Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pasta alla Norma

Nothing compares to my Nonna's pasta. She grows her own tomatoes and makes her own sauces from scratch and even makes her own mince with the family once a year. One of my earliest food memories comes from my Nonna's backyard. There was a carcass hanging from a steel hook and the whole family was mincing and lending a hand to make the food we would eat for dinner. Chickens and children were running around, music was playing in the background and we laughed as we poured sauce into glass bottles. 

Needless to say, I love my pasta and while I didn't have Nonna's sauce on hand over the weekend, I made this dish called Pasta alla Norma after seeing the recipe on an Italian cooking show, which unfortunately I have forgotten the name of. But thanks Norma, whoever you are, it's not a pasta alla Nonna, but it's not bad at all.

{ Pasta alla Norma }

2 large eggplants
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 brown onion
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Large bunch of fresh basil, stems finely chopped, leaves reserved
2 cans of tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Penne pasta
Parmesan cheese, grated

Cut your eggplants lengthwise then across so their cube-like pieces. Add a little oil to a pan and fry the eggplant in two batches. I was lazy and did it all in one batch and it was still good. Add extra oil if you need to and sprinkle with a bit of the dried oregano. Slosh them around until the eggplant is golden on all sides. Remove and place on a paper towel-covered plate. Saute the onion and garlic and turn heat down to a medium heat. Stir then add the eggplant again. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste. Cook your penne. When it's ready, drain and put back into the pot. Pour the sauce over the penne, chop up the basil then stir through. Once served add your Parmesan. Enjoy!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sorrows and bread

Miguel De Cervantes, the guy who wrote Don Quixote, was right, "all sorrows are less with bread" and I found that out for myself last week. I quit my job last Friday, yep that’s right I’m officially unemployed. I don’t know where my next pay cheque is coming from, what my next step is going to be, or what I’m really doing with myself. But while munching on this sweet loaf courtesy of Bill Granger and his Every Day cookbook, I realised it would all eventually fall into place and that felt great.

Now I’m focused on saving my pennies. I’m not using the heater so I can save money on electricity, I’m cooking soups and stews in bulk for lunch and I’m baking bread because I could probably make ten of these for the price I pay for my favourite loaf.

You can pretty much use anything you want in this recipe. I opted for apple and rolled oats but next time I'm going to throw in some extra seeds and grains. Give it a try and let me know how you go! I felt pretty good after eating it and my apartment had a sweet smell that lingered for a couple of hours. Bliss!

{ Apple Dried Cherry and Almond Loaf }

50 g rolled oats
300 ml Milk
240 g Self Raising Flour you can use wholemeal
1 teaspoon Baking powder
125 g Dried Cherries
50 g diced dried apple
75 g soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
3 tablespoons Honey
1 lightly beaten Egg
3 tablespoons roughly chopped Almonds plus 2 tablespoons extra

Put the oats in a bowl, pour the milk over them and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).
Lightly grease and line a 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) loaf tin with baking paper.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the rolled oats, dried fruit, sugar, cinnamon, honey, egg and almonds. Mix together well.
Spoon the mixture into the tin, level the top and sprinkle with the extra almonds. Bake the loaf for 45 minutes, or until it is golden brown on top and cooked through.
Leave it to cool a little in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Toast and serve with ricotta and honey.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Made with Love

Three things of which I am certain:

1. Joy the Baker is a genius
2. Cookie dough for dinner is not always bad, and,

3. Chocolate chip cookies wrapped up with string will always put a smile on a friend’s face

When said friend* was particularly crushed, I hit up Joy for inspiration and whipped these up in my pajamas. Friends, I ate A LOT of dough. And, a word of warning: love heart cookie cutters may create nice shapes to begin with, but its a fact that they’ll spread and come out looking like this:

Here are Joy's.

{ Chocolate Chip Cookies }

125g unsalted butter

2 1/4 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup raw sugar

1 1/4 cups brown sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups milk chocolate chips

Heat oven to 160 degrees C. Melt the butter in microwave. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. Pour the melted butter into large bowl. Add the raw sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill the dough, then scoop onto paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

* Said friend would like to say thank you so much for putting a smile on my dial and biccies in my belly. Lots of love pretty lady! Read more...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Dear Mum,

Thank you for finally selling the newsagency. You get your life back and I get my Mum back. Thank you for letting me boomerang in and out of your home when I’ve needed somewhere to live. And for making the rent next to nothing! If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have been able to travel the world like I have. Thank you for not completely disowning me when I wrote off your car. I cringe when I think about that now. Thank you for putting up with me through those horrible teenage years. I’m still cringing.

