I will admit, this post is a rather boring one about a standard week night dinner. However, when it comes to cooking mid-week, all my ideas fly out the window and I am often stuck between a rock and a hard place, or should I say a Bolognese and a Stir-Fry. I have my ‘fall back’ recipes that are so boring to me, and are often not very healthy, but more so comfort food. So, in an effort to help me, and you dear reader, have a collection of ‘go-to’ recipes that are nutritious and tasty, i’ve decided to post a few week-night dinner recipes. These are nothing flashy and certainly are not ‘Instagram’ worthy, but they are simple, easy, healthy mid-week meals.
A while ago we were out for dinner with a few of our favourite Italian friends. They were describing how they cook Octopus, and how it is one of the most delicious, must try dishes. I’ve always thought large Octopus to be to difficult to cook, and impossible to soften. But the words of a passionate Italian always linger, and before long, Mum and I had purchased our first Octopus.
Here’s what’s in it:
1 Octopus (about 1 kilo)
1 large bunch of parsley
1 long red chilli
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups red wine
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 litres water
Fill a large pot with water, balsamic vinegar and red wine. Bring to the boil, then place the Octopus in the pot, place the lid on, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer Octopus for 1 hour, until it becomes tender.
Chop the parley, chilli and garlic and add to a mixing bowl. Then add the olive oil and juice of 1 lemon. When the octopus is cooked and tender, slice into this pieces and immediately toss it with the prepared dressing. Serve with a tomato salad and fennel salad, or tossed through pasta.
You know those days that you just have no idea what you could possibly cook for dinner? Those days where you are sick of every dish that you cook up regularly, and just want something a bit exciting? Well this was one of those days. I opened the fridge, saw nothing interesting other than a bag of mushrooms, then continued on with my day, with the thought lingering as to what I could cook. On my daily walk, an idea popped into my head, ‘pie!’ I thought, ‘a nice crusty homemade pie would be delicious!’ Then the image of the lonely bag of mushrooms popped up and I immediately had a dish in mind! Chicken and mushroom pie…
If I could pin my childhood down to one food memory, it would undoubtedly be Maqloobeh for dinner. It was the one dish that I never got sick of, and my favourite of everything my mum cooked. She made Maqloobeh to comfort me during times where I was having a hard time at school. She made Maqloobeh to warm my stomach and to let me know that no matter how upset I was, being at home and eating food that reminded me of the huge family that I had supporting and loving me was all that I needed to feel content.
As i’ve mentioned before, my Mum is Palestinian, and has raised me up cooking some key Palestinian dishes that have shaped my love for food. This is THE recipe that encompasses everything Palestinian food means to me, and is the national dish of Palestine. It’s poor man’s food; rice, meat and cauliflower. It’s made traditionally with lamb’s leg or shoulder, cheaper cuts of meat that have to be slow cooked to attain the soft texture (suitable for traditional Arab housewives who live to cook!)
My tetta (grandma) is the queen of making Maqloobeh. She has her different versions, with eggplant instead of cauliflower, with chicken instead of lamb. Mum always prepared it with lamb chops instead of a leg of Lamb, but using the leg provides for bigger, more tender morsels of meat. Tetta presents her Maqloobeh so beautifully. She pulls apart the chicken and lines a bundt tin with it. She then fills it with cauliflower and the cooked rice and turns it over to reveal its beautiful shape. She then tops it with loads of buttery, toasted almonds and pine nuts. Its so beautiful watching her bring it to the table with a huge smile on her face, knowing that she has succeeded, and confident that it tastes amazing! I remember one time when Mum and Dad were on holidays, Tetta’s car pulled up in the drive way. I was so surprised and ran out to the car to meet her. She told me that she had cooked us some dinner, so I opened her boot and found an enormous pot wrapped in tea-towels to keep it warm. I carried it as if it were a new born, walked inside and placed it on the counter, slowly opening the lid to see what she had made. Long behold, it was a steaming pot of freshly cooked Maqloobeh. She knew the way straight to my heart, and how to comfort me whilst my parents were away.
Mum has not only cooked Maqloobeh for me and my family, but for her friends as well. It’s become a favourite of so many, because it is just so yummy!
So here’s what’s it it:
500g medium grain rice (soak for 20 minutes)
1 large leg of lamb
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamon pods
allspice powder (1 teaspoon of allspice berries if you have some)
2 Tbsp samneh (which is arabic clarified butter, but store bought ghee will do)
1 cup toasted almonds to garnish
1 head cauliflower
Natural yogurt to serve
One large heavy based pot with a lid (I used a bessemer pot which I find works best with this type of food)
To begin, cut up the leg of lamb into large chuncks and brown in a pan with 1 Tbsp Samneh, cardamon, cinnamon and allspice. Once browned, add water to cover the lamb and a quartered onion. Simmer with the lid on for 3 hours (or as long as you can).
Meanwhile, pull apart the cauliflower into florets, add some salt and some oil spray and bake in a 200 degree oven until softened (traditionally, the cauliflower is deep fried to add flavour, but this is a much healthier version).
Once lamb is softened, pull out the lamb, onion and cinnamon sticks and place onto a plate to cool. Pour the stock into a bowl.
Place one Tbsp samneh into the pot and add the rice. Fry until the outside of the rice is slightly browned. Then, take the rice out of the pan and layer the meat, then cauliflower into the pan. Add some salt over the meat and cauliflower, then pour the stock back in until it reaches just above the rice (if there is not enough stock, you can add some boiling water).
