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Category Archives: Ingredients 101

Everything you need to know about fruit, vegies, herbs and spices!

Spaghetti with Creamy Mushroom, Leek & Pancetta Sauce

I only discovered leeks a few years ago, on a rainy afternoon lunch break where I dashed into a local Starbucks for a caramel macchiato.

In my haste and my desperation, I needed something quick and easy to eat on the way back to work. The only thing left in the barren looking refrigerator case was a lovely golden pie, with a perfect, buttery puff pastry top that I claimed with my eyes while standing in line…and I was prepared to shoot death stares at anyone who dared step in on my pie.

Now,  I was skeptical. Skeptical about the pie. Skeptical about the coffee. Skeptical about the barista with chipped nail polish and a bad attitude, but I didn’t have time to starve, so I bought the pie, not even knowing what was in it and dashed into the rain back to my car.

This was my first taste of leek, in particular, chicken and leek together. I’m not particularly proud that it happened courtesy of Starbucks, wet bedraggled hair and scoffing lunch in my car, the windows steamed up while I hungrily watched the clock and dug in to the crispy, buttery puff pastry and creamy chicken and leek filling. I was impressed. And my fascination with leek grew from there.

I remember actually Googling ‘leeks’ when I got home later that night, curious why I had always walked past this vegetable and never given it the time of day. I suppose because my mother and grandmother had never really cooked with it, I had never been introduced to it.

Nowadays, leeks are a staple in my fridge – I love that they are so versatile, can be used in anything from soups to stocks, stews to pies and they seem to last for ages too….great for time-poor people who don’t have the luxury of being able to shop regularly.

Ever the helpful pal that I am, I have rustled up some info on leeks….just so you know. Here it is…

  • The leek is related to both the garlic and the onion, with a sweeter, yet more subtle flavour.
  • The smaller the leek, the more tender it will be
  • It’s important to rinse leeks thoroughly, washing out any accumulated dirt and gunk from between the leaves. Most recipes call for the white part to be used only. The outer leaves tend to be more woody and bitter.
  • The leek is known to have anti-bacterial properties as well as being a source of iron, vitamin B6 and folate (the stuff that’s very important for babymaking).

A few notes about this recipe:

  • My measurements served approximately 2, so adjust accordingly if you need to.
  • The pancetta can be substituted with prosciutto or bacon…or omitted entirely for vegetarians.
  • If you’ve had One Of Those Days (OOTD) at work, add 1/4 cup white wine to the sauce so you have an excuse to stand there and take a swig from the bottle while your husband isn’t looking.
  • You can use fettuccine, penne, tortellini or even gnocchi for this recipe instead of good old underrated spaghetti.
  • If you’re watching your weight, you can substitute the cream with evaporate milk….but I don’t like your chances of it being as tasty!

Ingredients

  • 300g dried spaghetti
  • 30g butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic/2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 large brown onion, diced
  • 1 leek, white part only, sliced thinly
  • 300g button mushrooms
  • 50g pancetta, sliced into strips
  • 150ml thickened cream
  • 1 spring onion, sliced
  • freshly shaved parmesan, to serve

Method

  1. Cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of boiling water according to packet instructions or until al dente. Drain and return to the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Drop in half of the butter and olive oil (to prevent the butter burning) and add garlic, onion, leek and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently until mushrooms and leeks are soft.
  3. Add the pancetta and cook for a further 3-5 minutes, then pour in thickened cream and stir well. If you’re adding wine, one swig for you and one for the pan, now.
  4. Add spring onion and then reduce heat to medium-low and cook gently for another 8 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste, now!
  5. To serve, distribute spaghetti amongst bowls, top with sauce and freshly shaved parmesan.
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Strawberries

I might have mentioned in the past that a few years ago, my husband and I abandoned the city lights for the green pastures and permanent smell of cow dung of country living and I honestly believe it’s one of the best decisions we have made. We’re not completely out in the sticks, not living in some ramshackle farmhouse and completely isolated from society (although sometimes I wish we were).

We live in a small town, population 2000. We have one little supermarket (who lack a lot of  basic stock that was a given back in the city, but impressively had some beautiful marscarpone cheese in the chiller, so they can’t be too bad). The region I live in is known as for its gourmet food, it’s cheeses and its wines and it’s beautiful fresh produce.

