Sunday, July 31, 2011

The world of dumplings

It seems I am entering the world of dumplings and I am in unknown territory.

On Friday, I made Beef Stew and Parsley Dumplings to take along to a family dinner.

I have made two types of dumplings before, on both occasions I was a little clueless. About 10 years ago I made a potato style dumpling, it was a Lithuanian recipe (maybe Latvian or Estonian??) I can't remember what I served them with, but I remember how much I loved the process of making them: hand rolling them and boiling them in water and I remember how yummy they were. I guess they were a little bit like gnocchi. I wish I knew what happened to that recipe, hopefully I will stumble across it again some day. Recently I made German meatballs, but to be honest I found them a little stodgy. I didn't think I would be cooking dumplings again anytime soon.

I have only eaten dumplings on two occasions before, once when I was young, I didn't like them, again I found them and heavy and stodgy. And once in a little cafe in Cesky Kromlov (Czech Republic) on a Good Friday many years ago. Here they had been rolled into small balls and added to a delicious soupy goulash.

When I went to make the dumplings yesterday, I was uncertain about dropping spoonfuls of dumpling mixture into the stew. Wasn't I suppose to be rolling dumplings? I realised that the dumpling mixture would be like a scone in texture. Is this more of an English style of dumpling? I was expecting something different.

When I arrived at my aunts house with my dish, there was much discussion about how to make dumplings. My aunt was quick to point out the following points:

• I should have added the dumplings at the last minute, right before serving, as they had soaked up almost all of the moisture. With the addition of some extra beef stock we were able to rectify that problem, with the dinner guests, none the wiser.

(this image and recipe are from Taste)

• I should have used a smaller pot and had the dumplings looking like this (above), making a light and fluffy scone like top to the casserole, therefore keeping more liquid in the stew. I have always had in my mind, that dumplings are small and floating in a stew.

• Even though I had made the exact recipe, adding the amount of liquid that was listed, my aunt told me that her mother (our Nana) always made them with much more liquid. Her dumplings were floating in a bowl of soup-like stew. I had already double checked with a few recipes on line about how much liquid should go into a casserole with dumplings and the quantities that I used seemed fairly standard.

But when all is said and done, it comes down to taste. The dish looked good and tasted fantastic, the dumplings were a hit with everyone, including my children, who were bargaining for the last dumplings. Even my aunt wanted more.

(these images and a recipe I might try are from Not Quiet Nigella)

But for me, I think I might play around a little bit with dumplings. While the flavour of the scone like dumplings were delicious, I still think of dumplings like the ones I ate in Europe: hand rolled and swimming in a soupy stew.

How do you like your dumplings?

Maybe you don't like them at all.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lemon Barley Water

There is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a tall lemon drink filled with ice. While it is still winter here, we have been enjoying some beautiful sunny days. With so many lemons in the house, (thanks to friends and family with trees in their backyards) I decided to try a recipe for lemon barley water.

I remember, as a child, sitting on the lawn with my father on hot summer days and drinking lemon barley water. The sounds and smells of summer were all around: freshly mown grass, sprinklers, children laughing, the scent of chinese star jasmine and the drone of the bees.

This recipe has been adapted from the beautiful book "The Nantucket Table"

It is best to make this the day before, giving the barley water plenty of time to cool in the fridge. The secret, as with most lemon drinks, is lots of ice.

Lemon Barley Water

makes 2.5 litres

• 1/2 cup pearl barley (rinsed and drained)
• 10 cups water

• 3 large lemons

• 1/2 cup caster sugar

to serve

• lots of crushed iced

• mint leaves (optional)

Put the barley, water and the zest of 2 lemons into a heavy based saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for 2 hours. Juice the lemons and mix well with the sugar. Strain the barley from the water and put it aside for another use. Add the lemon juice and sugar to the barley water. Stir well to combine. Transfer to a serving pitcher and chill well before serving. Serve in tall glasses with lots of ice.

The barley water can keep in the fridge in a screw top jar for up to two weeks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homemade baked beans for breakfast

When I first discovered the Internet I went in search of the perfect homemade baked bean recipe. I think I must of printed out at least 35 American baked bean recipes: Boston baked beans, ranch-style baked beans, chuck wagon beans, Vermont baked beans, New England baked beans, cowboy baked beans, the list went on and on.

