Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Broccoli and Béchamel Rustic Pie

You'd have thought by now that I'd given up cooking and eating all together by now...
That couldn't be further from the truth!
Fact is, my time and attention has been completely absorbed by... cupcakes!
Yes, itty bitty, beautiful, yummy-in-tummy cupcakes!

Who would have ever thought that I'd become addicted to baking!?! (More about my sugar addiction later!)
To make up for my absence I've got a great post for you... Super easy and super yummy! Oh and did I mention fast? Yep... You can get this beauty on the table in just over half an hour, prep-time included!

The great thing about this recipe is the béchamel. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is a milk-based sauce, which originated in France in the 1600s. Its creamy, rich texture is different from what is known in the US as Alfredo sauce, or from any other cream sauce because it uses butter and flour, which gives it that custard-like density.

First off, here's what you'll need.

Ingredients:
- 1 ready-rolled puff pastry
- 1-2 heads of broccoli, depending on size
- 1/2 liter of béchamel sauce (you should be able to find it ready-made, or you could try making your own, it's actually not that hard!)
- diced cheese (any kind will do)
- salt

First thing's first, heat your oven to 180' C / 350 F.
Chop and rinse your broccoli. You'll want it in bite-size pieces, so that it won't stick out too much from your dish.
Now, take your ready-rolled pastry and place it in your pie dish. I used a cake tin because I preferred to use something with a bit more depth to it, but what ever you have will do, so long as your pastry fits well enough to spare some pastry to roll over and create a nice crusty border.

Pour some (just under half) of the béchamel on the bottom, spreading evenly with a spatula or with the back of a spoon. You'll want a nice layer that covers the bottom of the pastry evenly, without creating too much of a "pool".
Salt this base slightly, then add the broccoli pieces.

Try to even the pieces out bet you can, without going crazy about it. The purpose is pretty much only aesthetic, rather than functional! I think the pie looks better when it's even... and no "bits" are sticking out.

Now add the diced cheese (shredded works fine as well), spreading evenly. Be sure some pieces fall into the gaps between the broccoli, so that you get a nice amount of cheese in between, you'll thank me for it once you get your teeth on that slice! ;-)
Season again with salt and them add the remaining sauce, again spreading on top evenly, trying to cover the broccoli best you can, with the spatula.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until your pasrty is nice and golden-brown and voilà... you're done.
Easy as pie!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Curry flavoured chicken and vegetable Cous Cous



Forgive the photos if you will... I was so eager to eat this dish, I forgot to take a photo of my own!
This you just have to try! You will love this dish!

I've been meaning to try my very onw cous cous recipe for some time now and wa never rally sure exactly what to put in.
I read a few recipes online and asked around. Apparently it's easier than you think. Basically, anything goes. Yep. You can out just about anything in there!

Personally, I've been craving that slight curry flavour, without overloading on the tastebds and killing everything else. So I whipped this up last night.
Believe me... you're gonna love it!

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 4-6 skinned, boneless chicken breast filets (depending on appetite)
  • 5-6 sliced of grilled eggplant (slicked about 1cm/half and inch thick)
  • 2-3 grilled zucchine, cut in half length-wise
  • garlic to taste (or, alternatively, some onion)
  • curry powder to taste
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 300 gr medium grained pre-cooked dried cous cous. (It's the kind you find in a box, that says ready in 5 minutes!)

Directions:

Start off by oven roasting, BBQ grilling or broiling your vegetables. Be sure not to dry them out to much, but brown them enough to give them that distinct flavour and texture.

(I used grilled vegetables as they were leftovers... you can of course start with fresh diced vegetables, and sautée them with olive oil and a bit of garlic, but this will of course take longer...).

Cut your chicken into thins trips and then dice them all up.

In a large sautée pan, put olive oil (to almost cover the bottom) and 1-2 clovesd of garlic, and brown until golden.

Gradually add the grilled vegetables, cutting into small bite-size pices while the oil is sautéing the garlic. Add salt and some curry powder. (mine is in the jar with holes in the top, so I pour it gradually... but I'd say add about 2 tsps, depending on how strong your powder is and how strong you like your dish).

Cook until nicely flavoured and browned, for about 10 mins. Now add your chicken, seasoned with some salt. If it all seems too dry add some water. Alternatively, you can add some concentrated tomatoe paste (1-2 tsps), dissolved in some hot water. I went with plain water.

Stir nicely, mixing everything in and add more curry, about another 2-3 tsps (and salt, if necessary). Once it's ready, set aside.

Now for the cous cous. I just followed the directions on the box, which are really simple and fast.
Basically put the cous cous in a pot and add warm water or a bit of soup broth. I just added some powdered stock and warm water. Cover just above the cous cous. Stir a second and then let sit for about 5 minutes (all this OFF the stove).

