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A popular classic reinvented: Mac and Cheese

In Recipes on October 22, 2017 at 4:11 am

The origins of macaroni cheese are not known but the Italians have been making casseroles that include pasta and cheese since the fourteenth century. The modern interpretation of macaroni cheese appears in the famous British cookbook of the Victorian era, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and the earliest recipes in Britain date back to the eighteenth century.

Of course, the Americans would beg to differ, claiming that macaroni cheese is an American invention in much the same way that Australia claims the invention of the pavlova over New Zealand. Apparently Thomas Jefferson was the first to serve a macaroni and cheese like dish at his home in the early nineteenth century. The dish quickly became popular and, by the mid nineteenth century it had become an American standard *. Certainly the bright orange version, made with the violently coloured ‘American’ cheese is the one that can be found on many American fast food menus today. It is not something I would voluntarily eat. The other version that we have known for many years here in Australia is the packet meal that is sold on supermarket shelves, this version is also pretty much inedible.

In recent times, with the popularity of so-called ‘dude’ food, macaroni cheese, made with various mixtures of cheeses from Comte to Gruyere (the types of cheese you can use are only limited by your imagination), has made a reappearance. It can be found not only on hipster American menus but it is also quite commonly found on the menus of trendy fried chicken and gourmet burger joints here in Australia.

Certainly nobody is saying that macaroni cheese is good for you, it is far too cheesy and delicious for that accolade. As an occasional food, however, on a cold night or when you want to make something that kids will eat, macaroni cheese is an excellent choice. If you wanted to make it a bit healthier you could serve it with a salad on the side but, for many people, this would mean spoiling the fun. The macaroni cheese I have made here uses a rather unusual combination of cheeses including Greek kefalograviera, a cheese I also use to make the Greek fried cheese dish saganaki (see Sometimes I hear a mermaid singing in August 2011), Italian parmesan and mozzarella and regular tasty cheddar. I also included fresh thyme and some crumbled crispy pastourma though, on reflection, this was probably a bit of overkill so I will leave it as an optional addition.

‘Greek’ Macaroni Cheese

Mac 'n cheese

Ingedients

400 g elbow macaroni

400 ml milk

3 tbs butter

3 tbs plain flour

1 egg

1 cup finely grated kefalograviera cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated tasty cheese

1 tbs finely grated parmesan cheese

4 sprigs fresh thyme

a few thin slices of Greek pastourma (crisped in the oven and crumbled into small pieces)

freshly ground black pepper

sea salt

freshly grated nutmeg

panko breadcrumbs

2 extra tbs finely grated kefalograviera

Method

Cook the elbow macaroni according to the packet directions, drain and set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until just bubbling. Add the flour and stir through, reduce the heat and cook gently for one minute stirring constantly. Continue stirring as you add the milk gradually, making sure there are no lumps. Season with some freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper and a pinch of sea salt and cook gently, stirring, until the sauce is the consistency of thick pouring cream. In a large bowl, combine the hot pasta, the sauce, the cheeses, the leaves from two of the thyme sprigs and the crumbled pastourma (if using). Add the egg and mix through quickly. Tumble the mixture into a baking dish that has been brushed with olive oil. Mix the panko breadcrumbs with the extra kefalograviera cheese and the remaining thyme leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 175 degrees C for 20-30 minutes or until the top is bubbling and golden brown. Serve with a salad if desired.

* Source: Wikipedia

Macaroni Cheese

 

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Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices continued…

In Recipes on August 25, 2017 at 4:27 am

With such a cold winter this year I have been exploring the world of stewing and slow cooking in depth. Stews are the perfect winter fare as I find the pot burbling away on the stove gives and illusion of warmth and comfort that, combined with a good heater, makes me feel as if winter were merely a bad dream.

‘Stifado’ or ‘stifatho’ appears to mean a stew with onions in Greek. The traditional version is made with rabbit or beef but I have seen recipes for octopus and other meats. In my case I made it with cubed lamb shoulder but you could substitute beef or any other meat you have available.

