23 February 2010

Leave the gun, take the cannoli

I was talking to Frank this evening, as he was organising his evening meal.  It was pasta with a tomato-based vegetable sauce.  Nice and simple.  This got me thinking (very painful, I assure you) - it's been too long since I made pasta all'amatriciana.  Sounds super-fancy, right?  It's not.  Basic tomato sugo, with bacon and, in my case, chilli, served on your choice of pasta, traditionally spaghetti.  Personally I like it with penne.  If you're wondering about the title of this post (if you weren't, you probably are now), it's from The Godfather.  The chilli in it reminds me of Sicilia, hence the Godfather link.  Awesome film.  If you haven't watched it, do.  If you have, watch it again. 

Pasta all'amatriciana comes from the central Italian town of Amatrice, in Lazio.  Tradionally made with some part of pork and pecorino cheese, nowadays it's a tomato-based sauce, with bacon and pecorino.  Additions of onion, garlic, olives, chilli etc are fairly common, based on personal taste.  I refrain from adding any onion or olives, as I also love making a tomato-based olivey-capery tomato sugo, and would hate the two to start tasting the same, you know?  So, this is how I make it - buon appetito!!   

1 clove garlic
2 tbsps olive oil
1 or 2 tsp fresh chilli or dried chilli flakes
bacon - about 6 slices (12, if using rashers)
400g tin crushed tomatoes
parmasan/pecorino/romano cheese
salt & pepper
500 g pasta / 1 packet spaghetti
  1. Cut the bacon into small pieces (1cm squares, roughly).
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in pan, add garlic clove (whole, just used to flavour the oil).  After a couple of minutes add the bacon and cook on high heat until getting nice and browned.  Turn down heat, add chilli, stir, add tomatoes, stir.
  3. While sugo is simmering bring large pot of water to boil, add salt.  Add pasta once boiling.  Cook as per instructions on packet (usually about 12 minutes).  
  4. Once pasta is cooked, drain, stir through a little oil (stops pasta sticking to each other). 
  5. Add pasta to pan of sauce, season with salt and pepper. 
  6. Serve with sprinkling of grated cheese. 
Remember, with the chilli, that less is often more.  Especcially if you're serving it to others!  Nothing worse than not being able to eat the meal.  Also, make sure that with fresh chilli you know how hot the variety is that you're buying - some chillis are 10x spicier than others, and colour and size are not always a foolproof guide.  I've made THAT mistake before! 

22 February 2010

would you like fries with that?

I like burgers.  They're versatile, tasty, filling and, depending what they have on them and how they're cooked, pretty damn healthy (grilling/BBQing meat is a winner here).  I don't think I'm alone in my penchant for these tasty morsels of carby-carne-vege-delectableness either.  Burgeresque foods abound worldwide, in cross-cultural gastronomic harmony.  Americans have the stereotypical 'burger', Italians have their panini, the Danes smørrebrød, croque monsieur in France (not to mention the myriad of baguette-based sandwiches one can create), sarnies, butties and sandwiches in England, I could go on ad infinitum but I'll stop there.   

The point is, where there is bread there will be burgers and the burgeresque.  Now, burgers can be a good-ol' hamburger (albeit made with minced beef, not ham at all) - cheese, beetroot, lettuce, mayo, tomato...  Or you could shake things up and use fish, tartare sauce, letture etc.  Or, try this one - a south-east Asian lilt on an old favourite.  Add or subtract toppings as you please, though I'd recommend that less is more.  The pork, herbs and yoghurt have a fairly delicate flavour, so things like cheese can get in the way. 

Apple-pork burger

500g lean pork mince
1 apple, grated
1 spring onion, chopped
handful coriander, chopped 
worchester sauce
salt and pepper
6 burger buns
1 cup unsweetened natural yoghurt
1/2 cucumber, sliced
sliced avocado/capsicum/caramelised onions (optional toppings)
  1. Mix together mince, apple, spring onion, coriander, salt & pepper, using worchester sauce and breadcrumbs as necessary to achieve required consistency (you want them to adhere, but not be too wet).
  2. Form into ball, flatten in palms to form patties (about six). 
  3. Heat oil in pan, or on BBQ, cook on each side for a few minutes, until cooked through.
  4. While patties are cooking grill burger buns. 
  5. Assemble burgers with patties, lettuce and slices cucumber.  Drizzle with minty-yoghurt.
These are also really tasty served as patties alongside a salad, or as kofta - sausage shaped and cooked on skewers served with couscous and salad, with minted yoghurt on the side. 

