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Saturday, August 17, 2013 continental childhood favourite

When I was young my family lived in the very continental Melbourne suburb of Yarraville.  By continental I mean that there were many European food sellers that had opened up shop in the town’s main shopping strip.  There was a small Greek sweet shop – this was where I got to experience “death by sugar syrup” for the first time in the various baklava and sugary pastries.  A short stroll down was a “continental” bakery where Vienna bread and baguettes were always so soft and delicious when paired with some Polish sausage from the butchers.  One of my favourite Yarraville delicacies would have to be from another café style bakery near the station.  I sadly cannot even remember their country of origin, but I suspect it was Croatian or Macedonian based on their preparation of the best Burek I had tasted - by the age of 10 anyways! 
There was always something about the crispy filo pastry up top that just gave way when you bit into them and then you were on to the next layer which would be soft pastry dotted with spiced mince. It all ends with the pastry base which once again was crunchy and buttery, leaving shards of golden pastry all over the place.  Satisfaction was always painted on the faces of anyone who ate these delectable delights and appreciation was always represented by the mess of pastry crumbs on your cheeks and on the front of your clothes.
I don’t live near Yarraville anymore and on a recent drive through the main street, I am certain the café bakery is no longer there.  I have located a delicatessen in my area that does fresh hot Burek and I try to get in early on a Saturday to pick up my smallgoods and cheeses and secure myself a slice of their Burek.  I have to admit that theirs is not as special as the Yarraville one from so many years ago but without much choice of Burek alernatives, I cannot complain.  
I was most disappointed one morning when I was at the delicatessen and was told they were out of Burek and wouldn’t have any until the following week.  It had been a while between Bureks and I definitely had a hankering.  There was only one place nearby where I could guarantee some Burek – my kitchen! So with filo pastry, butter and minced meat in tow, I headed home to try my hand at a childhood favourite.
1 packet x Filo Pastry
300g x Lamb mince
250g x Butter, melted
1tbsp x Olive oil
1 x Onion, finely diced
2 clove x Garlic, crushed
1tsp x Allspice powder
1tsp x Paprika (Sweet or Hot. You choose!)
¼tsp x Cinnamon powder
½tsp x Salt
1tsp x Nigella seeds
To prepare the mince mixture heat the olive oil in a frypan and add the onion cooking until soft
Add the lamb mince and fry gently stirring to ensure there is no more pink
Now add the garlic and powdered spices folding through to combine all the ingredients
Turn the heat up a little and cook the mince to a nice dark brown, adjust seasoning if required, remove from heat and allow to cool completely
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
Prepare the filo by placing the entire packet’s contents between two damp kitchen towels
Use a metal pie dish or deep oven pan and butter the base and sides generously 
Place a sheet of filo pastry inside the pan tucking the excess evenly around
Use a pastry brush to paint the pastry with a splash of melted butter then add another layer of pastry
Repeat until you have used seven sheets of pastry then add half of the cooled mince mixture in one even layer
Repeat the seven pastry sheet process followed by a layer of the remaining mince mixture
Finish with another seven layers of the pastry 
Paint a generous splash of butter onto the top filo pastry layer
Sprinkle the nigella seeds over the melted butter
Place the pan into the freezer for 15 minutes then remove and cut into the desired serving slices
Do not cut all the way through to the bottom of the pastry, you need only go two thirds of the way
Place the pan into the preheated oven and cook for 40 minutes keeping an eye on the top layer to ensure that it does not burn.  You may cover with baking paper if it is browning too much
Once ready, slice the Burek into the preformed pieces and serve 


