A lazy recipe writer's guide to moussaka


I've decided that it's more taxing to write a recipe for moussaka than it is to make the damn thing. Although the moussaka photo has been up on my flickr page for a few weeks now, I've been putting off writing the post because, ugh, who can be bothered? It's not that the recipe is even that complicated. Sure it is a multi-part recipe with grilling, bolognesing, béchamel saucing, and baking but you've done all of that before. What gets me is the futility of trying to perfect amounts. Your baking dish is bigger than mine, your eggplants are smaller than mine, but none of that matters. What this recipe boils down to is the following:


1. Cook some bolognese with cinnamon and cloves1, about 750 g of meat's worth.
2. Make a big batch of bechamel sauce, maybe 75 g of butter's worth2. Mix it with half to 1 whisked egg & a generous grating of nutmeg.
3. Season and grill a few layers worth of sliced eggplant.
4. Layering from the bottom up: Thin layer of bolognese, the eggplant, a sprinkling of dried Greek oregano, a thicker layer of bolognese, and the béchamel custard. Finally sprinkle with grated hard cheese, such as Greek kefalotiri (reggiano works fine, too).
5. Bake in a 175ºC/350ºF oven for an hour or until golden on top.

But is that enough? There has to come a point where a certain level of knowledge can be safely assumed, particularly with readers as talented as your fine selves. Are you flattered enough yet to forgive my laziness?

(1) I recommend my summer bolognese, adding 5 ground cloves and 1 whole stick of cinnamon at the beginning with the onions. A mixture of half lamb mince and half beef mince works well for this. Finish with a grating of nutmeg.
(2) We've made béchamel before, for macaroni cheese and tuna mornay. Make the sauce using butter, flour, milk, salt, and nutmeg, but unlike those recipes stop there and don't add cheese and such. Mario Batali, unsurprisingly, has also made it.

5 tips for a better burger

Burger with blue cheese & mushroom

It seems like every man — at least every man who's into cooking — will at one time in their life find themselves on a quest to create the perfect burger. There's always the option of buying pre-made burger mixes or simply grilling supermarket stock-standard mince, but if you're willing to get bogged down in meat:fat ratios and the like, delicious rewards await you. These days you don't even have to work empirically. I didn't have the time, tools, nor the stomach to eat dozens of burgers of variable quality in my search for perfection, but it's all been done before, allowing a simple literature review to substitute for original investigation.

Now when I talk about the perfect burger, I'm talking about the meat itself. The scope for toppings is unlimited and can vary on a whim, however when it comes to the meat I believe in the idea of the one true burger. Although I believe such a burger might exist, I'm okay with the idea that I might never eat it, and openly doubtful that I'll ever make it — a fact that I find rather freeing. Perfect is the enemy of good enough, and I there are a handful of simple techniques that can dramatically improve a burger, leaving the purists to fight over the long tail of diminishing returns.

Below are what I consider the most successful advances in burger technology:

  • No pre-ground meat: The problem with pre-ground is that the poor quality mince is made from scraps, and the 'premium' mince is too lean. Go for a braising cut such as chuck or brisket, which has a strong beefy flavour and the right fat content (25-30%), or experiment with mixtures. Grind it at home if you have the equipment, or select a cut and ask your butcher to do it. Persevere: I tried three butchers before I could find one that would do this for me — the rest claimed that their machines were too big to put through only 2 pounds of chuck.
  • Where's the beef? Some like to mix the minced beef with onions, herbs, or god forbid, bread crumbs, but that's what toppings are for. Let beef be beef.
  • Season well: Generously salt and pepper the outside of the raw burger just before it goes onto the heat. You'd be surprised at how much seasoning a burger can (and should) take.
  • Keep your cool: I keep the mince in the fridge right up until it's time to cook. This goes against all other advice for cooking meat, but with burgers a cool temperature will help the mince stay together and prevent too much fat melting away in the initial stages of cooking.
  • The Shake Shack Smash: As seen in this video, the shake shack smash is a thing and it really works. The key is to do it early — only 30 seconds into cooking — and to form your raw burgers a little thick so as to let the smash shape it to size. I used to always have a problem with perfectly-rolled-out burgers contracting into hockey pucks, but no longer. If you don't have Shake Shack's rigid metal spatulas, I find that pressing on a regular non-slotted spatula with a potato masher works nicely.

The above list is far from comprehensive (there are entire blogs dedicated to burgers alone), but those five simple tips have transformed burgerdom in the second pancake household.

As I was saying, the kinds of toppings are endless. The above burger was a good one so I thought I'd share: Baby spinach, blue brie (Kind Island Dairy), grilled portabello mushroom, and quick onion jam (onions, sugar, salt, worchestershire sauce, and tomato ketchup). Winner.

Not your average pork & beans

Pork rib eye & feta crumble

I posted a recipe the other day for George Calombaris' baked beans that are used in this dish. Like the beans this recipe comes from his cookbook The Press Club, and like the beans it didn't quite live up to its promise. The principles are there — baked beans is a classical pairing with pork and a classic in itself — but in making both of them I found myself going against my own cooking instincts in order to stay faithful to the recipe.