19 February 2010

Carlsberg doesn't make chocolate cake, but if they did it'd probably be the best chocolate cake in the world

I love recipes.  Food TV, magazines, the lifestyle section of the paper, rogue cookbooks floating around peoples' homes, i'll devour them all with an appetite usually reserved for post-match handballers.  If I'm at a house with SkyTV my first port of call is invariably channel 9.  At the dentist it's the back third of the trashy magazines.  At home if I've five minutes to wait, while someone finishes getting ready, it's idle perusement of a cookbook plucked from obscurity on the shelf.  

Sometimes I feel like I should be watching the news, rather than channel 9; reading the paper, rather than the recipe section of Women's Day; reading a novel, rather than Antonio Carluccio's latest.  But, if I did, I wouldn't have found this recipe, for Nigella Lawson's Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake.  The Queen of unabashed decadence in baking, this cake does her proud.  I've made it a few times and it always goes fast.  Even post-match handballers can't walk past it.   

It really is the best chocolate cake ever.  It's more mud cake than tea cake, so beware eating it in polite company, but sooooo good.  I'm not a big fan of chocolate cake, but I'll eat a piece of this one.  A small piece.  It's VERRRRRRY rich and impossibly good.  But enough waxing lyrical about it, here it is...

200g flour                                          
1/2 tsp baking soda
50g cocoa
275g caster sugar
175g soft butter
2 eggs
1 table vanilla extract
80ml ricotta (Nigella used sour cream) - a good couple of dollops
125ml boiling water
175g dark chocolate chips

1 tsp cocoa
125ml water
100g caster sugar
25g dark chocolate (for flakes on top)


  1. Take whatever you need out of the fridge so that all ingredients can come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/170°C, putting in a baking sheet as you do so, and line loaf tin (mine measures 21x11cm and 7.5cm deep and the cooking times are based on that) with greased foil – making sure there are no tears – and leave an overhang all round. Or use a silicon tin.
  3. Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into the processor and blitz till a smooth, satiny brown batter. Scrape down with a rubber spatula and process again while pouring the boiling water down the funnel. Switch it off then remove the lid and the well-scraped double-bladed knife and, still using your rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Scrape and pour this beautiful batter into the prepared loaf tin and slide into the oven, cooking for about 1 hour. When it’s ready, the loaf will be risen and split down the middle and a cake-tester, or a fine skewer, will pretty well come out clean. But this is a damp cake so don’t be alarmed at a bit of stickiness in evidence; rather, greet it.
  5. Not long before the cake is due out of the oven – say when it’s had about 45–50 minutes – put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. You may find it needs a little longer: what you want is a reduced liquid, a syrup.
  6. Take the cake out of the oven and, still in its tin, pierce here and there with a cake tester. Pour the syrup over the surface of the cake. It will run to the sides of the tin, but some will have been absorbed in the middle.
  7. Let the cake become completely cold and then slip out of its tin, removing the foil as you do so. Sit on an oblong or other plate. Now take your bar of chocolate and cut with a heavy sharp knife, so that it splinters and flakes and falls in slices of varying thickness and thinness. Sprinkle these chocolate splinters over the top of cake.

18 February 2010

I'm a thief

That's right.  This recipe has been purloined from another girl's blog.  Laura Vincent writes a wonderful foodie/muso blog, Hungry and Frozen, and featured this wonderful bread in her last post.  It's so good (and easy) that I had to share it.  So let's not think of it as thievery, but sharing the love. 

Challah is a braided bread, traditionally eaten by Jewish populations for sabbath and special meals.  It's wonderfully soft and a little bit sweet.  This recipe doesn't require any kneading, so the one part of breadmaking that most shy away from is removed.  Happy days!! 

