Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spinach and ricotta gnocchi with tomato and basil sauce

I love cooking and spend a lot of my time experimenting with recipes or trying other people's recipes. However, I also work long hours and like to have quick, good food that I can prepare quickly.

In North Fitzroy and North Carlton we are very lucky to have Maria's pasta in Nicholson Street. Maria has a range of fresh and snap frozen pasta which is just wonderful. I always try to have some of it in my freezer, and, apart from purchasing it at Maria's, I can also get it at my local supermarket, Piedimonte's.

Tonight, as I was feeling a bit challenged by getting late to the making of a pot of pea and ham soup, I was happy to pull out some of Maria's ricotta and spinach gnocchi and cook it with Bertolli Five Brothers Summer tomato basil pasta sauce. The gnocchi served with the sauce and some shaved parmesan was better than I could ever do, let's face it.

I have no connection with either of these products except that I find them delicious products which are great to have on hand for preparing a quick meal.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stephanie's spiced oranges - my reprise

I got quite over-excited about Stephanie's spiced oranges and went out to buy the ingredients yesterday. Today I followed the recipe using eight oranges. I used Stephanie's recipe except, yes there is always at least one except ;>). Well except that I used raw sugar not white sugar. I know that she doesn't specify but I always assume white sugar unless otherwise specified. And except that I misread the recipe and put the cardamon pods in whole, not the seeds thereof.

The eight oranges filled three jars, but I still had a lot of syrup left. So I started off again with another eight oranges.

With the syrup I topped it up with a bit more golden syrup and some more cloves and black peppercorns. I followed the recipe for cooking the oranges in water, cooling, and slicing and then added them to the syrup and simmered for 30 minutes or so.

The oranges are now cooling before I put them away up high to be preserved for summer months. Meanwhile I can enjoy Marg's spiced oranges. Maybe she is making some more in Canberra today?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Stephanie's spiced oranges and other Canberra goodies

Yes, I know you are all saying: what has Stephanie Alexander to do with Canberra? She's a Hawthorn woman. And you are both right and wrong. This week I was in Canberra for the funeral of my cousin who died of @#$% breast cancer. One of the pleasures of being there was that I stayed with my friends Marg and Tony, and Marg sent me away with her produce.

Marg has a prolific orange tree and last winter she made a vat of Stephanie's spiced oranges. We had some with cheese on Tuesday night - luscious. They highly recommended it with cold meats as well. I have Marg's bottle to eat immediately but I decided that I needed to lay in stock for myself. So as navel oranges are in abundance at present, I have bought a batch and all the other ingredients and will be making my own vat tomorrow. This is Stephanie's recipe and the photographs are mine but of Margaret's spiced oranges.


8 oranges (preferably pipless navels), washed
1 teaspoon salt

1 kg sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
1.5 cups white wine vinegar
seeds from six cardamon pods
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 stick cinnamon

Put oranges in large non-reactive pot, then cover generously with cold water and add salt.
Settle a plate down over oranges to keep them under the water.
Bring to simmering point, then simmer for about 50 minutes until the oranges are tender.
Lift gently into a colander and drain.
Discard water in pot.
When oranges are cool enough to handle, halve them using a serrated knife and cut each half into 4-5 wedges (do not peel).
To make the syrup combine all ingredients and heat to simmering point in a non-reactive saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved.
Simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat.
Put orange wedges into syrup and and return to a moderate heat with pan resting on a simmer mat.
Simmer for about 30 minutes until orange is tender and skin can be pierced easily with a fine skewer.
Using tongs fill sterilized jars with orange pieces, then ladle in syrup to cover.
Seal and leave for as long as possible before eating (at least a month).
The fruit will darken over time.

How lucky am I? I can cook my oranges tomorrow and, while mine are steeping in the syrup, I can eat Marg's 2007 oranges! Thanks, Marg!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lebanese lamb and pinenut phyllo pie - with sumac!

Recently I cooked Abla's meat and pine-nut pastries with a variant. I didn't have sumac so I used lemon and lime juice and zest instead and upped the other spices. Since then I have managed to source both sumac and pomegranate molasses. So tonight I used Abla's recipe to make a Lebanese lamb and pinenut phyllo pie according to her directions. Well, it is Abla's in terms of the ingredients, but she doesn't use it to make a pie but rather lady fingers.


