Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Playing for a Sheep Station & Matt Preston's delicious Lamb dish

Today, while playing tennis, there was some confusion over who was serving during our long doubles match in the hot February sun. Our opponents said, 'does it really matter who is serving? It's not like we are playing for a sheep station or anything!'

After living in Australia for 3+ years of, one of the biggest differences that I constantly encounter is language. While both the US and Australia speak English, there are different spellings, sayings and lots of slang words and expressions used. I am still adjusting to spelling differently. I am learning to add 'u' to some words (colour, honour, favour, etc.) and change the 'z' (called 'zed' here,) to 's' - realise, visualise, materialise, etc. I don't know if people are lazy or it's just easier (does that still mean lazy?) to shorten every word possible. Arvo is afternoon; sunnies are sunglasses, Chrissy is Christmas, avos are avocados, rellies are relatives, pressies are presents, chokkie is chocolate, mozzie is mosquito, etc. The list is endless and I seem to learn a new abbreviation each week. There is even a nice way to swear, instead of using 'f*#k' someone people say, 'far out' while s#*t is sometimes expressed as 'shivers' which only makes me think of pirates but nicer family language for sure. I could write many pages about slang words but there is a good website if you are interested - http://www.koalanet.com.au/australian-slang.html

I did want to share some of the my favorite slang words that paint interesting imagery when you hear them:
Yes, he lives in Sydney but grew up in Woop Woop.
I feel dusty this morning from all that wine last night and will be shattered if I don't get a nap later.
 I am not trying to piss in your pocket but that is the best cake I've ever tasted.
He was spitting chips when he lost all his money betting on a footy game.
You are mad as a cut snake if you think you'll get away with that.
Did you see that man in his budgie smugglers on the beach?
I was gobsmacked when she won that prize.

This week's recipe is a lamb recipe. Australia is one of the largest exporters of sheep in the world. I have eaten more lamb in the past 3 years than I have eaten in my whole life. I didn't like lamb as a child and I remember my Mom cooking it and hated the house smelling so gamey. She would then serve it with green mint jelly, another yuck. I often wondered who thought of jelly on lamb? Shouldn't jelly only be a nice colour and served with toast?!

Since moving down under, I have tried all sorts and cuts of lamb. I still don't like the smell when it's cooking but I do love the taste, especially with a glass of Australian Shiraz (sha-razzzz) wine. My recipe today is from Matt Preston's 100 Best Recipes: Simple and Delicious Recipes Everyone Should Know. I recently went to buy a Michelle Bridges diet and exercise book but instead came home with his cookbook instead, which is pretty funny. Bye bye Michelle, hellooo Matt! Matt is a chef and judge on the very popular MasterChef TV show. He is larger than life, both in size and personality, and has an interesting style of dress. I like to think of it as British banker gone wrong! He mixes stripes and polka dots and bright colours, all the while usually wearing a signature cravat around his neck. 'Cravat' was another new word for me until Matt Preston and MasterChef came along. From seeing him on TV and hearing him on radio interviews, he seems like a top bloke, one you'd like to share a meal (hopefully he'd cook) or a schooner with. I am enjoying his new cookbook immensely, although he is dressed quite tame and cravat-less on the cover. With some cookbooks, I only end up liking a recipe or two. With his book, I have been cooking the book, so to speak, and I've liked most of the recipes so far. This lamb dish is my favourite, hands down. The ingredients look a bit suspicious but cooked all together, there is a great synergy of flavours and the lamb is very tender. It takes about 20-30 minutes to prepare and then cooks in the oven for 2 hours - very easy.

courtesy of  www.news.com.au

Matt Preston's Lamb Braise
adapted from Lamb, Walnut and Pineapple Braise recipe

1 kg or 2lbs lamb stew meat

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, quartered and sliced thin

4 cloves garlic

1 small eggplant, cubed

500 ml or 2 cups pineapple juice

2 teaspoons of curry powder

140g or 5oz can of tomato paste

80 ml or 1/3 cup of soy sauce

2 tablespoons of vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 chubby, pinkie finger of fresh ginger grated (the ginger is a must; powder wouldn't do!)

75g  or 3/4 cup of walnuts (optional)

couscous or brown rice or mashed potatoes

1) Preheat the oven to 180 C or 350 F.

2) Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the lamb and just brown it. Remove lamb from pan and transfer to a casserole dish.

3) In the same saucepan, cook onion. Once onion is transluscent, add garlic and eggplant. Stir for a minute. Then add pineapple juice, curry powder, tomato paste, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and ginger. Bring to a boil.

