Menu For Hope 4

How great is Menu for Hope! I am so happy to be involved, after watching from afar last year before I had actually started my own blog. It is so great to see so many people hop on board with fantastic prizes to raise money and awareness for such a fantastic cause, the UN World Food Program to end the fight against hunger.

The prize that I am offering is a completely personalised logo development package for your blog or business.

A logo says so much about you. It embodies your attitudes, values and style, and helps you stand out from the crowd. It should be recognisable, creative and unique. But a logo is just the beginning of a whole cohesive identity that can extend into business cards, websites, packaging, signage – whatever you need!

self promotion

So what does this mean? I will work closely with the winner to develop the logo that is right for you. I’ll ask you questions to get to know you better, and from there hit my trusty Powerbook Alice to design your logo.

For first time visitors to my blog, here’s a little bit about my design background. I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer when I was in Year 9 at high school. I got into my first choice of colleges, a place that solely teaches graphic design, but I was also accepted into three others. The last two years have been a wonderful rollercoaster of creativity. I have worked on book covers, magazines, packaging, CD design, posters, illustrations, identities and countless logos. You can check out some of my work on Flickr.

I’ll tell you a little secret. My rate for logo development is up to $500, and many professional designers would charge much more. This is your chance to grow your blog or business and support a great cause.

If you want to check out the prizes on offer throughout the Asia/Pacific region, visit Helen at Grab Your Fork

If you want to check out all of the prizes, visit Chez Pim

If you are interested in this prize, the code is AP19

Here’s what you should do:

1. Go to the donation page at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhope4
2. Make a donation: each US$10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. In the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form, please specify which prize or prizes you’d like, using the prize-code and detailing the number of tickets per prize you’d like to purchase. For example, a donation of US$50 can be 2 tickets for AP01 and 3 for AP02
3. For US donors, if your company has agreed to match your charity donation, please remember to tick the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.
4. Please make sure you tick the box to allow us to see your email address so we may contact you if you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
5. Winners will be announced on Chez Pim in mid-January 2008.

Good luck, and please give generously!

Chunky Chicken and Vegetable Soup

chunky chicken soup

Let me say one thing of November, now that it’s over… Phew! In the temporary insanity of deadlines week at college and the twilight zone of freelance design work there wasn’t a lot of time for cooking. Even when I did manage to cook (tried and tested recipes mostly, and usually late at night), there was not a lot of time for photos, much less to sit down and write about the chocolate orange clafoutis, the rhubarb jalousie or the fifteen litres of pasta sauce that we made. Wouldn’t it be nice to pick up some extra time along with your groceries? I think it would live near the energy-saving light bulbs or more appropriately, in the aisle with the coffee.

I must say, it is odd sometimes to live in the other hemisphere. I’ve never seen snow and I’ve never tried eggnog, but you guys are making me crave cinnamon buns and warm scarves, and I don’t even like winter! It is summer here in Australia, there are cherries and blueberries in my fridge just waiting to be turned into something delicious, if they are not all gobbled up in the meantime.

The days are longer, but the weather has a surprising unpredictable-ness. Yesterday morning I was walking in North Sydney, finding myself smiling when a fellow pedestrian talked to me at the traffic lights about the trees we had found shade under. Just hours later I sat at the window watching the rain and hearing the thunder, but what I noticed most was the smell – absolute purity. I took great pleasure looking outside while chopping up vegetables, knowing that the soup I was making was the absolute perfect match to the weather we were having.

This is the chunkiest soup I’ve ever seen. It is more like a slightly ‘juicy’ risotto with pasta than an actual soup, which is great because each spoonful (I ate it with a fork actually) gives you different colours and textures. The slightly crunch of the celery is nicely offset against the perfectly cooked pasta. The hearty chunks of chicken team well with the slinky spinach. You know how I love versatility, so all of you Northern Hemispherers can throw in some butternut squash or potatoes for a comforting winter meal.