There are plenty of great things about this dish, don't get me the wrong. The idea of juicy pork topped with hearty beans and a salty, crispy crumble sounds great, doesn't it? What's more, Calombaris recommends serving it with a jus infused with Greek coffee, and the flavours work terrifically.

Unfortunately the feta crumble topping — the very thing that sets this recipe apart from regular old pork and beans — lets it down. It didn't feel right to be mixing the crumble ingredients together with the saucy baked beans, but I did it anyway. The results were predictable: unpleasantly soggy in the middle, and poorly crisped on the outside. It's hard to believe that they would make it this way in the restaurant.

I don't want to shamelessly plunder another of the book's recipes, especially since it's nothing to write home about. Instead a short description should suffice:

Pork rib eye with feta crumble

Full recipe in George Calombaris' The Press Club cookbook.

Combine bread crumbs, diced red onion, and crumbled feta and stir this through a portion of baked beans. Refrigerate until needed. Fry a pork rib chop on both sides in oil and butter until medium/medium-well. Top some of the crumble & bean mixture and grill under the broiler until browned on top. Serve with greek coffee jus.

A bit disappointing really, but you haven't heard the last of feta crumble.

Grilled lamb with white bean skordalia

Grilled lamb neck with white bean skordalia

I've gushed about Food Safari before, but is it okay if I gush a little more? Food Safari is a show about international cuisines that somehow manages to perfectly capture what it is to eat and cook in Australia. We don't have any unifying culinary tradition, but what we do have is a diverse range of high quality produce, and people of every background who are proud of their culture. There are the douchebags among us that would demand we all assimilate into one big ball of bland, but there's something pretty cool about the old Italian woman who is able to live and work here for 45 years but still has to speak to me in very broken English with her son translating. The fact that you can get away with it and still be part of a large, supported, mainstream community and not be marginalised is an achievement, and we're better for it.

The Greek community is huge in Australia. Melbourne is in fact noteworthy for having the largest Greek population of any city outside of Athens. It's not surprising that Melbourne is where you will find George Calombaris and his three restaurants. His flagship Press Club is famous for its modern Greek food, but he's not averse to slumming it.

This dish is more homestyle: neck of lamb braised with yoghurt & onion until, sliced and chargrilled, and served on white bean skordalia with a parsley and fennel salad. If it sounds finicky don't be put off, it's actually very simple. It's a great dish (I would however make the braise both sweeter and saltier next time) and an excellent way of serving front and center an otherwise tough cut of lamb. The standout though is the white bean skordalia which is pleasantly tart and full of flavour. I used a couple of spoonfuls with dinner, and scooped the rest up with crusty bread for lunch the next day.

Get the recipes and videos at the Food Safari website:

* The keen-eyed will notice that my fennel & parsley salad has fennel seeds in place of fresh fennel. This last-second substitution was necessitated by a dodgy fennel bulb

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


  • 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.

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.


  • 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).

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.


  • 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.

Odysseus leaves Ogygia: Grilled lamb backstrap

Chargriled lamb with lemon potatoes and tzatziki

Greek food, man. Greek food.

Recently a great meal at Eros Kafe opened my eyes to the joys of Greek food. By all indications I should have seen this long ago — since high school almost all of my close friends has worked for a time at Eros — but that doesn't matter anymore, here I am. It's like the guitar: while I was growing up my dad collected and played guitars, but it took moving out to finally motivate me to learn (alternate explanation: I took up guitar in university thinking that if I could strum out Counting Crows songs it would impress girls).

The meal responsible for said eye opening was Eros's souvlakia: lamb loin skewered and chargrilled, on a tabouleh, chickpea and smashed potato salad, served with tzatziki. The meat was disappointingly tough for loin, but the flavours were excellent: crisp and fresh, perfect food for a warm summer evening. The dish was simple but came together really well. What better place than that to kick off my next cooking odyssey?

For my homage I used backstrap rather than loin, and can I just say to the uninitiated that you simply can't go wrong with backstrap. It's tender, flavourful, and effortlessly looks great on a plate. Unfortunately it's quite expensive, but with a hearty salad of potatoes and chickpeas a little meat goes a long way. Backstrap isn't used a lot in traditional Greek cooking, but it's obvious why it's a favourite in modern Greek circles.

The recipe below is a simple parsley and yoghurt marinade for the meat, but in time I'll put up recipes for the tzatziki and potato salad. The day after I took the photo I remade the salad for the remaining meat adding cumin and roasted tomato, which made it even better. This marinade is a good all-purpose Greek marinade, which would taste just as good on chicken or beef.

When I first made the marinade I added half a teaspoon of sugar to the mix. I hoped this would help get the nice charred crust I was after — and maybe it did — but it took the edge off the salty and sour tastes which should really be quite sharp to compliment the gaminess of the lamb, so leave it out.