It was a confusing time. I tried many of the American recipes and some were very good, but none were really the flavour that I wanted for breakfast baked beans. I was not really happy about the amount of sugar that went into many of the recipes.

I wanted to find a good baked bean recipe that I could feed to my children. I was not yet a mother, and I proclaimed that my children would never eat processed tinned baked beans. Now, that I am a mother, you will always find a couple of tins of Heinz baked beans in the cupboard. Just in case.

About five years ago this recipe fell into my hands when least expected it. I had all but given up the search for the perfect baked bean recipe, so I when I made it - just once - exactly to the recipe, I was pretty happy. I think it is a Woman's Weekly recipe, they really know what they are doing in their test kitchens!

I hope you like it too.

Baked Beans


serves 4-6

• 1 cup dried haricot beans (soaked overnight)

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 3 bacon rashers (diced)

• 1 onion (diced)

• 1 garlic (crushed)

• 1 tablespoon tomato paste

• 1 x 400 gram tin tomatoes

• 1 1/2 cups water
• 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
• 2 teaspoons djion mustard
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup

• salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan and gently fry the bacon, onion and garlic until the onion is soft. Add the soaked beans, tomato paste, tomatoes, water worcestershire sauce and mustard and stir well. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook for a further 15 minutes. Stir through the maple syrup and serve.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two strong women

Today I am grateful for these two women.

These two amazing women have been the influence for my great love of food.

My grandmother, Nana, was a good plain cook. One of thirteen children, she learnt to cater for a large family early in her life. She later went on to cook in hospitals, boarding houses and country hotels. She had to cook with what was at hand. She later settled down on her own farm, with her husband, and her three children. Her extended family were always close by. During my childhood, we spent every Sunday night having dinner at my Nana's cottage. The menu was the same every week, year after year. Our family wouldn't have had it any other way. We ate Nana's roast chicken with roasted potato, roasted pumpkin, peas, carrots and gravy. Dessert was always jelly, peaches and ice-cream.

From my Nana, I learnt the importance of serving food made with love. No matter how simple a meal may be, giving the gift of love on a plate is one of the greatest gifts that you can give.

My mother could not cook when she was first married. She taught herself to become an excellent and adventurous home cook with the guidance of the popular Woman's Weekly cookbooks. Menu's that were not often seen on country dinner tables were served by my mother at dinner parties. During the late 1970's, while other mothers were serving curried sausages and shepard's pie for dinner, mum cooked us moussaka. On the weekends we would have my grandparents for dinner and mum would serve up tortes and gateau's that would not look out of place in an Austrian coffee shop.

From my mother, I have learnt to try new flavours and learnt that I can cook anything that I put my mind to. I've also learnt to enjoy the process of entertaining. From planning a menu, setting a table, selecting the wine and choosing the music.

Combine these two lessons: create a great atmosphere, perhaps cook some food from another culture, make it with love, add good friends, great wine and fabulous conversation and you have all you really need in life. 

This is an old photo of my Nana and Mum. But one I have always loved. It was the one I always carried with me when I was far from home. My Nan is no longer with us, however she lives on in our hearts. I am missing her so much right now. And as for mum, she no longer has this hairstyle!Go over to 'maxabella loves' for more gratitude posts.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jamie Oliver's Spiced Lamb Shanks

My husband loves lamb shanks, they are his favourite food. I have many yummy recipes for cooking them and I don't think there can be any better winter food. Do you? I remembered this Jamie Oliver recipe from his very first book, "The Naked Chef". I had cooked it for friends a few years ago and wanted to try it again.

What a good choice. It was sooo delicious. The perfect heartwarming fare for a mid winters night.

While the recipe is one to rave about I must not proceed without mentioning the absolute star of the dish. Home grown organic lamb. Wow, my husband and I could not get over the difference in these lamb shanks from shanks that are usually bought at our local butcher. Plump and meaty and full of flavour. Each shank had way to much for meat one serving, however that didn't stop me from eating it all!

Thank-you Karen for your lovely gift of organic lamb. It was delicious.