The view outside my back window is of rolling green hills and bushland. The skies are so blue, it hurts my eyes. Not the manky, grey skies of the city I had become used to. Just down the road is farmer’s market, where the locals contribute their fresh fruits, vegetables, freshly baked artisan breads, wines, creamy cheeses, pickles, relishes and preserves. It’s any gourmand’s paradise and the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

My work keeps me late most nights, so my weekends are spent recovering from the past week and preparing for the one ahead.

So deciding to head off to the market with my husband was the perfect way to wind down from the past week and fondling fresh vegetables, inhaling beautiful fresh fruits and marveling at the freshness of nature’s gifts and talents of local bread and cheesemakers was just the right way to start the weekend.

Particularly captivating were the strawberries we picked up from the local organic berry farm. They were plump, sweet still had that tantalising tang that prickles your tongue. We were like naughty little children, eagerly getting the berries to the car where, had espresso not lured us away, would have happily buried our faces in the strawberries and just feasted.

We did enjoy the strawberries though, later at home, with just a little whipped cream (no, nothing kinky)- they were that perfect that it felt like desecration to do anything else with them.

If you ever get the chance to visit a farmer’s market, even if you have to make a day trip out of it (a good drive, some beautiful scenery, a good lunch and glass of wine as well as coming home with a car full of beautiful, fresh produce- what’s not to like!), I really do encourage it. It’s great to be able to talk to the person who grew the vegetables you’re about to eat, or lovingly crafted the bread and cheese you will later be enjoying.

Here’s a few facts about strawberries:

  • Strawberries are well known for their high nutritional value and medicinal properties.
  • Just eight strawberries daily provides more than 20% of the daily recommended folate intake for expectant mothers, Folate is also important for protein metabolism and formation of red blood cells.
  • They are also rich in Vitamin C and silicon making them very useful for aterial and all connective tissue repair.  It is interesting to note that strawberries help strenghen the teeth and gums and help remove tartar.  Source
  • Strawberries should be eaten as soon as possible. Do not wash until you are ready to consume them. If you must store strawberries, place them on a paper towel in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. They may also be frozen whole or in pieces. To freeze, wash and hull, sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar, and toss gently with your hands. Place in freezer containers or zip-top bags. Use within 1 year. Source
  • Strawberries are one of the few sources, along with grapes and cherries, of ellagic acid, a compound which has been shown to prevent carcinogens from turning healthy cells into cancerous ones. Source
  • Apart from the obvious health benefits, a recent study by Dr. Gene Spiller, Nutrition and Health Research Center, has shown that eating one serving (about 8-10 strawberries) a day can significantly decrease blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Other studies showed additional benefits: Strawberries are found to reduce risk of cancer, enhance memory function and rheumatoid arthritis. Source

Some recipes featuring strawberries on my To-Try list:

Strawberry Croissants

Strawberry Tiramisu

Yoghurt, Rosewater & Strawberry Cheesecake

Strawberry Martinis

Strawberry and Lemon Pancakes
Watermelon, Peach & Strawberry Granita

Strawberry Amaretti Tarts

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2010 in Ingredients 101, Inspiration

 

All About Cointreau

Cointreau is one of the most versatile liqueurs that can be used in cooking.

I recently hosted a cocktail party for my birthday and the cocktail list included a lot of drinks that required Cointreau, so I had to buy a bottle. Prior to this, I had never really bothered with it, but I am glad I did.

I must confess that every single day since my party, I’ve pulled the Cointreau out of the cupboard….just to unscrew the cap and inhale that wonderful scent.

Not only can Cointreau be used in a variety of cocktails, and I really do mean quite a variety, but you can also use it to make your desserts go bom chicka wow wow.

So here’s what you need to know about Cointreau:

Cointreau is a liqueur made of bitter orange peels. It is made in France, sourcing bitter oranges from exotic locales such as Haiti, Spain and Brazil.

The first bottles of Cointreau were sold in 1875.

The alcohol content is 40%.

The most popular way to serve Cointreau is neat, on ice (with a twist of fresh lime), mixed with tonic, lemonade, soda water or fruit juice (pineapple, grapefruit, orange) and also in some the world’s most popular cocktails such as The Original Margarita, Cosmopolitan, White Lady and the Side Car.

Here are some of my favourite recipes that I’ve found to share with you. I can’t say that I have attempted all of them yet, but they are definitely my inspiration for my next dessert-making frenzy.

Cointreau Souffle

Cherry and Rasberry Cointreau Zabaglione

Baked Ricotta with Cinnamon Cherries

Crepes Suzette The all time classic

Dark Chocolate Tart with Cointreau Cherries

Mandarin Cointreau Cake

Cointreau Parfait with Figs

Enjoy!

