Outsmarted by a frittata

Smoked cod & goat's cheese frittata

Ahh frittatas, when will I learn? If I had a dollar for every time I've been stirred up by a frittata recipe, only to make it, eat it, and find that it tastes just as eggy as every other frittata I've ever had, I could buy myself pancakes every Sunday for the rest of the year. I'm the same way with omelettes — they're easy and sound great in theory, and this manages to overcome the years of experience that have taught me I just can't handle all that egg.

This frittata was one such siren, and although I didn't appreciate it it's possible that you might. The recipe was from an old copy of Delicious Magazine. The magazine itself is back home (I'm out of town for work), so let me apologise in advance for what will be a very vague set of instructions.

Smoked cod & goat's cheese frittata

Ingredients:

  • Smoked cod
  • Goat's cheese
  • Eggs
  • Cream
  • Bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces
  • Chives, finely chopped
  • Butter
  • Salt & cracked pepper, to taste

1. Place the whole piece of cod in a pan and add just enough water to cover. Turn on the heat and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the cod, drain it, and flake into chunks.
2. Beat together the eggs, cream (roughly 1/3 cup of cream for every 3 eggs), chives, salt & pepper. Stir in the bread and cod pieces (couldn't help myself).
3. Heat a small, oven-safe frying pan (I used a well-seasoned cast iron pan) to medium, then add a tablespoon of butter and tilt the pan to coat the bottom and sides with butter as it melts.
4. Preheat the broiler. Add the egg mixture and cook gently until it is just set all the way up the sides and still a wobbly in the centre (about 10 minutes). Dot the top of the frittata with 1 cm pieces of goat's cheese, pushing these so they are just submerged. Put the whole thing under the broiler and cook for a further 5 minutes, until browned on top.

Spice advice: Cumin

Lamb & chana dal curry

Does anyone remember 'spice advice'? A part of me knew that promising a semi-regular feature would be doomed to failure. I put together this recipe for a spice advice feature on cumin, and while I won't go through the whole rigmarole of describing cumin in excruciating detail, the recipe was already written and the photograph already taken, so it would be foolish not to get it out there.

What I will say about cumin is that it is the best. It's never going to have the surprising, special-occasion wow factor that spices like saffron have, but it's an all-rounder, a staple of so many varied cuisines that it deserves maximum respect. As with many spices, it loves a bit of toasting.

Here I used it to make a curry of lamb & chana dal. I may not have taken the most appetizing photo, but believe me when I say that this is a hearty and comforting dish.

Lamb & chana dal curry

Ingredients:

  • 500g lamb, diced1
  • 130g (3/4 cup) chana dal
  • 2.5 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4-5 small dried chillies
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 tsp asafoetida
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tbsp garlic & ginger paste
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes
  • 1 T ghee
  • Peanut/vegetable/canola oil
  • Salt, to taste

1. Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and dried chillies over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes until fragrant, then remove to a spice grinder and grind to a powder.
2. Sauté the onion with the asafoetida, cloves, cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt for 5 minutes to allow the onion to begin to go translucent. Add the garlic & ginger paste and fresh garlic and cook for another minute.
3. Pour in the spice powder and canned tomatoes and cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the diced lamb and chana dal with enough water to just cover, and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer covered for 2 hours or until the lamb and dal are tender. If it's looking too dry, top up with a little extra water. Alternately if it's looking too wet, remove the lid and simmer uncovered to reduce. Salt to taste, and then stir in the ghee so it melts through the curry. For the best flavour, make this one day before serving.

(1) Use a braising cut such as lamb neck.

Greek village salad

Greek village salad

As I was embarking on the long walk home at 8 o'clock this morning after a huge night out (so much for being busy with work), I thought about simplicity. I watched the the non-hungover public go about their Saturday morning routines — jogging club with old friends, bacon & eggs at a café, walking the dog by the river. It was nice. Why complicate things?

