March 30, 2011

Farfalle with Carbonara and Spring Peas

I feel like I haven’t done a pasta post in a while, which for me is rather odd.  Baking has taken over a bit lately and I guess it’s because my nights have been rather busy.  Sunday is usually my free day which also happens to be baking day.  Baking is actually going to have to take a back seat for now (I say this but I bet you next week I’ll have another baking post), as since this blog the kilos are creeping up on me (not that pasta is helping the issue).  I'm pretty good when it comes to controlling my urges for sugar - I keep a limited amount in my house.  When I make a cake or cupcakes or anything sweet I tend to keep a piece or two for myself, then hand the rest out to my family.  I guess I get more pleasure out of others enjoying my creations than I do, not that I don't enjoy eating!  I've recently sat down and wrote a list of dishes that I am keen to make, like pork belly and duck, two things I've never cooked.  Dishes like this make me nervous as one of my biggest hates is to cook a meal for someone and it not taste great - a little insight to my need for perfection.  I like to do a test first to make sure I like it before I cook it for others.

Anyway, this pasta dish would have to be, beside traditional carbonara, the only other creamy pasta I love.  I make this dish fairly often because my other half loves it, and it’s great for left over’s.  I might have mentioned before that I have a bit of a love affair with pancetta, and mixed with mint and peas just seem to be a match made in heaven.

I grabbed this recipe off Jamies site (here) about a year ago, and it didn’t take long for me to make it.  I try to use fresh herbs where ever possible, but sometimes I just don't have the time or energy to go to the shops and buy them.  In this dish, I use dried mint flakes and it works just as well.  If this is the case for you, just add as you go til there's the right balance of flavours.  It’s a very simple dish to make, so give it a go because I’m sure you’ll love it.

400g farfalle
1 egg
100ml double cream
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g pancetta, cut into batons
3 handfuls of fresh podded or frozen peas
2 sprigs of fresh mint, leaves picked
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to boil, then add the farfalle and cooking as per packet instructions.

In a small pot, cook the pancetta until golden and crispy.  When done, turn off the heat and set aside.

In small bowl, whisk together the egg, cream, salt and pepper.

When the farfalle is nearly cooked, add the peas and stir – these will only take a minute.  When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the pot of pancetta.  Add the cream slowly and stir as you go – this will ensure the egg mixture doesn’t cook too fast and scramble.  Then fold though the mint and parmesan.

Serve immdiately topped with a little extra parmesan.

Serves 4.

March 28, 2011

Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Every year when it gets closer to Easter I get so excited about hot cross buns.  Bakeries start selling them months before it’s actually Easter, and hey, I’m not complaining.  Over the years, it’s become less about the chocolate, and more about an excuse to get a proper present.  That wasn’t always the case.  My best memories of Easter would have to be when I was really young, around 5, and we would go to Rottnest for Easter every year.  For those who don’t live in Perth, Rottnest is a small island off the coast of Fremantle (around 30-40 minutes away) that many take their boat or ferry over and holiday on the Island.  Growing up, it was a regular family vacation spot.  Now days Rottnest has kind of ‘sold-out’ and it’s too expensive to go there, not to mention hard to get accommodation.

But back to my story.  Mum and Papa would hide little Easter eggs all over the boat and my brother and I would spend the morning looking for them.  It wasn’t the biggest boat so the hunt didn’t last long, but it was fun.

The other week I decided for the first time ever to make hot cross buns myself, and to be honest, the first lot were a complete failure.  The yeast didn’t activate so I was left with hard little ‘rocks’.  Speaking to a friend at work, she suggested it was the environment wasn’t humid enough for the yeast.  So taking her advice, I created a little cave for my dough to rise by putting the oven on really low, and letting the dough sit in a well grease bowl, covered with glad wrap (cling wrap) and then covered with a damp tea towel.  Success!  The dough was soft and silky and elastic.  If you prefer to make the original hot cross buns (with fruit), instead of choc chips, use 1 cup sultanas, ½ cup raisins and 1/3 cup candied mixed peel.

This recipe comes from the blog Grab You Fork, and you can find the original here.