Turn the stove on high and let the Maqloobeh come to a boil, then turn the stove down to a medium-low heat and put the lid on the pot. The Maqloobeh will need to simmer away for about 1/2 an hour for the rice to cook, but keep an eye on it.
Once cooked and slightly cooled, turn the pot upside down onto a platter to unveil the lovely meat and cauliflower that was placed at the bottom of the pot. Top with toasted almonds and serve with some natural yogurt.
Cover the meat and cauliflower with the pre-soaked and browned rice
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As I mentioned in my last post, i’ve made many a Boscaiola sauce before. I worked as a kitchen hand for a year and a half making the pastas, and the one thing that I learnt from that job was how to make a good cream sauce. Before that, I thought that a creamy pasta meant pasta with a puddle of cream at the bottom, and it was never pleasant. But, following the few simple steps that my boss showed me changed my opinion of this type of sauce.
Here’s whats in it:
1 packet fettuccine
600ml thickened cream
2 cups bacon
2 cups mushrooms
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
Six crucial steps for a fool proof Boscaiola Sauce:
1. The first crucial step is to cut the bacon into small strips and fry it on a high heat until almost burnt. This releases all the fat and boost the flavour of the dish my a thousand (there will be no chewy, floppy bacon fat on my watch!)
2. Once the bacon starts to ‘pop’ and the fat ‘spits’, it is time to add the sliced mushrooms. The mushrooms need to sliced thin so that they can easy release their liquid and crisp up. The mushrooms needs to be cooked until it is crispy and golden, like the bacon.
3. Once both the bacon and mushrooms are crispy, add the cream and reduce heat to low. If you have an electric stove, leave the heat on high, but on a gas stove its important to reduce the cream to low so it doesn’t split.
4. To season, add a good amount of cracked pepper and 2 Tbsp parmesan when the cream is added
5. Allow the cream to bubble away (it is the small bubbles that you are looking for) until it has darkened and thickened.
6. Add the cooked pasta to the pan while it is on the heat, allowing a minute or so for the sauce to gel to the pasta.
When visiting florence, I had the most beautiful Gnocchi. It was in a crab sauce and was like nothing I had tried before. This is my take on Gnocchi, no crab, just a simple tomato sauce, but it is so good!
For the Gnocchi:
3 boiled potatoes, mashed
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
For the tomato sauce:
3 cloves garlic
4 tomatoes, pealed
For the gnocchi, mix all ingredients together until a dough forms. Roll out into a long strip and cut the strip into small cylinders. Boil in boiling salted water and when gnocchi floats to the top, they are ready.
For sauce, fry garlic and anchovies in olive oil. When garlic is fragrant, add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat. Then add the gnocchi to the sauce and serve with pangritata and pancetta.
This is my signature dish (signature because I make it over and over again at work!) It is the easiest dish to make, and if you follow the few simple instructions, your boscaiola sauce will be thick and creamy!
For the Pasta:
1 cup Flour
1 large egg
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 boiled potato, mashed
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan
salt and pepper
1 cup cream
1/2 cup bacon pieces
1/2 cup sliced mushroom
1 cup of fresh bread crumbs
For the pasta, mix all the ingredients until a smooth ball forms. Need the dough for ten minutes until soft.
Laminate the dough ten times in a pasta machine and then continue to roll the dough until you reach the smallest setting. Cut the dough into round pieces and cover with a tea towel.
Mix the pasta filling together and place small amounts in the centre of the circular pieces of dough. Fold the dough to form a semi-circle and seal the edges together with water. Fold again to form the Tortelloni shape.
For the Boscaiola sauce, on a high heat fry bacon pieces in a little oil until crispy. Add the mushroom and continue frying until the mushroom pieces are also crispy. Turn the stove to low and add cream, parmesan and pepper and let the sauce bubble away for approx. eight minutes. Do not stir! After the eight minutes the sauce should be dark and thick. Boil the pasta for one minute and then add to the sauce.
For the Pangritata, add ingredients into a hot pan and fry until all the bread crumbs are golden and toasted. Pour over pasta. Add some crispy pancetta pieces and serve.
This is my way of making the perfect steak;
Massage salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary into a scotch fillet steak. Sear each side of the steak in a hot pan until golden. Add a tablespoon of butter at the end and coat the steak in the melted butter. Transfer to the oven for 15 minutes. For the mushroom sauce, put sliced mushrooms and thyme into a pan with olive oil. When golden, add either 1/4 cup of cream (carnation milk if you wanted a lighter version) and parmesan and let simmer. When the steak is ready, pour the juices from the steak pan into the mushroom sauce. Let steak rest for about 8 minutes and serve.
This dish is delicious! It is one of my favourite recipes and is inspired by a recipe from Longrain in Sydney.
1/2 cup oyster sauce
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine
1 Tbsp ginger
5 cloves of garlic
4 whole star anise
4 coriander root
1 Tbsp white peppar corns
2 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 cup diced pineapple
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
one red chilli, sliced
1tsp fish sauce
For pork in master stock, put star anise, white pepper corns, coriander root and garlic into a mortar and smash until it becomes a smooth paste. Fry off in vegetable oil and then add the rest of the ingredients. Seal off the pork belly in a hot pan and add to the master stock. Cook for 1.5 hrs.
For pork crackling, score and salt heavily. Massage the salt into the pork with olive oil and bake at 200 degrees for 40 minutes.
For Salsa, add all ingredients into a pan and simmer for 50 minutes.
For mash, boil the sweet potato until soft and mash. Then add olive oil and salt and pass through a fine sieve.