When you've returned to your pot, you'll find the cous cous has absorbed all your water.
Add some olive oil, and a few drops of water and put on the stove on a very gentle low flame for 2-3 mins. Stir frequently, making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom.
If it seems too sticky, add a little bit more olive oil.

Serve hot, with your vegetables and cicken on top. Voilà!
YUM!


Monday, 10 January 2011

Too many recipes, not enough time to blog about them!


And you thought I had disappeared!
What will all the holidays, I have been so busy.. I have hardly had time to breathe! BUT... I have been cooking!!

So with further a do, let me bring you a classic recipe that I have far and wide for.
This is a basic version, but have had several friends suggest variations I soon plan to try out.

Here's mine:

Banana Nut Bread Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

Instructions

No need for a mixer for this recipe! Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Ad the chopped walnuts. Add the flour last, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Ta-daaaaa!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Time for a Roast!

Well, you've had a sweet recipe, time for some savoury!
This is one of my favourite recipes.
If you're a meat lover like I am and you like a glass of good red wine, then this recipe is right up your alley!

First off, the meat selection. The outcome of your roast will pretty much depend on the choice of meat and for that I mean the cut. I'd say 70-80% of the results depend on the cut, in my opinion.
For a good, tender, tasty roast I'd go with Rib eye or better yet Prime Rib. Yes, it might cost a bit more, but it's SO worth the extra cost!
You can also choose Sirloin, though it tends to be a bit tough once cooked, leaving you with that "I can chew this for hours" effect.
As a rule of thumb, any cut that has some fat in it is what you want to use. This provides the flavour and keeps the meat tender.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see here. Also, if you ask your local butcher or even the staff in the meat section of your local grocery store/supermarket, they will surely know what to give you. Same goes for amount/weight.

Next, the secret ingredient! No, not the wine.... but mustard! Yes, you heard me, mustard.
Please try to avoid the "squeeze out of the bottle" kind. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but if it comes in a jar, rather than the Hellman's mustard bottle or the like, it's more likely going to have a better consitency (musn't be too runny) and flavour.

You'll also need 1 glass of dry red wine. No sweet Zinfendale stuff please... I beg you!
If you can't get Italian or French wine, then at least be sure it's dry, with a robust structure. Again, the difference is definitely noticeable. Anything such as a Cabernet, Merlot, or a Bordeaux will do great. (I'm not too familiar with what's available in the US at a fair price, but I'm sure you'll do fine.. just read the label!). And btw... NEVER chill your red wine please!
That's just a crime! LOL

You will also need Olive oil - extra virgin. Honestly, I dunno how people can live without it LOL.
You don't need much... and now all chain stores and grocery stores carry it, you're bound to find a fairly cheap brand, even if it's imported. Many supermarkets will put their label on perfectly good imported olive oil, which cuts the cost.. just check the label to see its origin. European is best.. Italy of course, Greece, France, Spain... They sell small bottles too.
You'll need about 3-4 tablespoons, depending on the size of your roast and therefore of your pot.

So to recap, you'll need: (God I feel like I'm on one of those TV cookery shows... I can literally hear myself speaking to the audience as I type this! LOL)

*1 piece of Prime rib roast cut (or equivalent)
*1 small jar of mustard
*olive oil (3 swirls - what that means is, that you swirl the bottle of olive oil, as you slowly pour it in your pot, circling three times... it basically needs to cover the bottom of the pot by 3/4, so not entirely)
*2-3 tsp of margarine (butter will do fine also, salted or not)
*salt

Now for the directions:
Take your meat cut and leave it in the string or netting, if it has any. Gently cover the piece with mustard, making sure to spread a thin, even layer all over. It can be a bit messy, but fun!
It doesn't have to be perfect, so long as the mustard is everywhere, on all sides.
Don't worry about the meat juices watering down the mustard, it's normal.

Add the olive oil to your pot, almost covering the bottom and turn on the flame/heat. You want a nice medium-high flame, in order to get the oil nice and hot. The pot I use is stainless steel, with a thick 1/2 inch (1 1/2 cm) bottom. This helps to evenly distribute the heat and avoids your food from burning. Try to use this kind of pot, if possible.
Now add the margarine or butter to the oil and once it's melted and starting to gently sizzle, add the meat. You'll hear the meat sizzle fairly loud, don't worry, it's normal... and DON'T lower the flame/heat.

photo 1.JPG


Be sure to brown all sides, in order to properly sear the meat and keep all its moisture. DO NOT add salt until your meat has browned and is seared entirely, otherwise this will cause the meat to start "juicing", expelling its natural juices, toughening the meat, creating a "boiled" effect.