Sprinkle with seasame or poppy seeds, eat toasted with jam, make into french toast and eat with syrup, make a tasty sandwich, pull hunks off at the dinner table.  Yum. 

No-Knead Challah Bread

1 1/2 tablespoons (or sachets) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
125g melted butter
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs
7 cups all-purpose flour
  1. In a large bowl, mix together everything except the flour. Then add the flour and stir to make a stiff, soft dough. Cover loosely (don't seal it off) and leave for 2 hours at room temperature till risen and flattened on top.
  2. At this point, divide the dough in half and divide each of these halves into three balls.
  3. With one set of three dough balls, roll them between your hands to make longer strands and plait them together on a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper. Repeat with the other three doughballs. Cover loosely with foil and leave to rise for a further hour and a half.
  4. Brush your loaves with a beaten egg and sprinkle with poppyseeds or sesame seeds if you wish, and bake at 180 C/350 F for 40 minutes.

16 February 2010

Polenta - provala!!

Polenta is simply cornmeal, ground maize.  Eaten since Roman times, a peasant staple for millenia and now experiencing something of a gastronomic renaissance.  Polenta has been plucked from the paiola of the plebiscite and thrust onto the mainstream stage.  If you are, at this stage, a polentas ignoramas then throw of your shackles and cook it.  It's easy (cooked with water/milk/stock) in much the same way one would cook oatmeal or porridge.  Once 'cooked' there is a multitude of things that can be done with it.  Polenta can be used in sweet dishes and savoury, breads and cakes, for BBQs and hearty winter meals.  Below I've put a couple of ways I like to use it, grilled on the barbee, or as an alternative to potato chips. 

For both grilled and chips the beginning is the same: 

  1. Bring 2 cups milk & 2 cups stock to boil.  Add 1 and a half cups polenta, pouring in constant stream, to liquid, stirring.  Reduce heat to medium-low and, stirring constantly, allow to thicken. 

  2. Remove from heat, stir through 40g butter and a half cup of grated parmasan cheese.  I like to grind in some fresh pepper at this stage too. 

  3. Pour polenta into baking-paper lined tin, allow to cool a bit, cover and refridgerate for at least 3 hours. 

  4. Remove from fridge, turn onto chopping board and slice into 1cm slices.  If frying, add slices to hot oil.  If baking or BBQing place onto tray, turning when golden.  If I bake them I like to finish them off under grill, to get a nice colour. 

Mardi gras

It's mardi gras.  Shrove Tuesday.  Pancake Tuesday.  When we were at school we'd be served pancakes for lunch - the last feast of the sweet little cakes before the 40 days of lenten fasting (well, fasting from frivolous foods such as pancakes).  Nowadays I prefer to make thinner crepes (this recipe is for crepes), but I think the spirit of mardi gras is sufficiently fun-loving not to make an issue out of this.  :) 

Every one knows something about mardi gras - the parties in New Orleans, the masked carnivale of Venice, a day where pancakes are not only tasty but completely guilt-free. 

These crepes are normally served as a sweet, with cream, jam, syrup, whatever.  But if you are looking for a way to integrate them into your dinner proper - make some bolognese sauce, dollop some on, roll it up and voila, crepes bolognese!!  Happy Pancake Day.  xx

Serves 2
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 egg
300ml milk
  1. 1.Mix all ingredients.
  2. 2.Fry in pan with butter/oil.
Serve with lemon/sugar; maple syrup, berries etc.

13 February 2010

Something different

Okay, this recipe is from the February 2010 NZ House and Garden magazine.  I was having a flick through, searching for inspiration for something to cook for my grandparents before I head back northward.  Having already decided to make some crostini (thin slices of baguette brushed with oil and placed under the grill) to serve with guacamole and salsa, I wanted to find something that could be served with salad which would be interesting and didn't need rice, pasta or potato etc. 