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1/2 cup caster sugar
4 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons mixed spice
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
60g butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup milk choc chips
1 cup dark choc chips
½ cup plain flour
1/3 cup cold water
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon powdered gelatine
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of mixed spice

In a large bowl, add the yeast, milk and 2 teaspoons of the sugar, stir and set aside for 10 minutes until the yeast forms bubbles.

In the same bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, butter, egg, choc chips and remaining sugar and mix well with a metal spoon to bring all ingredients together.  You can use dough hooks on an electric mixer to do this as well.  When it comes together, knead the dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until it becomes smooth and elastic to the touch.

Lightly oil a clean bowl, and place the dough in the middle.  Cover with cling film, then place a damp tea towl on top.  Let the dough rest for 1 – 1 ½ hours in a warm area until it doubles in size.

Line a 23cm square tin with baking paper and light grease with oil.  Divide the dough into 12 even balls then place in tin.  Cover the tin with cling film and place the damp tea towel on top.  Leave dough to rest again for 30 minutes in a warm area.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

To make the crosses, mix the water and flour until you have a thick paste.  Place in a piping bag (or plastic bag and snip end off) and slowly pipe crosses over the buns.

Place the buns in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  You will know they are ready when they make a hollow sound when tapped.

To make the glaze, add the sugar and water in a small saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.  In a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of cold water with the gelatine until it comes together.  Add to the saucepan, along with the cinnamon and mixed spice and stir.  Take off the heat and allow to thicken slightly.  Brush the glaze over the hot buns.

Makes 12.

March 23, 2011

French Apple Tart

The other day I was flipping through TV channels and came across Ina Garten making a French Apple Tart.  All of a sudden I remembered a recipe I grabbed off the internet a couple of years ago for the exact same thing.  And then it hit me “oh yeah, I was planning to make one of those”.  After watching Ina I jumped on the internet, had a quick look at her recipe, and scribbled a couple of ingredients on a Post-It note.  A couple of days later, I got around to making it.

I love sweets, and I love baking (as you might have noticed), and since this blog I’ve started thinking about putting my own spin on recipes.  Normally I wouldn’t do this, I would follow a recipe because I assume the original creator knows best – and most rightly they do!  I have a couple of my own recipes, and when it comes to Italian dishes and anything simple, I have the confidence to write my own.

For this French Apple Tart, I decided to ‘research’ a couple of variations to base mine around.  It stems from Ina’s, which you can find here.  The result was something so lovely and light, but sweet (maybe a little too sweet so I’ve adjusted a couple of things below).  When it comes to apples, it's safe to say that there are a few key ingredients that will always work, like cinnamon.  So have a go at the one below, and if you want, adjust to how you like too.

3 sheets of puff pastry (store bought frozen is fine)
4 apples, peel, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons apricot jam
3 tablespoons caster sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
50g butter, cubed
1 tablespoon Cointreau
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Line a 25cm by 38cm tin with baking paper, and lightly spray with oil.

If using frozen pastry, place the three layers on top of each other and fold in half.  Using a sharp knife, cut the three raw edges off so they pastry has no dry edges.  Roll out the pastry using a rolling pin and lightly dust with flour as you go.  Roll until it fits the tray - it should be around 5mm thick.

Use 1 tablespoon of apricot jam and spread evenly over the pastry.  Neatly place the apples over the pastry and jam, overlapping as you go.  Take the apples all the way to the edges.

Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over the apple, then place the small cubes of butter evenly over the whole tart.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown.

Just before the tart is done, place the remaining 2 tablespoons of apricot jam, the Cointreau and water in a small saucepan over a medium heat and stir, reducing the mixture to a smooth consistency.

Remove the tart from the oven and brush the jam over the top, giving the tart a nice glaze.

Serve warm or cooled. 

March 21, 2011

Flourless Chocolate Cake

I was so disappointed in myself recently.  I had a real dumb moment thanks to rushing a recipe.  I wanted to make a cake before dinner, and with trying to do too much in one day I ended up ruining a perfectly good recipe. 

