main dish

Eggplant, basil and feta rolls

Eggplant, basil and feta rolls

I have had a strange relationship with eggplant throughout my life. When I was a young child, I loved eggplant. I couldn’t get enough of it. Then one day I stopped liking it. I despised it, I hated the soft texture, the taste, the way it sometimes stings the tongue. And then, suddenly, when I got past my teens, I liked it again.

Eggplant, basil and feta rolls: inside

Maybe one day my love/hate eggplant relationship will switch again, but right now I’m in an I Love Eggplant phase. I prepared these eggplant, basil and feta rolls the other week and served them with salad. Not only was it a very satisfying dinner, but it was also a dinner chock full of vegies. I roasted the rolls with some home made tomato sauce, but you could also serve the rolls without sauce as nibbles.

Eggplant, basil and feta rolls final

Eggplant and feta rolls

To make them, thinly slice the eggplants lengthways. Brush lightly with oil, then put under a grill for 5 minutes or so until they soften and brown a little. Flip the eggplant slices over, brush with oil and put under the grill again. Let the eggplant cool slightly. Place a basil leaf and a spoon full of feta on the edge of each eggplant slice. Roll up the eggplant and secure – I tied them up with chives but you could just use toothpicks. You can eat them at this stage or you can roast them with sauce.

Note – if you are going to put some sauce on top and roast in the oven, leave out the basil when rolling up the eggplant and instead scatter on top once it’s served.

Capsciums stuffed with bulghur

Capscium

We’ve been eating a lot of vegetables and salads in the last couple of days. I’m stocking up on fresh stuff because I have a feeling that we’ll be eating a lot of pasta and rice while we’re away.

Capsciums stuffed with bulghur

Serves 4

1 cup bulghur
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups water
1 small onion
2 carrots, peeled
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Salt and pepper
8 small red capsciums

Preheat the oven to 180 degree C.

Rinse the bulghur, then place into a pot with the vegetable stock power (the bulghur will expand, so use a good sized pot). Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of your knife and add it with the water to the bulghur.

Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer until all the liquid has been soaked up. Turn off the heat, take the lid off and cover the top of the pot with a clean tea towel. Place the lid on top of the tea towel and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Finely dice the onion and carrots. Heat up a frying pan on medium heat and add a touch of oil. Saute the onion and carrots on a gentle heat – I let them cook until the bulghur was ready.

Cut the tops off the capsciums, and deseed. Add the pine nuts and bulghur to the frying pan and stir to combine with the carrots and onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the capsciums into a baking tray, and spoon the bulghur mixture into them. Put the capscium tops back on and cover with foil. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then take the foil off and bake for another 10 minutes or until the capsciums are soft.

Serve with the remaining bulghur (there should be quite a bit remaining!) and a crunchy salad.

Chorizo and chickpea salad

Chorizo salad

Another day, another meal utilizing canned chickpeas. I enjoy chickpeas, and I seem to use them a lot because they’re so easy. Most weeknights, I don’t have much time to cook – by the time I get home, chill for a bit (reading me some internets), exercise and shower, it’s at least 7.30pm by the time I get in the kitchen. It’s a good night when the bulk of my cooking time involves opening a can and tossing together some salad ingredients.

Chorizo & Chickpea salad

Serves 3-4

2 chorizo sausages, sliced
400g can of chickpeas
Handful of mixed salad greens/lettuce per person
2 carrots, grated
1 Avocado, diced
Handful of sprouts
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium heat, add the chorizo slices, and sauté gently on all sides until the juices run and the edges are slightly crisp. Turn off the heat and add the chickpeas into the pan, tossing them around until they’re all nicely coated in that yummy, tasty fat.

Put the salad greens/lettuce, carrots, avocado and sprouts into a large salad bowl. Add the chorizo and chickpeas.

Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, toss gently and season well with salt and pepper.

Chickpea and ricotta balls

Chickpea and ricotta balls

The idea for these balls floated around in my head for a couple of days before I got around to making them. My cooking inspiration hasn’t returned yet. Even walking around the South Melbourne market on Wednesday didn’t help. Sadly, it was my last weekday wander around the market for the foreseeable future.