Spiced Lamb Shanks

serves 4

• 4 lamb shanks
• salt and pepper
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (crushed)

• 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
• 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves (finely chopped)

• 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
• 1 tablespoon plain flour

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 garlic clove (crushed)
• 2 onions (diced)

• 1 large carrot (diced)

• 6 sticks celery (diced)

• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

• 3/4 cup white wine
• 6 anchovy fillets (chopped)
• 2 x 400 gram tins tomatoes (chopped)

• 1 handful parsley leaves (chopped)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, coriander seeds, chilli flakes, rosemary and oregano. Rub into the lamb, pressing it on well and dust with flour. Heat the oil in a heavy based casserole dish and brown the meat on all sides and set aside. Add the garlic, carrot, celery and onions to the pan and gently saute until softened. Add the balsamic vinegar and allow it to reduce to a syrup. pour in the wine and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and tinned tomatoes. Stir well and return the lamb. Cover and bring to the boil. Place into the oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the lid and cook for a further 1/2 hour. Skim off any fat and stir through the chopped parsley.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gingerbread Cake

Recently when I was house sitting at my cousin's farm, I stumbled across this fantastic old recipe book. Hand typed, milk splattered and torn, it was a delight to flip through it's thin, worn pages while enjoying a cup of tea. I love the homely recipes proudly contributed by the community. Each persons name in bold type, next to a favourite family recipe.

I love books like this and have a few on my own shelf; my old kindy cookbook and others that I have discovered in op shops or have been given by friends. I love the collaboration from the community of home cooks that go into a book like this. I think about how invaluable the recipes and tips were to other families during a time when people did not have 50 cookbooks on their own shelves or the Internet at their fingertips for recipes and advice.

But most of all I love the names of the recipes:

three minute cake

salmon whirls
Esther's lazy daisy cake
my biscuits
spaghetti cheese flan
tuna medley
Chinese mince
Hawaiian curried eggs
lamb dinner in a bag
quick sponge roly pudding
fish fillets elegance
baked bean casserole
economical lemon butter
jam sauce 1 and jam sauce 2

Laugh all you want. Perhaps spaghetti cheese flan may not be to my taste, but there are some fantastic basic recipes in these old books. I often turn to them for cakes, slices, biscuits and jams. Once you work out the oven temperatures and the cake tin size (as these things are rarely listed) you usually discover a very good recipe.

Which is why I am so glad that my cousin loaned me her book so I could bring it home to cook this yummy gingerbread cake. It has fast become a staple in our house.

Gingerbread cake

makes one loaf cake

• 165 grams unsalted butter
• 1 cup caster sugar
• 3/4 cup golden syrup
• 1 egg
• 2 cups plain flour
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
• 1 dessertspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon ground ginger
• 1 cup milk

to serve

• sifted icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a 5 x 9 inch loaf tin. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the syrup and mix well. Beat in the egg and then sift in the dry ingredients. Slowly stir in the milk until well combined. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1 hour. Once cooled, sprinkle with sifted icing sugar.

I like to make this the day before to develop the flavour, but it is usually half eaten by day two in our house.

I write this as if I have been cooking this recipe for years, in fact I have only had the book for 2 weeks. So popular it is this cake in our house that I have cooked it three times already. Don't worry, we have been sharing it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I have had a few requests for my spaghetti and meatballs recipe that I mentioned on my other blog. I have been making this recipe for years, it is a combination of a couple of recipes. I tend to do that: take the best bits from a recipe and play around with it to suit my taste. Doesn't everyone do that? Isn't that what cooking is all about?

We all really like it in this house. My children (well, my daughter, who begs to help) absolutely loves rolling the meatballs, either with me or for me. Hopefully this recipe would make all of the Nonna's out there proud.

For Astrid, who asked about how I got my meatballs to stop from falling apart. I am definitely no expert, but think that it has to do with these three things:

• The addition of an egg to the meatball or rissole mixture.
• The time that the rolled mixture spends in the refrigerator before cooking.
• And, that I cook my meatballs on a tray in the oven, before adding them to my sauce.

I pre-cook the meatballs this way for a few reasons. Firstly laziness: I don't have to stand and watch the meatballs in the pan, turning them and getting splattered in oil. The kitchen bench and the floor does not get splattered with oil and I have no cleaning to do. It also reduces the amount of oil that I use - I don't use any, I just lay the meatballs on greaseproof baking paper and put them in the oven.