If anyone out there has any Cointreau recipes they’d like to share, please do.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2010 in Dazzling Drinks, Ingredients 101

 

Top 10 Recipes of 2009… According To Me

9. Arancini

I grew up in an Italian family, so I know a bit about traditional Italian food.

One of my favourites growing up were arancini, which are essentially rice balls. Recipes vary, but the general idea is that you have a ball of rice mixed with melted mozzarella cheese, beef mince, peas, parmesan cheese and onion which is then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

The recipe that I have linked to here is a very basic one to work from. I have added cooked mince and peas and a few tablespoons of my grandmother’s homemade tomato sauce into the mix to relive those memories of my childhood.

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Avocado

Avocado is everywhere nowadays.

I must admit that the first time I tried avocado, it tasted like soap.

I’m still not salivating over the taste of avocado, or it’s lack thereof, but I must admit I’m entranced by it. It must be something about how lovely the green, glossy slivers of the fruit (yes, fruit) look sitting atop a delicious meal. Or the fuzzy, oily warmth I feel as it slides down my throat.

Yes, there’s something about avocados that keeps me interested, so that’s why today we’re going to talk about everything avocado.

Let’s start with the basics. Avocados are the fruit of the avocado trees native to Central America and Mexico.

Now I know you think of avocado and think, “OMG IT’S SO HIGH IN FAT!!”- yes, you’re right. It’s higher in fat than most fruits and vegetables, but it’s mostly monounsaturated fat.

They also have 60% or so more potassium than bananas and are rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamin E, vitamin K, and folate. So they’re fricken good for you, alright?

In the supermarket, you’ll know if an avocado is ripe by gently squeezing the fruit in your hand. I’m not talking death-grip here. Just a gently squeeze. If it’s ripe, it will be a little bit soft.

When you slice one open, the flesh will be a greenish, Exorcist-rotating-head-spew green or a golden yellowish colour.

If you’ve left it out just a little too long, you’ll know about it. The flesh oxidizes and turns brown quickly after exposure to air. To prevent this, lime or lemon juice can be added to avocados after they are peeled.

Avocado is a great healthier alternative to using margarine or butter spreads on sandwiches. Simply mash it up and spread it over the base of your sandwich.

It’s as the base for yummy Mexican guacamole and as the filling for several kinds of sushi, like California rolls.

In Brazil and Vietnam, avocados are frequently used for milk-shakes and occasionally added to ice cream.

In the Philippines and Indonesia, a dessert drink is made with sugar, milk, and pureed avocado.

In Central America, avocados are served mixed with white rice.

The fruit is also pressed for avocado oil production.

In Chile it is often used in hamburgers, hot dogs and celery salads.

It’s a great base for all the yummy salsas that are all the craze at the moment to serve over your chicken or fish. Dice it up finely with tomato, mango, or whatever else strikes your fancy and add some olive oil, seasoning and lime juice and spoon it over delish grilled chicken breasts or fish fillets.

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Posted by on December 24, 2006 in Ingredients 101

 

Top 10 things you should ALWAYS have in your pantry

If you’re lazy like me, which I assume you are because you’re on the internet reading blogs rather than doing something productive, like SHOPPING, then it’s safe to assume that you despise grocery shopping like I do.

I hate shopping.

  • Hate browsing the aisles, trying to find one particular item when I have a dozen other coloured logos, the words 98% FAT FREE! and NEW & IMPROVED! popping at my poor eyeballs.
  • Hate the unflatteringfluorescent lighting. It makes me squint and shows off my imperfectly blended make-up.
  • Hate the grubby trolley with its’ grubby dirty handle. Hate being looked at like a FREAK when I pull out my sanitizing hand spray from my bag and spray like crazy.
  • Hate people who won’t move and hog the whole aisle, especially when standing there reading the MAGAZINES! Just buy the damn thing you fricken tight-arse!
  • Hate the grotty fruit and vegies that are left over at the end of the day.
  • Hate finding a tray of beef minute steaks stashed on the taco shell shelf because some fat-arse couldn’t be bothered putting it back.
  • Hate, hate, hate the stench of the pet food aisle.
  • Hate having to pretend to be nice to the cashier, when in reality, I’m annoyed, my feet hurt, I’m hungry and having heart palpitations over how much of a dent this trolley full of shopping is going to put in my bank account.
  • Hate cringing while cashier gets a price check on something embarrassing like KY Jelly/condoms/supersized tampons/Family-size block of chocolate.