It’s my last week at my current job (tomorrow is my last day!) and next Thursday Alastair and I go on holiday. My head is full of finishing up, and sorting things out for going away and my routine is all shot. I suppose it’s hardly surprising that cooking has been neglected.

I’ve no doubt that inspiration to cook will return when we get back. I do have several meals that I haven’t blogged about yet. I’m finding it difficult to think of something interesting to say about them, but perhaps I’ll just whack them up with minimal commentary.

>My chickpea and ricotta balls ended up rather soft, which is why they look more like lumps than balls. I could’ve added some fresh breadcrumbs to stiffen the mixture but couldn’t be bothered. My Bro made a simple green salad of lettuce, cabbage and cucumber, which worked perfectly with them. The crunchy salad provided a great textural contrast to the balls.

Chickpea and ricotta balls

Makes 12

1 small onion, peeled
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
200g ricotta
1 egg
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you prefer less spiciness)
Salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Pepper
Dried breadcrumbs

In a food processor, pulse the onion until finely diced. Add the chickpeas and pulse until mashed.
Tip into a bowl and add the ricotta, mashing it into the mixture.
Add the egg, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper. Mix well.
Roll into balls, then dip the balls in the breadcrumbs until covered.
Fry over medium heat, turning them every couple of minutes, until warmed through.

Beer battered fish

Beer battered fish

I resisted it for a long time, but a few months ago we bought a deep fryer. I realise that you don’t need an actual appliance – a pot will suffice – but I can’t use a pot of oil after standing above the commercial deep fryer in my parents’ shop for so many years. It just didn’t seem safe and I have problems figuring out the temperature, even with a thermometer.

Finally, I succumbed to the allure of deep fried goodness. Honestly, we don’t use it too much, but occasionally we have deep fried nights (not healthy but oh so good). Below is a good, simple recipe for beer batter. It’s nice and crispy and the bonus is the faint malty taste of beer.

PS: The chips were frozen chips from the supermarket. I like to cook, but that doesn’t extend to making my own chips. Maybe one day.

PSS: The model in the photo is Alastair, who patiently held the cone while I demanded that he hold it higher – no higher! No, lower! Lower! Right there. Oh, that shot doesn’t look good, hang on, don’t move!

Beer battered fish

Serves 4

600g fish fillet, skin and bones removed
200g (1 1/3 cup) plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
300ml beer (I used Coopers Sparkling Ale)
Vegetable oil, to deep-fry

Method

1. Cut fish into 8 pieces. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Gradually add beer, using a whisk to stir until well combined.

2. Reheat oil to 190°C. Dip 4 pieces of fish, 1 at a time, into the batter to evenly coat and deep-fry for 3-4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with remaining fish pieces, reheating the oil between batches.

Spring time orecchiette

Springtime pasta

All the different produce coming out with the change of season gets me quite excited. I usually buy vegetables without meals in mind, and wait for inspiration to strike. When I realised that I had asparagus, broad beans and fresh peas, I knew that I wanted to throw it all together and have a little homage to spring. As a bonus, I also had ricotta, left over from the chocolate and cherry ricotta cake. This pasta made itself, really.

I am my harshest critic when it comes to my food, but even I thought this pasta was freakin’ awesome. 😀

This is my contribution this week to Presto Pasta Nights. Check out Presto Pasta Nights for more great recipes!

Spring time orecchiette

Serves 3-4

300g dried orecchiette or other pasta
400g fresh broad beans, podded
200g fresh peas, podded
Small bunch of asparagus (around 250g)
3 rashers of bacon
3 garlic cloves, crushed
200g ricotta
Salt & pepper

Bring a small pot of salted water to the boil, this will be for the vegetables. When boiling, add the podded broad beans and blanch for a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl of cold water.

Return the water to the boil, and add the podded peas. Boil for 5-10 minutes .

