Our Kitchen

How to “gourmet”

It has been almost a year since Fran and I hosted our housewarming in Collingwood, which involved an epic cook up (see our blog post). For Fran’s birthday this year, she wanted to host a low-key ‘gourmet’ barbecue. I cringed at the word ‘gourmet’ – what is gourmet? Way to keep expectations low, I exclaimed to Fran.

I left Fran to her devices this time around. Having gently reminded her two weeks prior, one week prior and a few days prior, at 22 years old, I told myself she could take the reins. Game plan: Mat would be in charge of barbecuing and I would take care of the sides. The enormity of the task finally dawned on Fran the day before the event, who frantically trucked a trolley full of groceries back from Coles and got to work on the marinades for the barbeque the night before. I on the other hand had bought the ingredients for Fran’s birthday cake days before, knowing that I would be out on the town the night before (TGIF drinks) and would have to undertake a drunken bake off.

The morning of, it was My Kitchen Rules episode 1. As the pressure mounted, Fran found herself stumped at finding the right vessel to soak her skewers and at how to stack her skewers on trays. When it became clear Fran was unable to engage in simple problem solving, I had to become the kitchen Nazi to focus frazzled Fran, all in the name of good TV of course.

On the menu:

  • Barbecue fish skewers in tandoori-like marinade (thank you Jamie Oliver) with potatoes: this tumeric, mint and yogurt-based marinade was super flavorful and accompanied the barramundi and potatoes perfectly. Good tip: par-boil the potatoes first, because the fish cooks really fast on the bbq
  • Barbecue Mediterranean chicken skewers marinated in rosemary, lemon juice and garlic with capsicum, zucchini and red onion (thank you Betty Crocker): the rosemary-lemon marinade bought some freshness to the menu and really cut through the greasiness of a bbq lunch. It’s a wonderful alternative to serve chicken at  a bbq if you don’t want to have messy chicken wings drowsed in a heavy bbq  sauce or honey  soy marinade.
  • Barbecue lamb cutlets marinated in Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, garlic and rosemary: I was a bit worried that the main components of this marinade would be too acidic, but this classic combo of flavors did not disappoint. Tastes best when cooked medium-rare!
  • Garlic and chilli prawns: this simple marinade did a fabulous job in bringing out the freshness and sweetness of the prawns. Hand-peeling a bucket of prawns was a bit of a b*tch but totally worth it!
  • Sausage sizzles (obviously!)
  • Roast potato salad with chives, anchovies and rocket leaves (follow the par boil and roast method) but use the mayonnaise recipe: The par boil and roast method is very rewarding and I highly recommend it. The anchovy mayonnaise was quite disappointing as it was very thick, tight and had a slight bitter taste to it. I would perhaps go with a simpler whole grain mustard dressing next time.
  • Baked macaroni and cheese (I love you Ina Garten!)  This mac & cheese recipe is particularly tasty because it uses my favourite cheese, Gruyere cheese, which itself has a rich, nutty flavour, which we all goes so well with mac & Cheese (most mac & cheese recipes have a dash of nutmeg). But be warned, this cheese will break the bank ($68/kg)! It was one of the favourites of the day.
  • A simple refreshing : I made the mistake of using olive oil instead of a more flavourless oil (e.g. sunflower oil). I would highly recommend using a flavourless oil to allow the lime and salad ingredients sing in all their fresh glory
  • Finally Donna Hay’s salted caramel and honeycomb crunch cake: (plus I added a teaspoon of instant coffee granules) An amazing chocolate cake recipe – it is dense and little on the dry side but piss easy to make and wonderfully chocolaty and rich (I used the best baking dark chocolate and best dutch cocoa powder I could find as a wise baker advised me recently that a good chocolate cake is all about the quality of the chocolate). The dulche de leche buttercream filling is to die for. I made my own dulche de leche using this method (http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-dulce-de-leche-canned-condensed-milk.html). Thank you serious eats! This was so easy to do. I boiled my can of condensed milk while I prepared & baked the cake (in my drunken state), popped it open the next morning and voila! It was like a magic trick, but instead of a bunny, out came a lusciously, silky, shiny golden brown caramel. I did not make the honeycomb (as I do not have a candy thermometer) but you can easily buy honeycomb coated in chocolate from the supermarket and crush that up (which is what I did). I made a simple dark chocolate ganache for the top spread so that the honeycomb crumbs stuck. Despite my initial thoughts, the honeycomb did not make the dish sickly sweet. Definitely a ‘special occassions’ cake, fit for the birthday gods.

