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.

How Quaint

Ever since we had to do a corporate identity for a tearoom at college last year, I have been a little obsessed with the thought of high tea. Fine china, elegant teacups and dainty little cakes and scones with jam and cream. However, the usage of the term as we know it today is historically incorrect. High tea was the name of the early evening meal, often with savoury food, eaten as a combination afternoon/evening meal. Afternoon tea is the proper name.

Afternoon tea was a big deal to the ladies of 19th century Britain. The tearoom used to be a place that wealthy women were allowed to socialise with each other, unaccompanied by their husbands. Tearooms became more common when tea became more affordable to the lower classes. It is kind of a forgotten ritual these days, but I often find that at I’m feeling a little flat and I just need a cup of tea at about 3.30pm.

These scones were made to take to my nanna’s place this afternoon. I went over for a music lesson, followed by afternoon tea. How quaint! She was very impressed by their light and fluffy texture, and the way they split perfectly in half just waiting for a slathering of jam and a dollop of cream. Her preference was for apricot and mine for plum, and both were delicious. I felt like a real lady, sipping tea and nibbling scones, talking about perfect cadences and Handel’s operas.

Scones
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Modern Classics 2
Makes about 24 small scones

• 2 cups thickened cream
• ½ cup milk
• 3 cups plain flour
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 2-3 tablespoons caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
2. Whisk the cream and milk together until soft peaks form
3. Sift flour and baking powder, add sugar and stir to combine
4. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and press out the dough until about 3cm thick. Cut into small rounds (4-5cm) and place on baking tray, with 2cm between each
5. Brush the tops of each scone with a little milk.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until scones are puffed and golden.
7. Serve warm with jam and cream

Girl Logic

Girl logic is a strange thing. I’m sure all men would agree, that sometimes women are inscrutable. I don’t suppose it’s something we do on purpose. It’s not about confusing people, the strange things we do have certain rationalisations, even if they don’t appear to make any sense at all. Why wear uncomfortable shoes? Flats are just as cute, however heels are more glamorous, and have the added advantage of making your legs look thinner. Why buy a cookbook for one recipe in particular, and then change it?

When I bought my new cookbook, the recipe that caught my eye was for jaffa cakes. I love the chocolate and orange combination, and those little biscuits were the catalyst many years ago. Whenever we visited my aunty, she would always serve them, and I’d get stuck into those while she and my mum chatted over coffee. So why did I adapt it into strawberry jelly cakes when I was so looking forward to trying the orange?

I can’t really explain it! But part of me thinks it might have been to test the water, to iron out the kinks so that when I do attempt these delightful jaffa cakes, they are perfect. See what I mean about girl logic!

I am not sorry, however, that I made this flavour change, because they turned out very nicely. Basically, it is a hybrid sponge cake/biscuit base, topped with a round of strawberry jelly and covered in chocolate. It was a challenge to only nibble one bite before photographing it! I love the versatility of this recipe more than anything. You can substitute almost any flavour for the jelly inside! I am sure it would even work with rounds of buttercream or ganache for a decadent treat. These are best eaten on the day they’re made.

Strawberry Jelly Cakes
Recipe adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Cookies
Makes 25-30

• ½ cup caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup plain flour, sifted well
• 2 tablespoons caster sugar, extra
• 200g dark chocolate, melted
• 200g white chocolate, melted

Strawberry Jelly – I would recommend making double this, in two cake pans
• 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon strawberry jam
• 1 cup water
• 85g packet strawberry jelly crystals

1. To make strawberry jelly, combine water and jam in a small saucepan, and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and add jelly crystals, then stir until completely dissolved. Line a medium size rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Pour jelly into pan and refrigerate until set.
2. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Line two oven trays with baking paper. I traced around a 4.5cm round cookie cutter with pencil on one side of the baking paper, then turned it over with the pencil side down.
3. Spread sugar evenly over base of shallow oven tray; heat in oven until sugar feels hot to touch. Beat eggs in a small bowl with electric mixer on high speed for 1 minute, then add hot sugar. Beat for about 10 minutes or until mixture is thick and will hold its shape.
4. Fit large piping bag with plain 1cm tube.
5. Fold in sifted flour to egg mixture. Place mixture in piping bag, and pipe 4.5cm rounds onto oven trays, about 3cm apart.
6. Sprinkle each round evenly with extra sugar. Bake each tray one at a time, for 5-10 minutes. Cool on trays.
7. Lift jelly from pan to board, and using the 4.5cm round cutter, cut out shapes.
8. Top each sponge with a round of jelly, place on wire rack over tray, and coat with chocolate.

