Today we managed to find an opening between the showers to pop down to our plot at the Community Garden and pick some stuff and weed and mulch other bits.

In summary, we came home with this pile of green awesomeness. It includes our very first leek (naaawww!), several pak choi, some broccolini and some Tuscan Kale (cavolo nero or black cabbage) very generously given to us by a neighbouring gardener.

We done grew all this green stuff!

We done grew all this green stuff!

It was all washed or scrubbed when we got home and has since been filed or eaten. We don’t muck around with our greens in this household, let that be a warning to ye!

Ahem. Moving on…

I have plans to use the leek and kale in a Lentil and Barley Hotpot tomorrow.

We’re planning on spending the greater part of tomorrow afternoon burning a pile of very old rose prunings that have been loitering on my front landing (oo er!) ever since we moved in about 18 months ago. It will be quite cathartic to watch them burn, really.

They are from very old plants that seem to have thorns on their thorns and the prospect of taking them to the tip was plagued by visions of us both bleeding to death from our wounds on the way. As it is, we have damp weather and a stubborn bald spot in our rear lawn that could use a fine layering of ash and charcoal – she said, pretending to know what she is talking about and fooling precisely no-one.

Regardless, the crock pot can crock while we give vent to our rather tame inner pyromaniacs.

Tonight, however, I had some leftover chilli mac from last night.

Chilli Mac

Chilli Mac

While The Boy filled his belly with a terrifyingly hot Vegan Thai Green Curry that I made up for him – on request.

Now doesn't that look purdy?

Now doesn’t that look purdy?

It used up most of what was left of our jar of green curry paste, some onion, carrot, celery, red capsicum, coconut cream, home-canned soy and adzuki beans and a goodly portion of the pak choi you saw in the first photograph.

I served it over some steamed basmati rice we had in the refrigerator and he was a very happy little camper.

Not blurry, but steamy.

Not blurry, but steamy.

Both dishes were consumed accompanied by discussion about the Rhinoceros in “The Gods must be crazy” and our newest household member, the Accidental Cat.

Sara - the accidental cat.

Sara – the accidental cat.

I’ll speak with you all tomorrow, if we manage not to burn anything we’re not supposed to.

Let me know if you’d like a post on how I constructed the curry.

ttfn.

 

Corned Beef (Silverside)

The final result.

Corned Beef is one of those dishes that seems to have become a regular on my family meal rota – which is strange.

When I was a child I hated the stuff with a vengeance. Although I could be persuaded to eat it if, and only if, my mother was calling it Cane Cutter’s Ham.

I don’t know why.

I then lived alone for several decades and only attempted to cook it twice during that period. Both times were for visits by my step-father and, while he said it was great, I thought it was less than ordinary on both occasions.

I’ve got better at it in this stage of my life. Firstly, I’ve stopped cooking the vegetables that accompany it in the same pot as the meat. This means that there is a different flavour for everything on the plate, instead of a meal-wide sameness that resembles the next step to gastronomic zombieville.

Roasted veg.

Roasted veg.

I’ve also started adding a few more flavourings to the pot, some of which elevate the dish to heavenly status.

I kiddest thou not.

The best part is that I inevitably have enough leftover to make several more meals from the same piece of meat: fritters and almost fried rice spring to mind, it’s also a nifty addition to pasta bakes or on lunch box sandwiches.

One and a half kilos of meal options.

One and a half kilos of meal options.

I inevitably cook mine in a slow cooker but it can, of course, be cooked on the stove for a much shorter time. I like being able to put it on to cook of a morning and then walking away for the rest of the day until I’m ready to serve it up.

Go with your muse on this one.

So, to cook a piece of corned beef, you first need to find a pot big enough to put it in. Make sure it’s one that will take the beef, any flavourings you may use and enough water to cover the lot of it. In the photograph, I’m using a 3 litre slow cooker that has a tall, narrow crock.

First find a roomy pot.

First find a roomy pot.

I know it looks kind of yucky. This one was vacuum packed and had a fair amount of jelly around it. Don’t wash it off, just put the whole lot into your pot.