The ‘gourmet’ barbecue was a success. Great division of work playing to each of our strengths (big shout out to Mat for dominating the barbecue) – Fran continues to beg us to go on My Kitchen Rules with her. Be not fooled, these cook ups are quite a feat, which is probably why we only do one every year or so…so….till next year!

P.s. again, we did really badly with the photo-taking, so here are a few photos we put together.

“Warm my house, warm my heart”

After a couple of weeks of planning and admittedly a few sleepless nights, our housewarming was finally here. I had been battling a mild cold for the past week and was desperate for a sedentary weekend. But as much as I kept telling people that I only agreed to hold a housewarming after Fran’s incessant begging, I was excited for the housewarming. Not only for our friends to see our new apartment and how we had transformed our concrete dump of a balcony into a fairy light haven, but people gatherings are an opportunity to try new recipes (and somehow always coupled with the cosmic energy surge necessary to execute those recipes!)

On the menu:

– Beef empanadas

– Chicken nuggets with lemon caper sauce

– Bacon and Cheese potato skins (and for my vegetarian friends, mushroom and cheese potato skins)

– Pea and fetta frittata 

– Dahl and pumpkin dip

– Thai-inspired Guacamole 

– Raspberry almond frangipane tarts

– Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate 

Some of my lovely guests also brought along desserts: 

– Chocolate ganache tart with whipped cream and topped with fresh strawberries and orange segments 

– Mandarin sponge cake 

– Nutella brownies (which I selfishly kept to myself)

Grog on offer:

– 2 slabs of beer

– Mulled wine 

I started making the beef empanadas the night before the housewarming. True to my usual form, I vaguely followed the following recipe:

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/34537/argentinian+beef+empanadas

I omitted the currents since I forgot to buy them (and thought it was a bit risky given I hadn’t tasted any empanadas with dried fruit before) and added capers instead of olives (since I forgot to buy olives and I had capers on hand for another dish). I probably added about 4 tablespoons of capers together with all of the liquid from the jar. The capers and liquid add the tangy-ness to cut through the beef. 

If I make the empanadas again, I would definitely add 4-5 boiled eggs instead of 3. I also added about 1 cup of frozen peas at the end.

Folding the empanadas were a little tricky. Unlike dumpling skin, puff pastry is quite sticky. I found keeping the ready made puff pastry refrigerated and only taking one sheet out at a time to work with helped keep the stickiness under some sort of control. I made slightly smaller empanadas, 12cm in diameter. They still had to be in the oven for 25-30 minutes as I baked them the next day straight from the fridge. 

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Dahl and pumpkin dip: This was also made the night before and reheated the next day. I vaguely followed this recipe: 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/12681/spiced+pumpkin+lentil+dip+with+naan+bread

I roasted about 1.5tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds (black would be better but I didn’t have any) before adding vegetable oil, 1 garlic segment (diced finely), fried the pumpkin, added the curry powder and seasoned to taste, then added the lentils and 2.5 cups of water and boiled uncovered until cooked. I omitted the sour cream to ensure it was vegan. Easy peasy.

Strawberries and dark chocolate is always my go-to vegan dessert. Be sure to check the dark chocolate contents list to make sure it is vegan as not all dark chocolate is vegan. Gently melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler (make sure the water is gently simmering and not boiling. Once the chocolate is melted you can turn the heat off to be on the safe side). Use a wooden spoon to drizzle lines of chocolate onto the hulled strawberries. Push a fork through the strawberries so you have maximum surface area exposure. Place the strawberries and chocolate on baking paper or aluminium foil and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm.

