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Peach, Mozzarella & Fresh Mint Salad

April 17, 2015

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We’ve had quite the winter in Boston. It was cold, it was bitter and now that it’s finally over I can’t help but wear sandals and leave windows open despite the chilly April wind. I don’t care if it’s too cold – we survived a 5-month arctic night, the last two months of which were particularly bleak weather-wise – we deserve to celebrate any way we want.

This salad is kind of like sandals in April. A little too early, but everyone’s too distracted by the evening sunshine to notice.

This dish screams summer for so many reasons: it uses stone fruit and fresh herbs, and requires no cooking and only 5 minutes of prep. Plus it’s super light, refreshing, and delicious.

So while my toes may be cold, my mouth is happy. And when summer comes? I’ll be ready.

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PEACH, MOZZARELLA & FRESH MINT SALAD

Makes enough for a side salad for 4 or a light lunch for 2.

A few ripe peaches

1 ball fresh mozzarella (the kind in liquid)

leaves from a few sprigs of mint, torn

sale & freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Slice the peaches thinly. Slice the ball of mozzarella, too. Arrange the slices on a plate. Sprinkle with the torn mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with good olive oil. Enjoy!

Chicken Pot Pie

March 16, 2015

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This is one of those recipes that you have to have on hand. It’s delicious, it’s perfect (better?) as leftovers, it’s quick (especially if you use rotisserie chicken), it’s good for you and it’s comfort like you haven’t needed since the last April frost.

photo 1I used to think that meat pie was like pizza – even when it’s bad it’s good. But then I moved to Australia, the land where meat pies are breakfast (and lunch and…dinner) and are, more often than not, pretty disgusting. Sure there are the Bourke Street Bakeries and true mum-and-pop shops, but, on the whole, they are inedible, defrosted puddles of goop inside stale pastry served with ketchup on top. I know, way harsh Tai. But seriously.

 

Back in the U.S., straight into the sticky hot malaise of summer, comfort food was the last thing on my mind. Hell, food was the last thing on my mind as I struggled (struggle? am struggling?) to deal with all the enormous (super enormous? gigantic?) changes in our lives.

But now. It’s March. It’s cold. This winter in Boston has been one of the worst on record. I wrote the first part of this post in September, almost six months ago. So much has changed since September. For one, more changes, all of them good. This long, frigid winter was my big thaw. And I’m coming out the other side ready, finally, to cook again.

So while we wait for the mountains of snow to melt, here’s an old favorite to keep you warm until spring. We could all use it.

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Classic Chicken Pot Pie

Makes 8 individual or 1 large pot pie. It’s great to make ahead and freeze, unbaked, until you’re ready to defrost and bake.  You can also assemble and bake them a few days in advance, store them in the fridge, and reheat when ready. Enjoy.

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

8 mushrooms, chopped

4 tablespoons (50 grams) butter

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups milk

2 cups chicken stock

3 cups cooked chicken, shredded (see directions if using uncooked chicken)

3 tablespoons dry sherry (or white wine)

3/4 cups frozen peas

2 teaspoons fresh (or 1 tsp dried) thyme

Store-bought puff pastry (or homemade biscuit dough/shortcrust)

Preheat oven to 400F/200C.

If using uncooked chicken, boil pieces of chicken in the stock for 10 minutes, reserve meat and broth separately. Continue with recipe:

In a large pot, fry the carrots, onion and celery in a bit of oil for 5 minutes or until tender; season with salt and pepper. While veggies fry, shred the chicken with your fingers and set aside in a large bowl. When veggies are done, transfer them to the bowl with the chicken and set aside but don’t wash the bowl.

In the now empty pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute then whisk in the chicken broth, milk, thyme and any accumulated chicken juices. Simmer for a minute or two, until the sauce fully thickens; season with salt and pepper and add the sherry (or wine).

Mix the chicken and veggies into the pot with the sauce and add the peas. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins or any high-sided baking dish. Cover dish/es with pastry and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.