Thank you for always making us birthday cakes. They were the best. And thanks for making the cats birthday cakes too because it meant more cake for us! Thank you for being one of those Mum’s that worked full time yet managed to cook for us every night and pack our lunch box everyday. We whinged about not having coke or cordial or lollies like everyone else but I certainly thank you now. Thank you for waking us up to the smell of pikelets cooking. We couldn’t wait till little lunch. Thank you for making me fairy bread for lunch one day when I was 16 and thought I was way too cool for school. I was ‘like totally embarrassed’ when I pulled out my lunch box but everyone wanted to swap sangers with me that day.

Thank you for being the best sewer I know. I think you missed your calling. You can make anything. I did love those rah-rah skirts. Thank you for always getting up in the night when I yelled at you from down the hallway because I had cramps in my calves. Shit they hurt. Thank you for all those times when I was sick and you had to take me to the hospital or sit with me during the night while I had my ventilator. Asthma’s a bitch. Thank you for hockey. What a great sport. I still miss it. Do you? How many Saturday’s did we spend at Downey Park! Thank you for always telling it how it is. Good or bad. Not enough people do that.

Thanks for being my Mum. xx

{ Chocolate and WeetBix Slice }

Dear Mum,

A thousand pennies of thanks for being you. For always listening, no matter how dull or melodramatic the topic (or the talker). For being so present in our lives - giving up a job you loved, moving to a town you hated, baking Dolly Varden birthday cakes, packing our lunches, making time to sit front row at dance concerts, singing esstedfords, swimming carnivals and even a recorder concert (whopee). For always offering a shoulder to cry on, getting up at the crack of dawn for swimming training, sewing elastic on ballet shoes and being our biggest cheerleader and supporter.

Thank you for being so brave in the face of frightening illness - simply because you didn’t want your daughters to know you were afraid. Thank you for being a friend as well as a parent, and a person as well as a mother. For being so enthusiastic about spending time with us and creating mother daughter traditions that will last a lifetime - Australian Open tennis, movie nights, dinner dates, trips to see the latest shows and the latest shoes. I can’t think of a better way to see Paris for the first time than with you mum. Plus, who else would hang out in Chanel for two hours?

Thank you for holding together a family in times of immense hardship, and for always putting yourself last. I hope you can take the time to put yourself first as the years go on - but rest assured, we always will.

Thank you for living with such joy and adventure, for being patient, kind, irrevocably devoted to your friends, family and complete strangers in need. Thanks for never being shy to laugh (and cry when you laugh) or to say I love you.

You’re not just a wonderful mum, but a wonderful person and a truly good lady.


{ Pecan Pie }

Dear Mum,

Thanks for always making me feel special. Even when I went through puberty and my face bubbled into a red pimpley mess, you always said I looked beautiful.

Thanks for being patient with me - I was a bit of a terror. Do you remember when I came home from a friend's house after dying my hair bright orange, the day before the school photos were taken? I do. Thanks for driving me to the 24 hour supermarket to buy a packet of hair dye at 10 o'clock at night because I decided I hated it and wanted to dye it back straight away.

Thanks for cooking spaghetti at least twice a week during high school. My friends still tell me how much they loved your pasta. Thanks for giving me cuddles even though I'm really not the cuddling type. Thanks for telling me stories about when you and dad were young and broke and in love. Thanks for calling me five times last week just to make sure I was ok.

Thanks for making the move from Melbourne to Brisbane a little less traumatic and for letting us keep Roxy, she was an amazing dog hey? I bet you miss her.

Thanks for encouraging me to dance and play music and write. Thanks for encouraging me to do drama classes, even though I wagged with a friend to make prank calls at the pay phone down the road. Thanks for giving me your smile, your love of life and your big heart. I love you for it.

I don't tell you enough but I really admire and respect you and hope I am half the person you are.

I love you.

