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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Chestnut, pancetta and rocket salad

Chestnut pancetta salad

'Tis the season to eat chestnuts! Fa la la la la, la la la la! Hear ye! Hear ye! Chestnuts are shit hot! Tell your mother! Tell you father! Tell your brother from another mother! Huzzah!

That pretty much sums up how I feel about chestnuts. If you thought my enthusiasm couldn't get any greater, try listening to my hyperbole when I use pre-prepared chestnuts. No peeling! No roasting! All the the flavour with none of the fuss. Embrace your inner lazy git - she'll thank you for it when she wakes from her mid morning nap.

So the pre-cooked chestnuts fit the bill nicely when I decided a quick salad was on the menu one lazy Saturday. Chestnuts are a killer ingredient in stuffings, and the flour makes a particularly good Italian cake. But a nicely baked chestnut goes quite well with a sharp dressing, a meaty piece of cured meat and some peppery greens. Salad it is.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Berry porridge crumble

Berry porridge crumble

Uh yeah, I went there. I went there, took a few photos, bought a t-shirt and settled in. Porridge crumble is oats on oats, a sugary berry concoction that brings a whole new meaning to "comfort food". This will comfort your socks off, massage your feet, paint your nails and slide some uggs on.

It's freezing in Melbourne at the moment. Even more freezing in Portarlington, where I'm hanging out with my Mumsy for the night. This is the kind of place porridge comes into its own - where a hater is transformed into a oat-loving zealot. The winds whip viciously across the bay here and renders your flimsy little beanie useless. This town is made for porridge and layers. So layered porridge is kinda a win-win.

Berry porridge crumble

Berry porridge crumble

I had berries in the freezer and oats on my mind when I rolled out of bed this fine morning. I knew everyday porridge would not cut the mustard this time around. It needed a little pizzazz. Or excess, as Matty would put it. "Why the fuss for breakfast?" Because I only have so many meals left in this life, and cutting breakfast out of the effort means I'm reducing my fancy meals by a third. A third! Not on my watch.

So how do you fancy up porridge? Well, to be honest, there's a number of ways, but this recipe combines my three loves: berries, porridge and fruit crumbles. A bit of crunch contrasts a smooth supple texture underneath. Sweet brown sugar crumble sets off the ever-so-slightly salty porridge.

The best thing about this fancy porridge? It's warm when it's chilly outside. On those mornings when it's just too cold to venture out from under the covers, a hot bowl of porridge is almost enough to tempt you. What gets you running to the kitchen, barefoot and shivering? The crumble topping. You can blame the frostbite on me.


1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup mixed berries (frozen is fine)
1 3/4 cup water
pinch salt

1/4 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Berry porridge crumble

Place the first quantity of oats in a small saucepan with the water and salt. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently for ten minutes. Mix through the berries in the last minute. Pour into a oven proof bowl.

Preheat your grill. In the bowl of your food processor, combine all the remaining ingredients. Pulse until the butter is thoroughly mixed, but not too fine. Pour the crumble mixture evenly over the porridge and place under the grill. Cook until the crumble is golden and sizzly.

Enjoy with a hot cup of tea. Beware the molten lava beneath the crumble. You have been warned.

Berry porridge crumble

Friday, 26 July 2013

Leek, capsicum and goats cheese tart

Leek, capsicum and goats cheese tart

Very recently, some special little babies were born. Two couples, super cool. It wasn't Kim Kardashian (if you thought I would describe her as super cool, I think you've found yourself in the wrong blogtown). And it wasn't Waity Katey (which, by the way, has to be one of the most sexist, patronising "nicknames" the press has ever given a woman, Julia Gillard excluded). Our buddies (two of 'em!) had beautiful little baby boys recently and I couldn't be more smitten with them.

They are both perfect little dudes. That milky beautiful skin, little squeaky noises and the teeny, tiniest fingernails. Fingernails! Gah! Cluck, cluck.

When the first little on came along, I might have gone a little mad with baking. Lasagne, soup, apple crumble, biscuits, a rice gratin. All freezable, all reheatable. All yummable.