Marinated chicken salad with grilled peach salsa - serves 4

500g chicken tenderloins (or breast, cut into thick strips)
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp each: oil, honey, rosemary leaves
4 small peaches, halved and stoned
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 orange, juice and finely grated zest
2 tbsp each: olive oil, sweet chilli sauce, chopped fresh herbs

  1. Marinate chicken in wine, oil, honey and rosemary, for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Grill peaches, cut side down, in hot pan until nicely coloured.  When cool enough to handle, dice peaches and combine with onion, orange, olice oil, sweet chilli and herbs.  Season to taste and stand for at least 20 minutes, so the flavours can settle in. 
  3. Take chicken from marinade and place in hot pan - 3 or 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through and nicely coloured. 
  4. Serve chicken topped with salsa, on or beside nice green salad (I like spinach with some parmasan).  There'll be plenty of salsa - if you've some wee ramikins, serve some extra salsa on each plate, in the little dish (see photo). 

avocado + argentina = muy gustoso

I used to really dislike avocado.  I thought it tasted like soap.  My friends all loved avocado and consequently guacamole was a fixture on most of their tables. 

However, obviously I eventually came to my senses.  Kush convinced me one night to try some of her guac, made the same way as her Ma, Clara, makes it.  It was amazing.  Buttery, a little bit sweet, a little bit tangy.  I don't know whether this is typical of Argentina (where they're from) or whether Clara just woke up one day and decided to try something a bit different, but it's good.  Thanks Clara and Kush!! 

Mash up the flesh of an avocado.  Pour in a slosh of balsamic vinegar, mix in.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Taste it - you may need to add more balsamic (if it's too buttery-rich), or even a little raw sugar.  It's a real personal taste thing, so just keep tasting it, until it's the way you want it.  The balsamic makes it so good.  Muy muy gustoso!! 

12 February 2010

Gin friday

A few years ago a couple of friends and I (Millie and Vinnes, to be specific; often accompanied by Kush, Rosie and Sophie) started Gin Fridays.  I got malaria about a decade ago, so the tonic (which contains quinine) is good as a preventative measure against relapse (this is true, although at a such a low level as to be next to useless, but we were happy to indulge ourselves).  The truth is, we all like gin and tonic, and I'm still inclined to think it was a fairly original excuse to meet up and have a drink or two.  Certainly more interesting that "it's friday and it's been a long week".  

Anyway, out of respect for these amazing friends I'd like to dedicate today's post to the spirit of Gin Fridays.  Friends getting together not only for a good ol' G&T, but a weekly debrief, a chance to chill out and do something "just 'cause".  I visited a couple of gardens this morning (strange, but true) and was advised by Kate, one of the gardeners, of a use for the very common (but rather hidious-tasting) damson plum...  

Gin and Damson Delight

Mix equal parts of gin and sugar.  Pour over damson plums (in large jar).  Place lid on, put into a cupboard and leave for about three months.  After about three months they're so lovely and sugary-ginny and are amazing with ice-cream.  :) 

11 February 2010

A little bit of something on the side

The hot weather we've been having (in Taranaki and the Waikato, at least) has made lazy al fresco dining de rigeur of late.  Eating summery BBQ and salads not only taste good, but mean we can avoid being in a stuffy kitchen.  Pondering the antipasto platter I'm about to assemble I started to think about different bits and pieces which can serve to add flavour and substance to the basics of outdoor dining.  We all know there's the grilled veges, innumerable salads, olives, prosciutto, breads, BBQed steak, breads.  But what about those bits on the side, the dirty little mistresses of the antipasto platter? 

A few years ago, in my quest to have the foods I wanted without the ingredients I deemed to be 'bad' (I was often misguided, in hindsight, but sometimes on the money), I was given this recipe for aïoli sans œufs (egg-free aïoli).  It's thick and creamy but, without the eggs, better for a lot of people (though don't get me wrong - eggs are wonderful and good for most of us too). 

bulb of garlic
150ml olive oil
150ml peanut oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C
1.Cook bulb of garlic, unpeeled, in hot oven for 30 minutes.
2.Peel cloves and mash into purée.
3.Add salt, pepper and oils slowly, thickening

Another great idea for the ol' antipasto, or as an addition to your BBQed meat, is the love affair between onions and sugar.  Balsamic onions are the best.  They can be done on the BBQ, or in a pan, so great all year around.  Fantastic on breads as well, as an alternative pizza topping, or alongside some kebabs. 