1/2 cup pinenuts
2 tablespoon olive oil
500 gr minced lamb
2 onions chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sumac
7 sheets phyllo pastry
Oil for basting phyllo
Poppy seeds
Pomegranate molasses


Preheat oven to 180c, 160 c if fan-forced.
In a pan, cook pine nuts in olive oil until golden.
Drain on kitchen paper.
Place lamb mince in pan and heat gently allowing it to cook in its own juices while stirring constantly.
Add onion and spices.
When onion turns transparent, add pine nuts and remove from heat.
Place phyllo on tea-towel to work from, and add sheets to pan, basting with olive oil as you go.
Add approximately six sheets to the pan.
Pour in filling.
Fold over phyllo, basting with oil.
Add top sheet of phyllo to beautify and baste with olive oil.
Sprinkle poppy seeds on top.
Cut into required pieces through upper layer, taking care not to cut right through the pie.
Cook in the middle of a moderate oven for about 45 minutes.
Cut through phyllo and serve individual piece with dash of pomegranate molasses.

For vegetables to serve with this I made a dish with potatoes and peas with Lebanese spices.


2 potatoes chopped roughly
2 handfuls frozen baby peas
1/4 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon sumac
Olive oil

Mix potatoes and spices in a bowl.
Cook potatoes and spices at high in microwave for 3 minutes. Meanwhile add olive oil to a pan and heat.
Add potatoes to oil and toss continuously until coated with spices and cooked.
Add peas and toss again until cooked.

The lamb and pinenut phyllo pie was again delicious. This time it tasted more like the real Lebanese thing, but I will make the one with lemon and lime again. Although not authentic, that variant was very nice indeed. It would be interesting to try another variation using lentils instead of lamb. The flavours would be different but it should work.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chilli prawn wontons

I wasn't thinking of cooking something new this weekend. I still had umpteen limes and was keen to do a few extra batches of lime curd and indeed I did complete this aim. However, when I was shopping today I came across wonton wrappers and was tempted. Could I whip out a few prawns from my dinner and make them wontons? Could I also do wontons tomorrow with a pasta sauce I was going to make?

Well, of course, the upshot of this speculation was buying the wonton wrappers and experimenting with chilli prawn wontons. I had never made wontons before so this was getting out of the comfort zone. The first thing I did was to Google wontons and come up with a good page on about making wontons. This page had its source in Australian Good Taste, September 2004 p. 53. I found a couple of other instructions and played around a bit as well.

Essentially, I started cooking my sauce for Chilli prawns with pasta which I have blogged about before. Then I took a small bowl of water and a pastry brush, pulled out a wonton wrapper, placed a prawn in the middle and followed the instructions on as well as playing around with a couple of other variants. I then steamed them for 10 minutes and ate them up with a chilli sauce for dipping. Yummy! I could have popped them in a soup or deep-fried them and served with the chilli dipping sauce. I will continue to experiment with these. They are easy and yummy.

The learnings were: wontons are very simple to make; whole prawns are perhaps a wee bit big for them but it did work ok; and when steaming make sure that the individual pieces are placed separately or it will not be possible to separate after cooking!

TasteSpotting is dead. Long live TasteSpotting clones!

As we all mourn the passing of TasteSpotting and hope that the ending will be temporary, already several clones of it have appeared. Recipes2Share was the first one I heard about on the Leftover Queen Forum, and then today I discovered Food Gawker. which describes itself as: "This is our homage to Tastespotting. We hope you return, but until then we built a clone to satisfy people’s need to gawk at food porn."

I have registered with both and subscribed to both through my Bloglines. So I guess we'll just see what evolves. At first sight, I prefer Food Gawker because of its cleaner lines and because it's just a collection of food photos linked to websites rather than being part of something else. And let's face it, because it reminds me of TasteSpotting.

All we know about the closing of TasteSpotting is what is on the note on site. Questions on the TasteSpotting Facebook site haven't elicited answers and really this is not unexpected if there is a legal case sub iudice or pending. Much of the discussion has been around the issue of copyright of images, though others have said it is another legal matter. The very cloning of this site by several others makes me wonder about copyright - not of images, but of the whole NotCot concept. Any comments?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Piedimonte's Redeemed!

Well, it's another day and another weekend and I've slipped off to Piedimonte's for more ingredients (and the obligatory cat food). And what have I found? I suddenly remembered another herb and spice section at Piedimonte's, not the normal one but a more specialized one near the vegetables. And lo! I am the proud owner of 80 grams of premium grade Sumac from Turkey! They had it all the time.

Now I can try the Lebanese Lamb Pie in Phyllo with sumac instead of lemon and lime juice and zest. However, I am actually glad that I didn't find the sumac last weekend as the lemon and lime added a lovely tangy flavour to the pie. Now I just need to go in search of pomegranate molasses - and I have been given a lead for that ;>)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tastespotting gone? Wah!