Okay, so I hate shopping. I could go on, but I will spare you.

The point is, having a well stocked pantry can help you avoid having to go the horrible supermarket as frequently.

So here are the top ten things you should have in your pantry at all times- with these lifesavers, there will always be something to make a meal out of.

1. Tinned Tomatoes

These are essential to any pantry. I cannot imagine my

pantry, or my life for that matter, without tinned tomatoes. They are perfect to whipping up yummy pasta sauces and they’re good for you. I read that they also contain high amounts of lycopene, a powerful anti-cancer antioxidant.

You can throw in a can of tomatoes with some olive oil, chopped onion and garlic, a few sprigs of basil, a bay leave and some salt and pepper and have yourself a delicious sauce for your pasta in no time. You can also use it to make soups, like tomato soup, lentil soup, bean soup and minestrone soup.

2.Pasta

Pasta is not an option. YOU MUST HAVE PASTA! Even poor people have pasta.

I don’t care what shape, what colour, whatEVER, just make sure you always have a few reserve packs of pasta waiting for you in case you catch a bad case of toolazytoshopitis. Apart from

the fact that dried pasta seems to keep forever, it’s a good base for a hearty, filling meal.

You can make a gazillion different pasta dishes with the variety of sauces out there. Tomato based sauces are easy to make or alternatively, you can do a cream based sauce. Chuck in some vegies, a few herbs and voila. Lazy mans’ dinner. Pasta like penne, orichette and other cute little shaped pastas are also great for pasta salads. Just mix in with some vegies like chopped capsicum or sweet corn kernels and mix with your fave dressing.

3. Chicken stock

You can add stock to give any meal flavour- everything from your lovely creamy pasta sauce to your minestrone soup, pumpkin soup, whatever soup! You can boil your pasta or rice in some stock to give it extra flavour and don’t forget it is the staple of a good risotto! You can sprinkle powdered stock over vegetables and roast in the oven for a pop of flavour or use as the base of finishing sauce for your chicken or vegetables.

This stuff can turn something drab into something edible.

4.Canned corn & canned beans.

These ingredients are very important to always have in your pantry. If you tend to suffer from Icantbebotheredshopping Syndrome, then the only vegetables you will have around will be part of the rotting sludge on the bottom of your crisper section of the fridge. An organised cook with always have canned corn and beans in their pantry…or suffers of paranoid schizophrenia (where they’re sure aliens are going to kick start Armageddon next Wednesday and have started stockpiling the rations in their bunker).

You can get almost any vegies in cans these days. I didn’t say they were any good however. I mean, potatoes out of a can will never be right. Ever.

Stick to the corn and beans because they’re probably the only ones that are any good.

You can use the corn in everything from chowders, minestrone, as a side, in fritters or patties with other ingredients, as a dip,slices, in quiches and muffins,  in a salsa or if you’re really lazy and really desperate, you can eat it out of can while you watch American Idol. I have done this. Wearing fluffy blue slippers.

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5. Tuna

You either love tuna or you hate it. There is no in between.

Tuna is a great addition to always keep in the pantry if you’re okay with fishy flavours.

You can use tuna in almost everything, from salads to sandwiches, to dips, to patties, to pastas. Tuna casserole or tuna mornay are a must for tuna lovers. My mum makes an easy, yummy comfort tuna casserole and I will have to get around to sharing the ridiculously easy recipe.

And nowadays there’s those fancy pants tunas with gourmet flavours, like chargrilled and with lemon pepper and red chilli pepper and sun-dried tomato and onion and BLAH BLAH! It’s fricken FISH, in a CAN, with oil or brine. Goes good with stuff. Staple amongst the poor uni students and working schmucks who stink out the office at lunch time with their little tin of stench and then throw the empty can into a wastebasket under their desk, where it CONTINUES to stink until the unforunate cleaner has to get rid of it.

Tuna is a good supplement for any recipes where you don’t want to use chicken. Just be sure to brush your teeth afterwards. Not to mention, its lean and healthy.

6.Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are a fatties’ pantry essential.

With their potential for so much greasy evil, why wouldn’t you want to keep some in your pantry?

Breadcrumbs are great when you have some meat to crumb and fry up (HELL YEAH!) or if you want to make some patties, meatballs, rissoles, fried with some garlic and shallots and served with oil over pasta or even make some potato croquettes (mashed potato and chopped flat-leaf parsley rolled in egg wash and breadcrumbs and fried until golden and delish!) or even arancini, which are Italian rice balls. They are really yum. Which brings us to our next pantry life-saving item.