The story goes like this.  I got home from the movies in the afternoon and decided to make a quick cake before heading to my parents for Monday night family dinner.  I had a couple of hours so I thought “no biggie”.  I found a great chocolate cake recipe in Neil Perry’s book The Food I Love, had a quick glance, then rushed to the shops to get some missing ingredients.  I realised I needed a couple of extra bowls, so popped over to Mum’s on the way home.  Got home, ok great, I have half an hour to get it into the oven so it’s done by 7 and I can take it to dinner.  Start making the cake, wow, lots of steps.  Look at the clock and I have 5 minutes left.  Crap.  Ok, keep going.  Eventually I get the cake into the oven in 40 minutes.  I call mum and let her know I’ll be about 10 minutes late.  Cake is supposed to be ready by 7, but I go to check it and a skewer comes out wet.  The cake is NO WHERE NEAR DONE.

Skip to the end - time runs out and the cakes not cooked, so I turn the oven off and leave.  I was furious.  I was in the worst mood - a bad dinner guest that’s for sure.

This is what really happened.  The cake needs to be cooked in a bain-marie.  That’s no problem, but what I failed to think about was NOT using a cake tin with a removable base.  The reason the skewer came out wet is the cake had absorbed all the water in the bain-marie, making it soggy.  It was cooked, just incredibly wet. 

The top part however was lovely.  It was crisp like a meringue, and sweet, and moist until it hit the bottom puddle.  The cake had so much potential!  And the batter, oh god the batter - it was amazing!  It was a tricky cake to make with so many steps - I ended up using four mixing bowls.  And it would have been completely worth it had I thought about the recipe properly before rushing into it.

Moral of the story – read a recipe carefully before plunging in.  And when attempting to make this cake, use a completely sealed cake tin.

Lucky for me, over the next day, the cake had absorbed all the water evenly that it became a pudding.  A quick warming in the microwave and a dollop of cream and the cake was beautiful.  So not the biggest failure after all...

400g good quality dark chocolate, broken up (I used 50% dark chocolate)
6 eggs, separated
150g (2/3 cup) caster sugar
2 ½ tablespoons Cointreau
300ml pure whipping cream, plus extra to serve
Icing sugar, to serve

Preheat the oven to 175°C.  Carefully line a 20cm round cake tin with baking paper and spray with cooking oil, so all areas are covered.

Set a metal bowl over a simmering pot of water and slowly melt the chocolate.  Be careful not to let the water hit the bowl.  When melted, set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the egg yolks, Cointreau and two-thirds (100g) of the sugar and beat until pale and creamy.  Add the chocolate and stir until combined, then slowly add half the cream (150ml) and stir.

In another bowl, whip the remaining cream (150ml) and set aside.

In a very clean bowl, add the egg whites and beat until soft peaks form.  Slowly add the remaining sugar (50g) and continue beating until firm.

Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the egg whites.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin, and place the tin in a bain-marie with 1 inch of hot water.  Any baking tray or oven proof dish will work as a bain-marie.  Bake for 45 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 150°C and bake for a further 45 minutes.  When done, turn the oven off and let the cake rest for 20 minutes in the oven.  Gently go around the edges of the tin with a knife then turn out onto a plate.

Before serving, sprinkle the cake with the icing sugar.  Serve with whipped cream.

Serves 10.

March 16, 2011

Rocket, Pear and Pine Nut Salad

Last night when I left work it was particularly hot outside.  I was so hungry for something healthy and tasty, and given that it wasn’t the best weather to ‘cook’, I decided on a nice salad with some of my left over Lemon and Chive Veal Schnitzels I had in the freezer.

The Rocket, Pear and Pine Nut salad is my ultimate salad!  There are a few variations out there, but I like mine with fennel and feta.  You could also use avocado and or walnuts, or turn it into a meal by adding shredded poached chicken.

The best thing about making these gourmet salads is not only the taste, but you feel like you’ve made something special, and that it’s not just another salad.

I used apple cider vinegar dressing, which works really well with the fruitiness of the pear.  When I was in Italy my Zia Emma used apple cider vinegar in all her salads, and my gosh it was just such a lovely change from the normal red wine vinegar or balsamic I used.  When I got back to Perth I went to the shops and bought a bottle, and haven’t stopped using it since.  Feel free to use whatever dressing you like – lemon juice instead of vinegar works well too.