4) Pour mixture over lamb, cover and cook in oven for 2 hours.

5) Serve over cous cous, brown rice or mashed potatoes with walnuts (optional) on top.

- I think serving it with couscous tastes best.
- I tried to cook this once in the crockpot and the lamb did not come out as tender.
- Use fresh grated ginger really affects the flavour. It's easy - just grate it with a chesse grater.
- I have never tried it with the walnuts as the recipes suggests. It tastes great without them although I'm sure they add some extra texture.
- This is a kid friendly dish. My girls who aren't big fans of lamb love the tangy flavour.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day and Everyday Chocolate Cake

Valentine's Day + Chocolate Cake

Happy Valentine's Day! I have mixed feeling on this holiday. It is a fun day to celebrate love and all things chocolate but it also can be a letdown as there is pressure to get the right gift, get reservations at your favourite restaurant and having a romantic evening even if you don't have a romantic bone in your body that day. As I type this, I realise that there is more Valentine's Day pressure happens in the US, where kids give out Valentine's Day cards and candy at school, couples go out to dinner and the consumerism of buying candy and all things red at stores (t-shirts, chocolate boxes in heart shapes, teddy bears, etc.) is ever present. Australia is very low key on holidays. Except for Christmas and Easter, I don't see much craziness or consumerism around me. In fact, I don't think my daughters even knew it was Valentine's Day until this morning when they found some candy and card on their place mat at breakfast. If only we could get chocolate at breakfast every day, they remarked. They wouldn't give out cards nor candy and they will wear their blue uniforms to school as always. 
Since I don't know much about the history of Valentine's Day, I looked it up on Wikipedia. St. Valentine's Day began as a celebration of an early Christian saint named Valerntinus. The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman empire; during his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote "from your Valentine" as a farewell to her. The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering candy, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines").Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. Geoffrey Chaucer, author of 'Canterbury Tales' started modern day Valentine's Day....who knew?!
movie poster by www.impawards.com
I am a movie buff - comedy, epics, drama, art house, subtitles, you name it. My favourite movie concerning love is 'Love Actually.' The first line, spoken by Hugh Grant, showing people arriving at the airport is the best. (Note, the movie was made in 2003, hence the referral to the Twin Towers) - "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around." Ahhhhh.......

I have made an everyday chocolate cake this week. I call it that because it is very easy to make in just 1 saucepan. You probably have all the ingredients you need in your cupboard, except for the sarsaparilla or root beet soda. I know, sounds weird, heh? You can't taste it in the cake but the cake is delicious and moist and seems to taste better as it ages so it really keeps well. I buy a 4-pack of Sars or Bundaberg brand here in Sydney and use 1 bottle for the recipe and store the other 3 bottles for the future. This is my go to cake and a recipe I have made often. The recipe below can be used to make a 2-layer cake or a bundt cake or a tube cake. It can be frosted or served with whipped cream, ice cream and/or berries. 

For Valentine's Day, I made a 2-layer cake with frosting. As soon as people hear that a cake has to be frosted, they lose all confidence thinking they can't frost a cake, they don't have the tools, it wouldn't look pretty,etc. Say it isn't so - you can do it! 

Everyday Chocolate Cake
evolved from Root Beer Bundt Cake in the Baked cookbook 

  • 1/2 cup or 115g salted butter, cut into several chunks
  • 1 bottle or 2 cups Bundaberg or Sars sarsaparilla or other root beer (do not use diet root beer)
  • 1 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup  brown sugar, firmly packed 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature if possible
  • 2 cups all-purpose plain flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

Vanilla Dream Frosting
  • 1/3 cup or 75g butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered or icing sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • 1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit or 160 degrees Celsius.

  • 2) In large saucepan, slowly melt butter then add sarsaparilla and cocoa powder and stir until  melted and combined.

  • 3) Remove from heat and *wait 20-30 minutes* for it to cool down. 
  • (If it does not cool down, when you add eggs, they will cook....think egg drop soup - yuck)

  • 4) Add eggs and vanilla essence and stir in until smooth.
  • aren't the eggs are so bright ?! delicious

  • 5) Add 1 cup of flour + all baking soda and hand stir until smooth. Then add remaining cup of flour and hand stir again until smooth. It should be lumpy; do not over beat as it will affect the texture.
  • all in 1 pan - easy!
      see, it's a bit lumpy

  • 6) Divide batter between 2 greased round cake tins.

