Maqluba

Maqluba. Whaaaaat? I hear you say!

I have wanted to make maqluba ever since I first laid my eyes on it in Jerusalem.

Described as a “giant savoury cake”. I mean, who wouldn’t want to make or eat this!

(Although, also described as the sort of dish one’s mother/wife/better half would “whip up” when she needed to easily feed a hoard. Ummm. This was not a “whip up” sort of dish!!)

It involved a lot of preparation, a lot of steps, a lot of OIL and frying, and a lot of flavour.

And was made with a lot of love!

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Hello eggplant from our garden! (Hint- its the weird looking, seedy sort of pieces in the photo :))

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Eggplant and cauliflower were shallow fried until golden…

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Hello tomatoes from our garden! So pretty and dainty with their little green hats…

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These formed the bottom layer of my cake…

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Followed by layers of the fried eggplant and cauliflower…

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Followed by a layer of fried and poached chicken thighs, soaked basmati rice and covered in a homemade chicken stock mixed with the usual Middle Eastern spice suspects (namely turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, baharat mix, salt and pepper)

Hello something to cool and freshen up my mouth! Greek yoghurt, with cucumber, fresh mint (from the garden), lemon juice, white pepper and salt. You need this!

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The finished creation after turning it out! This was rather a nerve wracking event, done in silence with no-one watching…

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Topped with pine nuts and served with the yoghurt. What a feast for the eyes, mouth, and most definitely the stomach!

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Bon appétit! xx

I’m back…but in a slightly different way!

Hello dear readers!

I am back to blogging :) I had a month off, due to:

a) Not cooking much

b) Not photographing at all

c) In order to reevaluate what this blog means to me

And here I am, returned, at your service!

But this time, I have decided to change the way I blog… Its a long story, so settle in for the ride…

I just spent an amazing month in Sydney- working, playing and finding more meaning in my life. At the end of it I have made a few changes and am approaching life in a simpler, calmer fashion.

For a long time I have craved simplicity. Minimalism. Less. It is amazing how a month spent living out of a suitcase, in someone else’s home, without your usual creature comforts and foods, can teach you how little you need to live happily. I’m talking clothes, possessions, material things. And also food.

Here are the main foods I survived on for the past month:

- Oats (I went through a whole kilo bag!!!)

- Nut butter

- Milk (sometimes almond, sometimes organic whole unhomogenised)

- Greek yoghurt

- Nuts

- Coconut (water, shredded, oil)

- Tea

Yes, I did eat other foods- but the place I was working supplied lunch each day, and I was generally cooked for at night (I know, pretty lucky hey?). So there were also vegetables, grains and meat/fish/legumes/eggs. But I learnt that these are my comfort foods, my desert island foods, my less.

Here are the clothes I basically survived with:

- Underwear (obviously)

- Exercise wear

- Shorts and tee for home

- Work clothes

- One dress

- One pair of heels

- One pair of thongs

- One top and skirt

- One bikini

I realised that I didn’t feel deprived, get bored, or feel like I wasn’t fashionable because I wore the same outfit every time I went out. Again, less is often more.

When I had free time over the last month, instead of wasting it on the internet, I read. And read. And read. And I did yoga.

Which brings me to my next major breakthrough/discovery. I’ve always dabbled with yoga, and liked the “idea” of being a devout yogi with a daily practice, but I have never seemed to really give it a proper try. But then I stumbled across yogadownload.com. Free 20 minute classes streamed through my computer. The simple act of giving to yoga 20 minutes a day has had huge implications for the rest of my life. I can’t believe how much calmer, slower, more mindful my life has become from this simple change. And its free. Its free and it frees me. A lifelong love has been born!

In fact, the whole concept of mindfulness is what I really have discovered over the past month. As a typical Type A, anxiety-prone, worry-about-my-future-type person, the act of being mindful, present, and learning more about this state of being, has been mind-blowing. I have a long way to go, but I am certainly up for the challenge! In fact, I am considering going to do a retreat in Bali this year… Stay posted!

Which brings me back to this blog. As much as I have loved posting weekly, I have to admit that sometimes I felt it was a bit of a chore that I HAD to tick off each week. So I am taking a new approach. I am only going to post when I feel like it. And photograph when I feel like it and have time to dabble and play to my heart’s content. Isn’t that what the whole purpose of this blog originally was? To have an outlet for my passion for cooking, and to explore a new found hobby of photography? I am also going to start to use this platform to express my current state of mind, new discoveries, and general chit-chat about what my brain is fixed on at any particular time.