Chunky Chicken and Vegetable Soup
Adapted from October Australian Gourmet Traveller
Serves 6

• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 5 slices shortcut bacon, diced
• 1 onion, diced
• 2 carrots, diced
• 2 celery stalks, diced
• 3 chicken breasts, diced
• 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
• ½ cup white wine
• 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
• 3 cups chicken stock
• 1 – 1 ¼ cup small pasta such as risoni
• 1 large zucchini, diced
• 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
• 50g baby spinach leaves (optional)
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsely
• Finely grated parmesan and fresh crusty bread, to serve

1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat, add bacon and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally
2. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook until slightly softened.
3. Add chicken and garlic and continue to stir until chicken becomes opaque.
4. Add wine, tomato and stock, and season to taste with salt and cracked black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the pasta, zucchini and beans, stir to combine. Increase the heat again to medium high and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
6. Remove from the heat and stir in parsley and spinach, if using.
7. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately with parmesan cheese, more cracked black pepper and bread.

Drawing Inspiration

apple pie cupcakes - custard

Re-invention is a theme often on my mind. As a graphic designer, I often find myself drawing inspiration from a huge variety of sources, from food to fashion, people to literature, nature to architecture and so many more, because design would be boring if people looked only to other design for inspiration! It is these individual interests and influences that create difference. Even at college when 30 of us have exactly the same project, everyone’s solution is unique.

This is also why I love the food blogging community. I’ll admit, I’ve been lurking watching from afar for a little while at different events. It is incredible to see what you all come up with, that one theme can inspire so many different ideas in people. The food blogging world has opened up my eyes to so many different culinary possibilities that I would never have thought of in a million years, each inspired by different cultures, interests and talents.

I am very happy though, that my first blog event is cupcake related, it seems oddly appropriate, as they are quite an obsession for me these days. The dish that I have chosen to reinvent is apple pie. As simple as it sounds, it has always been a favourite of mine, and its infallible popularity suggests plenty of others feel the same way. It is also something that I’ve personally never seen done in cupcake form before.

I started with a cinnamon cake base, filled with a home made applesauce and topped with a custard cream. I really liked the way the flavours and textures came together here. The only thing I would have liked better is a stronger cinnamon flavour in the cake, or even in the applesauce.

I know there looks like a scary amount of steps here, but much of this recipe can actually be done in advance. The sweet pastry can be refrigerated or frozen (see note), and the applesauce and custard cream can both be stored in air-tight containers in the fridge for 2-3 days. The cupcakes taste best when served on the day, but one day (unfilled) in an air-tight container won’t be a problem.

Thanks to Cheryl and Garrett for hosting such a great event!

Apple Pie Cupcakes
Makes 12

Sweet Pastry
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup almond meal (optional, to make it almond shortcrust)
• 1 tablespoons caster sugar
• 150g cold butter, chopped
• 2-3 tablespoons cold water

1. In a food processor or stand mixer with a dough hook, combine butter, sugar, flour and almond meal (if using) until it becomes a crumbly mixture that resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Add water as needed, until a smooth dough forms and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
3. Roll 12 small balls of dough, of about 1.5-2cm diameter. Place them on a baking sheet covered with non-stick baking paper, about 5cm apart. Place another sheet of baking paper on top and press each down until it is about 0.5cm apart.
4. Roll the rest of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it until needed.
5. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
6. Peel off the top layer of baking paper and make holes in each pastry piece with a fork. Place in a preheated (180°C) oven the oven for 10 minutes until they are slightly golden.
Note: I wouldn’t recommend making the pastry crust just for these cupcakes. If you have some leftover sweet dough from another recipe, or have other plans for a pie or tart, then go for it, but these cupcakes are truly just as good without the pastry as with. Sweet dough can be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for a couple of months.

Cinnamon Cupcakes
• 115g butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 ¼ cup flour, sifted
• ¾ teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ cup milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a standard muffin tray with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer
3. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition
4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon
5. Combine milk and vanilla
6. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture alternately, starting and finishing with flour
7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool in tray for 5 minutes then move to a wire rack.

