is bubbling nicely add cream - I used a 300ml carton this time because I was making a large batch. You really only want this to come to a simmer. Drain the pasta and pour into the sauce, mix well and add the pine nuts. Mix well.

At this point, I just put the pots and pizza out and gave everyone a bowl and a serviette.

Job done.

I did promise the Chilli recipe - I'll show you Sue Style.

Mix together 2 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp. dried oregano, 1 tbsp. smoked paprika, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp garlic granules, 1-2 tsp cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Keep aside.

Other ingredients

200g pork sausages
500g minced beef
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large brown onion, halved and sliced
2 large beef stock cubes (think good quality ones.)
500ml tomato puree
1/4 cup tomato paste

2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed.

Take the meat from the sausages and keep with beef mince. Heat some oil in a large pan and cook the onions until soft - about 5 mins on medium heat. Add the meats and the garlic and fry until the meat is brown, breaking it up as you go.
Add 1 and 1/2 cups of water, then stir in everything else on the list- including your mixed spices- except for the beans. Add salt and pepper, mix well and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook slowly for 45 mins. Stir occasionally. You don't really need to, but you want to, don't you?
After that time, add the kidney beans. Check then for seasoning and adjust as required.

You can serve this as it is, or with rice, or corn chips. For a real treat, top with rounds of bread sprinkled with grated cheese and put under the grill to melt! On this occasion, I just served it as it was.

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Sunday, 12 March 2017

Simplifying recipes

I've touched on this one before, but I've also been gone a while and watched as my nieces turn into adults and claim they "can't cook." If I was young and looked at a recipe I might also be tempted to turn to the nearest takeaway. But recipes aren't as complex as they look.

I had a house guest over the weekend who was pretty rapt over my cooking. Both the main meals I presented gave the impression of being difficult and time consuming and they could be, except I am experienced. Nothing to do with whether I "can cook" or not. And there is only one way to gain experience.......

The best meal we had was a pasta dish. I made it up but probably stole it from various pasta places. I'd call it Bacon and Chorizo Penne in Tomato Cream Sauce if I had to name it. My recipe (if there was one,)  would be:

2 tablespoons cooking oil
4 slices short cut bacon chopped
1 chorizo sausage sliced
1 brown onion halved and sliced
1 clove garlic crushed
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cups uncooked penne pasta
parsley and parmesan cheese to serve

Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion until soft. Add the bacon and chorizo and lower the heat to medium. Fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. add garlic and cook for one minute.

In the meantime cook the penne in plenty of boiling salted water according to packet instructions. Drain and keep in a warm place.

In a small pan toast the pine nuts. Watch carefully as they burn easily. Put aside.

Add tomato paste and cream to the onion and bacon mix. Turn heat to low. Mix well then toss in cooked pasta. Sprinkle with pine nuts and parsely and serve in individual bowls. sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Far out. That even scared ME.

OK, so knowing what I was cooking and how to do it - I took these early steps (like way earlier in the day when I had free time...) I prepared the onion, bacon, chorizo and garlic. Popped them in a glad bag and into the fridge. Toasted the pine nuts and kept them aside - they won't go off. Mixed the cream and tomato paste - into the fridge with them. Picked and chopped the parsley at the last minute to be honest, but only took seconds.

So my revised METHOD is:
Put water for pasta on to boil. Plenty of water and plenty of salt.

Heat oil in a pan and empty out the onion mixture. When it begins to sizzle, turn heat to medium. Stir occasionally so it doesn't burn. Put your penne in to cook.

When onion mixture is cooked, add the tomato and cream and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally until pasta is done. Drain pasta well, and add to main pot. Mix well.

Serve in individual bowls, sprinkled with pine nuts, parsley and parmesan cheese.

THAT is way easier. Still needs forethought, but that comes with experience. So now I expect a niece to post a pic like the one below on Facebook, some time soon!!

Next time, I will show you how to make a pizza from the flour and water stage and make it awesome and fresh....... (Thanks Marie for that description.)

Monday, 23 February 2015

Protein for breakfast? Hell yeah!

People seriously don't give enough thought to breakfast. Throwing down a glass of juice and some cereal just won't do the trick.
I was fortunate enough during last year to be in a job where I started late morning. Grilled meat and veg at 10am became my kick starter. And I felt the difference.
Consider this - would you drive your car to Melbourne on an empty tank? Of course not. You fuel up before you go!
We can't all stomach meat etc in the early hours, so, being back in my regular job with a 5am start, I have adapted. We need protein. We need veg. I have found that within an hour of starting work I am ready to eat. I bet you are too. Most people get a "smoko" break at about this time, so here are three recipes for you. Chuck them in your office microwave and watch your workmates salivate at the smell!