Leek, capsicum and goats cheese tart
Leek, capsicum and goats cheese tart

This tart also made it on the list. Unfortunately for them, it did not make it to their house. Matty and I loaded up a basket with food and this one, ahem, didn't fit. I may have failed to mention that it didn't fit because it was already in my belly.

We were hungry. There was a fridge full of food and none of it for eating by us. I rationalised that they probably couldn't freeze it. They might have already eaten. The may not like tarts (yeah, right). Does leek make babies windy? Yep, I think I read that somewhere. There's NO WAY I could feed them this tart. What kind of a friend would do that? Not this one, no siree bob!

They were lucky they didn't get it. It was totally gross. Kinda. Almost. If you ignore the flavour and texture and sweet deliciousness. They really dodged a bullet. A tasty, tasty bullet.

Leek, capsicum and goats cheese tart


75g butter
180g flour
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water
pinch salt

1 red capsicum
1/3 cup marinated goats fetta
1 leek
5 eggs
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Put the capsicum in the oven straight on the oven rack. Leave until the skin is black and blistered (could be around 20-30 minutes). Once ready, place in a plastic bag and tie up. This will loosen the skin.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt and butter. Pulse briefly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water, pulsing again until the mix comes together. Tip the mixture out of the bench, knead a couple of times until it has combined. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat in the oven to 180ºC. Grease a 30cm x 7.5cm tart tin (make sure it has a loose bottom so the tart is easy to remove).

Remove from the pastry from the fridge and roll to fit the tart tin. It should roll to be around 3mm thick. Roll it back up the rolling pin. Unroll into the tart tin. Place the pastry into the freezer for around 15 minutes to firm up.

Wash the leek and slice to 5mm wide slices. Saute in olive oil over a low heat until soft and just beginning to caramelise (around 20 minutes).

Remove the pastry from the fridge. Line with baking paper and fill with baking weights (like rice or dried beans). Bake for around 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 10 minutes or until nice and flakey-looking.

Fill the tin with the leeks, and break over the goats cheese. Peel the skin from the capsicum, remove the seeds and rinse briefly. Slice into long strips and add to the tart tin. Whisk the eggs and cream until combined and add to the tart tin. You might have too much liquid - no matter, just make an omelette with the remainder.

Bake in the oven for around 25-30 minutes or until golden on top. Serve with a fresh green salad.

Leek, capsicum and goats cheese tart

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Corn and barley risotto with quick grilled chicken

Corn and barley risotto grilled chicken

They call me Thrifty Bennetto. Correction. They almost never call me Thrifty Bennetto. Even if my friends came up with such lame nicknames, it would be one of those ironic ones, like when they call a fat guy Tiny. Apologies to all the Tinies of this world that are now just realising where that one originated. You'll live.

I've mentioned before that Matt is endlessly throwing out leftovers from our fridge because I cannot bear to eat the same thing twice. I'm a work in progress in that regard (and many others). I have taken to refashioning leftovers to create a whole new dish. To be honest, it's a pretty great test of my creativity, because the main ingredients are already chosen.

The creamed corn was whipped up for our engagement party when I was making the chicken and corn wonton tartlets. It was pretty sublime in that dish, so I knew I needed to give that corn the send off it deserved. Yes, I was sending that vegetable to food heaven: my belly. It's where every cob dreams of ending up.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Truffled egg on polenta with parmigiano reggiano

Truffled egg polenta parmigiano reggiano

When I lived in North Carlton, I conveniently lived ten steps away from a fish and chip shop. The hidden (read: totally lapsed) Catholic in me didn't feel bad about making a visit every Friday night. A piece of fish, potato cake and minimum chips. Wander home, soak it in vinegar and Bob's your morbidly obese uncle.