Apple Sauce
Makes enough to fill 12 cupcakes, and probably a small apple pie or two
• 2 medium apples (I used Pink Lady), peeled, cored and cut into 1.5cm cubes
• 4 tablespoons water or apple juice
• 4 tablespoons sugar
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
• ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place apple pieces in a small saucepan with the water/juice and cook over a low heat, stirring often until apples are very soft.
2. Stir in half of the sugar until dissolved and then add the other half and the cinnamon.
3. Place in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Vanilla Custard Cream
• 1 cup milk
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 egg yolks
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons plain flour
• 1 tablespoon custard powder

1. With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale. Add the flour and custard powder and mix well.
2. Place milk and vanilla extract in a small saucepan and heat until milk is just boiling.
3. Pour the milk into the egg mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
4. Return mixture to the pot over a low heat and whisk continuously until mixture is starting to thicken. At this point it depends if you want a runny custard or a thick “pipe-able” custard, but remember that it will thicken slightly as it cools.
5. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl sitting in a dish of iced water. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until needed.

Assembly
1. Make pastry, if using
2. Prepare cupcake batter
3. Place 1 tablespoon of the batter in each of the cupcake liners. Add a pastry disc to each, and add more batter so that they are about three quarters full, and bake.
4. Prepare apple sauce while cupcakes are cooling
5. When cool, use a small sharp knife to cut a cone from each cupcake. (See this post at Cupcake Bakeshop for detailed instructions) Cut off the bottom and set the lid aside. Place 1 teaspoon of the applesauce in each cupcake, then replace the lid. Store in an air-tight container.
6. Make the custard cream.
7. Just before serving, remove paper cupcake liners.
8. Warm cupcakes in the microwave, and either pipe thick custard on top of each cake, or spoon runny custard so it dribbles deliciously down the sides.

Obsessed With

niche

As a graphic designer who loves to cook, it is seems like a natural progression to be interested infascinated by okay, obsessed with cookbooks and food magazines. I could spend hours in the cookbook section of a bookstore, and I have almost been glared out of a newsagency while browsing the magazines. I really am quite lucky that my local library has a good cookbook section, a sort of try before you buy when you find a book you’ve been curious about but would really like to just pore over.

I’ve noticed food has played a big part in my creativity this year. There was the corporate identity, style guide and 12 page brochure for a cupcake café called Carpe Diem in term one. And the self promotional piece that combined my love of baking and packaging in term two. There was wine label design which I might speak about later, and at the moment I’m working on an annual report for an organic food supplier and a set of menu icons for a Sydney restaurant.

The magazine that you see above was a term three editorial project. We were given a title, Niche and were required to conceptualize and design a viable magazine. My Niche was a magazine purely about desserts, and the fancier the better. Does anything like this actually exist any where in the world? I have never seen it in Australia, but our magazine market is fairly small. It was a fun project to design, thinking not only about what would suit the style of the current issue but others too. It would be wonderful, one day, to be able to combine these two loves in a career of designing cookbooks or magazines… or maybe if the graphic design thing doesn’t work out I’ll just open a bakery!

Looked Greener

pesto

On my birthday last year, my parents took me out for lunch. We went to a small, local Italian restaurant called Savanas. The food is good, however seemed kind of unimaginative. I am a big fan of the chicken schnitzel (more about this crazy obsession later), and Savanas does it well, but this time I chose the chicken penne, with a creamy pesto sauce and sun dried tomatoes. I quite enjoyed it, and over a year later, I decided to try and recreate the dish at home.

I used fresh basil from my plant (it is a little bit naked now!), to make the pesto, with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil. It seemed though, that there was a bit too much oil, so I drained a little bit out and used this to pan fry the chicken.

basil

My version was a little different to how I remember it served at Savanas, but it is still delicious. I am sure the pasta sauce at the restaurant was a little creamier, and perhaps looked greener, but mine seemed to be more fragrant, and interesting taste-wise. It is a quick and easy meal, perfect for summer. Serve with crusty bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic, parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper.