7.Rice

It isn’t just for Asian people anymore, okay?

Rice is a great staple to always keep in the pantry. It’s filling and can be used in a variety of ways.

The type of rice you want to keep in there is up to you, however for diversity, I think just regular long grain rice is the best.

Now I’m not usually one to endorse packet foods, but we live in a day and age where people waste most of their live chained to a desk at work and come home and don’t have a lot of time, or will to live energy and just want something quick. So those little packets of instant rice that you zap in the microwave are a solution for these situations. They may be a ridiculously overpriced rip off, but for the time poor, they are a  heavensend.

With rice, you can do risottos, add it to soups, make sushi, fried rice, arancini, rice salads, rice pudding, eat it plain with butter and cheese (another whilst watching American Idol moment) or use it to stuff vine leaves or make cabbage rolls. YUMMO!

8. Flour

For those nights when pancakes seem like a good dinner. Yep, you guessed it, during American Idol.

If you’re too proud to sink down to the level of having pancakes for dinner (and I can guarantee almost EVERYONE has done it ONCE!), then flour always comes in handy for making batters for fritters and patties, deep frying anything you can find or baking a cake, muffins, making pastry for a pie or quiche or baking a slice. It can also be used to thicken stews and sauces, used as the base of a roux for a cheese sauce or just toss it at your kids if they are giving you the shits, that ought to shut the little turds up.

9. Potatoes

If they haven’t gotten to the point where they’re sprouting alien-looking lifeforms, potatoes can be your saviour. They come in handy for everything from potato croquettes, to helping make tuna or salmon patties, to delish mashed potato. Alternatively you can keep them whole and bake them in the oven and split them open, slather them with garlic butter and eat with coleslaw and sour cream.

You could also top a baked potato with slices of avocado, beans, salsa, Cheddar cheese and sour cream. Yummity yum!

Slice em, fry em and make your own chips.

Cut them into wedges, give them a good toss in some olive oil and seasoning and bake.

Dice em up and cook em with some capsicum, garlic, tomato paste and onion for a yummy dinner to dip some bread into. The smell is DIVINE.

And last of all….

10. A box of your favourite cereal.

For when American Idol is on.

Like pancakes, eating cereal for dinner is something we’ve all done at least once in our lifetimes and really, it’s not so bad. It’s a healthy, complete meal (I keep telling myself that). There’s grains, rice, fruit, nuts, vegetables like corn….and you’re getting a dose of dairy from the splash of milk….Okay. I wouldn’t recommend eating cereal for dinner as a long term solution. Especially the high fibre ones. But for those nights, where the thought of cooking dinner is enough to make you wanna get all emo and start writing death poetry, a bowl of cereal isn’t the worst thing you could sit down with.

You can also use certain cereals to make muesli bars, muffins, slices, cookies or eat it straight from the box as a snack…

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2006 in Ingredients 101, Inspiration

 

Bocconcini

No, bocconcini is NOT that bowling game that you see all the Italian old men play.

Bocconcini are starting to pop up everywhere, in all kinds of recipes, being all kinds of cool.

Now before I even BOTHER with this post, please repeat after me. BOK-ON-CHEE-NEE. Bokon-cheenee. If I hear another person calling them bockonochees, I am going to go a little bit nuts. WTF!!!!!! Bockonochees?

Okay, let’s start with all the basics you need to know about bocconcini.

Bocconcini are little bite-sized balls of fresh mozzarella cheese. With the amount of Cs’ in that word, I supposed you have figured out that they originated in Italy, southern Italy in fact.

You buy them from a deli or supermarket in a cute little bucket or tub and they’re usually floating around in whey or water like demented little golf balls. Once you’ve got them home, you can keep them in the fridge for up to two days- being fresh Mozzarella, it’s not like you can keep them for weeks.

Bocconcini are rich in calcium, , phosphorus and iron with the added benefit of being high in vitamins A and B. Bocconcini are also a good choice for people watching their weight, according to taste.com.au— it has 25 per cent less fat than cheddar. Woohoo!

Bocconcini make good companions with a few distinct flavours and seem to go perfectly with ripened tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar, anchovies, rocket and garlic.

Now that you’re all motivated to go and buy some little heavenly balls, I’ve got two yummy recipes for you. Enjoy!

 

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2006 in Ingredients 101

 
 
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