Now, generally, I would put the flavourings in first and then add the meat, But I didn’t do that for the pictures. I’m sorry if it confuses anyone. Also, none of the vegetables I’m about to add to the pot are destined to be eaten. They’re simply there to add flavour to the meat.

Got it? Good.

To the pot I add a stick of celery, cut into largish bits.

Celery.

Celery.

A carrot treated similarly.

Carrot.

Carrot.

Then an onion. All of these may be kept whole if you have the room in your pot.

Onions.

Onions.

Now add 6 peppercorns or 6 whole cloves. If you’re keen, you can add both. My mother would stud the onion with the cloves, but I don’t have the dexterity for that.

I also add some fennel seeds and a star anise.

A touch of spice.

A touch of spice.

Then a tablespoon or so (a glug) of apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar.

And then the piéce de resistance!  An orange.

Yes, really. A chef former neighbour gave me this tip a year or so ago and I kiss her feet for it. (Thanks Kath!)

An orange. OMG.

An orange. OMG.

This will add a certain something that will lift your corned beef into the stratosphere of flavour. Trust me on this.

Now pop in a Bay Leaf and cover with cold water.

This is why I usually put the oranges in before the beef...

This is why I usually put the oranges in before the beef…

Put the lid on and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or HIGH for 4-6 hours. Your kitchen will start to smell amazing.  I promise.

The final result.

The final result.

When it is done, simply remove from the pot, slice and serve. As you can see, the vegetables don’t look like you’d really want them on your plate…

Slice and serve.

Slice and serve.

Traditionally, Corned Beef is served with a white or mustard sauce. However, the other person in this household doesn’t really like sauces…

The meat does tend to dry out a little once sliced, so I simply spoon a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid over the meat on the plate. Not enough to drown it, mind!

It keeps the meat moist and gives a further hit of flavour.

Sunday night feast?

Sunday night feast?

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Corned Beef

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 kg silverside/corned beef (this recipe will also work for larger cuts)

1 large onion, chopped

1 large stick of celery, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 medium to large orange, quartered

6 whole cloves (these may be inserted into the onion if you wish); or

6 peppercorns – or both

1 star anise

½ tsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 bay leaf

Method

Add all the ingredients to a pot large enough to hold the meat and flavourings.

Cover with cold water.

Bring slowly to the boil and simmer with the lid on until the meat is tender. (Approx. 2 hours for a 1 kg cut on the stove top)

If using a slow cooker set on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 4-6 hours.

When cooked to your preference, remove from water, slice and serve.

May be served with a mustard sauce or with some of the pot juices spooned over the meat.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Variations:

This recipe will work for any pickled or salted cut of meat.

 

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Asian Spiced Meatballs

These little darlings are something you can mix up in bulk and freeze in advance.

They take a tiny bit of time, and can be a little icky to prepare (especially if you don’t like handling raw meat), but are totally worth it.

These meatballs can be made as large or as small as you like and you may use any ground meat you happen to have,.

I developed this with chicken mince – mostly because I am not a fan of chicken.

Sue me.

This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled if you want. You might even want to enslave, exploit, encourage your children to help roll them once they’re mixed.

So, here we go. Pay attention and don’t blink or you’ll miss something…

Dump your minced/ground meat into a suitable bowl. Then add a good spoonful each of minced garlic and crushed ginger. I always have little jars of those two things in my refrigerator.

However, you can use fresh if you prefer.

Add some aromatics to your meat.

Add some aromatics to your meat.

Mix through thoroughly. You may want to use a fork for this to help you break up the meat properly and distribute the flavourings more evenly.

Then add a good shaking of whatever spices you think you’d like. My standards are ground cumin, ground coriander and a few chilli flakes – you may like to use a garam masala, or add ground ginger as well; finely chopped parsley or coriander/cilantro also make good additions.

Go for it. Use what you know you like.

Spice it up.

Spice it up.

Mix that through. You don’t need to be gentle, in fact being a little on the rough side will help to develop the proteins in the meat and make it all stick together better.

You can skip this next step if you wish, but you might like to add a generous glug of an Asian-style sauce.

Get saucy.

Get saucy.