While you’re waiting for the peas, peel the thick skin off the broad beans and set aside. It should take a few minutes to get through and by then the peas should be ready. When the peas no longer taste raw, remove them from water with a slotted spoon and add to the broad beans.

Put a pot of water on to the boil for the pasta and start cooking the pasta.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, and slice into 3cm lengths. Add the asparagus to the water and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from the water and set aside with the broad beans and peas.

In a frying pan, fry the bacon to your liking. Remove and drain on paper towels, then cut into small pieces.

Wipe the frying pan with paper towels, then add and garlic on a medium-low heat. Cook gently for a few minutes, then add the vegetables and bacon and leave them on the medium-low heat to warm up, stirring occasionally.

When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving some of the cooking water.

Tip the pasta into the pan, adding a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the ricotta, and stir it through the pasta, mashing it up a bit if necessary.

Taste, season with more salt if required, and finish off with lots of freshly ground pepper.

Wontons

Wontons

I learnt how to make wontons by watching my mum make them. My parents used to own a small food business, and I worked there from when I was an awkward teen of 13 till I was 22 (gotta love family obligations). Nowadays I wonder what people thought when they came in. Even when I was young, I would be making burgers and frying up fish and chips. I wonder if that was ever considered weird.

I know that on the very few occasions when I got to a fast food “restaurant” like KFC or McDonalds I often have a little internal shudder when I see the youngies. It’s another reason to not like those places – I don’t quite trust teenagers cooking my food!

Right, I’ll put my grandma persona away and get back to wontons. I tend to mix up a big batch of dumpling meat, then divide it into smaller batches and freeze. 200 grams of mince seems to make around 30 wontons (depending on how much meat you put in each). The recipe I use for the mince is below, along with a lesson on how to fold wontons.

Wontons can be deep fried, steamed or boiled. My favourite way is boiled in soup. I love biting into the meat and then slurping up the soft skin. I also use the same mince to make pan fried dumplings by wrapping it in gyoza skin. I must warn you though – while they taste great, dumpling burps can be something awful. Don’t drink something fizzy during or immediately after eating!

Wonton soup

I served my wontons in home-made chicken soup with fresh shitake mushrooms, bok choy, sprouts and squid (left over from the lemon herb squid evening).

Wonton mince

1 kilo pork mince
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes then diced finely
1 tablespoon chinese rice wine
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, combine the pork, ginger, garlic, shitake mushrooms, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg and salt. Stir until well mixed.

To shape wontons

Wonton 1

Step 1: Take a small teaspoon of mince and place it near the top half of the wonton wrapper. Don’t use too much mince, or the wontons will be hard to shape.

Wonton step 2

Step 2: Fold the wrapper over and flatten it around the mince.

Wonton 2

Step 3: Wet one corner of the wrapper and bring the two edges of the wrapper together. Press the corners together until they stick.

Wonton 3

Your wonton should look like this!

Cheesy Pasta with cauliflower and asparagus

Cheesey asparagus pasta

Apart from an occasional weekend coffee, and for cooking, we don’t use much milk. I don’t like the taste of plain milk, whether it’s skim, normal or full fat. (But I could drink litres of soy milk, particularly the plastic bottles with yellow lids that can be bought in Asian supermarkets – yum!)

Due to the lack of milk drinking, I often find that we have run out or, more commonly, it’s been sitting in the fridge for too long and has gone chunky (ick).

This was the situation I found myself in this week. There were two cartons of open milk in the fridge, both well past their use by dates. But no milk, no matter! Normally I would’ve made a cheese sauce, but this time I just melted the cheese through the hot pasta. It was cheesylicous!

I would like to submit this to Presto Pasta Nights (my first time!). Check out Presto Pasta Nights for more pasta recipes.

>Cheesy Pasta with cauliflower and asparagus

Serves 4

300 gram dried pasta spirals
2 small onions, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
250g cauliflower
Bunch of asparagus
2 tablespoons butter
150g tasty cheese, grated
50g pecorino, grated
Salt & pepper

Bring a pot of well salted water to the boil for the pasta. Add the pasta when the water comes to the boil.