So… today I really felt like cooking. I have an absolute BOUNTY of summer produce just screaming out at me! Eggplants, zucchini, basil and beans thanks to Dad (king of veggie patches). And the most incredible crop of tomatoes thanks to me and my housemates!!!! 3kg off just three plants and plenty more to come. Ridiculous! So my diet is very full of lycopene, antioxidants and summer lovin’ at the moment.

Today I wanted to get my pesto on before Dad’s basil lost too much flavour. I used the last of my frozen pesto last night over pasta, so I decided to make a new batch.

Here goes!

Oh, and I wanted to introduced you all to my new bestie- “Joby”! A christmas gift from my Dad that has already shined in the kitchen. LOVE this little man.

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Basil. Pine nuts. Pecorino. Salt.

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I’m working this simplicity thing.

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I made my pesto in a mortar and pestle. Again, the simple life.

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Melded together with olive oil, my simple, chunky basil pesto.

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Christmas recap

I decided to have a little break from my blogging life! I guess it felt like the holiday season, everyone was on holidays and enjoying life (not that my blog isn’t enjoyable!) and so I thought it was a good time to have a spell…

My post today is a recap of the food I had a part in making over Christmas!

I can’t claim all of it, but its a snapshot of my eats for the two days (Christmas eve and day). Except the ham. Gross.

Our Christmas Eve dinner was simple. Sometimes I crave simplicity- and this was just perfect before a big eating day the following day. A whole hot smoked trout, fresh grainy bread,  and a simple dill and lemon spiked creme fraiche. Delicious.

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Unpictured, but very much loved, was my christmas mince pies which we cracked into after this meal. BEST MINCE PIES I HAVE EVER HAD! I owe it all to Stephanie Alexander’s recipe- both for the shortcrust pastry and the mince meat. Find it here http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/christmas-feasts/recipe/stephanie-alexanders-mince-pies-20131209-2z0i0.html?rand=1386550464723. Never again will I stray from her shortcrust recipe! Here is the link- honestly, it is SO amazingly buttery, flaky and perfect. The soft and slightly difficult to work with-ness is absolutely worth the result!

Christmas breakfast trifle has been a tradition in our house for probably about 5 years. Always mango, raspberries (out of the garden- what a treat!), a deluxe yoghurt (this time from Tilba Tilba), and granola. I made Sarah Wilson’s pumpkin spice granola http://www.iquitsugar.com/recipe/pumpkin-ginger-spice-granola/ for the occasion. DELICIOUS!

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I have to say I am pretty proud of my cake efforts- first time ever making a fruit cake and I thought it turned out pretty well! I used a recipe from my Granmother’s scrapbook, which is rather special… Real marzipan and royal icing too. Maybe the cake did dry out a little after a week, but apart from that it was magnificent! Sugar high alert…

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Christmas dinner was a traditional meal, with a salad twist. Heroes were the stuffing (Maggie Beer’s prune and orange stuffing http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/australia-food-blog/2013/dec/24/maggie-beers-turkey-prune-orange-stuffing-recipe), the crust on the ham (macadamia and orange), the ever popular cranberry wild rice salad, and the Ottolenghi green bean and pea salad.

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And again… those incredible mince pies, this time accompanied by Dad’s famous brandy butter.

All in all, a lovely day, lovely company and lovely eats!

Bon appétit! xx

PS- Sorry about the iPhone piccies!

Polpo

I haven’t introduced you to Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) yet, dear readers! Polpo is a special book I was given by a best friend. Did you know it means octopus in Italian? The book is a celebration of Venetian cooking. The cover of this book is so lovely- it appears weathered, without being weathered, has an exposed spine (means it sits flat when open) and a beautiful embossed image of an octopus on the cover.

For some reason I haven’t cooked a lot from this book, despite everything being LOVELY. I think 2014 should include more Polpo!

Our cooking challenge this week was a two course Venetian meal from Polpo.

Vegetarian was the order of the evening- not even my choice either!

Entree was a simple, but dashing eggplant dish. Who doesn’t LOVE eggplant? Actually, I know lots of people, but they don’t understand how amazing it can taste when grilled and well salted. Seriously good.

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These grilled eggplant slices were then smeared with a tomato based sauce (I had it on hand from another recipe), scatterings of grated mozzarella (“the hard, cheap kind”) and pecorino, with three little basil leaves FROM OUR GARDEN!

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Lightly grilled so the cheese melts, then quickly rolled and plated. And eaten. YUM.

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The main was a dish I have made before- a beautiful gnocchi, with the simplest, but tastiest of sauces made with cavalo nero/Tuscan black kale, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sometimes the simplest of combinations creates the best of dishes. (Remember this Louise?!)