 

 

 

 

Lamb & Harissa Sausage Rolls

December 7, 2014
lamb & harissa sausage rolls

Mini lamb & harissa sausage rolls made from Bourke Street Bakery’s cookbook.

 

There are few things better than a perfect sausage roll. I know it’s a hard concept to grasp for those who’ve never had one. It might seem like nothing more than a glorified pig in a blanket. And it is. But, like most things, if given that extra love and attention, the humble sausage roll – favorite snack of millions of tradies and school kids alike – becomes the stuff of poetry.

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After snubbing my nose at Australian cuisine for far too long, I finally tried (an albeit super gourmet) sausage roll from Sydney’s legendary Bourke Street Bakery. I was – am – hooked.

Sausage rolls are whatever you want them to be: a light lunch, a filling snack, finger food, drunk food, on your way somewhere food, heading home from somewhere food.

As winter settles into New England, I’m missing my adopted country. I want the rock pools, the horns from the cruise ships coming into the harbor, the nighttime smell of jasmine, the laugh of the kookaburras, the hidden beaches, the taste of the flat whites.

 

I also really want some sausage rolls. Before I moved just a few blocks from Bourke Street Bakery’s Potts Point cafe, I’d walk two miles just for one of these lamb and harissa sausage rolls. Once you make them, you’ll understand why.

LAMB & HARISSA SAUSAGE ROLLS

Adapted from Merci Mama, adapted in turn from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook. (Which has a ridiculously good recipe for muffins, which are more like a cross between pudding and cake). The rolls pictured are mini, meaning they are about a third or a fourth the length of normal sausage rolls. Make them as long as you want! This recipe makes enough finger food for approx. 20 hungry people. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to eat these with ‘tomato sauce’ (plain, no-frills ketchup). If you think the recipe will make too much, you can freeze a portion once they are assembled before baking.

  • 1/2 cup (75g) blanched almonds or pine nuts
  • 2.5 pounds (1.2 kg) lamb mince
  • 1/4 cup (75g) couscous
  • 2/3 cup (110g) currants
  • pinch salt & some freshly ground pepper
  • 2 packets of puff pastry, defrosted
  • egg wash  (1 egg, splash of milk, pinch of salt)
  • poppy seeds for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.  Place the almonds in one layer on a baking sheet and toast for about 5 mins or until they take on a light golden color.  Cool and coarsely chop.

In a large bowl put in the lamb, harissa, almonds/pine nuts, cous cous, currants, salt, pepper and mix thoroughly with your hands for about 5 minutes.

If using rolled out pastry, cut each square of pastry in half so you have two long rectangles measuring 24cm x 12cm.

Take some of the lamb mixture and roll out into a sausage the length of the pastry and place in the center of the pastry.  Brush the long end with the egg wash and fold over the pastry to join the other side.  Roll it over so the join is on the bottom and cut the roll into two pieces for normal sized sausage rolls or into 4 mini ones.  Continue until you have used up all of the lamb mixture.  Brush the top of the sausage rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle on the poppy seeds.

Drop the oven to 190C/360F and baked for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Let sit for a few minutes before serving with ketchup and napkins (tomato sauce and serviettes for you Aussies).

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Summer Fruit Crumble

August 18, 2014

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It’s a summer of firsts for me. My first summer in the U.S. in a decade. My first summer not in Italy in a decade. My first summer working (at a not-summer-job job). My first summer not traveling. My first summer in many years not married, and my first summer without Stella.

 

Transitions are hard, people say. It takes time. photo 1(1)

 

I know. I’ve been told. If I was to believe what they say, I’d know I’ll be fine.

 

I thought I’d find comfort in those delicious unchangeables: afternoon thunderstorms, Boston accents, tree frogs, summer fruit, the muffled buzz of my parents’ radio a floor below. But those things don’t feel the same when I don’t feel myself.

 

I’m both unable to write about this eloquently and unsure if I want to.