1 carrot sliced
2 celery stalks  finely chopped
2 onions sliced
½ red capsicum, diced roughly
500 g beef mince
1/4 cabbage shredded
½ cup frozen corn (or peas and corn.)
1 tbs rice
1 tbsp curry powder
Pack of chicken noodle soup
½ tsp sesame oil
2 tbs oil
Salt and pepper to taste
STEP 1 Heat the oil in a pan and soften all veg except cabbage and corn.
STEP 2 Add meat and brown well.
STEP 3 Remove from heat. Add all remaining ingredients, and 3 cups water.

STEP 4 Stir well and return to the heat. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 mins, stirring occasionally.

45 g pack chicken noodle soup
1 1/2 cup boiling water
30 g butter (about 1 tbsp)
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup milk
4-6 egg hard-boiled
1 tbs parsley chopped
STEP 1 Simmer soup in water for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
STEP 2 Melt butter in saucepan and stir in curry powder and flour.
STEP 3 Add milk gradually and bring to boil stirring constantly.
STEP 4 Add soup and bring to boil again. Add sliced eggs and parsley.
STEP 5 Reheat and serve with rice.

(also works with rice or Quinoa.)
1 chicken breast fillet, poached or pan fried.
2 cups cooked freekeh*
1 small onion, sliced
Fresh veg of choice – Brussels sprouts, caulie, carrot are a good mix. About 1 cup diced.
*Cook freekeh according to packet directions, adding a teaspoon of either olive or coconut oil, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of turmeric – I use the microwave method. (If you do that, open the micro immediately after initial cooking is done – there is a lot of condensation…)
While the freekeh cooks, stir fry your veg in a bit more oil.
Use a couple of forks to “pull” the chicken into shreds.
Stir everything together and enjoy.

(You can do this without meat, but I prefer the protein, or substitute chopped egg.)

All of these are really easy, give you a great shot of protein and will keep for a few days in the fridge. Yummy enough to have every day (though I have a 3 day rule here at home!)


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Use your tools to their full potential - part 1

One main excuse I hear from people for not cooking, or for cooking very basic fare is the lack of time. Some folk look at a recipe and only see the words SLICED, CHOPPED and SHREDDED. They then decide it is all too hard and either go out to eat, or open a tin.

NOT necessary. A basic food processor doesn't cost a fortune. But owning one opens up a very wide range of options when it comes to preparing your meals. Grating, chopping, mincing - I never buy mince of any sort now, I buy the meat and mince it at home in the food processor. I have total control of the fat content, as well as the specific cut.

The never-ending preparation of Asian dishes is far less daunting using a processor, and the cooking is super quick. The world opens up..........

Here is a recipe for Thai Chicken Rissoles. Easy anyway, it becomes child's play using a food processor. In fact, with supervision, a child could do most of this. I'll give you the processor version.

Serves 4

500g chicken thigh fillets (usually 4)
3 spring onions
1 tablespoon Thai Red Curry paste
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 crusts of a nice grainy bread
1/4 cup frozen peas

Fit the chopping blade to your processor bowl. Cut the chicken into large chunks and place in the bowl. Chop on low speed until it is minced and forms a ball. Tip into a large bowl. Cut the spring onions into large segments. With the processor running on low, feed in through the input tube. Follow up with the bread, torn into large pieces. Turn up to high for a few seconds, until the bread is crumbed.
Add the bread and onion to the chicken, along with the paste, coconut milk and peas. Dig your hands in and mix well. (More on using your hands later...)
When well combined, use wet hands and shape the mixture into small balls. Place on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Shallow fry in hot oil for 5 minutes or so, then finish in a 180C oven for a further 15 minutes. Brush with some sweet chilli sauce if you have it, just before they go in the oven, then serve with extra sauce.
Serve with a salad. In a later blog, I will give you a great Thai dressing.......

* on using your hands - I used to be horrified at how TV chefs dug their hands into everything. Then, with experience, I learned that is just the best way to mix many recipes - you really do get a feel for what you are cooking.
It is of the utmost importance that you practice proper hygiene - those anti bacterial gels are worth their weight in gold. Use them, and also wash your hands often. And, unlike those TV chefs, ALWAYS remove any rings prior to using your hands as utensils - so much bacteria hides under rings. Why else do they make you remove or tape them thoroughly before an operation?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Making it up

Making it up as you go along is something we all do - we just don't see it. Who follows a recipe to the letter? Even in the Internet recipe club I belong to, I often see these words: " I followed it exactly, but added........." Hmmmmm. It is hard to resist.

