Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pasta Night

I think most families have a quick and easy pasta dish that regularly features on their weekly menu. Pasta always makes a satisfying meal after a long day of work. This pasta dish is one of our regulars. It has all of our favourite flavours - basil, garlic, lemon and chilli - and can be pulled together in under 30 mins. Win! What are some of your favourite ways to do pasta?

We've recently been trying out a gluten-free diet, so this week we prepared this dish with rice penne. We couldn't even taste the difference, so if you're gluten intolerant give this recipe a go!

Chicken Pasta with Rocket and Lemon

250g pasta (penne or fusilli work well)
1 chicken breast, cut in small chunks
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons basil pesto
2 cups of fresh baby rocket (arugula)
grated parmesan, to serve
  1. Cook pasta according to the directions on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, fry up the chicken pieces in a little oil over medium-high heat. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until browned.
  3. Add the garlic, chilli and lemon zest, and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the chicken has cooked through.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.
  5. Add the pasta and reserved liquid to the frypan with the lemon juice and pesto. Stir to evenly combine.
  6. Season with salt and pepper, and add the rocket. Stir over medium heat until rocket has just started to wilt.
  7. Serve into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Serves 2

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

For most of my life I have considered that we have everything we could ask for in Australia - great weather and lifestyle, fresh food and fabulous wines - I could go on. Then I discovered a little something called a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Small and unassuming, this little American chocolate and peanut butter delight is a taste sensation and I couldn't understand why we had nothing even remotely similar Down Under. Well, fear not for I found a recipe so we can make mountains of them at home!

Photo courtesy of design sponge
My sister-in-law and I made a batch of these one quiet Saturday evening. They were fun to make and surprisingly easy. When I make them again though, I think I'll use a mini-muffin pan rather than regular size as these little guys are super sweet. To avoid a sugar high they might be better in a smaller dose!

Chocolate-Covered Peanut-Butter Cups
From Design Sponge

3 cups chocolate - milk, semi-sweet or dark
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup graham crackers, crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt
  1. Line a muffin pan with 12 paper liners. Set aside.
  2. Melt 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate in a double boiler. Alternately, you could do this using a microwave, melting the chocolate in short bursts. Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the stove and turn off the heat.
  3. Using the back of a spoon or a pastry brush, paint a layer of melted chocolate onto the bottoms and sides of the paper liners. Don’t skimp on chocolate here; coat the liners generously. Set the bowl aside with any remaining melted chocolate left in it.
  4. Put the muffin pan in the refrigerator for 20 minutes while you make the peanut-butter filling.
  5. In a mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, crushed graham crackers, powdered sugar and salt. Stir with a spoon until well combined.
  6. Return the bowl used to melt the chocolate to the top of the double boiler. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of chocolate and melt.
  7. Remove the muffin pan from the fridge. Put a few tablespoons of peanut butter mixture into each paper liner. Tap down each mound with your fingertips to “nest” it into the chocolate bottom.
  8. By now, the chocolate added to the double boiler should all be melted. Using a spoon, dollop the top of each peanut butter mixture mound with a generous portion of chocolate. Use the back of a teaspoon to smooth out the tops.
  9. Place the muffin pan back into the fridge. Within one hour, your cups should be set, depending how cold your fridge runs.
  10. Remove the pan from the fridge. Consume with gusto, or exercise extreme restraint and gift to others!
Makes 12 regular cups

Thanks goes to Design Sponge for filling a void in the lives of millions of Australians.

Chunky Chocolate Cookies

Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked cookies. Whip up a batch of these cookies and you’ll have your friends clamoring for the recipe - which is exactly what I did when my colleague, Kristy, made these divine cookies for a staff morning tea. She generously shared the recipe with me and I can’t wait for you all to try it, too! Happy baking :-)

Chunky Chocolate Cookies

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup milk chocolate, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup white chocolate, cut into small chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC.
  2. Mix sugar, egg and oil with fork.
  3. Add cocoa, flours and chocolate.
  4. Knead lightly with hands to make a soft dough.
  5. Make balls by rolling tablespoons of dough and place on a greased tray, approximately 4cm apart.
  6. Bake for 12 mins. Allow to cool slightly before removing them from the tray - if you can restrain yourself!
Experiment by adding dark chocolate or nuts to add your signature style!

Makes approximately 16 cookies.

Sang Choy Bow WOW!

Don’t let the weird name put you off! This light and healthy meal is ideal for summer and packed full of flavour. The water chestnuts give it a wonderful crunchiness and the sweet hoisin sauce balances the tang of the ginger. It can be made with pork or beef mince, but my favourite is the chicken version.