Cook the onions and garlic on a medium-low heat in a frying pan until soft, for about 10 minutes.

While this is happening, bring another pot of salted water to the boil. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and rinse. Add to the boiling water and cook until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, then cut the spears into 3cm lengths. Add to the boiling water that the cauliflower had been in and cook until just tender (about 1 minutes). Remove from the water and drain.

The pasta should be about ready by now – when al dente, remove and drain. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Heat the butter in a pot over medium-low heat (use the pasta one to cut down on dishes!), when melted, add the cauliflower and asparagus, then the onions and garlic. Stir to warm the vegetables, then add the cooked pasta and a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Tip in all the cheese and stir until melted through the pasta.

Taste, add salt if necessary, and season well with lots of freshly cracked pepper.

Vegie burgers and chips

Vegie burger

I enjoy eating meat, and I don’t think I could ever give it up. However, I do try and ensure that we have a few nights a week where we have a vegetarian meal. I felt like we had been eating a lot of meat last week, so one evening I made vegie burgers. My Bro did defeat the purpose a bit by adding bacon to his, but you know what they say about leading the horse to water… 😉

These vegie patties are really easy if you use a food processor and they’re also very tasty. I served ours up with some frozen oven fries, which were (surprisingly) great.

Vegie burgers

Makes 6 large patties

2 small onions, peeled and cut into quarters
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
2 cloves crushed garlic
3 medium potatoes, peeled and grated
1 x 400g can chickpeas
4 slices of stale sourdough or other white bread
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 eggs
Salt & pepper

In a food processor, pulse the onion and carrots until chopped finely (don’t over process). Tip into a large mixing bowl.

Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the grated potatoes, and add that to the onion and carrots with the garlic.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, and mash roughly before adding to the vegetable mixture.

Process the bread in the food processor until in fine breadcrumbs. Add to the mixture with the curry powder, eggs and season very well with salt & pepper.

Mix together and, with wet hands, shape into large patties. They may be quite wet – add more breadcrumbs if you need to.

Cook in George (Foreman Grill), or in a frying pan until cooked through. Serve in buns with fresh salad, cheese and tomato sauce.

Chicken and potato curry with roti

chicken curry

I don’t normally like using curry pastes that come from a jar. They’re very convenient, but I find the taste a bit odd. One problem is that it never tastes the way I think it should (ie good!) but the worst part is that there always seems to be either a sour or chemical taste to them. I’ve tried a few different brands and they all seemed odd.

I’m never buying Indian curry paste again. I’ve successfully tried a few recipes for Indian curries that were delicious. They were time consuming and contained a gazillion spices, but the depth of flavour was infinitely better than jar curry. I’d rather cook curry on a special occasion than put up with ick curry.

But I’ve never had any success with cooking Thai curries. Even from scratch, my curry pastes are insipid, one dimensional and uninspiring. Such a disappointment. I should keep trying.

As for Malaysian curry – I’ve never tried making it. The “outside kitchen” (ie when Alastair “cooks” and goes out to buys food) does such good laksa and nasi lemak, that I’ve never bothered trying. But the other week I had roti in my fridge, and no time to cook a proper curry. I decided to use a jar of laksa paste in the pantry that I bought a while ago (Por Kwan brand, bought from an Asian supermarket). I added in a few things and it actually tasted really good! Have I been wrong about jar curry paste?

Chicken and potato curry

2 onions, sliced
The white part of a stalk of lemongrass
Half a jar of laksa paste
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
400gram can of coconut milk
200ml water
6 chicken drumsticks
1 teaspoon fish sauce

Cook the sliced onions on low heat until soft (about 15 mins). Crush the stalk of lemongrass with your knife and throw that into the pot.

Add half the jar of laksa paste and the potatoes. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant.

Add the coconut milk and water, then the drumsticks. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the chicken is cooked and tender (about 30 minutes).

Stir in a teaspoon of fish sauce and serve with flakey roti. (If serving with rice, you may want to thicken the sauce).