2 red onions, sliced (or capsicums is good too)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic
2 tbsp brown sugar

1.Cook onions slowly.
2.Gather, toss with vinegar and sugar.
3.Cook on very low heat until needed.

10 February 2010

I ♥ ricotta

My cousin, Bridget, and I are both home in Taranaki for a few days, so last night went to our grandparents' to make them dinner.  Fran was interested to try a lasagne dish I'd talked about, using whatever fresh veges one can lay one's hands on and ricotta cheese.  I love this meal 'cause lasagne is always tasty and with ricotta it is sublime.  Using ricotta also has one further advantage - no faffing about with a béchamel sauce.  Happy days. 

I like to start by making my own pasta, if I've the time.  Otherwise dried/fresh from the supermarket is fine (Barilla is the best dried brand I've come across.  If you can find it, trust me, it beats the others hands down).  I use 1 egg for every 100g flour (about 3 eggs/300g flour is plenty for a lasagne).  Put flour onto large flat surface, make a well in centre and crack eggs into well.  With your fingers bring the flour into the eggs, from the outside.  Knead for 15 mins until dough is smooth and elastic.  Cover with clingfilm for 20 mins.  Roll out until sufficiently thin and put aside to use.  If too sticky, dust with a little flour.  I sometimes find I need to add a little olive oil, if getting too dry. 

olive oil
2 cloves garlic
onion, chopped
bacon (2+ rashers, optional), chopped into cm pieces
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
salt & pepper
2 zucchini
aubergine (eggplant) OR 6 portobello mushrooms OR 2 more zucchini
250g ricotta cheese
parmasan cheese

1. If using aubergine - slice and sprinkle both sides with salt.  Leave to sweat.  This takes away the bitterness.  Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celcius. 
2. Once pasta is sorted make up the tomato sugo - heat olive oil in medium-sized pan and add garlic (don't chop them up, just put them in pan peeled, to flavour the oil).  Add chopped onion and cook slowly until soft and transparent.  Flavour with salt and pepper and add bacon (I will use more than 2 rashers, if I have it).  Add tomatoes and leave to simmer and bubble away until reduced and not too liquidy (you can leave this for a good hour, if the heat isn't too high). 
3. Slice zucchini into thin strips.  Cut aubergine slices into halves (if using portobello mushrooms, leave as is). 
4. Spoon a thin layer of sugo into base of lasagne dish, followed by pasta-veges-sugo-parmasan (not too much)-pasta-veges-sugo-ricotta.  This is a moveable feast, you can layer however you like, depending on how much you have of different things.  Grate layer of parmasan on top and finish with freshly-grated nutmeg. 
5. Cook for about a half hour.  I cook it until the top is golden and you can see the sauce bubbling around the edges.  Serve with a green salad.  This is a wicked meal and, if you remove the bacon, suitable for vegetarians too. 

I usually dress salads with a vinegrette, but Fran always has her homemade mayonnaise on tap, and it is REALLY yum.  So unfashionably hi-GI, but it's good and worth the indulgence.   

juice of 2-3 lemons
1/3 cup vinegar
tsp salt
tsp mustard powder
pinch curry powder
tin condensed milk

Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add lemon juice, stir.  Add vinegar, stir.  Add condensed milk and mix well.  Add milk until the mayonnaise is the consistency you want.  Refridgerate and, each time you use it, add a little milk if thickened too much. 