This summertime sadness will pass, just like they say, and I’ll figure out who I am, was and will be. For now, I look for comfort in things that I know, and in the people who know me.

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Some of the things they tell me is that I like stone fruit, I like to bake, and I like to have dinners outside with lost count wine bottles, a mash up of accents and no sense of time.

So I’m trying. I pit cherries, I melt butter. I try to stay up even when all I want to do is sleep because there’s a chance, however heartbreakingly small, that when I wake up, it will all have been a dream.

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Summer Fruit Crumble

Despite the depressing words above, this is truly a delicious and easy summer dessert, adapted from this blog. Serves 8 – 10. Can be adapted to use up whatever fruit you’d like. I used about 6 plums, 1 peach, 1 cup cherries (pitted) and 1 cup blueberries. Serve warm with barely sweetened whipped cream or mascarpone. Can be refrigerated and reheated.

FRUIT

A mix of ripe stone fruit (e.g. plums, peaches, cherries) and berries (I used blueberries), in large chunks

1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

juice of 1/4 lemon (optional)

CRUMBLE

1 cup flour

2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

pinch salt

1 egg, beaten lightly

6 tablespoons (1/2 cup; 115 grams) butter, melted

 

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients under the “FRUIT” heading.

In another large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the beaten egg, and mix with a fork or your hands until it begins to get clumpy. You can add some ground cinnamon, allspice, clove and/or nutmeg, too.

Spread the fruit in a large casserole or pie dish and spread the flour mixture evenly on top. Now pour the melted butter over evenly and bake for around 40 – 45 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and bubbling.

You can make the crumble a few days ahead – just keep it in the fridge and reheat at 300F/150C to serve warm.

Serve warm with ice cream, mascarpone or creme fraiche.

 

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

August 3, 2014

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Since coming back to the US (my parents’ house, more specifically), I’ve let someone else do the cooking. It’s not that I’ve lost my kitchen mojo completely, it’s just that my parents have it in spades.

My dad was, traditionally, the cook in the family. But since the last of their three children left home, my mother has had more time and energy, and less picky eaters. She peruses Tastespotting, reads cookbooks and bakes (this or this or this) two or three times a week.

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Her favorite cookbook of late is Jerusalem, a collaboration between two Israelis, one Jewish and one Arab. The food reminds her of home, a pretty kibbutz in Israel’s Sharon Valley. It reminds her of Jerusalem, with its hole-in-the-wall shwarma restaurants, stalls selling towers of spice, its ancient peace.

When it comes to cooking, I’ve never been much of a cookbook person. I’ve always liked to go it alone, to try and experiment and learn as I go. But for some reason – for all the reasons – I don’t mind a little help right now. And Jerusalem is all I need. My mom’s been cooking from it for the weeks we’ve been back. And I’ve started to crave everything I’ve tried.

The food tastes familiar but new. Kind of like coming home after many years away.

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Baby Spinach Salad with Dates, Almonds, Pita and Sumac

Recipe from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I’ll reproduce it as in the book, but I recommend adding a bit more baby spinach, as the flavors are strong and could be stretched a bit more. It could be, on a simple dinner kind of night, a dinner on its own. My mother serves it with the turkey burgers from the same book – and the combination is perfect. Oh, and don’t skimp on the sumac — it makes the dish. Serves 4.

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

100 grams (3.5 ounces, around 8) Medjool dates, pitted and quartered

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 small (Israeli) pitas (or 1 large), torn into bite-sized pieces

1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons sumac

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

5 ounces (or more) baby spinach

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hand then leave to marinate for 20 minutes then drain away any residual vinegar and discard.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pita pieces and almonds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pita is golden brown and crunchy. Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle the pita and almonds with the sumac, red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp. salt. Set aside to cool.

When ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large bowl. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt.

Taste for seasoning. You may need a bit more olive oil, lemon juice or salt. Serve immediately.