Chicken Sang Choy Bow

1 iceberg lettuce
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 green onions (shallots), finely sliced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
500g chicken mince
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
230g can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (or use chilli flakes)
1/2 cup coriander leaves, chopped
  1. Carefully peel eight lettuce leaves, trying not to tear them. Trim them with scissors if necessary to make large cups. Place in a bowl of iced water to make them nice and crisp.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or frying pan on high heat. Stir-fry green onion and ginger for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add chicken mince and cook for about 5 minutes or until browned.
  4. Add hoisin, soy sauce, sesame oil, water chestnuts and chilli, and continue to stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a serving bowl and stir through the coriander.
  5. Arrange the lettice cups on a platter. Spoon a little chicken mixture into each leaf and serve.

Danielle's Stellar Sticky Date Pudding

Here is a recipe that lives up to all the hype surrounding sticky date puddings. Sweet, rich and gooey, this one is already a favourite of mine and definitely a crowd pleaser. Thanks, Danielle!

Sticky Date Pudding

300g pitted dates
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
90g butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup Chopped walnuts

Butterscotch sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
300mL cream
185g butter

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C.
  2. Chop dates into small chunks and place in saucepan with water and bi-carb soda. Stir over medium-hot heat until simmering and fluffy looking. Set aside to cool.
  3. Cream butter and sugar.
  4. Add flour and stir until combined.
  5. Add cooled date mixture to other ingredients and stir until combined. Mix should be slightly runny.
  6. Pour mixture into lightly greased baking dish or muffin trays and sprinkle the top of the pudding/puddings with the chopped walnuts.
  7. Bake in oven until cooked through -should spring back when touched. Approximately 45 mins in a baking dish and 20 mins for muffins.
  8. To make the butterscotch sauce (the best part), first melt the butter over low heat.
  9. Add sugar and stir until well combined and dissolved.
  10. Remove from heat and pour in cream. Beat lightly with whisk to combine.
  11. Return to low-medium heat to warm the sauce through - heating to boiling point may cause the sauce to separate.
To serve, generously drizzle with butterscotch sauce and add a scoop of ice-cream or some fresh whipped cream. Yummo!

Moroccan Delight

My friend, Rachel, is a great cook. If you go over to her house you can guarantee that she will serve up something tasty. Last week I was invited over for dinner and her house was filled with the wonderful aroma of an exotic Moroccan tagine, inspired by the most excellent Jamie Oliver. The flavours were so delicious and the meat so tender that I just had to share the recipe here :-)

Beef Tagine
Taken from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie Does…”

600g stewing beef
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
small bunch of fresh coriander
400g tin of chickpeas, drained
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
800ml vegetable stock
1 small squash (approximately 800g), deseeded and cut into 5cm chunks
100g prunes, stoned and roughly torn
2 tablespoons flaked almonds, toasted

For the spice rub:
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 level tablespoon ras el hanout spice mix* (Rachel used chilli flakes instead)
1 level tablespoon ground cumin
1 level tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 level tablespoon ground ginger
1 level tablespoon sweet paprika

Mix all the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Put the beef into a large bowl, massage it with the spice rub, then cover with clingfilm and put into the fridge for a couple of hours – ideally overnight. That way the spices really penetrate and flavour the meat.

When you’re ready to cook, heat some olive oil in a tagine or casserole–type pan and fry the meat over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add your chopped onion and coriander stalks and fry for another 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas and tomatoes, then pour in 400ml of stock and stir. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on the pan or cover with foil and reduce to a simmer for 1½ hours.

At this point add your squash, the prunes and the rest of the stock. Give everything a gentle stir, then pop the lid back on the pan and continue cooking for another 1½ hours. Keep an eye on it and add a splash of water if it looks too dry.

Once the time is up, take the lid off and check the consistency. If it seems a bit too runny, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more with the lid off. The beef should be really tender and flaking apart now, so have a taste and season with a pinch or two of salt. Scatter the coriander leaves over the tagine along with the toasted almonds, then take it straight to the table with a big bowl of lightly seasoned couscous and dive in.

* I was intrigued by the ras el hanout spice mix that this recipe calls for, which is an exotic Moroccan spice blend. After some Googling I discovered that you can make your own and store the mix in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Ras el Hanout Spice Mix

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
I teaspoon turmeic
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Flourless Orange Cake

If you think a cake can’t be delicious without flour, you’re wrong. This cake, made with almondmeal, is incredibly moist and you’ll find yourself reaching for seconds. It's fairly time consuming to prepare, but I think it's worth the effort.