As you can see, I used hoi sin for this batch. You could use teriyaki, soy sauce, kecap manis, oyster sauce or even sweet chilli sauce if you want. Or none at all – it’s not necessary but it does show what can be done.

Mix through with the fork again, and then give it a good stir with a spoon or spatula. You’ll notice it all start coming together nicely.

Now, with wet hands, create mandarin-sized balls of meat – wet your hands between meat balls and it will go easier. The wetness helps stop the meat from sticking.

Have a ball.

Have a ball.

You may wish to wear disposable gloves. You may even find it easier to use a large ice cream scoop to measure them out onto a plate all at once and to just finish them off in your hands.

Do what you feel comfortable with.

You can freeze them at this point, if you wish.

If you want to eat them now, then gently heat a pan or griddle that has been lightly brushed or sprayed with oil.

Oil up.

Oil up.

Then add your meat balls, pressing down lightly to flatten them slightly. Set a timer for 4 mins and then LEAVE THEM ALONE. Just let them cook while you do other things, like set the table or something.

At the four minute mark, turn them over. They should lift easily. If they stick, let them sit a minute or so more and try again. Set your timer for another 4 minutes.

Flip.

Flip.

When the timer goes off for the second time they’re ready to serve.

I like to serve with steamed rice and veggies. In this instance, I’ve tinted the rice with a touch of turmeric in the water.

Make a meal out of it.

Make a meal out of it.

They are also quite nice served as a burger.

Enjoy.

Asian-spiced meatballs

  • Servings: 4-6 balls
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

250 g ground meat (minced beef, pork or chicken)

1 tsp minced garlic (from a jar)

1 tsp crushed ginger (from a jar)

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp chilli flakes

(or any other spices you’d like to add)

1-2 tbsps thick Asian flavoured sauce, optional.(kecap manis, sweet chilli sauce, Hoi Sin sauce, Teriyaki sauce, etc)

Method

Place meat into a medium bowl. Add garlic and ginger and mix in well with a fork.

Add spices, and mix well.

Add sauce if wished and mix well.

Mix until the meat starts to stick together and form a large ball.

With wet hands, form into four meatballs (for this amount of meat.) If you prefer, use a large ice cream scoop to measure out and finish forming them in hands using disposable gloves.

(you can’t get around touching the meat in some way. Sorry.)

Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium heat and oil lightly. An oil spray would be ideal.

When the pan is hot, add the meatballs – pressing lightly to flatten slightly. Do not crowd the pan.

Leave to cook for 4 mins.

Turn and cook the other side for a further 4 mins.

Serve with rice and vegetables.

To flash freeze:

Cover a dinner plate with grease proof paper, such as baking parchment, and place meatballs on it so that they are not touching.

Put the dinner plate into the freezer for 30 mins. There is no need to cover the plate.

After 30 mins, remove the meatballs to a ziploc bag.

Seal and return to freezer.

By partially freezing the balls you will ensure that they won’t stick together in the bag. This means you can remove just the number you need.

Ensure they are fully defrosted before cooking.

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I made a yummy.

Before I forget, yesterday I left out the $11 BBQ Chicken I had bought a few days before. It has been picked clean with the meat frozen in portions, and the carcass used in stock.

The amount I have left in my food budget is therefore $11.52. So I can still get eggs if I need them…

Anyway, today I managed to not get killed in a sudden hailstorm. This made me very happy.

I was even happier when I got home and then got warm.

The decision was made to make an apple crumble using some of the Apple and Quince pie filling I made a few months ago.

Apple and Quince Crumble

Apple and Quince Crumble.

Then I decided that I would use those beautiful pork sausages you saw me freeze a few weeks back. I had started making a hot pot with them, and had just added some fennel seeds, when I remembered that fennel bulb from the vegetable shopping.

So, I made a WONDERFUL cassoulet-like dish with pork sausages, fresh fennel and cannellini beans.

I made a yummy.

I made a yummy.

My goodness it was good. And I served it on a bed of mashed, slow-cooked sweet potato. Because I could.

I’ve documented all the steps, so I shall be able to post a recipe for you soon-ish.

It made enough for four, so we got a meal’s worth of leftovers from it – for this I am grateful.