Edited 24/3/08, to make recipe serve 4

Chicken Penne with Basil Pesto
Serves 4

Pesto
• 1 cup basil leaves, rinsed, roughly chopped
• ¼ cup parsley leaves, rinsed, roughly chopped
• ¼ cup pine nuts
• ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Sauce
• Olive Oil
• 3 small chicken breasts
• 1 cup thickened cream
• cracked black pepper
• ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (optional)

To serve
• 500g (dry weight) penne, cooked
• Grated parmesan cheese
• Cracked black pepper
• Basil leaves

1. Put a pot of lightly salted water on to boil, for the pasta.
2. To make pesto, place ingredients into a food processor and pulse until combined to taste.
3. Heat some olive oil in a fry pan. Add the chicken, cooking for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Remove from the pan, and cut into thin slices.
4. Over low heat, add the pesto to the frypan with the cream and cook for 5 minutes. Return the chicken and sun-dried tomatoes to the pan and stir until chicken coated.
5. Drain the pasta and then return it to the pot. Stir the pesto sauce into the pasta and serve, garnishing with basil leaves.

Heels or Herbs

father's day lunch

I love versatility. In clothing, in furniture and especially in food. I love the feeling of endless possibilities and unpredictability, rather than having to settle only for only one outcome. If I compared a pair of jeans to a roast chicken, would you look at me funny? The principle is exactly the same, I promise. Both have that casual comfortable ‘every day’ appeal, but can easily be dressed up or down to suit the occasion, whether its with heels or herbs. They never go out of style, but come in a multitude of different cuts and colours to suit all tastes. Let me explain…

On one side there are chicken nuggets, home made of course. Lightly crumbed, they are the perfect finger food for nibbling while watching the footy, at a picnic, or a kids’ birthday party. It is effortlessly and undeniably casual, but still appropriate and successful, like your favourite pair of boot cut jeans and a cute t-shirt.

On the other end of the poultry spectrum, you have a succulent roast chicken, seasoned with fresh herbs, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Simple yet impressive, with the right accessories it is understated classy, definitely not pretentious, and doesn’t look like you tried too hard. Just like a pair of slimline jeans, heels and pretty blouse.

I recently discovered that cooking chicken maryland pieces is much quicker and easier than a whole chicken, and means there are less arguments over who gets which piece. I also think they look quite classy on the plate and allow a more uniform look. Or, scrap the dinner table altogether and pack a picnic lunch with fresh bread rolls and a roast potato salad. Lemon, garlic and thyme is a really great flavour combination here, but of course there is an endless list of others that would be equally delicious – use your imagination!

Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Roast Chicken
Inspired by Australian Gourmet Traveller
Serves 6

• 6 large chicken Maryland pieces
• ½ cup olive oil
• ¼ cup lemon juice
• 4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
• 2 lemons, cut into thin slices
• sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to very hot, between 200-220°C (390-420°F)
2. With a sharp pair of scissors or a knife, trim off all the yucky gangly bits of the Maryland pieces – i.e: excess fat and skin
3. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and thyme.
4. Cut a piece of baking paper the size of your baking dish and place on the bottom. Scatter the sliced lemon around the dish.
5. With your hands or a small basting brush, cover the chicken with the oil mixture all over and place the pieces over the sliced lemon.
6. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
7. Turn the oven temperature down to about 180°C (350°F) for a further 10-15 minutes. The chicken is cooked when the leg joint moves freely and the skin is golden brown.

No Knead Bread

bread

My paternal grandmother was one of my first influences when it came to cooking. When I was young, I used to stay with her while my parents worked, and I loved watching her cook. At four years old I was a little too young to help, but I remember sitting on the kitchen bench, and her piping an icing ‘worm’ onto my finger to lick off while she decorated a cake, or her lifting me up to watch her pasta sauce bubble and “blop blop.” I loved the bread she made, especially when we could have some, still warm for lunch. Incredibly, I’ve never seen my grandmother use a recipe, ever. She seems to remember every one of her signature dishes off the top of her head, or cooks purely by taste and experience.