Chicken nuggets with lemon caper sauce were made on the morning following this recipe: 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/25699/chicken+nuggets+with+lemon+caper+sauce

I like this recipe because the nuggets are baked and not fried (and thus healthier). I omitted the cheese because I already had a few cheesy items on the menu. 1 cup of breadcrumbs is sufficient. The oil spray is quite essential for crispiness, I would recommend going this extra mile (even though I didn’t).

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Pea and feta frittatas made on the morning. Again super easy, follow this recipe: 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/21032/pea+mint+and+feta+frittatas

I don’t like mint, so I added parsley instead and omitted the green onions.

I also added 100 g of feta instead of 50g and omitted the hard cheese. (I’m no cheese expert but I added Dodoni feta.) I also added about 1 tsp of ground white pepper (usually available from Asian grocers if not found in your local supermarket), about 10-15 sliced semi dried tomatoes and about half a tsp of soy sauce. I baked the frittata in a baking tray instead of a muffin pan and sliced it up after which is much less work! Just adjust the cooking time. It should be ready when golden on the outside and not wet when you pierce a knife through.

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Potato skins:

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/7541/cheese+and+bacon+potato+skins

Warning: This doesn’t yield much at all since you scoop out the potato to add the filling so even though it looks like alot of potato it really isn’t. There was a suggestion to save the filling to make gnocchi – what a brilliant idea (thanks Mat!) I made one recipe of bacon, and one recipe with a vegetarian filling. 

To make the vegetarian filling (inspired by my sister): Fry up about two segments of chopped garlic with half a capsicum (chopped), about three table spoons of corn kernels and 1 tablespoon of kidney beans. Add some dried basil leaves, then blend the fried mixture to make the sauce (season to taste). Fry up some chopped mushrooms separately in a very hot pan (this ensures the end result has minimal liquid) to use as garnish. 

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Guacamole: Guacamole is again another very easy, crowd-pleaser dish. I followed this recipe but omitted the chilli and added one whole lime. A quarter of a large red onion is sufficient.

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/38207/the+best+ever+guacamole

Anyone can make a good guacamole but the trick to an amazing guacamole is obviously the spices. I used the spices my mum roasted and ground herself – nothing like mum’s home made ground spices!!! If you don’t have a mum that does this, I would recommend working really hard to get adopted by a Indian/Sri-Lankan/Pakistani mum (as the chances are they do this all the time!)

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Raspberry and almond frangipane tarts were made by Fran but the recipe is from onf of Jaime’s 30 minute Meals. 

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamies-30-minute-meals/articles/all/jools-pasta-with-frangipane-tart-meal-recipe/1868

For those who don’t like desserts that are too sweet, this is not for you. I would recommend serving the tarts with a dollop of cream to tone down the sweetness. 

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Mulled wine: This is essential at any winter house gathering. 

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/20197/mulled+wine

I added about 3/4 the required sugar and realised later it wasn’t sweet enough, so add the full amount. Don’t be stingy with that brown sugar!

All in all the housewarming was an amazing night. We were truly touched by our friends (and neighbours) who came and ate, drank and laughed our house into a home. Our little apartment seemed to be the perfect escape from the cold winter night outside, humming and buzzing with love and warmth and merriment. I am definitely counting my lucky stars 🙂

“And then God said, let there be food… And it was good.”

One-pot Creamy French Onion Pasta Bake

I made this for my boyfriend and his two housemates – feeding 3 male appetites can be. Not only does this dish add lots more texture and a few extra calories to one of my favourite soups, I barely complained about the clean up afterwards! Trust me, that says a lot. The saying holds true: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Fran x

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Recipe and image from: Tieghan (2015, December 2). One-pot Creamy French Onion Pasta Bake [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.halfbakedharvest.com/one-pot-creamy-french-onion-pasta-bake/

Smoked Salmon Spaghetti

I love this recipe by Julie Goodwin. It’s quickie but a goodie. It kind of reminds me of a greek salad with its tangy and creamy flavours, but in warm pasta form! Fran x

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Recipe and Image from: Goodwin, Julie, ‘Smoked Salmon Spaghetti.’ Julie Goodwin’s 20/20 Meals. Australia: Hachette, 2014. 55. Print