I didn’t make biscuits. That can wait until tomorrow.

That’s it for tonight, Lovelies. Speak tomorrow.

 

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Chilli con Carne (Budget Bounty style)

Dinner is served.

First off, let me get one thing clear: Chilli con Carne means Chilli with meat.

There is no such thing as Vegetarian Chilli con Carne.

There. I feel better now.

This is a dish I have adapted from one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes out of his book, Happy Days with the Naked Chef. I pretty much follow his recipe but get rid of a lot of fiddling around.

I’m sure he’d approve.

I also tend to cook it in a slow cooker, but I’m guessing that this surprises precisely no-one.

My step-father is a fiend for chilli. When I lived in Canberra, and knew he was driving up from Melbourne to see me, I would get this dish to the long simmer stage the night before and pop it in the fridge overnight. I’d put it in the slow cooker on low just before I went to work in the morning and it would be gorgeous by the time I got home to find him waiting for me.

Nowadays, I find it perfect for cold to just-bordering-on-utterly-miserable days. Put it on early and leave it to do its thing until you’re ready to eat. In the meantime, your home smells gorgeous.

Leftovers are not to be scoffed at.

Leftovers are not to be scoffed at.

You can cook this on the stove top, in the oven or in the slow cooker (3 litre size for this recipe). Whatever works for you.

It makes a whole heap, so you can feed a crowd, make a ton of leftovers to eat during the week for a singleton or individual frozen meals for future famines of inspiration.

Start with a chopping board, a knife and some vegies. If you intend to cook this on the stove or in the oven, you’ll want a Dutch oven style pot with a tight-fitting lid. Get your slow cooker set up if that’s what you’d prefer to use. In this case I also put the cooker on low and empty the tins of tomatoes into it – just to get it warmed up and going.

Get your slow cooker on-line.

Get your slow cooker on-line.

Now, dice up an onion, a stick of celery and a carrot as finely as you like (or are able).

Start by sauteeing the trinity.

Start by sauteeing the trinity.

Heat your pan over a medium heat with a little olive oil. (Use a frying pan for this stage if you intend to slow cook.)

Add your chopped vegetables and a teaspoon of crushed garlic. I don’t mind if this comes from a jar. Cook gently until the onion softens and becomes translucent.

Now add your minced beef. You’ll want about half a kilo or a pound of meat to serve four. Continue to fry, stirring gently to brown the meat almost all the way through. I like to push the vegetables aside at first, but do what works for you.

Once it is browned sufficiently, you can add a mix of ground cumin, chilli powder and fresh chilli OR you can use whatever commercial chilli blend you prefer. Make it as hot or as mild as you wish, but add the spices at this stage to fully release the aromatic oils that they contain.

Add your meat and spices.

Add your meat and spices.

Mix it all together as thoroughly as you can, just to get those flavours a little more melded.

Looking good.

Looking good.

If you are using the slow cooker, then transfer your mixture into it now. Add the contents of 2 x 400 g tins of diced tomatoes and a small jar of sun-ripened tomato pesto.

I get the latter from Aldi. It only costs $2 and is quite affordable for the punch of flavour it gives. You may wish to drain off some of the oil from the top of the jar, but this isn’t necessary. It’s a matter of taste.

Sun-ripened tomato pesto.

Sun-ripened tomato pesto.

Mix together well, add a half glass of water and a stick of cinnamon (yes, really) and season to taste. (Leave out the water if slow cooking.)

Stick of cinnamon.

Stick of cinnamon.

Bring the mixture to the boil and place a piece of greaseproof paper between the pot and the lid. Turn the heat down to simmer on the stove for 1-1½ hours. Alternatively, transfer to the oven for the same amount of time.

Add the tinned kidneys beans about 30 minutes before serving to allow them to warm through.

I forgot to strain the oil off the pesto - can you tell?

I forgot to strain the oil off the pesto – can you tell?

Serve with crusty bread, on plain steamed rice, on boiled pasta as a meat sauce, on mashed potatoes, over corn chips, topped with a cornbread cobbler (recipe coming soon) or in tacos or burritos. Have your way with it.  Goodness, you could even top it with mashed spud and call it Shepherd’s Pie if you want.