Most of our family gatherings occur at her house; we have a big family and her dining table is the only one that fits us all. Bringing up six children, she’s well practiced in feeding an army. Those six children all have children of their own now, and I am one of her fourteen grandchildren. It always surprises me how much she manages to cook in her tiny kitchen, a feat of good organization I am sure. In years past, there were always loaves of freshly baked bread to go with the big lunches she cooked, but since my grandfather passed away a few years ago, her special bread’s appearances have been few and far between.

bread, slice

It was nanna I thought of when I (finally) made the no knead bread today, and I think it had a lot to do with the smells. The smell of the yeast, and the smell of the bread cooking brought back memories. It was my first attempt at any sort of bread making, and definitely won’t be the last. This opened the door to a whole new world of baking that seemed kind of intimidating. Baking bread gave me a fulfilling and almost maternal feeling – creating something from scratch and watching it grow and change. The recipe was simple and quite forgiving. I cooked it in two small loaf pans rather than a pot because I didn’t have anything suitable, but this seemed to work nicely. The bread had a nice crunchy crust and a hearty dense texture that I greatly enjoyed, still warm with some butter. Next time I will try it with wholemeal flour because I generally prefer wholemeal bread.

I feel really lazy not sharing a recipe two posts in a row, but this one is so common now it hardly feels necessary! I found Jaden’s post extremely helpful, and I love those photos!

Slice and Bake Cookies

cookies

There are certain times of the year that seem to be a birthday frenzy among my friends, most notably mid June, and late August. My own birthday falls in mid June, with no less than six other birthdays in the three days before and after my own. It is always very social and fun with lots of parties to attend.

This August, it occurred to me that I’ve never actually given a home cooked food gift to my friends. And with so many gifts to give, I thought a few nice batches of cookies would be appreciated by these sweet-toothed birthday girls (and boy!) Some cookies even travelled express post to Melbourne and Perth! I hope they survived the journey intact!

The recipe was adapted from a cookbook I have spoken about before. I used candied lemon peel for a beautiful subtle citrus flavour. The cookies had a really nice crumb and flavour, and were super easy to make. The slice and bake method gives them a nice mostly uniform shape, and an interesting cross section. I can’t wait to try this recipe base with other flavourings in the near future. The book suggests orange and poppyseed, and also pecan and cinnamon, both of which sound delicious!

Slice and Bake Cookies
Makes 40-48 cookies

• 250g butter, softened
• 1 ¼ cups icing sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups plain flour
• ½ cup rice flour
• ⅓ cup cornflour
• 2 tablespoons milk

Candied Lemon Peel
• 1 cup water
• ¾ cup sugar
• Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

1. To make candied lemon peel, place water and sugar in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add lemon rind and increase the heat, boiling for 8-10 minutes until the rind is glossy and transparent. Strain the mixture, setting aside the syrup.
2. Beat butter, sifted icing sugar and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in sifted flours in two batches, the lemon rind, milk and 1 tablespoon of the lemon syrup.
3. Divide mixture in half. Knead each half on a lightly floured surface until smooth, then roll each half into 25cm logs. Wrap each log in baking paper and refrigerate for about 1 hour, until firm.
4. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F). Line oven trays with baking paper.
5. Cut the logs into 1cm slices and place them about 3cm apart on oven trays. Bake for about 20 minutes and cool on wire racks.

Vanilla & Almond Biscotti

It is almost impossible for me to name my favourite song, or favourite movie, or even favourite colour, let alone my favourite food. My favourites evolve and change, depending on my mood and other factors. In the middle of winter, my favourite food is not going to be ice cream, even though in summer I can’t get enough. Or maybe I’m indecisive; I am a Gemini after all. I have trouble locking in and committing to one favourite. I’d rather keep my options open.

Why is it easier to pick a favourite of something you don’t know much about, yet impossible once you learn and experience more, and start to become more familiar with? But, I think there are a few things that stand the test of time, like songs you don’t get tired of. Are they automatically elevated to favourite status because of their staying power?

Biscotti is a little like that for me, as one of those favourites that I can’t get tired of. The small, crunchy, nutty biscuits are just perfect with a strong coffee for afternoon tea. Just nibbling away evokes thoughts of Italy, somewhere I would love to travel to one day.