A good village salad is crisp, fresh, cool, and bright. It has the salty intensity of feta and olives, and the sharp tang of vinegar but is never harsh and overwhelming. It's great by itself, with some fresh bread, or if you're really keen a slab of tender, slow roasted lamb.

Greek village salad

This is less of a recipe and more of an ingredient list.

Ingredients1:

  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Shallot, halved then very thinly sliced
  • Kalamata olives, pitted
  • Greek feta
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried greek oregano2
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Cracked black pepper

1. Chop the cucumber and tomato into medium-sized chunks. Chop or crumble the feta into 1 cm pieces. Place the cucumber, tomato, olives, feta, and shallots in a large bowl.
2. Sprinkle with a little pepper and a little oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (I use roughly a 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar). Toss to combine, serve.

1. It should go without saying to use the best ingredients. A ripe tomato, fresh feta, and the best olive oil you can find.
2. This is different from most of the dried oregano you find in supermarkets, it's fragrant and intense. Find it at ethnic delis, it comes as a large bunch, dried whole, stalk and all. To use break of what you need and rub it between your fingers to separate the herb from the twigs.

How to make a chicken pie that doesn't suck

Chicken pie

After the rousing success that was my first attempt at pie, it's taken me a surprisingly long time to make another. One of the problems is that pies exemplify the concept of economies of scale: making pasty and filling for one small pie is time consuming, but to make a little extra for a second one is a minor hassle at worst. When you're cooking for one this little fact is of absolutely no extra help — pies can be frozen, but the result just doesn't compare to freshly-baked.

Back to the pie at hand. Chicken pie. I would never choose a chicken pie. For one, my experiences with chicken pies so far have been of insipid white sauce coating poor-quality chicken and bland vegetables. What's more — and no poor pasty chicken pie is to blame for this — I'm just not a big chicken fan. A perfectly-roasted bird or a tasty bowl of soup are an exception, but on the whole I don't see the big deal.

All of the above made me shocked to learn that this particular chicken pie was one of the best things I've ever cooked. It was rich but not cloyingly so, and packed with flavour that make it so far from the anaemic chicken pies I've become accustomed to. I strongly recommend you go for the full package and make it with pastry on all sides, but if you're in a hurry by all means make the filling and whip up a satisfying pot pie.

The recipe below makes enough filling for one person's pie, although the inclusion of a lot of half-ingredients is a clear sign that you should make and eat two.

Chicken pie

A peek under the hood

Chicken pie (filling)

This recipe makes the filling for one chicken pie. For instructions on how to put the pie together including a recipe for the shortcrust pastry pie shell, click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small chicken breast, cut into 3 pieces against the grain
  • 1 rasher of bacon, sliced into 4 x 1 cm pieces
  • 1/2 a carrot, diced into 1 cm cubes
  • 3/4 cup of chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 a shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 tsp dijon mustard
  • Splash of brandy (about 2 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1.5 tsp flour

1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a gentle boil, then add the diced carrot. Cook until just tender (5-10 minutes), then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chicken breast pieces and poach. Remove from the water and set aside to cool. Once cooled slightly, shred the chicken with your fingers and set aside.
2. Meanwhile in a new saucepan, cook the bacon over a medium heat until it renders its fat and crisps up on the outside. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving as much bacon fat behind as you can. Turn the heat up to high, then add the mushrooms, a hit of salt, and about 1 tbsp of butter. Set the cooked mushrooms aside with the bacon.
3. To the empty pan add the shallots, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and 1/2 tbsp of butter. Turn the heat down to low and cook gently until the onion softens. Turn the heat up to medium, add a splash of brandy and scrape down the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
4. Return to the pan the bacon, mushrooms, carrot, shredded chicken, and sprinkle with the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the mustard, crème fraîche, milk and bring to a simmer. Let this thicken until the mixture is creamy but not at all soupy. Season with salt and pepper (I err on the salty side so it doesn't get lost amongst all that pastry).