It’s a really versatile dish.  Enjoy.

Chilli con Carne (stove and oven)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

2 medium onions, diced

1 stick celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

olive oil

2 level tsps chilli powder

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

500 g minced beef (err toward the leaner cuts)

I x 190 g jar sundried tomato pesto, excess oil drained from top and discarded.

2 x 400 g tins diced tomatoes

2 x 400 g tins kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 stick cinnamon

Method

Preheat oven to 150°C/ 300° F, if using.

In a metal pan or casserole with a tight-fitting lid, heat olive oil gently.

Add diced vegetables and garlic until onions are softened and translucent.

Add the minced beef and sauté gently until browned through. Add the spices or substitute any low-salt tex-mex style blend you prefer.

Add the contents of the jar of pesto and the two tins of diced tomatoes with a small glass of water. Stir well and add cinnamon stick.

Bring to a boil, cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and the lid and reduce heat to a simmer.

Cook for 1½ hours on the stove top or transfer to the oven for 1½ hours.

At the 1 hour point, add the kidneys beans and stir thoroughly to warm through.

Variation:

Slow cooker:

Prepare a 3 – 4 litre (quart) slow cooker.

Follow directions as above to the using a medium sized frying pan.

Transfer contents of pan to slow-cooker and add the contents of the jar of pesto and the two tins of diced tomatoes.

Stir well and add cinnamon stick.

Bring to a boil on High, then reduce heat to LOW.

Cook for 3-6 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

30 minutes before serving, add the kidney beans to heat through.

If the mixture is too wet, sauce may be thickened using cornflour, or soaked up using a cobbler topping.

Hungry yet?

Hungry yet?

Chocaroon Layer Cake.

I’ve had a few days off – you might have noticed. So here’s an update.

On Friday night we had the rest of the Store cupboard chickpea curry.

Store cupboard curry

Store cupboard curry.

On Saturday night I made Slow cooker Macaroni and Cheese and added one of the massive saveloys from the freezer.

Saturday night.

Saturday night.

And last night I cooked up a marinated asado beef roast from Aldi with roast potato and pumpkin and frozen peas. It was yummy.

Roast dinner Chez Moi.

Roast dinner, Chez Moi.

Today I made another of my Mother’s recipe collection. A Chocaroon Layer Cake. It hasn’t been tasted yet (it’s still cooling) but, my golly gosh it smells good!

Chocaroon Layer Cake.

Chocaroon Layer Cake.

If it tastes as good as it smells, I’ll post the recipe as soon as I get through the existing backlog…

Update: It’s amazeballs. Like, literally.

Chocaroon Layer Cake.

Chocaroon Layer Cake.

Then I made these “carrot cake” balls for The Boy. They need work, I think.

We had pork dumplings from the freezer for lunch.

I also have had a bean chilli bubbling away in the slow cooker for most of the day. However, it had far too much liquid in it not so long ago.

Chilli Overboard!

Chilli Overboard!

I could have thickened it up with some cornflour and served it over rice, but I decided to make a cornbread cobbler instead. This will soak up the liquid and add a carbohydrate.

And, indeed it has, lo!

Chilli cobbler

Chilli cobbler.

Life is still pretty good.

Mañana todos.

Chocolate Fudge Pudding

Hot fudge pudding and ice cream.

I have two self-saucing chocolate pudding recipes in my collection. One is my Mother’s and one is my Grandmother’s. The thing I find fascinating about them is the difference in the flavour profile that a mere few decades can make.

My Grandmother’s recipe is rich – very rich. It is made with butter and cocoa and really does meet the label of fudge. My Mother’s recipe is sweet. Tooth-achingly sweet. But still good. I’ll feature both recipes on this site, but my Grandmother’s recipe is my favourite.

The first time I made this, the richness overwhelmed me. I use Dutch process cocoa in my cooking and the chocolate flavour was almost too much. The Dutch process removes the acidity that may lurk in cocoa powder and gives the cocoa a rich dark colour as well, however it is not necessary to make this recipe work.