08 February 2010

Fran is my homegirl

I've spent the day with my grandparents, Fran and Alan, sorting out their telecommunications deficits.  Alongside getting new cordless phones and a shiny new mobile phone (to replace the moribund baby-blue Cold War-era nokia prototype) we found some time for a cup of tea and slice of cake.  Fran's Christmas Cake, to be exact.  Not the Chrissy cake she used to make years ago, smothered with nasty almond icing (I realise that most people love that stuff, but personally I'd rather leave it), but a lovely fruity, sherryey number that makes me want to give her a high-five.  Here it is - and keep in mind what Fran told me, "give it a good slosh of sherry, soak fruit, then a little more, just in case it's evaporated".  Love it.  ;) 

700g fruitmix
3 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup sultanas
75g butter
c. 1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup cherries
1/2 cup sherry
1/4 cup almonds
12 cherries chopped to put on top of cake just before baking
small amount apricot jam or melted butter, to brush cake before baking

1. Soak fruit mix, sultanas and cherries in sherry for 2 hours (or overnight, if you're sufficiently organised). 
2. Preheat oven to 150 degrees celcius.  Beat eggs, add melted butter, brown sugar and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Add soaked fruit mix and flour and mix until a soft mix - more wet than dry. 
3. Pour into 8" square tin, decorate with topping cherries and brush with jam/melted butter. 
4. Bake for 15 minutes.  Turn down to 125 degrees celcius and continue to bake for a further 2 and a quarter hours (may need to cover with foil during cooking, if starts to get too cooked on top).  Stick a skewer through cake, to see if cooked.  If not, give it a little longer.  YUM!!!!  Don't wait until Christmas. 

07 February 2010

Zucchini carbonara - almost as good as watching Indiana Jones

I am lucky enough to live at a house where there is a really mean vege garden.  Whilst some of the plants leave me a trifle uninterested (silverbeet - I mean, it's fine, but I think I still have a while before I fully understand why people allow it to take up so much of their gardens), the others are just the ticket to make you want to rifle through the fridge and spend the days making meals.  At the moment the zucchini plants are doing a roaring trade, so much so that I couldn't keep up for a while.  Fortunately Clara and Egardo (hope that's the correct spelling, Kush?) were nearby, for the ol' garden swapski.  I digress, right, zucchini...

This is a recipe I got from a friend in Paris, tweaked a little to suit the NZ shopper.  The original used smoked pancetta, so if you are able to get that, sweet.  If not, bacon is absolutely fine.  It's a great dish in summer because whilst the crème fraîche and eggs are fairly rich, the zuccs and lemon zest bring it back down.  Salad on the side, glass of white or G&T and you're cooking with gas.  Enjoy!  xx A

Zucchini carbonara

Serves 2
2 large eggs
30ml crème fraîche
25g finely grated parmasan
2 tsp olive oil
60g finely sliced bacon
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 zucchini, julienned (very thinly sliced)
grated zest of 1 lemon
chopped herbs, to serve (sage or thyme are nice)
spaghetti/fettucine/linguine – enough for 2

1. Beat eggs with crème fraîche, most of the parmasan and a grind of black pepper.
2. Heat oil in pan and fry bacon until your doctor starts pursing their lips (crisp). Add onion, fry for further two minutes.
3. Cook pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, add zucchini to the bacon/onion and allow to wilt.
4. When pasta is cooked, drain it, reserving a little of the water. Add pasta and a little water to pan with zucchini etc. Toss to combine.
5. Remove from heat, pour over egg mixture. Gently combine, allowing sauce to thicken slightly. Serve immediately with remaining parmasan, lemon zest and chopped herbs.

Starting a blog

I've struggled until fairly recently to understand the concept of blogging.  My younger cousin, Gina, started a blog not too long ago and reading that, alongside the odd one on stuff.co.nz, has given me a better understanding of their point.

I love having friends over for dinner, or being at home during holidays, 'cause it means lots of cooking.  I've always loved being in and around the kitchen, from the '80s when Fran and Mutti patiently explained what they were doing, despite my tendancy to be underfoot, to more recent times devouring Annie's raft of foodie magazines and absorbing tips from Franca (Elisa's nonna), despite the fact her instructions came in rapidfire italian. 

Vinnes once suggested I type up all my recipes and make a book.  Maybe one day.  For now I reckon I've found a more time-friendly and option.  Every day or so I'll share a new recipe, either from my kitchen's archives (ie: my computer, since obviously 'my kitchen' represents a myriad of cooking spaces from over the years) or something newly discovered.  So, if my actual kitchen is too far away to come for dinner, welcome to la mia cucina.