Chilli & onion jam

IMG_8998

One thing that bugs me about jam is the amount of fruit needed. TV cooks act like acquiring 1kg of fresh blueberries is as trivial as picking up a carton of milk, but have you bought fresh berries lately? Those things are pricey. Cooking your own is a great way to make it just the way you like it — I find most store-bought jams too sweet — but the stingy angel on my shoulder won't allow me to buy $20 of summer's finest fruit only to boil it to a pulp.

That's why savory jam is so good. Also known as relish or chutney (although technically a chutney isn't made to keep, says Wikipedia), savory jams are cheap to make and packed with flavour. My favourite way to use savory jams is to spread them on a sandwich to sneak in spices and aromatics that you otherwise wouldn't be able to easily serve between two slices of bread. I made the chilli and onion jam below to spread on a lamb burger (recipe to come), but it really hit the spot on Saturday, on toast underneath a generous serving of scrambled eggs.

While I've given some amounts below, the ratio of ingredients you use is totally dependent on your own tastes. Scale back the chilli for a sweeter, less spicy result, or use milder chillies in greater amounts for more of a capsicum flavour. Also up to you is the seasoning. I tinker with the ratio of sugar/salt/vinegar until the result tastes good to me, and so should you.

Chilli & onion jam

Ingredients:

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 5 medium-sized chillies, deseeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • Salt, to taste
  • Brown sugar, to taste
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste

1. Add the oil and spices to a saucepan and bring to a medium heat. Stir in the diced onion and chilli with a sprinkling of salt and cook over a low-medium heat until the onion softens and starts to turn golden without browning.
2. Cover with just enough water, then reduce the heat to as low as it will go and cook slowly for about an hour. If it's looking dry, top up with a little more water so that everything cooks until soft.
4. Adjust seasoning with salt, brown sugar, and red wine vinegar. Cook for another 10 minutes over a medium heat then transfer to a jar.

Eggs on the weekend

Scrambled eggs

There are a lot of great things about the weekend, but eating eggs would have to be in the top five. Make no mistake, eating eggs is thoroughly mundane — you won't be recalling your egg eating to your friends on Monday at work ("Dude, I was out last night and picked up this totally sweet carton of eggs, took them back to my place and just ate the shit out of them!") — but what it lacks in excitement it more than makes up in purity and simplicity.

A creamy yolk, a firm but yielding white. Full of fat and protein yet not the slightest bit overwhelming. If you're eating eggs on a Sunday morning, you know that life's pretty good. It's hard to stay mad, tired, or hungover when you're eating eggs. And that's why I eat eggs on the weekend.

Scrambled eggs

Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp cracked black or white pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp crème fraîche
  • Salt, to taste1

1. Whisk together the eggs and pepper in a small saucepan, then add the butter and place over a medium heat.
2. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon, scraping egg off the bottom and sides and bottom of the saucepan as it sets. As the pan gets hotter you'll have to stir more frequently. Keep going until the eggs are creamy and done to your preference2.
3. As soon as the eggs are done, remove from the heat and add the creme fraiche. Beat this in well, then season with salt and serve immediately over thick buttered toast. Be aware that although the crème fraîche will drop the temperature, the eggs will continue to cook in the pan.

(1) Add the salt after the eggs are cooked — adding it at the beginning will produce a watery rather than creamy consistency.
(2) My preference is eggs that are only just set, with the consistency of a thick porridge. If your breakfast can support a fork skewered upright into it, you've gone too far. Way too far.

Microwaves are fun and useful

Potato gnocchi with gorgonzola and rocket

Why didn't anyone tell me you could microwave potatoes? Here I was making gnocchi, feeling hungry and impatient while my potatoes baked or lazy and compromising while they boiled, while this whole time I could have been zapping them and saving the fuss. It's perfect, really. Unlike baking the potatoes are thoroughly cooked in less than 10 minutes, and unlike boiling you're not adding any horrible, dreaded water.