Also, the original recipe calls for shortening as one of the ingredients. My American readers will be surprised to learn that this is not something widely available on Australian supermarket shelves. I used butter.

I had decided that, the next time I made it, I wanted to add something to cut the richness. It occurred to me that adding some orange zest might just do the trick – I was right. If you are inclined toward the alcoholic, try adding a spoonful of orange liqueur to the batter as well/instead – something like Grand Marnier or Cointreau would work well.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F. Start with the pudding ingredients and sift together the flour, sugar and cocoa into a basin.

Sift the dry pudding ingredients.

Sift the dry pudding ingredients.

At this point, zest a largish orange and add to the dry ingredients.

Add orange zest.

Add orange zest.

Add the sultanas at this point too.

Melt the shortening (or butter, if you wish) and mix together with the milk. Add the egg to this liquid and mix lightly.  Pour this mixture over the sifted ingredients. This is when you would add liqueur if you wished. Beat until well combined.

Yes, it's blurry. We can blame the liqueurs if you like...

Yes, it’s blurry. We can blame the liqueurs if you like…

Dig out a nice deep ovenware dish and place your batter in the middle of it. The dish doesn’t need to be greased or prepared in any way. Don’t panic.

Also, save yourself some trouble and place the baking dish on a metal tray. This will make putting the pudding into, and then taking it out of, the oven infinitely easier. Really.

Put the batter in an ovenproof dish.

Put the batter in an oven-proof dish.

Moving to the sauce ingredients now: melt the butter. I use a glass jug in the microwave.

Mix the butter, the cocoa and hot water all together until smooth.

It will look kind of mesmerizingly amazing...

It will look kind of mesmerizingly amazing…

Pour this liquid over the batter in the baking dish. If it looks awful, it’s okay. Really. You haven’t ruined it, I promise.

It will look appalling. You're doing it right.

It will look appalling. Don’t worry, you’re doing it right.

Now bake it for 30-35 mins. Remember to use the metal baking tray as well.

I like to serve this after a slap up roast dinner. I get the washing up for the pudding out of the way while the roast is still cooking, and then put the pudding in to bake when I serve the meal. That way it cooks while we are eating and is ready when we have finished our mains.

Welcome to decadence. (Note the oven tray.)

Welcome to decadence. (Note the oven tray.)

Cut into small pieces and serve, spooning the sauce below the solid pudding into the bowls as well.

Grandmother Sayers's Chocolate Fudge Pudding.

Grandmother Sayers’s Chocolate Fudge Pudding.

A reminder that this is VERY RICH. You only want small servings. Garnish with a small scoop of plain vanilla ice cream or a spoonful of dolloping cream.

You’re welcome.

You've gotta try this. Now.

You’ve gotta try this. Now.

Chocolate Fudge Pudding

  • Servings: 4-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

Pudding:

125 g sugar

1 egg

1 cup self-raising flour

2 tbsps cocoa powder

zest of 1 orange

60 g shortening (or unsalted butter)

¼ cup milk

¼ cup sultanas

Sauce:

90 g unsalted butter

2 tbsps cocoa powder

1 cup hot water

Method

Heat oven to 180°C/350°F.

Starting with the pudding ingredients, sift together flour, sugar and cocoa and place in a mixing basin.

Add the orange zest and sultanas.

Melt the shortening/butter and add milk. Mix in the egg.

Pour onto the dry ingredients in the basin and mix well. (My Grandmother’s recipe says to beat by hand for 2 minutes, if that helps!)

Place in a clean, deep oven-ware dish that you have placed on a larger metal tray for ease of handling.

Using the sauce ingredients, melt the butter and then mix with the water and cocoa.

Pour over the pudding batter in the oven ware dish.

Bake for 30-35 mins.

Serve with plain vanilla ice cream.

Variations:

Soak the sultanas in 1 or 2 tablespoons of orange flavoured liqueur before adding to the pudding mixture.

 

 

 

 

Cheat’s Risotto – Basics

I've yet to figure out how to photograph cooking without getting a steam filter happening...

Risotto is a word that can send chills cascading down a beginner cook’s spine. The sheer expectation that their rice is to be done to perfection may dissuade them from even trying this dish.