Invention is the starting point to becoming a competent cook. Whether you replace coriander for parsley because you don't like coriander, or substitute chopped ham for prosciutto because it is easier to find, you are beginning to experiment. And that is what cooking is about.

My computer died a year ago and I lost all of my recipes. Meh!! There are a lot of recipes out there, and I know what flavour combinations I like. Thinking outside the square is the term, I guess.

The two recipes I have included below illustrate lateral culinary thinking. The first is a curry which is definitely not a curry, but just uses the warm flavours. The second is a spring roll which is certainly a new angle, and (I hope) will have you drooling.



2 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken thigh fillets, sliced
1 large onion. chopped
1 tsp ground corinder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp curry powder
1 440g tin Cream of Pumpkin soup
200ml coconut milk

Heat the oil and gently fry the coriander, cumin and curry until fragrant. Increase the heat and add the chicken and onion. Fry until the chicken is browned through and the onion is soft. In a seperate bowl, beat the soup and coconut milk together until there are no lumps. Add to the chicken and simmer the lot for 20 minutes. Serve with rice and crusty bread, or naan.


8 Spring Roll wrappers
2 cups coconut
1 440g tin crushed pineapple, drained (reserve 1/4 cup juice)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 395g tin condensed milk
coconut oil for frying

Mix all ingredients (except wrappers) together and refrigerate for 30 mins.Lay Spring Roll wrappers in a diamond shape and put approximately 1/2 cup (size of a sausage) into  sausage shape across the bottom third. Roll and tuck into a spring roll shape. Seal the edges with a little egg white.

Heat coconut oil until smoky (a tiny piece of wrapper will sizzle immediately.) Cook rolls in batches for approx two minutes each side, or until golden. Drain and sprinkle with sugar.

Serve at room temperature.

Remember this - hot coconut oil smells like melting plastic. Ventilate well!!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Chillier Than Thou

Hot chillies.

OK, right away I notice that half of you are drooling in anticipation, while the other half have gone and are now hiding under their bed.

Such is the power of the chilli. An awesome little guy with amazing health benefits. Very few negative qualities - and let's get them out there right now.

If you suffer from ulcers or similar sensitive stomach issues, you need to modify your use of anything spicy, as I'm sure you well know already. But you can still benefit from chillies by the measured use of cayenne pepper. 

The rest of us have the world to explore when it comes to chillies. 

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the chilli the hotter it will be. Green chillies are also hotter than red, and miss out on some of the health benefits. Removing the seeds from a chilli will halve the heat of the dish they are used in. Always be aware that this is not a vegetable to be taken lightly. I use latex gloves when handling chillies, and if there is a lot of chopping to do, I also use protective eyeware - even specs are better than nothing. We seem to have an inbuilt desire to rub our eyes after handling chillies, and that is a very painful lesson to learn.

Now that I have scared you sufficiently, here is the good part. Chillies are amazingly good for your overall health.

  • Chillies are a thermogenic; they assist your body to burn fat by increasing your body temperature and speeding up your metabolism. 
  • The capsaicin in the entire capsicum family is a big weapon in the fight against sinusitis and the general congestion caused by hayfever and the common cold. It also contains antibacterial properties to fight persistent sinus infections.
  • A chilli contains more Vitamin C than its big cousin the orange. I don't think I need to tell you how important Vitamin C is.
  • They can help us in the fight against migraine and the like. Capsaicin is known to inhibit a key neuropeptide, Substance P, that is the key brain pain transmitter. 
  • I could go on and on - lowering blood pressure, protecting the heart, capsaicin is also a natural anti-inflammatory. Research indicates that it also aids in the battle against cancer of the prostate. 
Perhaps it is worth persevering. If you can educate your taste buds to tolerate chillies, you will be doing your body a huge favour. (It is no secret that the Eastern cultures which eat a lot of meat also eat a lot of chilli to speed the gut-transit time, and have much lower incidences of bowel cancer than we do with our  Western "grilled-meat" madness.) 

Try a little at a time. Start with adding cayenne pepper to soup, for instance. A tiny bit at a time. You WILL build up a tolerance.

So remember: the smaller the chilli, the hotter it will be; remove the seeds for even less heat; even capsicums are good, but chillies are better!

10 chopped chillies (lose the seeds if you don’t want it to be too fiery)
Salt to taste
Juice of half lemon
100ml olive oil
2 tbsp. garlic powder

Put all ingredients into a mill or blender and whizz away - this Portuguese sauce needs no introduction, and is great on any meat as well as its natural companion, charcoal chicken. Don't substitute fresh garlic for the powder - the powder thickens the sauce, and fresh garlic would overpower it.