Secret Stash

I’m a second year graphic design student, and I’m considering getting into packaging design when I finish my course next year. It is a really interesting area, I think, because your designs are made tangible, for people to look at, pick up, and hopefully put into their shopping trolley.

Of course there are a lot of factors that determine purchasing decisions, but no one can deny that packaging plays a part. It takes me ages to do my grocery shopping, because I stand there analysing the designs, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

I love seeing things like the photo above, on the packaging for Arnott’s Tim Tams. Even more amusing for me, as I found them while putting away my mum’s groceries.

My mother is notorious for hiding her chocolatey treats. That’s one of the signs of addiction, isn’t it? Luckily, I am pretty good at finding them, and sometimes even when I’m not looking for them. Just this afternoon I found a block of chocolate hidden underneath the plastic bags in the pantry. I am so tempted to re-hide it somewhere else so when she is looking for her hidden treasure, she can’t find it.

Is this uncommon behaviour? If not, where do you keep your secret stash of goodies?

National Dish

There are few things more Aussie than a meat pie. Unless it’s a meat pie consumed while wearing shorts and thongs after playing a game of cricket on the beach, or in your mate’s quiet street. Or eaten during half-time at the footy and washed down with a beer.

The humble meat pie is an Australian icon – a beacon of hope whether you’re hungry or hungover – wrapped in pastry and smothered in tomato sauce (no ketchup in sight!) Mashed potatoes, peas and gravy sometimes make an appearance. When done properly, it is a beautiful thing.

But sadly, it is not too often that a meat pie is truly done properly. Meat pies are mass-produced and sold frozen, with who knows what inside. There have been horror stories of scary meat pie surprises, if the fat content alone wasn’t enough to turn a girl off them.

It had been a long time since I had a pie. When I was flicking through my copy of Donna Hay’s Modern Classics 1, the perfect golden pastry of her meat pie caught my eye. Reading the recipe, I thought, now this is more like it! Lean steak, cubed and stewed in red wine and stock, thickened later into delicious meaty gravy. I added bacon, but anything goes – mushrooms, vegetables, small cubes of potato. This was my first attempt at a pie from scratch ever and it worked out beautifully.

Meat Pie
Recipe adapted from Donna Hay

Shortcrust Pastry
• 2 cups flour
• 145g cold butter
• 5-7 tablespoons cold water

• Puff Pastry (I used store bought)

Pie Filling
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 ½ onions, chopped
• 1 kg blade steak, cut into small cubes
• 6 rashers bacon, finely sliced
• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 4 cups beef stock
• 1 cup red wine
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons flour or cornflour
• ¼ cup water
• sea salt and cracked black pepper
• 1 egg, lightly beaten

1. To make the filling, heat the oil in a saucepan or large frying pan over high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, until soft. Add bacon and cook until crispy, then add the meat and cook until brown.
2. Add the tomato paste, stock, wine and Worcestershire sauce to the pan and simmer, uncovered for one hour or until the meat is tender.
3. In the meantime, make shortcrust pastry. In a stand mixer (with hook attachment) or food processor, mix flour and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water, and mix until the dough is smooth and comes away from the bowl. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Blend the cornflour/flour and water to a smooth paste. Add it to the beef mixture while it is simmering rapidly on high heat. Stir until the mixture has thickened and returned to a simmer. Add salt and pepper and then set aside to cool.
5. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)
6. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a lightly floured surface to 3mm. Cut out pie bases (1 large and four small, or 6 medium). Blind bake for 20 minutes. Remove baking weights and spoon in the filling. Roll out the puff pasty and cut out lids for each pie.
7. Place on top and press edges of the pastry together. Brush the tops with the egg and make a slit in the tops.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. Serve with mashed potatoes, peas and gravy.