Add to that the clear and certain knowledge that it requires boiling hot stock, added ladle by ladle, all while stirred ad infinitum and who’d actually bother?

I don’t. In fact I find it hard to believe that any self-respecting Italian peasant mother with many small children underfoot would be able to pull that particular feat off satisfactorily. Don’t be confused here – risotto was a peasant, or farmhouse dish, long before it was ever gourmet.

In my kitchen, risotto is a way to mix quite a few different vegetables (or bits of vegetables) and a little meat into a warm, creamy, comforting bowl of hot, moist rice.

These ingredients will make me a risotto.

These ingredients will make me a risotto.

I’m calling this cheat’s risotto, because it’s how I make a risotto-like dish. It works for me and I hope it works for you.

To make a risotto you need a short grain rice. The most common one available to shoppers in my neck of the world is Arborio rice. You can find it in most supermarkets.

You can do this with Pearled Barley too, but it will take about 45 minutes to cook.

You also need a largish saucepan and a good quality stock. In the picture above, you’ll see a mason jar in the centre. That there is my home-made chicken stock.

You don’t have to make your own. Use a stock cube if you wish, or bouillon, or a tetra pack – whatever works for you. Just make sure that whatever you use has a good flavour, because this is what your entire dish will taste of!

Bear in mind that, if you do make your own, it will contain far less salt than the processed alternatives.

You’ll need a good quality stirring implement – spatula, spurtle, wooden spoon, whatever – and, if you are anything like me, long sleeves to protect from any hot liquid stirred out of the pot…

I had a few bits and pieces I wanted to use up, so that’s what’s gone into this meal. An onion, a stick of celery, half a large red pepper and a chorizo were all pressed into service. I started by chopping them up as finely as my motor skills would allow – which wasn’t very.

Prep your vegies.

Prep your vegies.

While I was doing this, I poured the chicken stock into a microwaveable jug and heated it to boiling point.

Then I put my saucepan on the hob on lowish heat and prepared for action.

A splash of olive oil went into the pot and the onion was added and cooked until translucent, accompanied by a spoonful of garlic from a jar. Then I added the celery and, when that was soft, I added the diced sausage.

I've yet to figure out how to photograph cooking without getting a steam filter happening...

I’ve yet to figure out how to photograph actual cooking without getting a steam filter happening…

I decided to add the capsicum later for a bit of a texture contrast. The stock is brought to the cooking area now and the kettle is boiled just in case I want more liquid later.

Now is the time to add the rice. I very rarely measure it, but I guess I use about 1 cup for the two of us.

Add the rice all at once.

Add the rice all at once.

When the rice is added, it is very important to stir it vigorously. You are aiming to coat the rice with whatever oil and juices are already in the pan while also toasting the grains.

Stir for your life.

Stir for your life.

I added the capsicum here. I also set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes. Then I added a good amount of stock – probably about 3/4 of a cup. Basically you want enough to cover the base of the pan and to come at least half way up your ingredients. Stir as thoroughly as you can until the stock is almost completely absorbed.

Start adding your stock a bit at a time.

Start adding your stock a bit at a time.

The more you stir at this point the more the starches in your rice will be released, and the smoother and creamier your final result will be. Keep adding stock a little at a time until you’ve used about half of it.

Then you can safely just add the rest. Did you hear the sound of millions of chefs fainting just then? Seriously, just add the rest of the stock. It will look like you’ve drowned it. It’s okay. Really.

Don't panic.

Don’t panic.

Keep it simmering gently and stirring it to prevent sticking. If the rice emerges from the liquid before your kitchen timer goes off, then add some water from your previously boiled kettle. You need your rice to be cooked!

You *will* see your rice again.

You *will* see your rice again.

You want your rice to be al dente. Remember that it will continue to absorb water after you have taken it off the heat. So, while it is still on the hob, run your spatula along the middle of the bottom of the pot. You should see clear saucepan and then a sheen of liquid will appear. That is what you are after.

Serve your risotto.

Okay, rewind.

Serve this pot of yumminess.

Serve this pot of yumminess.