Friday, August 16, 2013

Easy Chicken Paella

Where have I been? Don’t ask! In A nutshell – clearly not blogging! Life in 2013 has gotten faster paced.  It is almost as if someone decided to light a rocket somewhere in backside of March and before you have time to scratch – it’s August! Which means that the year is almost coming to an end and it’ll be 2014 before we know it.  
So to stay faithful to the blog I thought I would log in some hours of serous blogging and if I can commit to one or two new posts every week, I may have a reasonably sized 2013 volume.  I thought I might start off with some easy recipes that I have been plating up for the family and occasional friends.  You will have to excuse the photography (or lack of) in some of these posts because I have had to rely on the phone camera.  
I have a blogged a recipe for paella previously but felt the need to do it again, differently this time.  So this recipe steers slightly away from the traditional Spanish one but rest assured it is somewhat still true to the original (at least in the taste department). 
Most people might be a little deterred from going anywhere near a paella and strictly reserve the experience to market stalls where they are charged an exorbitant price for a plate of yellow goopy rice with one or two bits of seafood and a piece of chicken.  The food theatrics seem to justify the price tag as everyone is in awe of the big paella plate on the huge gas ring in the middle of the walkway, cooking up a serve that could feed a small village.  Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely one for a food show but the end result must be as worthy as the prelude. Far too many times, I have been left rather disappointed at the flavourless plate of paella that whilst being visually appealing from its preparation to its plating – it misses the all-important mark – taste!  
Here is the easiest paella recipe I could conjure up.  Forget about special bomba rice, saffron and chorizo.  Sometimes you don’t have these things just lying around at home.  This simple recipe delivers on taste and ease by using ingredients that are quite easily sourced.  You can make your own stock (which I highly recommend – see recipe) or you could buy 1½ litres of the ready-made liquid kind and have it boiling ready to use. I like to precook the chicken so that there are no pink bits when I bite into a piece.  It usually takes the same time as the stock does to brew.   
For the stock
2 sticks x Celery
2 x Onions
2 x Carrots
4 cloves x Garlic, bruised
2lt x Water
For the chicken 
2kg x Chicken wings, separated into three segments – wingettes, drumettes and wingtips
Olive oil
4 cloves x Garlic, crushed to a paste
Sprig x Thyme and Rosemary 
½  tbsp x Smoked Paprika
Salt, to taste
For the rice
500g x Medium Grain Rice
Olive oil
1 x Onion, finely diced
3 cloves x Garlic, crushed
2 x Tomatoes, diced finely
2 x Capsicum, cut into strips
1tsp x Turmeric powder
1 cup x Peas (frozen is fine)
Salt to taste
Place all stock ingredients into a large stock pot along with the chicken wingtips and bring to the boil
Skim any impurities that rise to the top and lower the heat
Cover and allow to cook for 1-2 hours then drain and reserve the clear stock liquid
For the chicken, place wingettes and drummettes in a ceramic or glass baking dish and rub through the remaining ingredients massaging the flavour into the wings
Cover and allow to marinate for up to an hour
Place covered dish into a 200 degree oven and bake for up to an hour
Turn the pieces over halfway through
Remove chicken from the dish and reserve any cooking juices
To start the paella place a large frypan (or paella pan) on the stove top and make sure your stock is boiling
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and then cook the onion until soft
Add the garlic, stir for a few seconds then add the tomato and cook for a further 3 minutes 
Now place capsicum and the rice and fry for another 2 minutes
At this point, add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking juices from the chicken
Pour in a cup of stock and stir through to deglaze the pan
When most of the stock has been absorbed, gradually add in another 3 cups
Now sprinkle in the turmeric powder and stir through evenly
Check the seasoning and add salt to taste
Pour in the peas stir gently and put the spoon away as you won’t be stirring anymore 
Arrange two thirds of the chicken pieces around the pan evenly pressing down so that they are submerged in the cooking liquid
Add extra stock if needed.  The liquid should be covering all the rice and some of the chicken too you may add more of the cooking juices now as well
Bring the dish to the boil then reduce the heat to a low and allow to simmer
Paella is ready when the rice is done, depending on the size of your pan this can take 30 to 45 minutes.  Taste as you go to check the doneness of the rice
When done sprinkle a dash of smoked paprika and top up with more chicken
Serve hot with a wedge of lime

"The paella will be a very exciting bright yellow thanks to the turmeric and all the flavours of the chicken and other aromatics should come through the rice.  Paella definitely is a very visually exciting dish and when I served this up to the adults who stuck around at my son’s 8th birthday party, they were most impressed – I think some of them thought they were going to be subjected to regular 8th birthday party junk food along with the kids – not in my house!"
"And how do you know when you have done a good paella? The pan should look like this" >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>    


Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Lentil Dal with Curry leaves

Here's my ultimate favourite dal recipe, and being the one that I have served up to a group of twenty or so attendees at a lunch gathering at work, it has definitely been given the thumbs up.  Once again, as with most of my Indian vegetarian dishes, simplicity is at this recipe's core.  From start to finish you should be able to whip up this dal in under 30 minutes and have a delicious dinner ready in no time.  And given that it is winter at the moment, nothing is quite as satisfying than this warm bowl of nutritional goodness to warm you up on the inside.
250g x Red Lentils, washed and drained
1.25 litre x Water
1 x Onion, chopped coarsely
1 x dried Red Chilli
1 tsp x Turmeric
1 can x Tomato
1-2 tsp x Salt
1 tbsp x Garlic, crushed (about 3 cloves)
1 tbsp x Ginger, grated
1 tbsp x Cumin powder
2 tbsp x Vegetable oil (or Ghee)
1 tsp x Black mustard seed
3 sprigs x Curry leaves, picked
Tip the washed lentils and water into a large saucepan
Place onto the stove on high heat and add the onion, chilli, turmeric, tomato and salt
Bring to a gentle boil, removing any froth that rises to the top
Combine the garlic, ginger, cumin and mustard seed in a small bowl
When the lentils have softened remove the chilli and discard, 
Now reduce the heat to a low simmer 
Use a stick blender to process the dal into a coarse and runny paste
In a separate frying pan heat the oil or ghee and add the curry leaves carefully
Follow quickly with the garlic and ginger mixture
Stir gently for a minute or two or until the mixture is browned slightly
Tip the mixture and oil straight into the dal, stirring well to combine
Taste for salt, adjusting more if desired
Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes then remove from heat
Dal will thicken slightly on standing
Serve with flatbreads or rice add extra red or green chlli if desired
Can be stored in a freezer for up to a month  


Aloo Bhaji - Spicy Potato Curry

This is by far one of the easiest and tastiest dishes that comes from the most simple ingredients.  Aloo bhaji or simply a dry potato curry is another one of those Indian favourites found at many snack vendors.  This is my wife's recipe which gets made quite regularly as it goes well as an accompainment dish with most basic Indian meals.  Strange as it may seem, this dish actually enjoyed at breakfast time with some of my favourite style of deep fried Indian breads - the Puri or Luchi as my mother-in-law calls it.  The light and crispy puri goes perfectly with this spicy potato melange that is a perfect pick-me-up kind of breakfast, if you know what I mean!
Now, while the ingredients list for this dish is quite short, don't be fooled as it does pack a punch of flavour.  It is extremely easy to prepare, being a breakfast dish and the most tedious part is cutting the potato into fine matchstick lengths so that they cook evenly, and above all quickly.  
5-6 medium size x Potatoes, washed and sliced into thin batons with the skin on
2 tbsp x Vegetable oil
2 x Onions, sliced thinly
2-3 x Red or green chillies (less if you want to keep the hotness down)
1 tsp x Coriander powder
1 tsp x Turmeric
1 scant tsp x Salt
Small cup of water
Coriander leaves to garnish (optional)
Slice the potato finely and place in a bowl of water to prevent them from oxydising and turning black

Place a large frying pan or wok on medium heat with the oil
Add the onion and chilli and fry gently for a few minutes until the onions are softened and browned
Drain the potato and pat dry with kitchen towel then add to the pan 
Quickly add the spice powders and use a rubber spatula or spoon to combine the spices with the potato
Be very gentle with the potato as you want it to maintain the long thin batons as best as possible
Pour in a little water and mix through gently
As this is a dry dish you do not need a gravy but still want to ensure there is enough moisture so the potato does not catch or burn at the bottom of the pan 
Lower the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow it to cook for 2-3 minutes
The steam from the dish will cook the potato very quickly, keep stirring occasionally so that it does not stick 
Test  a few strands of potato to check if they are done 
Remove from heat and serve with a garnish of fresh corainder leaves   

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Curried Chick Pea and Potato - around 70 cents a serve!