A few months and a few kilos later, I began to peel open the white paper to find hidden gems in my order. It might be a fried dim sim or a crab stick - sometimes a couple of extra potato cakes. Smiling to myself, I knew I'd formed a bond with my chippy that went beyond the customer-shopkeeper relationship. He loved me. He really loved me. Then one day, I opened it up and found a giant fried spring roll. This startled me. No, they weren't giving me, a single person, a little gift. They thought they were feeding another person. It was any wonder I couldn't squeeze into my jeans anymore. This was a dependency I had to break.

More recently, I've been visiting my lovely butcher at Skinner and Hackett on a pretty regular basis. Every piece of meat I buy has a history, a story and a great chance of being a memorable meal. I always walk out knowing the best way to handle the meat and usually have new ideas for serving it up. This is a healthy relationship worth preserving.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Rolled roast of pork belly with wild rice and quince stuffing

Pork belly wild rice quince stuffing

Tonight, there were 130km an hour winds. They were blowing in a southerly direction. I rode home from work in a northerly direction. My 45 minute ride took 1 hour 15 minutes. My hips (yes, hips) started cramping about 5km out and I was nearly blown from my seat (oh vicar!) around six times. I hopped off my bike a sweaty mess and ready to collapse in a heap.

The upside to this disaster of a ride? I've burnt approximately 93 thousand calories and can eat whatever the hell I like tonight and you can't convince me otherwise. Unfortunately I arrived home totally pooped, couldn't be bothered cooking and made a toasted sandwich instead of pigging out on a luscious meal. Boring.

I wish I had that ride (or some more pleasurable form of exercise) on Sunday when my Mum came to visit. We'd been shopping for wedding dresses and she joined us for dinner that evening. I wanted to make something special for the lovely lady and so bought a gorgeous pork belly from Skinner and Hackett (a Bundarra Berkshire free range one, no less).

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Mushroom ragu on chickpea pancakes

Mushroom ragu chickpea pancakes

If you're anything like me, a new dietary restriction can send your whole life into a tailspin. No cheese? But what goes on my crackers? Vegetarian? Those steaks won't eat themselves! A few months ago, gluten free would have driven me 'round the twist. But ever since Mum's gone gluten and dairy free, I've managed to wrap my tiny brain around it and honestly, it's not so bad.

We tend to eat a lot of rice based dishes, and use different kinds of flours. Recently, we had a rolled roast of pork belly, stuffed with wild rice and quince. Out of this world and totally devoid of gluten. And potato flour is an absolute revelation. It thickens liquids without clouding it and results in a smooth, silky sauce.

Food at events are a different story. Totally gluten-heavy. Sandwiches, spring rolls, pastries upon pastries, mini burgers (guilty!)? Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty gluten-obsessed. I buy at least a kilogram of flour each week. But when considering dishes for those of us not so tolerant of the bad stuff at our engagement party, I needed to get creative.

These chickpea pancakes pop up in both Italian and French cuisine. Socca in Nice, Farinata in Italy, whatever you want to call it, they're incredibly moreish and, even better, incredibly simple to make. They just taste savoury. You can serve them super crisp or a little softer, as I did with this mushroom ragu. I remember my brother Paul made these for us one evening. They were intended as a light snack, but I made my way through about a kilogram of the stuff. I'm delicate like that.

The ragu is the more complex component of this dish. The fungi need to be chopped as finely as you can manage. They should be sauteed for a good while - they should release their liquid and then cook off a while. Eventually, they'll begin to brown. It's at that point you take the mushroom flavour up a notch by adding some dried porcinis softened in hot water. This takes the intensity from "ho hum" to "ooh ah" in a matter of moments. Cook for an hour or so, and you're good to go.

Mushroom ragu chickpea pancakes

So this dish is not only gluten free, but vegetarian. If your red wine is animal product-free, it's also vegan. And I gotta tell you, you'd be wise to save some for the guests they're actually intended for - these will be inhaled in a matter of moments. People who have a serious aversion to mushrooms also begrudgingly admitted they were delicious. A people-pleaser if I've ever dished one up.