Large bunch of rocket leaves
2 pears, sliced thinly
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
Handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
100g smooth feta
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon french mustard
Good pinch of salt

In a bowl or large plate, place the rocket, pear and fennel, and toss lightly.  Crumble over the feta and sprinkle the pine nuts. 

In a jar, add the dressing ingredients, close tightly with the lid, then shake.  Add as little or much of the dressing as you like.

Serves 4 as a side.

March 14, 2011

Individual Zucchini and Bacon Quiches

I love those recipes in life where you’ve eaten something throughout your childhood and then continue making as an adult.  They are family recipes, and most of the time you’re not sure where they came from, but you know you’ll never stop making it.  They are your comfort food.

I have a few of these dishes, including this one, Individual Zucchini and Bacon Quiches.  They aren’t a typical quiche, as in they don’t have a tart crust, but they are rather amazing.  My mum has been making this dish for as long as I can remember.  I think it started out as a big quiche, but somehow over the years it evolved to individual muffin size ones, and on special occasions, mini muffin sizes (great for cocktail parties).

I make these every so often for lunch and freeze them.  When I went to make these yesterday, I couldn’t find my copy of the recipe so I called mum, only she didn’t know where hers was.  Turns out my nanna is the original holder of this recipe!  So I gave her a call, she flipped through her file of recipes and read it out to me.

This recipe is ridiculously easy and fail proof (which is great for me seeing I’ve had a bad run of baking lately, but you’ll hear all about that soon).

1 large zucchini, grated
1 cup cheese, grated (I use a basic tasty cheese for this)
1 onion, finely diced
3 rashes of bacon, diced
1 cup self raising flour
½ cup olive oil
5 eggs
Sea salt & black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and grease a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients until well combined.  Season well with a teaspoon of sea salt and a good crack of black pepper.

Evenly distribute the mixture among the muffin tin.  Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden.  Remove for the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12.

March 11, 2011

European Food Diary

Last August I set off to Europe with my brother SimonĂ© for 6 weeks.  We travelled to Rome, Vasto, Florence, Milan, Barcelona, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Munich.  We met our parents in Vasto and together took the train to Florence and Milan, then met up again in Paris.  Our time in Vasto would have to be the most special to all of us, as my dad's entire family live there.  Together in Vasto we celebrated his 60th. 

A month before leaving I bought a DSLR - a particularly good decision.  What I came home with was some of the most wonderful and memorable photos.  The food photos in particluar make it hard to be back home.  It’s needless to say that over this time I put on a couple of kilos – how could I not when I was indulging in some of the most amazing food!  6 months later and I'm still indulging, partly due to my eyes and mind being opened and partly due to this blog.

So here are a few of my favourites...

As soon as we arrived in Rome, Emiliano took us to a pasticceria. 
One sip of our first real coffee and a sigh of relief - we were here!
These were some of the dishes served as part of a
6 course seafood lunch for my dad's 60th. 

Florence, oh dear, it was all about the meat!  If you head
to Florence make sure you go to 'Il Latini' - it's worth the wait!

Unfortunately I wasn't too well in Milan, so I stuck to safe food.

Barcelona markets - probably the
most spectacular markets I've ever seen!

And a couple of photos from Paris, London and Amsterdam. 
To me, nothing beats the food in Italy, but I might be biased...

March 8, 2011

Homemade Pesto

My mum has a bit of a herb garden going on – a good one too.  It works out great for me as when there’s too much growing I come and take it off her hands.  At the moment it’s the basil.  Some would say that you can never have too much basil, well apparently you can!  I love basil when accompanied with something like bruschetta or pasta sauce (pretty much anything with tomatoes), but not loose leaves in a salad.  I can’t seem to handle eating an actual leaf of basil. 