{ Pumpkin Scones }


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Middle Eastern Lamb Pizza

A couple of weeks ago I invited about 10 of my girlfriends over for lunch and cupcakes. I spent most of the time fussing over the cupcakes and it was only at the last minute that I thought it might be an idea to sort out what we were going to have for lunch too. I found this recipe a couple of days before on Taste and tested it on the boyfriend first. He gave it the thumbs up and so did the girls. Check them out.

{ Middle Eastern Lamb Pizza }
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
250g lamb mince
Salt and pepper
175g butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 large rounds Lebanese bread
150g fetta, crumbled
2 tablespoons pinenuts
1 tablespoon chopped flatleaf parsley

Preheat oven to 200°C. When hot, place 2 flat baking trays in the oven to heat. Meanwhile, lightly spray a non-stick frying pan with oil spray and place over high heat. Cook the onion for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add the cumin and coriander and cook for 1 minute. Add the mince, stirring to break it up with a fork, and cook for 5 minutes or until any moisture has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. While the mince mixture is cooking, steam the pumpkin for 2-3 minutes or until just tender. Spoon the tomato paste over the Lebanese bread. Divide the pumpkin, lamb mixture, fetta and pinenuts between the 2 rounds of bread. Place on the preheated baking trays and bake for 8 minutes or until crisp. Scatter with parsley and serve immediately. Makes two pizzas.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cereal For Breakfast Too

What a way to start the day Wednesday…

{ Mixed Cereal with Oats, Barley, Rye and Banana }

1/3 cup oats (my special combo of rolled oats, barley and rye)
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup cold water
1 sliced banana
Almonds (flaked, slivered, chopped; however/whatever just get ‘em in)

Mix oats and water. Chuck in the microwave and cook on high for 1 minute 40 sec. Stir. Chuck back in for another 40 sec. Stir. Throw in your banana and however much almonds, yoghurt and honey you like. Done. How good are oats! (Pears, strawberries and apples are also great to use).


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jamie Oliver Dinner

So folks, it’s been a whole month since, over lunch and under bad fluro lights, we hashed the idea to cook, eat and blog about it, and we’re sure you’d forgive us for being a little less than modest and saying we KILLED it. Make your own dough - and leave it alone in a warm room? Check. Make old fashioned shortcrust pastry from scratch without flipping out (much)? No worries. Create tasty chicken dish with spot-on seasoning and crispy, gorgeous potatoes? All over it.

Our first month has been an ode to Jamie Oliver and his wise, pukka-tuckering ways. We trawled our local farmer’s market for fresh, seasonal produce, stocked up on free range eggs, hot smoked salmon, olives and veggies galore and got a serious dose of cute when we met a 10-week-old Australian bulldog who refused to walk and weighed a wee 15 kilos. We cruised (or bumped) to Harlin, west of Kilcoy for a splendid day on the land at Queensland Natural Beef, where we ate melt-in-your-mouth steak, got up close and personal with the family’s beautiful cattle and were treated to Carol’s divine jam drops and fruit cake. She even sent us home with doggy bags - one of us may have eaten Carol’s fruit cake for dinner.

On the way we met Ingrid from City Chicks, and got the dirt on how to keep your own chooks for an endless supply of fresh, backyard eggs. We petted a duckling, discovered there is such thing as a chook nappy and checked out Ingrid’s new range of beehives. Honey that makes itself on your balcony? Yes, please.

We had an impromptu dinner party, we whipped up banana bread, carrot cake cupcakes, homemade pizza and healthy cookies, eaten coffee yoghurt from the tub, munched on steamed crab with ginger and spring onion, consumed a bottle of wine or ten and had some seriously, seriously good times. To wrap it all up, we hosted a Jamie Oliver inspired dinner for...ourselves. And it rocked. our. worlds.

We’d been planning for weeks (well, some of us had. some of us didn’t read our recipes until mid-way through. Rest for an hour?! what the..?) and when that clock hit 5 on Friday, we hopped, skipped and jumped to the shops for an ingredient haul. Fast forward through some genuine glee and yippee-ing at our homemade pizza dough and gorgeous shortcrust pastry, and here’s what we came up with.