It’s time to put up one of the easiest dishes that I know and love - Curried chick pea with potato is one of many snack dishes from India that fall under the collective name of “chaat” (pronounced chart).  I cooked it up as part of a lunch meal for 5 during my week-long challenge to Live Below the Line.  A group of my colleagues and I got together to cook for each other while sticking to a budget of eating for no more than $2 a day - that's all meals and snacks - all day!  It's towards a good cause to raise money for people in extreme poverty in countries like Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.  The money will help fund education and skills training to break the cycle of poverty in such countries.  Check out my page on the Live Below the Line website for all the details of this worthwhile charity and also to see how our team went each day.  Feel free to donate generously as the site will be accepting donations until July 31st 2013.
No more chatting, now back to the “chaat-ing”.  This dish was very inexpensive to say the least and has a surprisingly good kick of flavour too.  The dish costs just $3.06c – so that is a microscopic  61 cents per serve add 10 cents worth of flatbreads - and our bellies are nourished and filled thoroughly.
I have given the costs that incurred against the ingredients in the list that follows.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed – if anything, this dish is proof that we can cook up some really inexpensive meals, that don’t break the budget, and can still be nutritious and sustaining.

Ingredients, to serve 5
2 tbsp x Canola oil = 0.06c
4 x medium Potatoes = 0.40c
2 cans x Chick Peas, washed and drained (You can choose to use the dried ones but for the sake of time I have used the canned ones) = $1.79c
3 x onions, sliced = 3 x 0.5c (I got these at 60c for a kilo – so really cheap!)
2 x Garlic cloves, crushed = 0.10c
1 inch x Ginger. grated = 0.10c
3 tbsp x Tomato paste = 0.12c  
2 tsp x Coriander powder = 0.08c
2 tsp x Cumin powder = 0.08c
1 tsp x Turmeric powder = 0.04c
½ tsp x Chilli powder = 0.01c
1 tsp x Salt = 0.04c
3 Fresh chillies, deseeded and chopped = 0.02c
2 tsp x Coriander leaves chopped = 0.25c
Water as required.
TOTAL curry cost = $3.06
We ate these with home-made flatbreads which costed 0.50c for 500g of Wholemeal flour
TOTAL Meal = $3.56c
Place 1 tbsp of the oil into a heavy pan and heat on medium
Add the sliced onions and fry for 5 minutes until soft 
Place enough water to cover the potatoes into a saucepan and boil until potatoes are done
When cooled, peel and chop potatoes into rough cubes, reserve for later
Once onions are softened, add in the garlic, ginger and tomato paste and fry for 3 minutes, stirring constantly 
Place the cooked down mixture into a blender and allow to cool slightly
Process to a thick smooth paste - this is the curry paste
Clean out and dry the pan then return to the heat with the remaining tablespoon of oil
Add the dry spices and chick peas stirring well to combine 
Now add in the curry paste and a little water 
Stir through to completely coat the chick peas  
Add in the cooked potatoes from earlier
Stir through and allow to simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes
Add extra water as required to ensure that a thick gravy remains
Do not let the curry dry out
To serve place the curry into a bowl and garnish with chopped chilli and coriander

In India this dish is usually enjoyed with deep fried "purees" which are basically made up from plain flour mixed water into a dough then rolled flat and finally fried nice and crispy.
For the more frugal (as this week has been for us) I highly recommend flatbreads or "chaapatis" with this dish as they go together perfectly
Ingredients and directions
Take 500g of wholemeal flour (atta) and combine with boiling water into a workable dough - use a wooden spoon to do this
Knead the dough into a 25 equal balls
Use a rolling pin to roll these out to as flat as possible - thin but not see through
Heat a heavy frypan (unless you have an Indian "tawa" as in my pic) on medium to high heat 
Cook the flatbreads for a minute on each side but do not allow to burn
Eat them fresh with any curries or dahl dishes 
They are light and delicious and at 50 cents for the entire batch - a very cheap alternative to regular carbohydrate accompaniments - especially the ones that cost so much from a Indian restaurant!     