Biscotti don’t last long in my house, we all love them, and they are so addictive, you can’t just stop at one. Lucky this recipe is so easy to make! It is a versatile recipe too, with endless variations possible. Donna Hay even suggests replacing the almonds with ½ cup roasted, skinned hazelnuts and 40g chopped chocolate for a hazelnut and chocolate chip biscotti. Sounds delicious!

Vanilla & almond biscotti
Recipe from Donna Hay Modern Classics 2
Makes about 40

• 2 cups plain flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• ¾ cup sugar
• ¾ cup almonds
• 3 eggs
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F).
2. Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add sugar and almonds and stir together. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well to form a dough. Divide the dough in two.
3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead each piece until smooth. Shape into logs and flatten slightly.
4. Place the logs on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool completely. If not completely cool, it will be crumbly when you slice it.
5. Cut the logs into 5mm thick slices with a serrated knife and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the biscotti are crisp. Store in an airtight container and serve with espresso or liqueur.

Lunch Order

When I was a kid, the list of foods I didn’t like was almost longer than the list of foods I did like! Eating is about looks as much as taste, so some of my food prejudices were based purely on how things looked. Other foods had bad experiences attached. This lasagne is a combination of three things that I wouldn’t touch as a child, but that I now love.

My first lasagne experience was a strange one. Schools in Australia don’t have cafeterias. A few good-hearted mums help out in the canteen, making sandwiches, serving hot food, and selling bags of lollies for 10 cents. For a primary school kid, a ‘lunch order’ was a big deal, because most of the time, you brought a sandwich from home. One day, when I was about 6 in first grade, I got lasagne for my lunch order. But it was absolutely foul, and it actually made me throw up. Imagine my disappointment! The sacred lunch order had been ruined, and I had nothing else to eat for lunch. It honestly took me nearly ten years to eat lasagne again. But one day I was game enough to try it again at a nice Italian restaurant. Now I love it, and I love making it.

Ricotta cheese is a funny thing for me, because I don’t mind the taste, but the texture is very off-putting. My family likes the ricotta filled ravioli with a tomato and garlic sauce, and even now I ask my mum to cook me up a little bit of spaghetti instead. Soggy, waterlogged ricotta is just not nice. However, in other forms, it is very tasty, and so versatile. It can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, from pasta to cupcakes, to just spread on nice crusty bread.

And as for spinach, do you know any child that likes spinach? I think I was mainly put off by the stigma that surrounds it, we didn’t have it at home very often and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now I cook with it often, and really enjoy it.

This lasagne marries the ricotta and spinach in a moist and tasty, yet not too heavy dish. Additions such as bacon or pine nuts would be excellent too. It’s hardly an original combination, I know, but this recipe is my own, and one of my first. I am looking forward to experimenting and developing more of my own recipes in the near future.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

• ½ bunch silverbeet or 1 bunch English spinach
• 500g ricotta cheese
• ½ cup breadcrumbs
• 1 ½ tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
• 2 packets instant lasagne sheets
• mozzarella and parmesan cheese

White Sauce
• 80g butter
• 1/3 cup flour
• 600mL milk
• salt and pepper, to taste

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (390°F) and line a large baking dish with baking paper.
2. Blanch the spinach for 30 seconds, then drain and squeeze to remove excess liquid. Chop finely.
3. Place spinach in a bowl with ricotta, breadcrumbs and parsley and mix to combine. Set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, place the butter. When it is fully melted, stir in the flour, and when combined, add the milk. Whisk until it is smooth and starts to thicken, then reduce heat. Add salt and pepper. Do not let the sauce become too thick.
5. I like to pre-cook my lasagne sheets, even though the packets say it is not necessary. I use a large saucepan with salted, boiling water, cooking 2-3 lasagne sheets at a time for about 5 minutes.
6. Assemble the lasagne, with the lasagne sheets, a thin layer of the spinach and ricotta mixture, some of the white sauce and cheese. Continue this order, and finish with a decent amount of white sauce and cheese on top, with some cracked black pepper.
7. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your lasagne dish. Serve with salad.