Wah! What has happened to Tastespotting? Why does it suddenly not exist? We just see a statement like this on the website:

I love Tastespotting and find so many good links from it. Does anyone know the reasons behind this? I've only known about this since 18 April and I've addicted since I first was told about it. Thanks, Sandy! What will I do now?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Lebanese Lamb and Pinenut Phyllo Pie

I have been having a bit of a burst of Lebanese food in the last week with dinners at Zum zum in North Carlton and Rumi in East Brunswick. Not surprisingly I ended up getting out my best Lebanese cookbook, The Lebanese Kitchen by Abla Amad. Abla's Restaurant in Carlton has to be one of my all time favourite restaurants in Melbourne. It's small and in a terrace in Carlton. Abla is always there presiding over her kitchen and welcomes everyone as to her home. It's Lebanese family cooking and I have adored it for years, or is it decades? Abla opened it in 1979 so that looks like decades to me.

At Zum zum, I had had some scrumptious dishes and one of them was a bigger version of ladies fingers, a delectable dish of phyllo filled with lamb, onion and pine-nuts. Normally these are literally finger or cigar size, but at Zum zum they were larger and had dribbled pomegranate molasses on the top (I think). At Rumi we had delicious cigar pastries filled with cheese. I wanted to make something like this!

Abla had a recipe for ladies fingers: she said she made them more here in Melbourne where fresh phyllo is always available than in Lebanon. Fresh phyllo is indeed something I always have. So I was ready to try it. I had most of the ingredients and stocked up on lamb mince at my local treasure house, Piedimonte's. Unfortunately they let me down in the sumac line. I simply couldn't get it. Sumac is a red-coloured spice from the berries of the sumac bush and its flavour adds a sharp fruity taste similar to lemon: the illustration here is from Wikipedia. Pomegranate molasses is also on my shopping list but I found a source for that today from a friend who dropped by! How lucky am I in my friends! Thanks, Pamela!

I will pursue the procurement of this but at present I decided to substitute lemon/lime juice and zest for the sumac and increase the other spices. We'll see how it goes! I also decided that, rather than doing umpteen ladies fingers, I would use the filling to make a phyllo pie which would be a main course rather than mezza.

Lebanese Lamb & Pine-nut Phyllo Pie (after Abla Amad, Abla's kitchen)

450 gr. lamb mince
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 onions, chopped
1 teaspoon cummin seeds
1 teaspoon allspice
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of half a lemon
Teaspoon lemon zest finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Olive oil
7-8 sheets phyllo pastry
Sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 180c, 160 c if fan-forced.
In a pan, cook pine nuts in olive oil until golden.
Drain on kitchen paper.
Place lamb mince in pan and heat gently allowing it to cook in its own juices while stirring constantly.
Add onion, spices, lemon and lime zest and juice.
When onion turns transparent, add pine nuts and remove from heat.
Place phyllo on tea-towel to work from, and add sheets to pan, basting with olive oil as you go.
Add approximately six sheets to the pan.
Pour in filling.
Fold over phyllo, basting with oil.
Add top sheet of phyllo to beautify and baste with olive oil.
Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
Cut into required pieces through upper layer, taking care not to cut right through the pie.
Cook in the middle of a moderate oven for about 45 minutes.
Serve with vegetables or salad for a main course.
Well, all I can say is that it's just yummy! The combination of the crisp phyllo and the lamb inside is just delicious! I have found it delicious in ladies' fingers but it is great in a pie too. I really like the taste of the lemon/lime too! Once I get some sumac I'll try it that way, but at present I am very happy with the outcome.

Piri piri oil: a beautiful live fire!

Today is a holiday in Melbourne, so I went back to bed with my coffee to finish off the last section of Piri piri starfish. And. of course, then I wanted to cook something! I decided to start with one of the "basics", piri piri oil. There were a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, it seemed that almost every savoury recipe in the book called for some form of piri piri and piri piri oil was one of the many forms used. Second, I had a batch of chillies drying on the kitchen window ledge and there were also a few ripe ones left on the bush that had escaped my last culling. It seemed meant to be. And probably the last time this season that I would have the fresh chillies.

Tessa Kiros describes piri piri oil thus: " This is like a beautiful live fire. Use it here, use it there, use it just anywhere you love 'hot'.... A drop onto your rice, into prego rolls, over a soup ... even just a tiny drip will add a very different layer to your plate."

Another birthday present was some Red Rock Grampians olive oil infused with chilli and garlic. So that will form an interesting comparison though I am sure that the Grampians example will have a much milder impact as it has been infused and strained and doesn't have all the chilli flesh and seeds nestling in it.