Once salted, add the glass of red wine and then lower the flame/heat some, to a medium-low setting. Not too low or the wine won't evaporate and the juices will start to flow again.
If you feel it's drying too quickly, you can cover the pot (though not entirely) for 10 minutes or longer, depending on the consistency of the juices.
Be sure to turn the roast on all sides from time to time, to cook evenly.

Once the wine and juices have nicely become Au Jus (a light, thin gravy) (about 20 mins or so, depending on size of roast), then it is done. Bare in mind the consitency of the Au jus is not like the typical think American or British gravy.. it is hardly even a sauce. It is more of a dark, slightly concentrated broth almost. You are likely to see dark bits in it, that's normal. It's the mustard that has thickened, together with the natural juices from the meat.

photo 2.JPG



Once cooked, let it cool a bit and then simply cut the string (if any) and then thinly slice the roast, and lay it on a platter or a plate topped with the Au jus, or you can serve it on the side (though I highly recommend it on top!)
The great thing about this recipe is, it can be served hot or cold (but the Au jus must always be served hot).
The ideal cook time will allow for nice pink slices, with a slightly darker (more cooked edge). This of course, changes according to taste. If you prefer your meat medium-medium well, simply cook longer (and vice versa).

I really hope you try this recipe out and let me know the outcome and what you think!
Also, feel free to comment or contact me for any questions!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Time to get bakin'!

Alrighty!!
Let's get to it... enough of this chi-chat idle business!

A while ago I found this really interesting recipe. Bare with me now, as there is one particular ingredient that is a bit.. umm.. unconventional in a cake, let's just say!

It's a Rosemary Olive Oil Cake, with chocolate chips.... and as odd as those ingredients sound, it actually went down pretty well with the guinee pigs.. erm I mean the "family". Everyone really liked it!
It's not too sweet and I must admit, the chocolate brought together everything really well, and really complimented the other flavours.
If you're wanting to try something different, go ahead... get bakin'!


Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

Dry ingredients:
3/4 cup / 3 oz / 80g spelt flour (I only used the normal type, adding this amount to the amount below)
1 1/2 cups / 7.5 oz / 210 g all-purpose flour
3/4 cup / 4 oz / 115g sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup / 240 ml olive oil
3/4 cup / 180 ml whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped (I used the dried kind, from my spice rack)
5 ounces / 140 g bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (I used regular dark chocolate chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons sugar for top crunch

Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Rub a 9 1/2-inch (24 cm) fluted tart pan (aka pie dish) with olive oil. Alternately, I used a loaf pan.
You can line it with parchment paper. I just used some olive oil.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, (the recipes says to pour any bits of grain or other ingredients left in the sifter back into the bowl). Set this first mix aside.

In another large bowl, whisk the eggs thoroughly. Add the olive oil, milk and rosemary and whisk again. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry, gently mixing just until combined. Stir in 2/3 of the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly and smoothing the top. Sprinkle with the remaining chocolate and run a fork along the length of the chocolate so that the batter envelops it just a bit. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is domed, golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
My cake, in the alternate pan, took closer to 55 minutes.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Welcome!

I figured there's not much point in cooking great meals and baking yummy goods if you can't share the efforts of your hard work with anyone.. and this doesn't just mean with the friends and family that are (un)fortunate enough to taste the product of cooking skill!
This of course means you readers out there who maybe, like me are passionate about what you eat and enjoy dabbling in the kitchen, while others of you might be seeking new fun things to try out or simply have no clue what you're doing and just use your kitchen cabinets for storage space!

What ever the reason, I'm pretty sure that there's nothing more exciting about trying a dish cooked with your own hands.
I won't promise nouvelle cuisine or high end catering products.
I'm pretty much bringing to this blog, what I bring to my table... plain simple recipes that any working gilr like me can easily reproduce, in a time-effective manner.
Being Italian, you're going to find lots of typical Italian dishes, cooked the real Italian way, with authentic Italian ingredients and Italian know-hows, tips and tricks. I do, however, like to dabble a bit in American and British baking, though this area is still new to me and has been mastered by so many others out there, that my efforts pale in comparison! Desserts are so varied, depending to where they come from. It's interesting to compare cooking techniques and ingredients.

I won't tell you that my recipes are fool proof, nor that they're all mine.
Many come from my mother's kitchen, many come from cookbooks or the internet, while others come from friends, but every time you take a recipe and make it, in some way it becomes your own. Adding something extra here, or replacing some ingredient there makes a recipe become yours in some way, and sharing that with someone is like spreading love around. There's nothing better than a loving relationship and having a loving relationship with food is what this blog is all about!

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