Lamb Stifado

Lamb Stifatho

Ingredients

1kg diced lamb shoulder

1/4 cup olive oil

150g baby onions

3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

125 ml red wine

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

1-2 tbs red wine vinegar (to taste)

2 tbs tomato puree

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chopped flat leaf parsley to finish

Method

Cut the meat into bite sized cubes. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based casserole dish. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add the meat and stir over high heat until the meat is well browned. Add the garlic, wine, spices, bay leaf, vinegar, tomato paste and lightly season. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Return the onions to the pan and cook for a further 1/2 hour or until the meat is very tender. Discard the cinnamon and stir through the flat leaved parsley. You may also want to finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve with rice or mashed potato.

Hint: For a richer flavour use 1 cup of beef stock and 1 cup of red wine instead of the wine and water listed in the recipe.

Onions

Lamb stifado

Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices

In Recipes on July 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

Dishes that incorporate all ingredients in the one pot for long, slow cooking have been popular almost since cooking began. Simmering ingredients slowly in a broth or a sauce retains the nutrients and extracts maximum flavour from the dish’s components. If using meat the cook can use the cheaper cuts that respond well to an extended cooking time making these kinds of dishes economical too. In the past, particularly in parts of Europe, flavourings and ingredients such as onions, garlic, spices, herbs and meats were often in short supply or prohibitively expensive to all but a small proportion of the population so, if poorer people had these ingredients, they wanted to extract the maximum flavour and nutrition. In other words, like many other of the world’s great dishes, stews, ragus and braises originated in the homes of peasant cooks.

I have been reading The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black. It is interesting to see that, contrary to modern perceptions, medieval cooks were endlessly inventive and that many of the dishes they made are not markedly different from the dishes we cook today. Here is part of a recipe for lamb or mutton stew: ‘Take veel or other[wise] motoun and smyte it into gobettes. Seeth it in good broth; cast thereto erbes-yhewe gode won, and a quantite of oynouns mynced, powdour fort and safroun …. seeth until they be tendre’ OR ‘Cut the meat into 5-cm/2-inch cubes. Put the stock into a stewpan and bring to the boil … then add the prepared onions, herbs, spices and wine. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook gently until the meat cubes are cooked through and tender.’ The method described here, apart from maybe browning the meat and onions prior to stewing, is pretty similar to modern techniques and I do love it when I get to ‘smyte my meat into gobettes’.

With the renewed popularity of slow cookers or crockpots stews and braises are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Boeuf bourgignonne, otherwise known as beef burgundy, is a peasant dish from the Burgundy region in France. Coming from this part of the country, an area that is famous for its wine, the dish naturally includes a good amount of red wine. Originally, the meat was marinated in red wine to tenderise it. The cook could then use cheaper cuts of meat and still achieve good results. Stews are often better the next day and boeuf bourgignonne is no exception. Leftovers can be made into a delicious pie with some puff pastry or topped with garlicky mashed potato to make a sort of gourmet cottage pie. I make mine from a recipe that I have carried in my head for many years but the one I have given you here, while very similar to mine, is based on a recipe by Gabriel Gate.

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Ingredients

800g oyster blade or chuck steak

1 medium brown onion (thinly sliced)

2 French shallots (thinly sliced)

2 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 thyme sprig or 1 rosemary sprig

300ml red wine

3 tbs olive oil

salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons butter

1 tbs plain flour

125g bacon (finely chopped)

16 baby onions OR 3 brown onions cut into thin slices

25 small mushrooms OR 5 large flat or portobello mushrooms sliced into largish pieces

4 tbs chopped parsley

Onions, bacon,mushrooms

Method

The day before you cook the dish, trim the beef of excess fat and sinew and cut it into 4-6 pieces. Place in a bowl with the onion, shallots, garlic and thyme or rosemary. Cover with wine and stir in 1 tbs of olive oil.

The following day lift the meat, onion, garlic and shallots from the wine and place on a cloth to dry. Reserve the wine and the herbs as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F)

Heat 1 tbs of the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and brown the meat on all sides. Add the butter to the pan, followed by the reserved onion, shallots and garlic, stir well. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the meat. Add the reserved wine and the reserved herbs and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook for about two hours in the oven or on the stove top on a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and saute the bacon over a medium heat for a few minutes. Remove the bacon and set aside. Add the baby onions and brown well all over. Remove the onions, set aside and cook the mushrooms in the same pan for 2 minutes.