I am not very good at sticking to recipes and this one was not to be an exception. I used the chillies from my garden but have no idea what the variety is. I used white wine vinegar not red as Tessa suggested: this was an accident as I pulled the wrong bottle down and noticed too late ;>). I didn't have the coarse salt used in Portugal so I used "normal" refined salt. Tessa didn't specify what kind of olive oil to use, so I used Greek olive oil as that is my favourite. With those differences, this recipe comes from her Piri piri starfish.

Piri piri oil
(adapted from Tessa Kiros, Piri piri starfish: Portugal found).

3 fresh chillies, green stem removed & roughly chopped
6 dried chillies, green stem removed & roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves peeled
2 tablespoon whisky
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 fresh bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil

Using a mortar and pestle, mash the fresh and dry chillies and the garlic into a paste. Tessa says this should be about 2 tablespoon of chilli paste, though I didn't measure it.
Scrape the chilli paste into a small saucepan, add the whisky and turn the heat to low.
Add the lemon zest and juice, the vinegar, the bay leaf, salt and 2-3 tablespoons of the oil.
Let it bubble until it smells good.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the rest of the oil.
Pour into a sterilized jar and leave for a few days at least for the flavours to settle.
The oil will be hot at first but will settle and mellow.
You can add more olive oil to the mixture if you find it too strong after this.

Now I just need to put it aside and wait for a while for it to settle ;>). I enjoy making oils and vinegars and am wondering now whether I could use sambal oelek as a base for an oil, along with ginger and garlic. That is a combination I often use for a dressing, so maybe I will experiment with that next. Meanwhile, I wait.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Piri piri starfish - Portugal found!

Recently I celebrated my birthday. I got lots of delicious presents of the food and wine variety as well as books. Piri piri starfish: Portugal found by Tessa Kiros is one of the books I received. I am sure that I will want to relish it from cover to cover but to date I have just been dipping into it randomly and being excited by the taste and place memories that it evokes. It's been decades since I visited Portugal - 1987 to be precise. But it is a place to which I have always wanted to return.

I realize that I know very little about Portuguese cooking. So this book will provide a treasure trove of recipes for me. The beautifully produced book is a pleasure to touch and feel as well as to view the illustrations of place, decorative art and food. After a general introduction, the book is divided into Essential recipes, Petisco plates, Starters and soups, Mains and side plates, and Desserts and cakes. Aside from the browsing and reading, I hope to find lots of recipes to try and cook for people. Thanks Penny and Mark!

The piri piri is a red, plump chilli pepper originating from Portuguese colonies such as Angola and Mozambique but widely used in Portuguese food, such as piri piri oil which is dribbled over many dishes. These chillies are known in some countries as birds eye chillies. The illustration below is from the Wikipedia article and looks very like the chilli plant growing outside my back door ;>).

And for the librarians amongst you: Piri piri starfish: Portugal found was published in 2008 by Murdoch Books, ISBN 9781740459099.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Maggie Beer's Spiced Pear Paste

One of the foodie related items I recently received for my birthday was a tub of Maggie Beer's spiced pear paste. Thanks, Aileen! I have been impatient to try it out and today it formed part of a delicious lunch as a break from housework. Freshly baked Turkish bread (from the ovens of Piedimonte's of course) formed the basis: I tore the bread, added the pear paste, ham, cos lettuce and radicchio! It was yummy.

Chef Maggie Beer's products are widely available in Melbourne. This paste which has ginger in it goes brilliantly with either goat's cheese or a sharp cheese such as Cheddar. For those of you who don't have access to her products, I had hoped that there might be a recipe in Maggie's Harvest but alas! you will just have to come to Australia or experiment with your own pear and ginger paste.

Culinaria Greece

One of the best presents I got for Christmas last year was Culinaria Greece. Thanks Sue and Brian and Callum and Tom! I have been savouring it for months and gradually reading it through section by section. This lavishly illustrated book brings the sunshine, the olive oil, the light, the retsina, the scent of jasmine and so much more right into my house. And, of course, there are the recipes and descriptions of Greek food in all its regional variety, from Epiros to the Cyclades, from Corfu to Cyprus.

Culinaria Greece is divided up geographically: Athens, Attica and Central Greece, Peloponnese, Ionian Islands, Epirus, Thessaly, Sporades, Chalkidiki, Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Thrace, North Aegean Islands, the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Crete and Cyprus. In each of the sections, there is stuff about the area, its food and wine specialties,and recipes that relate to the area and to the food and wine featured in the section. Want to know how retsina is made? Try the Attica section. And, of course, where would you go for bougatsa but to Epiros? That section brought back vivid memories of the main street of Iannina and eating bougatsa just pulled from the oven. Memories of smell and sight mingled with the taste of the bougatsa.

I have many books on Greek food but this one is a real storehouse of information and photographs about Greek food and cooking! It is just lovely to dip into and to savour.


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