Traditionally, the dish is ‘velveted’ by adding cream at this point. I fear my hips would enjoy that too much, so I don’t do it. I sometimes add a tablespoon of basil pesto to change things up a little, but it isn’t necessary. You can also stir cheese through at this point, but this adds a degree of difficulty to the clean up of the saucepan.

A sprinkling of parmesan is really all that is needed.

A sprinkling of parmesan is really all that is needed.

I serve the rice, then add a sprinkling of shaved parmesan cheese and a grinding of black pepper and it is perfetto!

Perfick.

Perfick.

At some point in the future I’ll redo this post with pics of the food in white bowls and under better lighting, but until then you’ll have to trust that this is delicious.

 

Loaded hot potato chips (fries)

Loaded oven fries

This is one of those quick and easy treats where you make something spectacular out of something fairly ordinary.

We have these maybe once a weekend in the Budget Bounty household. It’s a perfect dish for lunch on a cold, grey winter’s day.

Basically they’re chips with added flavour.

I’m a big fan of crinkle cut chips, because they seem to end up crunchier and the surface traps all the bits of flavour you care to add. However, we’ve been buying larger steak house cut-style fries lately, and they seem to work well too.

Remember, the thicker the fry the better they are for you.

Remember also that chips are not a health food. Manage your portion sizes on this or you will regret it eventually!

Moving on.

Turn your oven to the temperature set out on the packet. It’s usually around 230ºC/446ºF. Make sure to preheat your pan as well. I have a black one with holes in the base that I bought from Aldi years ago – it’s brilliant.

While your oven and pan are heating (about 10 minutes) it’s time to jazz up your spuds.

Place your chips into a large bowl. You want something large enough to take your chips and enable you to stir through your flavourings as well. You can use your hands for this if you wish, but a spoon or a spatula will also do the job.

Place your frozen spuds into a large bowl

Place your frozen spuds into a large bowl

I like to add a sprinkle of hot paprika or, occasionally, dried chilli flakes. I find chilli powder can be too hot. However, feel free to try any spice you’d like! Taco seasoning may do the trick for you, or try BBQ rubs. After all, if it doesn’t work, it’s only a plate of chips.

Add a touch of heat with some chilli flakes or hot paprika.

Add a touch of heat with some chilli flakes or hot paprika.

Now, get yourself a spoonful of crushed garlic from a jar and mix it through as well as you can. You don’t want great lumps of garlic in your bowl later.

Add some garlic.

Add some garlic.

Place them in a single layer on your oven tray and cook for half the required time – usually 10 minutes.

Place them on the tray and pop them in the oven.

Place them on the tray and pop them in the oven.

Now, if you wish to be truly decadent, dice up a rasher of bacon (or two, if you are doing a lot of chips). You’ll want to be stirring this through when you take your chips out at the halfway point. Don’t do it for the whole cooking time, or you’ll end up with little specks of pure charcoal in your bowl…   You’ve been warned.

Take them out and give them a shake at the halfway point. Add the bacon if you wish. Return to the oven.

Mmmmm, bbaaaaaaacooooon!

Mmmmm, baaaay-con!

By this stage your kitchen is smelling amazing. Now, while you wait the second 10 minutes, line your bowls with a piece of paper towel.

Also, grate some cheese. I buy shredded cheese, but you may not.

When the timer goes off, remove your pan from the oven, sprinkle with some sea salt flakes if you have them – you won’t need a lot – and then scatter your cheese over the top. Divide amongst your prepared bowls.

Serve 'em up!

Serve ’em up!

I waited until my chips were in the bowl before adding the cheese, but it will melt faster and distribute more easily if you do it as soon as possible after getting them out of the oven.

Add some cheese.

Add some cheese.

Note: I said a little cheese!

I often see pictures of similar dishes where you can’t actually make out the chips under the blanket of cheese they’ve been smothered with.  Don’t do that. Cheese is a condiment just as the chilli and bacon are. Got it?

Bringing home the bacon...

Bringing home the bacon…

Serve with a dollop of tomato sauce/ketchup or – my preference – a spoonful of good quality egg mayonnaise for dipping.

Enjoy.