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Korean Style Fried Chicken...just add beer!

Now anyone who knows me well enough knows that "I love me some fried chicken". But not just any fried chicken will do, I'm afraid. Some time back I made the fortunate discovery of Gami Chicken & Beer - a little restaurant not far from the office that fast became "the place" to have our team gatherings. What could be better than Korean Fried Chicken and beer?  Gami was definitely an instant hit, and still is by many folk who have succumbed to deep fried goodness bathed in sweet chilli sauce. 
So it was high time to try and replicate Korean fried chicken at home, as I have done before with so many other dishes.  Surprisingly, my home-made rendition, more than suffices and could actually pass for the real thing - it's all in the sauce. This is definitely not the traditional Korean recipe and it's not to be confused with the colonel's concoction as it has nowhere near 11 herbs and spices - believe me it doesn't need it! 
Ingredients - serves 2
4 x Chicken thigh fillets, boneless, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 scant tsp x salt
1 scant tsp x chilli powder (use the Japenese kind if you can get it)
1 tsp x lemongrass powder (optional but so flavoursome)
1 tsp x sesame oil
2-3 tbsp x Korean flour (substitute for cornflour if unavailable)
Oil for deep frying
For the chilli sauce
3 tbsp x Kouchujang chilli paste (Korea's finest) - definitely a must have
1 tbsp x Sugar
1 clove x Garlic, crushed 
1 tsp x Sesame seeds
1 scant tsp x Sesame oil
Water, to dilute
Place the salt, chilli and lemongrass powders in a large mixing bowl
Add the chicken and sesame oil and mix to combine ingredients

Allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours
Dust in the Korean flour and mix through ensuring the chicken pieces are well coated
Add a little more flour if necessary
Heat a wok with enough oil to deep fry

Fry the chicken in batches until the pieces are golden brown and crispy
To prepare the sauce thoroughly combine ingredients in a bowl 
If sauce is too thick, stir through a little water until a slightly runny texture is achieved
Drizzle the sauce generously over the fried chicken pieces and serve hot!
Did I mention fried chicken goes great with beer?
You can stop drooling now!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2013... Starts with Khao Soi Gei

Back again for another year and I tried sneaking in a blog post just before January came to an end but couldn't.  So February it is and the year is flying already. Last year finished up with a bang and turkeys and fruit mince pies are a faded memory along with any holiday time off, that I had. Yes indeed, it was back to work with all systems go on a most busy start to the year. 
As previously mentioned, I moved house in December last year and have been equally busy at home settling in. The kitchen has had a workout over the last few weeks and rightfully so, as we customised it to be a highlight of our house and essentially-my world. 2012 was farewelled with a cracker of a feast of TexMex delights that definitely impressed. And if chowing down on Nachos at 4am to cure the alcohol induced hunger pangs is anything to go by, then I say it was a feast well deserved.  
 But on to a recipe and one that has been a long time coming - Khao Soi Gai. I made this on my birthday last year alongside my mum's Burmese/Anglo Indian style Pantay Khao Soi and although the votes were very close, I'm pretty sure that my mum's dish won the battle. To be fair, she has been making it for many years now and is only allowed to do so on my birthday - so perfection is a prerequisite. This version is my own take on this Thai style spicy curry noodle soup that just sings with flavour in a balanced harmony of heat, sweet, sour and salt. This dish is very reminiscent of a good curry laksa and I love the flavour combination of curry powder and red curry paste that sets it apart from the well known northern Thai curries. I think I have employed as many cheats into this recipe to make it a quick and easy dinner dish using chicken breast, which cooks fast and also ready made Thai Red Curry paste (of course you could make your own!). The garnish could also be a myriad of other ingredients from pickled cabbage to fresh red onions and more.  I have kept it really simple with ready made fried noodles and shallots and humble spring onions and chillies for colour.
2 large x Chicken breast pieces, marinated for 30 mins in a tbsp of Thai Red Curry paste