 

Double Chocolate Layer Cake

February 13, 2014

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, it’s been a long year. A year in which time slowed down to a stand-still, but I still managed to be shocked by how quickly my baby became a toddler and how bright the sun is when the clouds clear.

I made this cake, an old favorite, for Stella’s second birthday back in (cough) September (when I started writing this post). It felt right to make something tried and true, something I could bring to (nut-free) daycare, something I knew she would devour (she asks for chocolate before breakfast). It’s been a year too lacking in celebration, comfort and carefree chocolate consumption. But things are turning around. It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, where chocolate is king and love the kingdom. Let’s let it reign.

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So here’s to being two, to the New Year, and to chocolate. Because no matter how sticky things get, we could all use a little chocolate cake to make things stickier.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE

This is the CLASSIC. If someone you care about loves chocolate, and there’s any reason to celebrate (birthday? graduation? redundancy?), there’s a reason to make this cake. Recipe will make 10 slices. Keeps on the counter/in the fridge for a few days at least. You can freeze the cake for a few months and then whip up fresh frosting when you’re ready to layer and serve.

CAKE

1 3/4 cup flour

1 3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + a few dashes of vinegar or lemon juice, left to sit and curdle 5 mins)

1/2 cup oil (such as canola or vegetable)

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup hot coffee

FROSTING (makes enough to frost the outside only…double to use in the middle, too)

4 ounces (115 grams) dark chocolate

3/4 cup (175 grams) butter, softened

1 egg yolk

2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream (optional)

2 cups icing sugar

2 tbsp strong coffee (optional….you can use more cream/milk/sour cream instead)

heavy cream, whipped (for filling)

photo 2Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sifting is important, because cocoa tends to lump.

In another bowl, mix the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Gently mix these ingredients into the flour mixture. Once combined, add the hot coffee and stir until just combined.

Divide batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 35 – 40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before removing from the pan.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: melt chocolate in a double boiler (or very slowly in a pot, being careful not to let it stick and burn); allow the chocolate to cool a bit. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with a handheld mixer for a few minutes until fluffy. Add egg yolk, and beat for another few minutes. Mix in the cream (if using) and icing sugar. Beat in the chocolate and coffee (or alternative liquid). Be careful not to overbeat.

The frosting makes enough to frost just the outside of the layer cake…I think it’s best filled with barely sweetened whipped cream.

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Plum Torte

February 6, 2014

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This cake converted a non-believer. Someone who, before tasting this cake, did not see the beauty in a kitchen counter top cake with a crumbly knife perched casually, innocently nearby.

I hadn’t planned to make this cake, but I couldn’t pass by the plums at the market. Nearly overripe stone fruit usually means I’m making this, a tried and true classic. But that day I wanted something simple and pure, something straightforward. No oil, I wanted butter. No spices. Something to sit on the counter next to a knife, something to warm a cool summer day, something to convert a non-believer.

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Now, I’m planning to make this cake the first chance I get. The next cool summer day, or the next time I see plums at the market. Or the next time someone can’t see the beauty of a cake on the counter with a knife perched innocently nearby.

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Plum Torte

Serves 6 – 8. Adapted from a recipe at Food 52. Serve with plain yogurt at breakfast or tea, or vanilla ice cream/unsweetened whipped cream for dessert. For more simple cakes with fruit, see here, here, here, here, here and here.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter
, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 to 12 Italian prune plums
, pitted and halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)

Heat the oven to 350F/180C. Generously butter a 8- or 9-inch spring form pan.

Mix the flour and baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
With handheld beaters or by hand with a fork or whisk, cream the sugar and butter until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the flour mixture and the eggs all at once, and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the plum halves, skin side up, on top of the batter in concentric circles. Really shove in as many as you can fit, as the batter will rise up over them.  Sprinkle the batter and fruit lightly with sugar (I used brown).
Bake the torte for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then release the spring and remove the sides. Wait at least 20 minutes before slicing; once cool enough to slice, serve as soon as possible. It’s ridiculous warm, but still amazingly good at room temperature.
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