And yes, before I started cooking my meatballs this way, I too, had my meatballs falling apart in the sauce.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

serves 4-6

for the meatballs

• 500 grams beef, pork or veal mince (or a mixture of each)
• 1 small onion (finely diced)

• 1 clove garlic (crushed)

• 1 slice thick white bread (crusts removed – soaked in 1/4 cup milk)

• 1 egg (lightly beaten)
• 1 teas. thyme leaves (finely chopped)

• 2 tables. parsley leaves (finely chopped)

• 2 tables. parmesan cheese (grated)

• salt/pepper

for the sauce

• 1 tables. olive oil
• 1 onion (finely diced)
• 1 clove garlic (crushed)

• 2 x 400gram tinned tomatoes (chopped)

• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1/2 cup basil leaves (roughly chopped)

• salt/pepper

to serve

• 500 grams spaghetti (cooked)
• a handful of basil leaves (torn)

• freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 220 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all of the meatball ingredients together and roll into walnut size balls. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. In the mean time, heat the olive oil for the sauce and gently sauté the onions and garlic. When the onion is soft add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. To cook the meatballs toss in a little olive oil and spread out onto a baking tray. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the tomato sauce and continue to cook in the sauce for 20 minutes. Toss the meatballs with the cooked spaghetti and sprinkle with the basil leaves and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

And what to do with leftover pork belly?

Make fried rice of course.

When I was backpacking in my early twenties, I lived in a London backpacker hotel for about 5 months. It was not as bad as it sounds, I shared the room with some amazing girls who were all in London working and saving for their next travel adventure. A few streets away from the hotel was a Chinese takeaway that made the best fried rice I have ever tasted, before or since. With the price just £1.60, I ate this at least twice a week.

Now with a family, fried rice can be a good way to use up leftovers. Here is the recipe that I make. Again, I use this as a guide, adding whatever may be in the fridge. I can't remember where this recipe originally came from - Woman's Weekly? Donna Hay? A toddler cookbook perhaps?

Fried Rice

serves 6

• 2 tablespoons peanut oil
• 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
4 bacon rashers (diced)
• 2 teaspoons grated ginger

• 1 garlic clove (crushed)

• 6 shallots (sliced)

• 1/2 red capsicum (diced)
• 1 teaspoon sesame oil

• 3 cups cold cooked rice

• 2/3 cup frozen peas
• 100 grams cooked chicken or pork

• 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Heat the peanut oil in a wok or large frying pan to a high heat. Add the beaten eggs and quickly fry until cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the bacon, ginger, garlic, shallots and capsicum and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the sesame oil and cold rice, stir and continue to cook to heat through. Roll up the egg and cut into thin strips, add the egg, peas and chicken to the fried rice. Cook to heat through. Stir through the soy sauce and cook for a minute more and serve.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Slow Cooked Asian Pork Belly

Even though my Dad lives 3 hours away, we are lucky that he usually comes down to visit us every six weeks. Until recently, we always went to dinner at a local club with him when he visited. We always ate the same thing, the most delicious slow cooked pork belly with roasted fennel, carrot, onions and parsnips.

Unfortunately the club is no longer doing meals.

I was having withdrawals - no pork belly.

So I bought one. For the first time.

Why would I have cooked it at home before now? For just $13.00 it was cooked perfectly by someone else, no work in the kitchen for me and more importantly, no cleaning up. I had intended to cook it the same way with the roasted vegetables, but by chance, I found this recipe while flicking through a library book. So instead of going out for dinner this weekend, I cooked a slow roasted pork belly at home.

It will not be the last time. Soooo yummy!

Slow Cooked Asian Pork Belly

serves 4

• 1.5 kilo pork belly (scored)

• a small handful of sea salt

• 1 red chilli (finely chopped)

• 5 garlic cloves (peeled and finely chopped)

• 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

• 1 teaspoon tomato paste

• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon chinese five spice

• 1/4 cup water

to serve

• a handful coriander leaves

• a handful shallots (finely sliced)

• steamed jasmine rice
• steamed or stir-fried asian greens

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees. Place the pork in the sink and pour over a kettle of boiling water. Dry the pork with a clean tea towel, then rub the sea salt all over the fat. Put all of the remaining ingredients, except the ones for serving, into a shallow roasting dish. Mix well. Add the pork belly, being careful not let the skin touch the sauce mixture. Roast for 2 1/2 hours. Check the pork every 30 minutes. If the sauce starts to dry up, add a little more water. Once cooked, heat the grill to medium hot. Place the pork belly under the grill for about 8 minutes to achieve a nice crispy skin. Slice up and serve sprinkled with coriander and shallots.
This recipe has been adapted slightly from a recipe in the "Real Food Cookbook".