Flourless Orange Cake

2 whole oranges with peel
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups almond meal

For the syrup:
1 whole orange
3/4 cup white sugar

  1. Place the oranges in a large saucepan, and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and boil for 1-2 hours over medium heat. Check occasionally to make sure they do not boil dry. Allow the oranges to cool, then cut them open and remove the seeds. Process in a blender or food processor to a coarse pulp.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and flour a 22cm springform cake tin.
  3. In a large bowl, whip eggs and sugar together using an electric mixer until thick and pale (5-10 minutes). Mix in baking powder. Stir in the pureed oranges. Gently fold in almond meal, then pour batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake on top shelf of oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (Tip: It’s really important to put it on the top shelf. I mistakenly put it on the bottom shelf the second time I made this and it was almost burnt on top!) Set aside to cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
  5. To make the syrup, use a zester to remove the rind from the orange. Juice orange.
  6. Place rind in a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Drain. Return to pan with orange juice and sugar. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens.
  7. Turn cake onto a serving plate. Use a skewer to gently prick the top. Spoon over syrup. Cut into wedges and serve with double cream.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You had me at haloumi...

Let’s be honest - lentils are just about the most drab sounding food out there. However, with a bunch of fresh ingredients and the wonder of haloumi, you have yourself one seriously tasty dish. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself - I dare you.

I whipped this dish up tonight in no time with my sister, Bel, and buddy, Bec, and we concluded that it will be a definite favourite this summer.

Haloumi & Lentil Salad

1 tin brown lentils, drained, rinsed
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber, halved, sliced
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves, shredded
1/2 tin of corn kernels, drained, rinsed
couple of handfuls of fresh baby rocket (arugula)
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
250g block haloumi cheese
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  1. Combine lentils, onion, cucumber, tomatoes, mint, corn, rocket, lemon juice and oil in a bowl. Season with fresh cracked pepper then toss to combine.
  2. Cut haloumi lengthways (about 4mm thick).
  3. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Cook haloumi for 2 minutes each side, or until golden.
  4. Serve lentil salad topped with warm haloumi. Sprinkle with a little balsamic vinegar for extra zing, if desired.

Mousse au Chocolat

Who doesn’t love chocolate mousse? It’s light and fluffy and, best of all, it’s so delightfully chocolatey! This is a traditional French recipe, which only calls for three ingredients - chocolate, sugar and eggs. Easy!

Mousse au Chocolat

125g dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons caster sugar

1. Break up the chocolate and melt over low-heat in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.Set aside to cool for a bit.
2. In a clean metal bowl, use an electric beater to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
3. In a separate bowl, lightly mix together the egg yolks, sugar and melted chocolate.
4. With a clean metal spoon, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
5. Spoon the mixture into small bowls and cover with some clingfilm.
6. Leave to set in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
7. Serve with raspberries and shavings of dark chocolate if you wish.

Patatas Bravas

And now for another recipe from our tapas evening last week. Apparently Patatas Bravas (Crisp Spiced Potatoes) is a classic tapa that can be found all over Spain. It was really easy to make and the sauce was particularly well received.

Patatas Bravas

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large potatoes, peeled, and cut to 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Chopped parsley, to garnish
1 cup canola oil , for frying

  1. To make the brava sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is soft.
  2. Turn off the heat, and add the paprika, Tabasco sauce, and thyme, stirring well.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and add the ketchup and mayonnaise. Add lemon juice and mix to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  4. Parboil the potatoes either on the stovetop or in the microwave.
  5. Sprinkle the potatoes lightly with salt and black pepper. In a saucepan, deep fry the potatoes in the canola oil until cooked through and golden-brown, stirring occasionally. (Take care when adding the potatoes to the saucepan because the oil will splatter due to the salt.)
  6. Drain the potatoes on paper towels, check the seasoning, add more salt if necessary.
  7. Garnish with parsley and serve the crispy potatoes side-by-side with the sauce for dipping. Traditionally, the sauce is mixed through the potatoes immediately before serving, although I was afraid they would become soggy too quickly.

Tapas Fun

Phil and I had friends over for dinner last night and I decided it would be fun to cook some Spanish tapas. I first fell in love with tapas while I was living in Shanghai. There is a fabulous restaurant there called Azul offering a tantalising range of the tasty Spanish snacks. If you are ever in the neighbourhood, checking it out really is a must.