Towards the end of the 2 hours, add the bacon, onions and mushrooms to the casserole and return to the oven or stove top for a further 20 – 30 minutes.

*I tend to let my boeuf bourgignonne simmer for a bit longer, about 2 and a half to 3 hours for the first stage and then a further half hour to 40 minutes after you have added the bacon, onions and mushrooms.

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

Note: If making this recipe in a slow cooker you may need to adjust the times accordingly. You could let the first stage go in the slow cooker while you are out and then add the bacon, onions and mushrooms when you get home.

If you do not have time to marinate the meat overnight in the wine, a couple of hours in the marinade will still yield good results.

Pasticcio ticks all the boxes: tasty, easy, versatile and cheap.

In Recipes on May 27, 2017 at 4:06 am

Pasticcio or Pastichio is an Italian dish that roughly translates as ‘pasta bake’. There is also a Greek version called Pastisio that is very similar but includes some Greek flavours in the meat sauce and egg yolks in the bechamel sauce. Whatever the origin of this dish is it has always been a favourite of mine. As a child my mother used to make it often using bolognese sauce, bechemal sauce, shell pasta or penne and lots of grated cheese. She also did another version with bolognese sauce and instead of bechemal she used quark, a tangy firm variety of cottage cheese that is of Eastern European origin. Both versions were then topped with grated cheese and baked in the oven until bubbling and golden brown.

For my mother, I think pasticcio was a way of using up leftover bolognese sauce and even cold pasta if she had made a large amount. I use it in the same way, making a large batch of bolognese sauce, freezing half of it for future use and incorporating the other half into a pasta bake. I also make a variety of other pasta bakes that don’t use bolognese sauce. For a vegetarian version you can use roasted pumpkin, red capsicum and whole roasted garlic cloves, sauteed leek, chopped spinach and parsley. You just fold these ingredients through the cooked pasta with the bechamel sauce and the grated cheese in the same way you would if using the bolognese sauce, I then top with more grated cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs and bake in a moderate oven.

Bolognese Pasta Bake

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For the Bolognese Sauce:

Ingredients

750g veal and pork mince or lean beef mince (preferably Halal)

1 large brown onion (chopped)

1 large carrot (chopped)

2-3 stalks celery (chopped)

3-4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

150g finely sliced button mushrooms (optional)

2 rashers chopped bacon (optional)

1-2 tbs tomato paste

1 x 400 g can Italian diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 a cinnamon stick

2 fresh or dried bay leaves

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sugar (optional)

18581576_710201105771479_4506964414864886524_n Celery, carrot and onion

Method

Heat a large cast iron casserole dish to medium heat. Add a little olive oil and brown the meat, breaking it up with a spoon as you fry. When browned, remove from the casserole and set aside. Add a little more oil and gently fry the celery, carrot and onion (mushrooms and bacon too, if using) until soft. Add the garlic, spices and dried herbs, fry for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and gently fry for a further 30 seconds, then add the diced tomatoes and gently fry for another minute. Add the meat back into the pot, bring to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer, Season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar (if using). Cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.

18486429_710201205771469_1655803027041746648_n Bolognese

For the Bechemal Sauce:

Ingredients

2-3 tbs plain flour

2-3 tbs butter

300 ml milk (or more if needed)

freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook gently for a couple of mins to get rid of the floury taste, this is called a roux.  Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, until all the milk is used up and you have a smooth sauce.  Add bay leaf, nutmeg and seasoning.  Set aside.

For the Pasticcio:

Ingredients

Bechamel sauce

1/2 of the Bolognese sauce

300-350g rigatoni or penne pasta (cooked)

300g grated tasty cheese (I also often use a combination of mozzarella and kefalogravieria)

2 tbs freshly grated Parmesan

2 tbs Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

In a large bowl mix together the cooked pasta, 2/3 of the bechamel sauce, 2/3 of the grated cheese, 1tbs of the Parmesan and 1/2 of the bolognese sauce. Brush a baking dish with olive oil and tumble the mixture in. Smooth it out until even then top with the rest of the bolognese sauce, the remaining bechemal sauce and the rest of the grated cheese. In a small bowl combine the other 1tbs of Parmesan, the Panko breadcrumbs and the dried herbs. Sprinkle over the top and drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in a preheated moderate (175-180 degrees) oven for about 30-40 mins or until golden brown and bubbling.