Monday, July 11, 2011

Poached Quinces

This recipe is from my very well thumbed copy of "The Book of Jewish Food" by the wonderful Claudia Roden. Apparently this is a popular way of cooking and preserving quinces in the Istanbul Jewish community.

I have been cooking this delicious quince recipe since I purchased the book from a London bookstore in the year of it's publication - 1998.

Oh my, that makes me feel old!

I hope you enjoy it too.

Poached Quinces

serves 4-6

make in may, june and july

• 1 kilo quinces (scrubbed, peeled and cut in slices across the fruit 2cm thick)

• 1/2 lemon (juiced)
• 100 grams caster sugar

• 6 whole cloves

• 600 ml water

• 1/4 teas. vanilla extract

to serve

• 150 ml clotted, double cream or mascarpone

Place the cut quinces immediately into a large saucepan with the lemon juice, sugar, cloves and water. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook the quinces for 2 hours, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. After 1 hour, add the vanilla. More water may need to be added or the fruit may need to be removed if it cooks to quickly. Once cooked, gently remove the quince slices and cut out the core with an apple corer, making sure you remove it all. Arrange onto a serving dish or bowl and pour over the strained syrup. Serve cold or at room temperature with clotted cream.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Quince love

I can't explain my fascination with quinces, they seem so mysterious and exotic to me. Is it their heady perfume that scents the air as the ripen or cook?

Or it is because I had never even seen one until I was in my early twenties? I was intrigued and then smitten.

I dream of a quince tree, heavily ladened with fruit in a secret corner of the back yard.

(for those reading who know me, obviously not my backyard, but the backyard of my dreams)

I have seen baskets filled with fresh quinces on other blogs, ready and waiting on the kitchen table to be turned into delicious jams, jellies and tarts.

Unfortunately this is how we buy them in Queensland.

It just doesn't seem to have the same romantic appeal, but still each year I buy them and make at least one dish: poached quinces.

A dessert perhaps enjoyed by Persian princesses.

I think they will make a perfect dessert to the roast lamb I am cooking tonight.

Friday, July 8, 2011

French Toast and Eggy Bread

My first introduction to French Toast was through my all time favourite book "Debbie learns to cook." I was so intrigued by the name of the dish and was excited as Debbie's mother taught her how to cook it, by herself.

Now at a similar age, my children have come to me asking for French Toast. Why? They had seen it being made on Playschool. I hadn't made it for a couple of years and they were to young to remember having ever eaten it before.

So we have been making it a bit lately - so quick and easy.

I remember my mother making French Toast for me. I think it was at my insistence, after reading about my new friend Debbie. She told me that when her mother had made it for her as a child, my Nana had called it Eggy Bread, which is what it is called in England. My grandfather was a Geordie and I'd say he would have much of it in his childhood.

I have called my sweet version of the bread French Toast and the savoury version, Eggy Bread for no other reason than to distinguish the difference between the two for my children.

French Toast

serves 4

• 4 eggs (lightly beaten)

• 8 tablespoons milk (or 4 tablespoons milk and 4 tablespoons cream)
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 8 slices of white bread (cut 2cm wide)

• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 tablespoon butter

to serve

• icing sugar

Combine the egg, milk and cinnamon in a large, shallow bowl. Heat half the butter and oil in a fry pan. Dip 4 bread slices in the egg mixture and fry on each side until browned. This usually takes a couple of minutes for each side. Add the remaining butter and oil and fry the remaining 4 slices.

Sprinkle liberally with sifted icing sugar and serve.

Eggy Bread

serves 4

• 4 eggs (lightly beaten)

• 8 tablespoons milk
• 8 slices of white bread (cut 2cm wide)

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1/2 tablespoon butter

Combine the egg and milk in a large, shallow bowl. Heat half the butter and oil in a fry pan. Dip 4 bread slices in the egg mixture and fry on each side until browned. This usually takes a couple of minutes for each side. Add the remaining butter and oil and fry the remaining 4 slices.

Serve as part of a hearty savoury breakfast: eggs, bacon, slow roasted mushrooms or homemade baked beans.
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