2 tsp x Malay curry powder
4 heaped tbsp x Thai Red Curry paste
1 inch piece x Ginger, sliced thinly
1 quill x Cinnamon 

2 sprigs x Curry Leaves, picked
200 ml x Coconut Cream
400 ml x Coconut Milk
2 cups x Water
1-2 tsp x Fish Sauce
2 tbsp x Palm Sugar
2-3 x Red Chilli, sliced finely
Lime juice to taste
Vegetables of your choice. I used:
250g x Eggplant, sliced
100g x Green beans, topped and tailed
2 x Baby Bok Choy, washed and segmented
For the garnish:
2 x Spring Onions, sliced finely
Fried shallots
200g x Crispy fried noodles, available from most Asian groceries
Extra Red Chilli
To serve:
250g x Rice or Egg noodles, cooked


Place a large wok on medium heat and dust in the curry powder
Toast the curry powder for a few seconds until it starts to darken and become fragrant
Stir in the curry paste followed by the ginger, cinnamon and curry leaves
Now add the coconut cream and combine well to form a thick sauce
Pour in the water plus half of the coconut milk and stir to combine, then bring to the boil
In a separate pan heat a little oil and pan fry the chicken breasts turning every 2 minutes until cooked through
Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and rest on a chopping board
Back in the wok add the vegetables that you have chosen in two minute intervals, starting with the hardest to softest (i.e. Eggplant,  Beans then Bok choy)   
When the veg has cooked through add the fish sauce, palm sugar, chillies and some lime juice
Stir gently and taste for a good balance of salt - sweet – hot and sour flavours – add more seasoning to taste, as required
Add the rest of the coconut milk and stir through gently
Slice the rested chicken breasts into ½ cm slices and add to the wok
To serve, place a generous serve of cooked noodles in a deep bowl and ladle in the soup with the veg and chicken
Now garnish with spring onions, fried shallots and a big heap of crispy fried noodles
Add some extra sliced chilli for colour and heat and serve

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Garam Masala - essential Indian mix

4 tbsps coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 ½ tsps black cumin seeds (shahjeera)
1 ½ tsps dry ginger
¾ tsp black cardamom (3-4 large pods approx)
¾ tsp cloves
¾ tsp cinnamon (2 X 1” pieces)
¾ tsp crushed bay leaves
Heat a heavy skillet on a medium flame and gently roast all ingredients (leave cardamom in its pods till later) except the dry ginger, till they turn a few shades darker. Stir occasionally. Do not be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat as the spices will burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside. When the spices are roasted turn off the heat and allow them to cool. Once cooled, remove the cardamom seeds from their skins and mix them back with all the other roasted spices. Grind them all together, to a fine powder in a clean, dry coffee grinder. Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place.

Baharat - Middle Eastern spice mix

Baharat translates to “spices” in Arabic and can be purchased from Middle Eastern grocers. For the Westerners it is packaged as the product Baharat spice which literally translates to “Spices Spice”. Baharat can also be used to flavour burger patties or even as a rub on lamb chops before they are grilled or barbecued.  I have used it as a marinade for chicken wings addeded to a little bit of oil garlic and wine

2 tbsp x Black peppercorns
2 tbsp x Cumin seeds
1 tbsp x Coriander
1 tbsp x Cloves
½ tsp x Cardamom seeds, ground
1 stick x Cinnamon
2 tbsp x Sweet Paprika
1 tsp x Nutmeg powder

Place all whole spices into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a fine powder then mix in the paprika and nutmeg
Store in an airtight jar

Ras el Hanout - Moroccan speciality

Ras El Hanout translates loosely from Arabic to "top of the shop".  When the aroma of this combination of spices hits your nose you will know why.  It has a mellow yet rich fragrance and when added to food it infuses sweetness from the cinnamon and nutmeg and still a good amount of pungency from the cumin and coriander.  Ras El Hanout is one of my favourite spices to use and adding it to meatballs or lamb chops before you barbecue them imparts flavour galore.    

1½ tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom seeds
¼ tsp hot paprika
4 whole cloves
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp ground allspice

Grind all the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.
Use as instructed in recipes.