Pasta Bake

Bubbling and golden pasticcio

 

Middle Eastern Food: You say dolma and I say dolmeh

In Recipes on April 15, 2017 at 1:07 am

I have been interested in the fresh, healthy and wonderfully tasty food of the Middle East for a long time but in the last two years, since I moved to the Melbourne suburb of Coburg where I am surrounded by Middle Eastern eateries, my interest has increased. My two favourite places are Zaatar on the corner of Sydney Road and Munro Street, I particularly like their mezza, salads and toasted zoccacias and Al Alamy at 6/51 Waterfield Street, both deliver good, fresh food at reasonable prices. Al Alamy also sells a range of Middle Eastern groceries such as dried pulses, nuts and specialty items like pomegranate molasses and kishk. Zaatar is owned by Australians of Lebanese descent but I also have Egyptian, Iranian and Turkish options within walking distance.

I have also been reading cookbooks on Middle Eastern cuisine for a long time and have cooked many recipes. I have made meat kibbeh from a Cypriot recipe (see More from the Greek diaspora in August 2011) and Almond Bar: 100 Delicious Syrian Recipes by Sharon Salloum has a really good recipe for pumpkin kibbeh that I want to try. I have also been reading Lebanese (see Lovely Lebanese in December 2012 for meat and pine nut pastries), Turkish and Egyptian recipe books and I have noticed a common thread between all these recipes. Hommous, baba ghanoush, kebab, kafta, kibbeh and falafel (see The chickpea may well save the world in January 2014 for Hiba’s falafel) all seem to appear regularly with only slight variations in spelling and ingredients. This is probably why the most informative book turned out to be The Middle Eastern Kitchen by Ghillie Basan. In this book the recipes are organised by ingredient not country and this allows the commonalities of all these dishes from diverse Middle Eastern countries, to shine through. Of course, every country would claim that their version of a dish is the only true and authentic one but if you look at the history of the region, the conflicts, the trade and population movements that occurred over the centuries, not least the occupation of the region for centuries by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, it becomes clear that this sharing of food and ideas is something that has always been part of the Middle East, something is as fundamental to the culture as hospitality itself.

Dolma or dolmeh is a dish served throughout the Middle East. Dolma of this kind is generally reserved for celebrations as it is quite complex to make. When we think of dolma we tend to think of stuffed vine leaves (there is a connection here too to the Mediterranean) but dolma is simply a term used to describe any vegetable that is stuffed, generally with rice and with or without meat. Lamb and broad beans can also be added at the bottom of the pot.  My friend Hiba is from Iraq and these are the delicious dolma she recently made for Sunday lunch.

Cabbage rolls served

Dolma: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and Stuffed Onions

Ingredients

1 large cabbage

3-4 brown onions (finely chop one and reserved for the filling)

5 fresh tomatoes (chopped)

4-5 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)

Plenty of chopped flat leaved parsley

1 tbs tomato paste

300-500 grams lamb mince

1 1/2 cups uncooked short grain white rice

Pomegranate molasses (optional)

1-2 lemons

Tamarind (optional)

1-2 tsp cumin powder

1-2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp allspice powder

1-2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sumac

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp turmeric

Dash of Worcestershire sauce or ketchup

2-3 barbeque lamp chops

Enough chicken stock or water to just cover the rolls

A little olive oil for frying

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

17622180_672171789574411_1479988777_o

Method

Core the cabbage and carefully remove the leaves. You can reserve the heart for later use. Blanch the leaves in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, a few at a time, until wilted. Drain well. Cut the bigger leaves in half, removing the thick central rib. Set aside.

Use a sharp knife to make a cut in each onion from top to bottom on one side. Blanch in boiling water for about 10 mins until they are soft and start to separate. Drain well. Separate the layers and set aside.

For the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan and add the chopped onion. Fry until soft and translucent. Place in a bowl with the meat, rice, spices and finely chopped parsley.  Season with salt and pepper and combine thoroughly, it is easiest to do this if you mix the ingredients with clean hands rather than a spoon.