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Our gnocchi had a few issues- note to self, don’t replace chicken eggs with duck eggs in a dough! TOO wet! So we had to double the flour, which meant the finished gnocchi were quite doughy tasting, and didn’t quite have that lightness that a more potato heavy gnocchi does. Still completely delicious and full of stodgy goodness!

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A light shaving of pecorino rounded out the dish.

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Oh PS- do you LOVE our new white plates? Makes for some great photography backgrounds!

Buon appetito! xx

Roasted summer ratatouille

Donna Hay is the star this week… I tend to rotate between her, Jamie, Ottolenghi and the various blogs I follow.

If you have ever wondered how I choose my recipes, I generally start with a single ingredient- either what is coming out of the garden, what is in season in the store, or what I already have on hand. I find that if I don’t start somewhere I feel completely overwhelmed by the vast choice of recipes out there!

I then put the ingredient into the search box on Eat Your Books. Have I told you about this wonderful site before? It is basically an online index for the cookbooks YOU have on YOUR shelf at home. As much as I love flicking through books at my leisure, I feel like this tool allows me to quickly narrow down to a few recipes in a few books, and it also feels like I am getting the most out of my books and not just sticking to the recipes I already have made or remember!

Once I have narrowed down to a few recipes, I go through each one and decide which will suit. Time, amount of ingredients (remember I am on a tight student budget!), whether I think my eaters will be happy. :)

And the final recipe is selected, the list is made and the trip to the shops is next! I actually really enjoy the whole process- weird? Good weird actually, or “gweird”- my new favourite word!

So today’s recipe has been made before, but it was memorable and I wanted to highlight the new veggies that are coming into stores these days- summer!!!

Roasted summer ratatouille, from Fast, Fresh, Simple, by Donna Hay

Capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant... roasted to perfection

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Toasted sourdough, roasted chicken and baby bocconcini...

Finished with a lovely acidic basil dressing- simply basil, white wine vinegar and olive oil. 

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Salt and pepper of course!

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It was a hit again, and served with the roasted chicken breast it made for a well balanced, healthy, easy and tasty weeknight meal!

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Bon appétit! xx

Barley risotto with marinated feta

I love carbs. It never ceases to amaze me how people can “cut carbs” to lose weight. I would prefer to cut everything else BUT carbs! Actually, I would prefer not to cut anything at all, but to exercise more and eat lots of delicious, homemade, veggie filled meals. But don’t let me get started on THAT topic!

Today, we are celebrating carbs. Grains, to be exact. I think I have tried almost every grain in the last 1-2 years. Brown rice, wild rice, white rice (in all its guises), millet, quinoa (all three shades), spelt berries, buckwheat, bulghur wheat, and BARLEY!

Inspired by my love of grains, my LOVE of Ottolenghi, and my love of feta… this recipe was made for me!

Let us begin with a classic flavour base of garlic, shallots and celery, sautéed nicely in butter and olive oil.

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The next layer of flavour shouts of fresh thyme, bay leaf, lemon peel, chilli, paprika (hero) and tomato.

Next comes our hallowed grain- pearl barley, with stock and passata for liquid.

Simmered away until just tender and the consistency of a risotto!

What I TRULY loved about this dish was the topping. As we all know I am a feta fiend, but have I ever introduced you to my favourite spice? Caraway seeds! The feta was marinated with toasted caraway seeds and BOOM! Flavour bomb!

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(Actually, caraway seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, sumac and paprika are my favourite spices. Oh and cracked pepper. And cumin. Maybe if I was on a deserted island it would have to be Zanzibar?)

The risotto was served with the feta mix sprinkled over, topped with fresh oregano (thanks Mum!).

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I decided at the last minute it needed a little something something to complete the dish.

Hello spiced flat breads! 

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Pita breads, sprinkled with olive oil, sea salt flakes, sumac and sesame seeds. Crisped for 8 minutes in a moderate oven.

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Now its perfect!

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Bon appétit! xx

Unstuffed cabbage

I really enjoy reading other food blogs- for inspiration, photography envy/tips and, well, just because I love food! And it is nice to know I am not a crazy, food obsessed person alone in this world…

As much as I adore my cookbooks (37 and counting- at least 6 more on my wishlist!), I also like exploring recipes posted by my fellow bloggers. They are often modern, exciting, healthy, use interesting ingredients and fairly quick and easy.

I stole borrowed this recipe from one of my fave blogs that I follow- Eats Well With Others! This lady knows where its at! Her and I have nearly identical foodie faves- including a strong Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern influence. And she is a vego so I tend to warm to her recipes :)Image

She posts almost 4-5 times every week, AND is completing a medical degree, AND is running marathons, AND planning her wedding! Time management= inspiring!

I have made a few of Joanne’s recipes- they are usually borrowed from somewhere else, and altered slightly. So far I have not been disappointed!