  • 7) Cook for 35-40 minutes, rotating pans 1/2 way through cooking if you remember.

  • 8) Remove from oven and cool.

1) Place all 4 ingredients in a mixer or a bowl with hand mixer and beat on low (so sugar doesn't "dust" your kitchen) and then once blended, beat on high for 2-3 minutes, until frosting is light airy and has increased several times in size. 
whip it, whip it good

2) Compare both cakes and place the flatter one on a plate.

3) Put 1/2 the frosting in a big "blob" on the centre of the cake. Using a spatula, start spreading the frosting in a circular direction until all the batter is evenly spread out into 1 thick layer. Do not frost the sides. That is where it gets tricky and messy; leave the sides of the cake bare.

4)Add the top layer of the cake and frost the cake the same way as above.

5) Add you own decorations to accent the cake. I happen to have red heart sprinkles in the closet so I used them. Use any sprinkles, candy, fruit, etc. that you'd like. Enjoy!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

School + Junk-in-the-Trunk Enchiladas

Gorgeous sunrise but
I'd rather be sleeping.
Well, it’s that time of the year. The time that is even crazier than Christmas.....back to school time. After a relaxing summer, the drill begins - getting up before 8 am (way before), figuring out bus routes, buying stationery, enrolling in after school activities, finding after school care, school information nights, setting homework and bedtime rules, etc. My girls are very happy to be back at school. I, on the other hand, feel frazzled and hope this new routine settles in soon.

One of the things I like about schools in Australia is that most public and private schools have uniforms. This makes life so much easier! There is no drama over what to wear each day, less clothes to buy and the girls aren’t as status conscious since everyone is wearing the same thing. The photos above are of my daughters on their first day of school. They crack me up. Lauren just started high school (yrs 7-12 here). She is now going to a conservative all girls school. I don’t know from her uniform if she is a tour guide or going on a fancy safari. Caroline  has a new hat style - the “Boy George” look. She claims her hat has to sit high and back so that her ponytail does not get crushed.

Back to school time also starts Derek’s overseas business travel. The only thing good about his travel, besides being the only Sheriff in town, is that I get to cook dinners with dairy products again. He is lactose intolerant which eradicates me from cooking with any dairy products. One of my favorite dishes to make is Enchiladas. I developed this easy recipe from trial and error over the past years and have fondly named them: Junk-in-the-Trunk Enchiladas. They are unhealthy, rich and so delicious. They are very easy to make and this is a meal that kids can help prepare. Because they are rich, you don't need a big serving and usually have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day
. My daughters love this recipe and I like to serve it at dinner parties with chips/salsa and Sangria as an appetizer and then the enchiladas with rice, beans and salad - easy and very filling.

Note to food snobs - this is delicious! These ingredients melt together in the oven and create an awesome synergy.

Junk-in-the-Trunk Enchiladas

1- 1.5 kg (3+lb) roasted chicken from store

1 packet of taco seasoning

1 jar of salsa

1 container of sour cream

3+ cups of shredded cheese

1 bottle of Mexican enchilada sauce

8 smaller tortillas

Cooking spray
Large Rectangular pan, lasagna sized pan is perfect

1) Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F.

2) Take roasted chicken and shredded into pieces with a knife or your hands. Place in your large bowl.

3) Add 1 packet of taco seasoning, sour cream, 1.5 cups of cheese, and whole jar of salsa. Stir to coat chicken.

4) Take 1 tortilla and put a heaping scoop of the chicken mixture on one end and gently roll.
Heavily spray pan with cooking spray. If you don’t spray well, the enchiladas will stick, break and will be hard to get out of the pan.

5) Continue until you’ve filled the pan. You should have 8 enchiladas and will have used either most or all of the chicken mixture.

6) Pour whole jar of enchilada sauce over tortilla rolls. Make sure to cover ends with sauce otherwise they get dried out in the oven and burn more easily.

7) Sprinkle 1.5 cups of shredded cheese on top.

8) Cook for 20-25 minutes. Cheese should be all melted and tortilla rolls will be bubbly.

9) Serving options - rice, beans, salad. sliced avocados

My Comments:
- You can make this recipe ahead of time. Just stop at #6 and put the enchilada sauce and cheese on just before cooking.

- This recipe is adjustable so add more or less cheese, sour cream, mild or hot salsa to suit your own taste. You can also make this recipe lighter by using low fat - sour cream, cream cheese. However, I suggest you splurge as everyone needs a little junk-in-the-trunk........

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