1 large onion, chopped
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 red chilli
Oil for frying
500 g good quality beef mince (I mince my own – much better)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped roughly
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
200ml beef stock
3 tablespoons Tomato puree
1 stick Cinnamon
1 bay leaf (or 1 tsp bay powder)
400g tin kidney beans drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives
200ml crème fraiche
Steamed rice  to serve

·         Sweat the onion, garlic, and chilli in 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan. At the same time, brown the mince in a separate pan over moderate heat in a little oil.
·         Add the dried spices to the onion mixture and cook until they release their aroma. Then stir in the beef and mix well. Add the fresh and tinned tomatoes and leave to cook down a little for about 5 minutes.
·         Pour in the chicken or beef stock and stir in tomato puree to taste. Drop the cinnamon and bay leaf in then bring to the boil and leave to simmer.
·         Once the sauce is beginning to thicken add the kidney beans and leave to cook for another 5-10 minutes to allow the beans to soak up the flavours. Check for seasoning.
·         Mix the chives and crème fraiche together. To serve, spoon the chilli into the centre of a mound of rice, with the crème fraiche and chives in a separate bowl on the side.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Let there be spuds

In the 1800's, a blight virus struck the potato crops of Ireland and virtually wiped out the entire harvest. One million Irishmen perished in the famine which followed and a similar number were forced to leave their homeland and seek a living elsewhere. Such is the value of the humble spud. One of the simplest vegetables to cultivate, its nutritional benefits make the effort well worth it.
It is claimed that an adult can survive solely on potatoes with a little margarine or butter. This combination provides enough protein, iron, phosphorus, thiamin and niacin, as well as a good dose of vitamin C.
Potatoes also provide useful amounts of vitamins K and B6 as well as copper, magnesium, iodine and folacin. Not too bad for a vegetable that even kids seem to find edible.
And the news keeps getting better. When I was a diet-mad teenager, the cry was "Diet? No potatoes! No bread!" Fortunately we have now seen the error of our ways. The same medium potato which provides such valuable nutrition also contains a tiny 110 calories - and that in the form of valuable carbohydrate.
Potatoes planted in unused ground are an excellent soil-breaker; I remember, as a child, my father planting potatoes as preparation to planting a lawn in our newly-built home. It is a simple process - plant a seed potato under about 5cm of soil. Space each potato 30 to 40 cm apart. Weed and water them. When the tops die off, you just give them another fortnight (which extends the shelf life) and dig up your booty. Could anything be simpler?
More rewarding is planting spuds in tubs. Put 3cm soil in a large tub. Place a seed potato on the top and cover with soil. For the next few weeks, put all of your vegetable scraps etc. on top and use soil to keep the sprout under the surface. When you reach the top of the pot, continue to keep up the water. When the top dies off you are ready to harvest. Potatoes adapt well, and will grow small tubers along their length. Lovely little new potatoes.
At this point, upend the tub. You should have half a tub of potatoes and half a tub of compost.
Native to South America, potatoes are a part of the diet all over the world. The mild flavour lends itself to all types of dishes, and no self-respecting cook would attempt a home-made soup without adding at least one potato.
Potatoes can take the heat from a too-hot curry or the salt from a too-salty casserole. When it was kosher to smoke, a slice of potato in the tobacco pouch would save the tobacco from drying out. The water from boiling potatoes will clean silver, wood and leather. All of that, and they are still so very inexpensive.
It would seem that the humble spud has been the victim of dietary prejudice for long enough. Such a complete vegetable should be on our table every day, whether as a main meal or as an accompaniment. The local South Americans dubbed it the "Earth Apple" many years ago. Will we ever catch on?

750g potatoes
2 onions, grated
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (fresh is best)
2 tsps good chicken stock powder
2 beaten eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
good handful grated matured cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Peel, boil and mash the potatoes, adding the onion, salt, pepper, stock powder and nutmeg. Allow to cool, then stir in the eggs. Put in a casserole dish and top with the evaporated milk then sprinkle the cheese over. Bake at 160C for 30 minutes. Serves 6 as a side.

 3 large potatoes, sliced to 1/2 cm
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly
4 beaten eggs
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add potatoes. Toss around for up to 20 minutes until cooked, adding the onion about halfway through. When cooked, drain off most of the oil (retain for later use - EVOO is gold!) then spread out in the pan. Pour over the eggs, parsley and seasoning. Allow to cook, shaking the pan often to keep it from sticking. When the omelette is semi-set on top, cover with a large plate and upend. (Use oven mitts!) Slide back into the cooking pan and complete the cooking. Serve with a green salad as main light meal. (Serves 2.)