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Today’s recipe is worth blogging about- it tasted delicious, was filling and VERY healthy too. Tick, tick, tick! Even my meat loving housie murmured noises of satisfaction… Here is the link http://joanne-eatswellwithothers.com/2011/08/recipe-unstuffed-cabbage-with-chickpeas-zucchini-swiss-chard-and-bulgur.htmlImage

In my books, ANYTHING topped with feta tastes delicious- especially a big bowl of veggies, chickpeas and grains!

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The dish was basically a huge bowl of sautéed cabbage, silver beet and zucchini, on top of burghul, combined with chickpeas, banging flavours like pomegranate molasses (adore), and cinnamon (yes to Middle Eastern spices!). Topped with the all important cheese of gods- feta!

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You should try it too… (I’m talking to you Louise…:)

Bon appétit! xx

Pizza!

I hadn’t made a pizza yet (for my house), so I thought it was about time I did! Although I have to say… I really didn’t do much… Amaretti did it all! The stand mixer was SO good at kneading the dough- it really was the most simple of dishes!

Yeast, bread flour, salt, olive oil.

Knead. Rest. Roll. Rest. Top. Cook. Eat!

Ottolenghi leant his recipe- from Plenty (my fave).

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Middle Eastern-afied with the addition of sumac and za’atar.

And with the glut of spinach we have in the garden- LOTS of spinach!

An egg and pecorino rounded out the meal nicely.

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Served with a simple green salad with new season asparagus and a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette dressing.

The dough was delicious- soft, crispy on the outside and fresh. SO worth making from scratch!

I thought the pizza was quite salty personally- I think it was the pecorino!

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The others loved it- success!

The only slight fail was the ability to cook the egg on top so the white was just set, and the yolk still runny. A tricky one!

A tasty dish with lots of potential to become a weekday standby.

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Bon appétit! xx

Kibbeh and tabbouleh

The first of many “new” cooking nights of fun! My foodie housemate and I have decided to enter the next season of Australian My Kitchen Rules (MKR). We have lots of time left to practise, but thought it best to get the ball rolling and set aside a night per week to cook a new recipe together!

The rules are:

1. He who chooses thy book does not choose thy recipe.

2. One is not allowed to use the same recipe twice

3. One is encouraged to use a different book each week

4. One is encouraged to challenge oneself!

So the weekend just passed- I chose the book (can you guess what I chose??) and Brenden chose the recipe. Jerusalem, by Ottolenghi & Tamimi was the book, and the recipe was the open kibbeh, served with tabbouleh.

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It was a great success, except for the fact that Brenden has now a true aversion to a) knives, b) parsley, c) tabbouleh and d) probably me!

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I asked him to make the tabbouleh because he is great with knives… Little did I know chopping three bunches of parsley takes a LONG time!

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Sorry Bren!

The result was well worth it.

The kibbeh “pie” was also delicious, but we all thought it could have done with more sauce. 

And this is my sad attempt at lining my baking tin (Sarah- you would be dismayed I know)!

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Basically it was a lamb kibbeh with lots of beautiful spices, mixed with pine nuts, onion, garlic and the herbs (coriander and parsley). Spread over a layer of cooked burghul wheat, and topped with tahini sauce (tahini, lemon juice and water). 

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More pine nuts and parsley to sprinkle over!

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A light meal, but a tasty one.

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I wonder what next week will bring!

Bring it on!

Bon appétit xx

Celebrating strawberries

Tis the season for berries in Australia. I think I am eating my share! I have eaten strawberries and blueberries for breakfast for the past 2-3 weeks… everyday. Vitamin C= tick! Antioxidants= tick! Deliciousness= TICK!

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My Mum’s birthday gave me an excuse to bake again… two weeks running!

Instead of going to the shops and buying ingredients, I used what I had on hand. Inspiration thanks to Joy the Baker! See her recipe here: http://joythebaker.com/2008/03/strawberry-ricotta-cupcakes/

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Here are my version of strawberry and ricotta cakes- shaped into pretty little discs (not really sure what shape these were meant to be, but they looked great and were the perfect size for a sweet bite after dinner!)

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Instead of icing as suggested, I served these with a pretty, floral cream. I whipped pure cream to medium peaks, then folded through icing sugar, vanilla and rosewater (one of my all time fave ingredients). Served with more fresh strawberries, the flavour combinations were simply heavenly- like eating Spring!

Spring Cream

250 ml pure cream (single cream)

2 tbsp icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp rosewater

I didn’t get piccies of the cream sadly… You will just have to use your imaginations!

The consistency of the cakes was somewhere between a scone and a cupcake. Yum.

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Bon appétit! xx