Grilled lamb backstrap


  • 400g lamb backstrap
  • 1/4 of a medium onion
  • 3 cloves of roasted garlic1
  • 1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 tsp salt

1. Combine all of the ingredients except for the lamb, and blend until they make a smooth puree. Coat the lamb in this paste and marinate in the fridge overnight.
2. Take the lamb out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Heat a grill (preferably charcoal) to very hot and cook the lamb for 5 minutes a side, or until it's medium-rare inside and charred on the outside. Rest the meat before slicing, then serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(1) Fresh garlic would be fine, but I had a whole head of roasted garlic on hand which is never a bad thing.

Wherein Tony Robbins takes over the blog and makes a blue cheese butter

Steak with blue cheese butter

It's important to treat yourself once in a while. We're all kind of insecure, in need of frequent reminders of how awesome we are. These kinds of reminders are easy to find in a good relationship or with good friends, but it shouldn't be up to external sources to determine how we feel about ourselves.

The fact is that even if you are fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who love you and know how to show it, on its own that can't be the foundation of your self esteem. Because that's not self esteem at all, that's just peer pressure. Don't leave it to someone else to decide whether you deserve a steak dinner, decide for yourself!

And that's exactly what I did. Last week I celebrated something of a career milestone by cooking myself steak and blue cheese butter, with a side of potato gratin. Potato gratin on a weeknight isn't exactly a Rachael Ray 30 Minute Meal, but hey, I'm worth it.

Steak and blue cheese are a winning combination (they say that dry-aged beef actually takes on some subtle blue-cheese flavours), but if you aren't having steak there's absolutely no reason why this wouldn't work swimmingly on a grilled burger. My choice of cut — skirt — is a little unusual, but sliced against the grain this steak was as tender as any sirloin I've eaten and far, far cheaper. The potato gratin I made on the side was actually my first opportunity to test the potato gratin hypothesis, an using a ratio of 0.4 I'm happy to report that the first empirical gratin was a great success.

Blue cheese butter


  • 20g blue cheeese, at room temperature
  • 25g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp very ground white pepper (freshly ground, not the pre-ground powder rubbish)
  • 1 clove roasted garlic, minced

1. Mix everything up and put it on some meat. Take a nap solider, you've earned it.

Bacon-infused macaroni cheese

Bacon-infused macaroni cheese

See the strand of melted cheese over the edge of the bowl? If you make this recipe you get to eat that

Oh shit, I have a website. Huh, I totally forgot about that. Sorry!

I've been busy lately. In addition to all of the usual holiday shenanigans (turning up and eating a lot), I graduated from university and joined the world of full-time work. Good fun. Unfortunately the long hours have made cooking new things difficult — the biggest hurdle is my lack of availability when the fresh produce markets are open — but I've taken that opportunity to cook with what I have around the house, which has led me to revisit a few of my old recipes.

While some of the recipes on this site are old favourites (and some aren't even mine), a reasonable proportion of them are written up after my first or second time making them. A brief, slapdash audit of the site has seen many of the recipes stand up to review, but if I could ask for a do-over it would be for the macaroni cheese.

The original recipe I posted tasted good, but it was a little too thick and there was too much sauce for the amount of pasta. Also, while I'm still a fan of the double-crust (cheddar topped with parmesan then grilled, giving a crunchy top with melting cheddar underneath), when I remade it I couldn't be bothered. Oh yeah, I also used bacon stock.

You see, since discovering bacon stock a few weeks ago it is now used in place of all other liquids. Carbonated it makes a refreshing but hearty cool drink, and if you don't mind being followed around all day by stray dogs it is perfectly fine to take a bath in the stuff. By boiling macaroni in bacon stock you infuse the pasta with bacony deliciousess and can satisfy the holy trinity of comfort food (cheese + bacon + starch) without pesky bacon bits getting in the way of the fun.

Something else you might notice in comparing this entry to the first macaroni one is the difference in photo quality. I've been trying to work on my photography skills, and thanks to a better understanding of lighting and a little colour correction I think I've definitely made some progress. Go me!

Bacon-y macaroni cheese

Ingredients (makes 1 big serving):

  • 16g butter
  • 1 heaped tbsp
  • 3/4 cup cold whole milk
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp hot english mustard
  • 130g cheddar cheese, grated (set one handful of this aside)
  • 100g macaroni, cooked in bacon stock
  • 1 tbsp reserved bacon-flavoured pasta water

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the flour. Cook this paste for 1 minute. Add the mustards and first quarter cup of milk and stir to combine. It will be lumpy at first but should thicken up with stirring.
2. Pour in the second quarter cup of milk and stir until it is smooth, then repeat with the final quarter cup of milk.
3. Preheat the oven grill/broiler. Add the cheese (minus 1 handful), pasta, and bacon-flavoured pasta water to the sauce and stir through until the cheese is mostly melted.
4. Pour this all into an oven-safe bowl or small casserole dish, scatter the top with the reserved cheese, and broil until the top is golden brown.