Here's how it's done: Clean your potatoes and leave their skins on (I've switched from sebago to desiree potatoes for gnocchi, by the way), then pierce four times with a sharp knife. Don't skip this step or your potatoes will explode. Place in a microwave safe dish and cook on high. Cook for 6 minutes for 1 potato, adding 2-3 minutes for every extra potato. Once finished, leave in the microwave to rest for another 5 minutes. Congratulations, your potatoes are cooked!

In this case I used my totally rocking mashed potato to make gnocchi with gorgonzola and rocket. The gorgonzola sauce simple but extremely rich, so be careful not to reduce the cream by too much. The rocket seemed like a good idea in my mind, but I'm not convinced it adds much. Fresh or barely wilted the texture is a little harsh, but cook it any further and it loses a lot of flavour. My recommendation: leave it out.

Gorgonzola sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic, very finely diced
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup of cream
  • White pepper, freshly ground
  • Gorgonzola, to taste1
  • 1/4 tsp truffle oil

1. Cook the garlic and bay leaf gently over a low-medium heat in the butter for 4 minutes.
2. Add the cream and a splash of water and bring to a simmer. Reduce by a quarter, then remove from the heat and break up the gorgonzola into the sauce. Season with white pepper, garnish with truffle oil, and stir.

(1) A little goes a long way — 30g should be plenty for 1 serving.

Beetroot tzatziki

Beetroot tzatziki

It's about time I posted a recipe. There have been a few posts lately, but the last recipe was the Aussie burger back in February, and I doubt many of you need instructions on how to make a tasty burger. I enjoy posting recipes, but it's as much for my own reference as anything — I don't know about you, but I rarely use the recipes I see on food blogs. It's not for lack of trust in their authors, either. Rather I like to soak up the appetizing photos and steal interesting combinations/techniques to apply to whatever ingredients I have on hand. I may not use everything I see straight away, but it all gets mentally filed away.

This beetroot tzatziki is an example of a recipe that I saw in the wild (in the food section of a newspaper, actually) and set about making months later. Some of the original elements are still there, but the gaps have been filled in with common sense. Beetroot pairs classically with orange and dill, turning an otherwise standard tzatziki into something completely new. Serve it as a dip or with grilled lamb (squeeze lemon over your lamb to balance out the sweetness of the tzatziki) and enjoy.

Beetroot tzatziki

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups grated beetroot1
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice2
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1.3 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup strained greek yoghurt3
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to distribute everything. Taste for seasoning, and consider adding some more salt and lemon juice — these sorts of dips usually benefit from an extra kick of flavour.
2. Leave in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to infuse.

(1) Boil beetroots whole, then allow to cool slightly before removing the skin and grating. For what its worth, these would have to be the easiest things to grate in the world.
(2) A word of advice: zest the orange first, it's much easier to zest an intact citrus.
(3) Strained yoghurt is exactly what it sounds like. Buy a tub of Greek style yoghurt and sit the contents in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl in the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid in the bowl and save the now-much-thicker yoghurt for tzatziki and marinades.

Burger with the lot thanks, mate

Aussie burger

Nationalism's a funny thing. Intellectually I find it sort of stupid when people tout their nationality as if it were some sort of personal or moral characteristic, as if they were responsible for not being the kid born 2 seconds later in whatever country they passionately rally against. But at the same time, when I think about the deliciousness, the sheer edible genius one would get down here if they ordered a 'burger with the lot', I can't help thinking Australia is objectively better than your stupid country.

What defines 'the lot' varies depending on were you go, but there's no doubt that it includes beetroot (beets) and a fried egg. Some would include grilled pineapple with that, and while it's ubiquitous up north, down here in South Australia it's not necessarily a given. And I'm not really a fan.