{ Pizza Fritta }

This recipe would work a treat for a large-scale dinner party or as an entree as we had it. The dough was easy to make, then we shallow fried it and topped it with some of our favourite ingredients. You could put anything on these, we used bocconcini, tomato pesto, parsley and cherry tomatoes - but get creative and use whatever you like. Firstly we had to make the dough from scratch, no bought pizza bases here! I can't say we weren't tempted to cheat though. Apparently this dough makes a pretty tasty bread too, but we've yet to try that.
{ Basic Pizza Dough }

1kg strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour
or 800g strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour, plus 200g finely ground semolina flour (We opted for 1kg of strong white bread flour)
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar (We just used normal caster sugar)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

We halved all these ingredients and it made about 12 pizzas.

Sieve the flour/s and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.

Timing-wise, it’s a good idea to roll the pizzas out about 15 to 20 minutes before you want to cook them. Don’t roll them out and leave them hanging around for a few hours, though – if you are working in advance like this it’s better to leave your dough, covered with clingfilm, in the fridge. However, if you want to get them rolled out so there’s one less thing to do when your guests are round, simply roll the dough out into rough circles, about 0.5cm thick, and place them on slightly larger pieces of olive-oil-rubbed and flour-dusted tinfoil. You can then stack the pizzas, cover them with clingfilm, and pop them into the fridge.

Now for the rest of the Fritti recipe. We didn't make Jamie's tomato sauce, instead we opted for a tomato paste mixed with a tomato pesto - it was delish!

1 x basic pizza dough
Flour, for dusting

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 x 150g balls of buffalo mozzarella (we used about 4 small bocconcini balls)

optional: dried oregano
or parsley

Preheat your grill to its highest temperature. Divide the dough into 10 pieces and press them flat on to a floured work surface. Roll them out to about 0.5cm/1/4 inch thick and allow them to rest for 10 minutes or so. Heat a frying pan over a high heat, add about 2cm of vegetable oil and fry each pizza for 30 seconds or so on each side. Remove with tongs and place on a baking tray.
Once all the bases are fried, smear each one with a spoonful of the tomato sauce and tear over some mozzarella and a leaf or two of basil or dried oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and grill until the cheese is bubbling and the dough is light brown and cooked through. Our frittis looked like they were going to explode at one point. What we did was after they were cooked, we flattened them with a wooden spoon and it worked a treat.
You can check out Jamie's recipe here.

{ Crispy and Sticky Chicken Thighs with Squashed Potatoes and Tomatoes }
Jamie says “this is a simple tray-baked chicken dish – the sort of food I absolutely love to eat. As everything cooks together in tray, all the beautiful flavours get mixed up. This is what it’s all about! With a green salad, it’s an easy dinner.”

Serves 4

800g new potatoes, scrubbed
Sea salt and freshly found black pepper
12 boned chicken thighs, skin on, preferably free range or organic
600g cherry tomatoes, different shapes and colours if you can find them
A bunch of fresh oregano, leaves picked
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar

Put the potatoes into a large saucepan of salted boiling water and boil under cooked.

While the potatoes are cooking, preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Cut each chicken thigh into three strips and place in a bowl. Rub the meat all over with olive oil and sprinkle w salt and pepper, then toss. Heat a large frying pan, big enough to hold all the chicken pieces snugly in one layer, and put the chicken into the pan, skin side down. If you don’t have a pan that’s big enough, feel free to cook the chicken in two batches. Toss and fry over a high heat for 10 minutes or so, until almost cooked, then remove with a slotted spoon to an ovenproof pan or dish.

Prick the tomatoes with a sharp knife. Place them in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for a minute or so. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, pinch off their skins. You don’t have to, but by doing this they will become lovely and sweet when cooked and their intense flavour will infuse the potatoes. By now the potatoes will be cooked. Drain them in a colander, then lightly crush them by pushing down on them with your thumb.

Bash up most of the oregano leaves with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar, or a Flavour Shaker if you have one. Add 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a good splash of red wine vinegar and some pepper and give everything another bash. Add to the chicken with the potatoes, the tomatoes and the rest of the oregano leaves. Toss everything together carefully. Spread out in a single layer in an appropriately sized roasting tray, and bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven until golden.