Tapas certainly does require a lot more prep and planning than a normal meal, but when only done occasionally the novelty makes the effort worthwhile. The first task was to narrow down a selection of tapas - there are so many to choose from! I decided not to be too strictly Spanish, but keep the flavours Mediterranean. Here was my menu:

  - Roasted Cherry Tomato & Parmesan Dip with crusty bread
  - Platter of salami, marinated olives and fresh veges
  - Grilled Haloumi
  - Garlic Chorizo and Prawns
  - Patatas Bravas
  - Lamb meatballs with mint yoghurt sauce (that one was more Greek-style)
  - Fried Cauliflower
  - Sangria

The Roasted Cherry Tomato and Parmesan Dip was dead easy to make and was so lovely with the crusty bread.

Roasted Cherry Tomato & Parmesan Dip
Adapted from AWW: Tapas

200g cherry tomatoes
olive oil
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (Avoid pre-grated. Fresh is best!)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

  1. Preheat oven to 200C.
  2. Place tomatoes on an oven tray and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the tomatoes around to coat in oil. Roast, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the tomato skins split. Allow to cool.
  3. Combine tomatoes with the other ingredients. I like to squash the tomatoes a bit to break them into smaller chunks and to release some of the flavour into the dip.
  4. Serve with crusty bread (like a vienna loaf), lighty toasted and rubbed with garlic.

I will post a couple of the other tapas recipes over the next few days. Stay tuned!

The Perfect Friday Night

Let’s be honest - there aren’t many places to go for a decent cocktail on the southern end of the Gold Coast. Such a shame. So when I want to get together with a few of my favourite girls there is really only one place that comes to mind - Mermaids on Burleigh. Not only do they have one of the best locations on the Coast - right on the beach, overlooking the waves - but they also have a divine list of tempting drinks. And, if you’re organised enough, you can catch their happy hour drinks during which $3 champagne is served until 7pm (yep, that’s right - $3). Now, that’s gotta make any girl happy.

On this particular visit, however, it was the cocktail menu that we couldn’t resist. And we were not disappointed. I ordered a champagne mojito, which is pretty much what the name suggests - a classic mojito topped up with champagne. It’s long and refreshing, with just the right amount of sweetness to balance the muddled lime and mint. And what’s more, it’s sparkly. Perfection.

Potato Skins

Who doesn’t love potato skins piled with bacon, cheese and sour cream? Any recipe with those ingredients has got to be a winner. I decided to take a crack at making some for a lazy Saturday night in, and the results were delish!

Potato Skins
Adapted from Simply Recipes

6 small to medium sized baking potatoes
Olive oil
Freshly ground sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 strips of bacon
150g grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
2 green onions, thinly sliced

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Scrub the potatoes clean, rub with olive oil and bake in oven for about an hour until the potatoes are cooked through and give a little when pressed.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, cook the bacon strips in a frying pan on medium low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Let cool. Crumble.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool enough to handle. Cut in half horizontally. Use a spoon to carefully scoop out the insides, leaving about 1/2cm of potato on the skin.
  4. Increase the heat of the oven to 230°C. Brush oil all over the potato skins, outside and in. Sprinkle with salt. Place on a baking rack in a roasting pan. Cook for 10 minutes on one side, then flip the skins over and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.
  5. Arrange the potato skins skin-side down on the roasting pan or rack. Sprinkle the insides with freshly ground black pepper, cheddar cheese, and crumbled bacon. Return to the oven.Bake for an additional 2 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven. Use tongs to place skins on a serving plate. Add a dollop of sour cream to each skin, sprinkle with green onions.

Javanese Noodles

I thought I’d begin with a weekly favourite. It’s one of those dishes that Phil and I never seem to get tired of - stir-fried Javanese noodles. The rice noodles and chicken mince and covered in the sweetness of kecap manis and a kick of chili from the sambal oelek. How very Indonesian.

For this recipe you really should use a big wok, but we don’t have one so we persist with our frying pan and end up with a mess of sticky noodles across the cook top. Oh well, it’s all in the name of yumminess :-)

Javanese Noodles
Adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly

200g wide rice noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil
500g chicken mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
2 green onions, chopped thinly
60ml kecap manis
2 baby bok choy, leaves separated
1 cup loosely packed fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

  1. Place noodles in a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in wok and stir-fry chicken until browned. Add garlic, sambal, onion and half of the kecap manis. Stir-fry for 1 minute.
  3. Separate noodles with a fork and drain. Add noodles to the wok along with the remaining kecap manis and bok choy. Stir-fry until hot.
  4. Sprinkle with coriander and serve.