Lay some of the cabbage leaves out on a clean tea towel. Place a tablespoon of filling on the edge of each leaf, fold in the sides and roll quite tightly pressing with your hands as you go to make sure all the filling is contained. Stuff the onion layers with the same amount of filling, placing it in the hollow of each onion and rolling it up as tightly as you can.

Lightly oil a heavy based, cast iron casserole dish. Lay the lamb chops neatly at the bottom of the dish. Season and sprinkle with some of the chopped garlic, tomato, lemon juice and ketchup, also some pomegranate molasses and tamarind water (if using). Place a layer of the stuffed onions on top of this and repeat the seasoning and sprinkling procedure. Next, place a layer of the cabbage rolls on top and continue until all the cabbage rolls are used, seasoning and sprinkling between the layers. Pour over just enough chicken stock or water to cover. Invert a heavy plate over the rolls, cover and bring to a simmer. Leave to cook over a low heat for 1 hour. Serve hot or warm.

17571830_672171852907738_1625363793_o

The cooked dolma inverted onto pita bread to serve

 

Japanese Curry – when inauthentic is as good as it gets

In Recipes on February 27, 2017 at 3:31 am

Japanese curry is a hearty and satisfying comfort food, enjoyed not only in Japan but all around the world. You can get beef varieties, chicken varieties, pretty much any variation that can be made with curry sauce and ladled liberally over fluffy white rice. My all time favourite is Chicken Curry Katsu Don. This is a delicious thick curry containing vegetables, always chunks of potato and carrot but other vegetables can also be added and topped with a cutlet of crumbed and fried chicken. Of course, the dish is delicious because of the crumbed chicken on top but it is the curry sauce that gives it a distinctive and thoroughly Japanese taste. The Japanese were introduced to curry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century via British visitors from what was then the British Raj or colonial British India. Like other British/Indian hybrid creations, think kedgeree, chutney, Worcestershire sauce and Clive of India or Keen’s Curry Powder, the curry introduced to Japan was not an authentic Indian recipe but a recipe filtered through Western palates. The curry is milder and less complex than Indian recipes and often has quite a sweet flavour.The major difference between Indian and Japanese curry is in the cooking method and the spice blend. Indian curries are generally made from a base of fried onions, chillies, ginger, garlic and other aromatics with a complex and individual blend of spices added depending on what type of curry you are making. Japanese curry is made from fried onions, blended commercial curry powder and flour cooked with oil to make a roux. Most Japanese don’t bother with this process anymore and just buy the already mixed curry cubes that are readily available all over the country and make for a quick and satisfying meal on the run.

curry-cubes

Japanese Curry Cubes

The curry cubes are also easily found in most Asian grocers here in Melbourne and in most other Western cities. The first time I made Chicken Curry Katsu Don I found some in my local KFL supermarket in Sydney Road, Coburg. My latest batch I made with my son using curry cubes he brought back with him from his recent trip to Japan.

chicken-curry-katsu-don

Hearty and delicious Japanese comfort food

Chicken Curry Katsu Don

Ingredients

2 large skinless free range chicken breasts

Seasoned flour for coating

Egg and milk for dipping

Japanese Panko breadcrumbs for coating

Sunflower oil for frying

4 large potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks)

4 carrots (peeled and cut into chunks)

1 litre of water

4-5 Japanese curry cubes

Cooked white rice for serving

Method

Halve the chicken breasts and butterfly each half. Using a meat mallet gently beat out the pieces of chicken until they are approximately 1cm thick. Coat with flour, dip in the egg mixture and finish with a coating of the Panko breadcrumbs. When all pieces are crumbed place on a plate and refrigerate to ‘set the crumb’. Meanwhile, place the vegetables in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 10 minutes or until the vegetables are about half cooked. Break the curry cubes into the water and reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the crumbed chicken breasts from the refrigerator and heat 1.5-2cm sunflower oil in a heavy based frying pan until bubbles form around a wooden spoon handle when inserted. Gently fry the chicken cutlets two at a time until golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain well. Continue cooking the curry and vegetables until the sauce thickens. To serve, place some white rice in the bottom of a bowl, ladle over the vegetable curry and top with the sliced chicken cutlet.

Hint: Serve with Japanese pickles, tonkatsu sauce and half a hard boiled egg