Lovely served with a rocked salad dressed with some lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, and a nice glass of white wine.
{ Plum Bakewell Tart }
{ Old-fashioned sweet shortcrust pastry }

Jamie says

“This pastry is perfect for making apple and other sweet pies. Even if you’ve never made pastry before, as long as you stick to the correct measurements for the ingredients and you follow the method exactly, you’ll be laughing.”


“Try to be confident and bring the pastry together as quickly as possible – don’t knead it too much or the heat from your hands will melt the butter. A good tip is to hold your hands under cold running water beforehand to make them as cold as possible. That way you’ll end p with a delicate, flaky pastry every time.”

Makes about 1kg

500g organic plain flours, plus extra for dusting
100g icing sugar, sifted
250g good-quality cold butter, cut into small cubes
Zest of one lemon
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
Splash of milk
Flour, for dusting

Sieve the flour from a height onto a clean work surface and sieve the icing sugar over the top. Using your hands, work the subs of butter unto the flour and sugar by rubbing your thumbs against your fingers until you end up with a fine, crumbly mixture. This is the point where you can spike the mixture with interesting flavours, so mix in your lemon zest.

Add the eggs and milk to the mixture and gently work it together till you have a ball of dough. Flour it lightly. Don’t work the pastry too much at this stage or it will become elastic and chewy, not crumbly and short. Flour your work surface and place the dough on top. Pat it into a flat round, flour it lightly, wrap it in clingfilm and put it into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

Okay, so if we’re talking the finished product, this wasn’t exactly a success. It didn’t cook. And it certainly didn’t form any kind of tart. So we re-named it plum pudding. Plum pudding with really awesome pastry.

Making my own pastry induced slight panic - especially with warnings like ‘try to be confident and bring the pastry together as quickly as possible’ and ‘don’t knead it too much or it will be chewy not flaky’ - but it was a breeze. Jamie’s recipe advised running your hands under cold water before you get stuck in so you don’t overheat the butter with your mits, and working it gently with your fingertips until it’s fine and crumbly. Once we added eggs and milk things got a little sticky, but we sorted it and, since we didn’t have a rolling pin, improvised with a bottle of red. We wrapped it in plastic to chill out in the fridge for half an hour, before rolling it to fit the dish, freezing it for an hour, blind baking it for 10 minutes then celebrating with a little jig because it looked so damn good. Not bad for a pastry virgin.
Bakewell Tart is pretty standard fare in the UK, but mine didn’t, ahem, bake well. We put our heads together and came up with three possibilities:

1. The tinned plums were too moist, and made too much juice.
2. There was too much of the tasty, almondy frangipane stuff because we used almond meal, not blitzed blanched almonds.
3. One of us is completely shit.

We left the little sucker longer than advised to see if it would set, but it refused and was more like a wobbly custard with plums and fabulous pastry (are you sick of hearing about the pasty yet?). We ate it regardless (of course) and it tasted divine - just more like runny pudding than cake-like tart. And since one of us is a slight perfectionist, she plans to attempt it again. With less almondy stuff and cherry jam, instead of tinned plums. We’ll keep you posted people.

Regardless of the bake not so well tart, we think the evening was a tremendous success and hopefully, Jamie would be proud.

Next month? We’re on a mission from God. No, wait. That was the Blues Brothers. We’re on a mission to make our mums proud. Since the three of us were blessed with mothers who cooked every night, made our school lunches, baked special treats like banana cake, chocolate slice and pecan pie and had the foresight to recognize that Happy Meals should not be consumed every day, we figured our chefs of the month would be Mum x 3. Since baking and mums go hand-in-hand, we’ve christened May baking month and we’re kicking things off with Mother’s day eve bake off. Stay tuned...


Anzac Day at Currumbin

Breakfast is a big deal at the best of times, but on holidays? It’s allll about breakfast. To commemorate/celebrate Anzac day, I joined the hoards at the Currumbin RSL’s Anzac Day dawn service, which is truly special and very moving.
I may have eaten an Anzac biscuit (dunked in tea for good measure) while reveling in the delicious pink sky at 4am (pics), but by 8.30 I was characteristically starving and headed to the fabulous Beach Shack to chow down. Good coffee, DIY Bircher muesli, a few forkfuls of someone else’s spectacular breakfast burrito (and okay, I nicked a mouthful of my friend’s pecan banana pancakes, too) and a glorious day. Bliss much?