1 kg assorted mushrooms, finely diced
1 brown onion, finely diced
3 tbsp olive oil
3 sprigs thyme
15g dried porcini mushrooms, or other dried mushrooms such as chanterelles or trumpets
1 cup red wine
1 litre vegetable stock (make sure it's gluten free)
salt and pepper

1 cup chickpea flour (also known as besan flour)
1 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy based saucepan. Add the onion and saute for 10 minutes over low heat. Add the mushrooms and increase the heat. Cook, stirring regularly, for around 30 minutes, or until mushrooms begin to brown. Meanwhile, soak the porcinis in 1 cup of hot water for around 10 minutes.

Remove the porcinis from the water, retaining the liquid. Chop the porcinis finely and add to the mushrooms. Add the red wine and reduce for around 3 minutes. Add the stock, thyme and the reserved liquid from the porcinis. Cook over low heat for around an hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season as required.

To make the socca, whisk the flour with the water briefly. Refrigerate for around an hour. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease some flat-bottomed patty pans and pour in a thin layer of batter. Bake for around 10 minutes or until set. Place the pancakes under the grill and grill until crispy. Repeat with remaining batter.

Top each pancake with a spoonful of mushroom ragu. Garnish with some snipped chives and serve.

Mushroom ragu chickpea pancakes

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mini burgers: a modern classic appetiser

Mini burgers

At our work Christmas party, we had the best seats in the house. Not front row to hear the speeches. Not even the seats overlooking the dance floor, ready to criticise the first person who dared to dance in front of their colleagues. If you can't tell, I'm a hopelessly uncoordinated dancer who reacts with pathetic jealousy every time she sees someone in their own world, happily dancing as if no one is watching. I'm watching alright. I'm watching and judging. Totes well-adjusted.

Nope, our Christmas party posse was next to the kitchen door. As soon as any food left the pass we would appear out of nowhere with our hands out. Tiny buckets of fish and chips, sushi, little dumplings and of course, mini burgers all made it no more that five metres from the kitchen before we'd decimated the platters.

It seems you can't go to a function these days without the ol' mini burger being rolled out. The problem is it's normally dry and mealy - overcooked into oblivion. Really, a good burger should be cooked to medium, medium-rare. But with a patty that small, it's really hard to keep them moist.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

We need a chat

Oh my god, how ominous is that title? Whenever anyone drops the word "chat" in a sentence, my blood pressure starts to rise and I imagine all the things I could have done to grind their gears in the last 6 years. Have I forgotten to send an email? Did I leave the milk out overnight? Hair clumped in the drain again? Or have I forgotten a birthday for the third year running. Normally, all of the above.

Nope, this chat is more of the "reigning it in" variety. I've been blogging pretty much five days a week since I started in December last year, trying to get a heap of content on the site. And it's been crazy fun. I've learned a bucketload about how this all works and have loved every challenge that's come along. Like I said, it's been a hoot.

But recently, I've struggled to get content up every day, and I think it shows. I want to become a better writer, a better designer, a better photographer, and most of all, a better cook. But I haven't left myself any time to develop these skills because I'm too busy chasing my tail.

Over the last fortnight, I've been sick with no less than three ailments: back spasms, strange stomach cramps and a killer flu that lasted seven days. I'm guessing I had a little too much on my plate. I’m still trying to kill the last remnants of this cough. My buddy Jacquie has given me a home remedy involving Vicks Vapour Rub smeared over my feet, covered with socks overnight. It’s either a fabulous cure or the world’s most brilliant prank. I’m still not sure which.

I think I'll be better in the long run to cut down to around 3 days a week. I'm shooting for Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That leaves me the inbetween days to fiddle with the site, play with the design. I'll still cook like a madwoman and you'll still get to see the finished product. But hopefully what I present will begin to be a little more polished. Baby steps, though.

Over the next few weeks, I'm planning a little redesign here. If you've got any feedback about what works and what needs tweaking, please leave a comment or send me an email. I also welcome any recipe suggestions you'd like me to try: happy to have a go (and hopefully do your old favourites justice).

So, chats aren't all that bad. A little less frequent Emma lovin', but hopefully a better time over all. Quals over quants, yah?