Regardless of what you put on your burger, the burger-making basics still apply. In making a burger one should try to construct it so that each bite contains a bit of everything. This is impossible to achieve with a fried egg — rather, one is advised to eat around the burger to ensure that last bite contains yolk. It's also easy to inadvertent made a burger middle-heavy. That is, all of the ingredients get piled into the middle, making the edge of the burger simply meat and bread, or even worse, just bread. I find that by making the burger edge-heavy, some of the ingredients naturally slide to the middle and it all works out.

Man that sounded obsessive.

For the burger patty itself, 100% beef is hard to beat. It's easy to do, and by definition couldn't possibly be more beefy. Just salt the outside to encourage caramelisation and you're laughing.

Aussie burger with the lot

The amounts will vary depending on your preference. I don't mean to insult your intelligence by telling you how to make a burger, rather this is what works for me in terms of timing.

Ingredients:

  • Burger buns, halved horizontally
  • Minced beef1
  • Cos lettuce, julienned
  • Cooked beetroot, sliced into rounds2
  • Cheddar cheese, sliced
  • Onions, finely sliced into rounds
  • Eggs
  • Ripe tomato, sliced
  • Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Divide the beef mince and shape into burgers 1cm thick and a little wider than your burger buns3. Heat both the oven grill/broiler and a heavy frying pan.
2. Add a generous glug of oil to the pan. Salt one side of the burger and place it salt-side-down in the pan. Throw in the onions and salt these too. Meanwhile, place the burger bun halves cut-side up and toast under the broiler then set aside (leaving the broiler on).
3. Salt the burgers then flip and cook until just done. Remove the onions when they're golden brown and cooked.
4. Remove the burgers to a tray and top with cheese. Place this briefly under the broiler to melt the cheese. Meanwhile, fry the eggs in the frying pan. If your pan is cast iron and still very hot, you can probably do this off the flame with the residual heat in the pan.
5. Now everything's ready and in place. Here's how I construct my burger from bottom to top: Bun, lettuce, beetroot, burger, cheese, onions, pepper, fried egg, salt, tomato, dijon mustard, bun. Serve immediately.

(1) A cut with some fat, like chuck, works best.
(2) You can use canned beetroot — most places do — or boil raw beetroot until completely tender, then drain and rub the skin off while warm.
(3) They will shrink as they cook.

Pastitsio

Pastitsio

Continuing the Greek theme, I give you pastitsio, the ultimate in Greek comfort food. Much like lasagna, baked ziti, and other baked pasta dishes this is one of those meals that you find yourself sneaking back to a few hours after dinner. When I made this particular batch, if it weren't for my competing desire to leave some for the following day's lunch I'm quite convinced I would have eaten the whole thing in one sitting.

Simplistically, pastitsio is a later of pasta (ziti or macaroni, fastitiously arranged in rows if you can be bothered), topped with an aromatic bolognese, a thick layer of béchamel, some grated cheese, and baked. All of these layers are important and delicious, but the element that really makes a pastitsio sing is the bolognese. Unlike an Italian bolognese this is flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, Greek oregano and bay, which should be used in large amounts to impart a noticable flavour. The recipe for this bolognese is below, but for the rest I'm simply describing the process since the exact amounts will vary depending on the size of your dish.

For the pasta, as well as being tossed with parmesan (or any hard cheese) the pasta is mixed with egg — not so much for flavour but rather to glue the pasta together for easy and attractive servings. The béchamel is your basic white sauce: butter, flour, milk, salt, white pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Once it's all assembled, grate some cheese on top and bake at 180ºC until golden on top (about 50 minutes).

Pastitsio bolognese sauce

Ingredients:

  • 600g beef mince
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 12 cloves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 anchovy
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

1. Heat a heavy pan until very hot, then add the olive oil, beef mince, and some salt. Cook, stirring and breaking up occasionally until the meat is very well browned, then remove and set aside.
2. In the oil left behind in the pan, add the onion, garlic, and cloves and turn the heat down to low. Cook until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, the reserved beef, and 1/2 cup of water, then cover and cook on a low heat for 2 hours.