So with all this basil, there was really only one thing to make – Pesto.  You really can’t go wrong when making homemade pesto.  There are 6 key ingredients, and the amount is really up to you – I like a really oily pesto so I tend to add more olive oil than the norm.  Below is a basic recipe that will make enough for 4 plates of pasta, however you can increase the quantity for salads, marinades, dips, or just spread on toast.

If you have a pestle and mortar, please use this.  Pesto is at its best when there is a mix textures – chunks of pine nuts, smooth basil paste, and blots of oil.  You get to taste each ingredient this way.  A food processor is still good, but it tends to blend the pesto into a fine paste.

This will last in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but make sure you drizzle a decent amount of olive oil on top so it creates a protective layer.  Otherwise you can freeze pesto for a couple of months.

Large bunch basil (2-3 cups packed tightly)
Large handful pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 clove garlic
Parmesan, grated
Sea salt & black pepper
Olive oil

If using a pestle and mortar, start by grinding the garlic in the salt and pepper.  Add half the pine nuts and keep grinding.  Then add half the basil, the rest of the pine nuts.  Keep grinding.  Add the rest of the basil and the parmesan, and a drizzle of oil.  As you grind, taste to see if you need more seasoning and oil.  The taste will always vary depending on the basil.

If using a processor, blitz the basil, pine nuts, garlic and seasoning.  Add the parmesan and oil and continue blitzing until you are happy with the balance of flavours.

To store, put into an airtight container or jar, and drizzle a little more olive oil.

March 2, 2011

Garlic and Mustard Beef Skewers

Sunday night I had been informed by Team Ramrod (housemates of my other half) that they would like me to cook dinner.  Rob had asked that I cook meat, seeing as my blog at this point lacked a meat dish or two.  I took on the challenge, racked my brain, and remembered a recipe from Donna Hay's book Seasons for Garlic and Mustard Beef Skewers.  The recipe called for aioli to go with the dish, but I didn't feel this was right, so instead made Tzatziki.  Great combo!

The balance of the bread, beef, rocket and Tzatziki was a perfect fit.  I was lucky enough to have the skewers cooked on the barbeque grill, so they were smoky and char grilled.  With them, we cooked some sweet potato chucky chips.  I have made a couple of changes to the recipe seeing as I served 5 people the other night and doubled the recipe, hoping to have some left overs for work the next day, only to find it was all demolished.  You can find the original recipe here

On a side note, I have come to the conclusion that Donna Hay makes perfect summer dishes, and I think this might have to do with her being an Australian.  I have had one of her books for a couple of years but only referred to it a handful of times.  When it comes to winter cooking however, I find myself head deep into books by Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Neil Perry.  Oliver is particularly is brilliant at winter foods, and I think this comes from being an English man.  So when Perth stops becoming sauna, I am interested to see where my next inspiration of food comes from!

800g rump steak, cut into pieces
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon seeded mustard
Rocket (arugula) leaves, to serve
Mountain bread or flatbread, to serve
Tzatziki (or aioli), to serve

In a bowl, combine the steak, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and mustard and toss well.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Thread the steak onto skewers.  Heat a large pan or barbecue to a high heat.  Cook the skewers for a couple of minutes each side, or until cooked to your liking. 

Serve with the mountain bread, rocked leaves and aioli (or tzatziki).  Serves 4.


I'm a big fan of Tzatziki, big fan.  After making the one above, I ate two spoon full's by itself.  I figured though, it's really healthy for you - yoghurt, herbs, garlic and spices.  This particular one went brilliantly with my Garlic and Mustard Beef Skewers.

I think this dish itself is a great summer side to have whether eating with bread, meats, salads or as a dip.  It's so fresh and lovely, not to mention quick to make.

I grabbed the recipe from Donna Hay's site (here).  I would have preferred to use fresh mint but seeing as I didn't have any I used dried mint flakes.  These worked just as well, only you need one tablespoon as opposed to two tablespoons when using fresh mint.  An important note to make is that you need to squeeze all the water out of the cucumber after it's been grated.  This will make the Tzatziki thick and creamy as opposed to watery.

2 cups thick Greek-style natural yoghurt
1 Lebanese cucumber, grated and squeezed
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt and cracked white pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

How easy!

Makes 2¼ cups.

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