Sunday, 30 September 2012

empty fridge challenge #1

cooking to a recipe, for the most part, is probably not overly challenging for most. particularly not in the gastronomically-saturated times of which we live. thanks to neil and nigella, jamie, george as well as a whole host of amateur cooks whose faces are now probably more familiar to us than that of not-so-distant relatives, what was once the domain of the expert and/or stupidly brazen is now as common as a cupcake.

it's all pretty simple really; pick a recipe from your favourite celeb chef's latest hardcover coffee-table book, spend a small fortune at the local markets and gourmet providore on ingredients, and after a few hours in the kitchen of blood, sweat and swearing, you (maybe) have something that roughly resembles the picture in the book.

but what about when your motivation is MIA and your creativity has crawled into bed. or, you're just too lazy/broke/hungover to make the trip out to the shop and want to knock something semi-appetising up with what you have at home?

enter, the empty fridge challenge: tried and tested recipes that not only cobble together what pittance of food remains in pantry and larder, but that also taste surprisingly good.

i blogged about tarts before, so staying in theme and on topic, here's EFC's first conquest: the severely made-under, inexpensive and unsophisticated version of tart. i had all ingredients on hand and it took about 20 minutes to prep.

things you will need:

1 and a bit sheets of shortcrust pastry
3 eggs
3/4 of a cup of milk
dijon mustard (or any mustard you happen to have on hand)
tasty and parmesan cheese
1 onion
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
unremarkable ingredients
guaranteed to be on hand for all

what you will need to do:

preheat oven to 180C and line a 28cm quiche or flan tin (with a removable base) with the pastry. ensure it is pressed into the crimped edges of the tin and that there are no holes. i find it usually takes just over one sheet of pastry to do this. place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry and fill the tin with pie weights (or uncooked rice in the absence of pie weights). bake for 10 to 15 minutes and remove from oven.
blind baking: nothing to do
with wearing a bag over
your head.
whilst the pie shell is blind baking, very finely slice the onion. in a small pot or pan, melt 2 large knobs of butter and start to sautee the onion. put the lid on the pot and turn the heat right down, allowing the onions to sweat and turn soft. keep the onions moving so they don't burn. remove from heat once the onions are soft and shiny and stir through 2 teaspoons of mustard.

arrange the cooked onion mixture around the base of the pastry shell evenly. cut a few slices of tasty cheese into smaller squares and arrange on top of the onions. in a small bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together, then season with salt and pepper. pour over the onion mixture and cheese pieces to cover. if you have it on hand, sprinkle some parmesan over the top, and give it one last spritz of freshly ground pepper. bake in the oven for a further 30 minutes or until golden brown and completely set (a skewer should come out clean).

note: this recipe uses milk instead of cream. the tart will be somewhat lighter in texture, but just as delicious.

the verdict: fabulous!

slow-roasted pork neck with maple pears and turnips

you'd have to have spent all your life under a rock if you didn't know roast pork and applesauce were a tasty combination, but what about roast pork and.....PEARS!? you'll be nicely surprised to learn that there exists another sweetly-tasting alternative to the slightly cliched roasted pig and applesauce offering. delicately piquant and lusciously sweet, this slow-roasted treat is definitely worth the wait.

things you will need:

800g to 1kg piece of pork neck or shoulder
2 teaspoons of wholegrain mustard
8 slices of prosciutto
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups of chicken stock
1 bulb of garlic, not peeled, but sliced in half
2 medium red onions, sliced into wedges
3 pears, halved
2 tablespoons of shredded sage leaves
quarter of a cup of maple syrup (the real stuff please!)
a few extra fresh sage leaves to serve
3 or 4 large turnips
olive oil

what you will need to do:

preheat oven to 180C. using a knife, spread the mustard over the pork, then lay out the prosciutto and wrap the pork. place the pork in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with pepper (no salt as the prosciutto will be salty enough). place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.

remove from the oven and add the halved pear pieces, onion wedges, garlic (break the halved bulb into individual garlic pieces) and pour over the chicken stock. sprinkle the shredded sage over and season with salt and pepper to taste. add the maple syrup and then cover with foil. return to oven and bake for a further two and a half hours. pork will be tender and juicy when cooked.

when the pork has about 40 minutes cooking time remaining, put the turnips into the oven. to prepare, peel and chop the turnips into a large pieces, then season in a large bowl with salt, pepper and olive oil. roast in a separate pan.

to serve, slice the pork and serve with the other veggies and turnips, and spoon over the pan juices generously then sprinkle with some more fresh sage.

i heart tarts.

well spring has finally sprung (sort of anyway) and it's time to dust off the picnic basket and engage in a bit of splendour in the grass. forget stodgy potato salads and greasy pieces of fried chicken, make your outdoor frolic truly memorable (and delicious!) and bring along a few tarts.


things you will need:

2 leeks
150g of gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons of butter
sea salt and freshly ground salt pepper
3 large eggs
half a cup of cooking cream
1 and a bit sheets of shortcrust pastry (make your own if so inclined but i used the ready-made stuff)
2 tablespoons of dijon mustard

what you will need to do:

preheat oven to 180C and line a 28cm quiche or flan tin (with a removable base) with the pastry. ensure it is pressed into the crimped edges of the tin and that there are no holes. i find it usually takes just over one sheet of pastry to do this. place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry and fill the tin with pie weights. bake for 10 to 15 minutes and remove from oven.

while the pastry is blind baking, get the leeks going. start by removing the green portion of the leeks and chop finely. make sure the leeks are washed properly as there is nothing more unpleasant than biting down on grits of sand! once the leeks are washed, melt a few large knobs of butter in a medium sized pot or frying pan and throw the leeks in. place a lid over the leeks as you want them to sweat and soften. keep them moving around the pan so they don't stick or burn. they'll be ready when they're bright green, soft and shiny (roughly 10 minutes cooking time). remove from the heat and stir through the dijon mustard.

slice the gruyere into small squares, or grate if preferred. spread the cooked leek mixture evenly around the base of the pastry shell and season with salt and pepper. place the cheese on top. whisk the cream and eggs together and pour over.

bake in the oven for a further 20-25 minutes, or until the quiche has set (a wooden skewer should come out clean) and it looks golden brown. can be enjoyed immediately with a side salad of bitter greens or pop it in the fridge and enjoy cold at a picnic.


things you will need:

150g of gruyere cheese
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs
half a cup of cooking cream
1 and a bit sheets of shortcrust pastry
2 teaspoons of truffle sauce (i used a brand called tartufi alfonso fortunati, made in italy - cost is about $29 but you only need a teensy bit for big bangs of flavour)

what you will need to do:

prepare the pastry in the flan tin as above and blind bake in a 180C oven for 10 or so minutes. once the pastry is out of the oven, whisk the cream and eggs together, and stir in the truffle sauce. slice or grate the gruyere cheese and place evenly around the base of the pastry shell. pour over the truffle egg and cream mixture and season with a bit of pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt.

return to the oven for another 20-25 minutes or until cooked.

note: you can use mini-tart tins if you prefer smaller, individual servings. the above quantities should yield one large tart or about 8-10 mini tarts.

Monday, 27 August 2012

potato and chorizo croquettes

following on from a pierogi frenzy the previous day, i found myself with a reasonable amount of leftover potato and cheese mash. not being one for food wastage, my mind wandered back to a dinner out the week prior, where i'd enjoyed some particularly tasty potato and chorizo croquettes. this recipe is quick and easy to make, even quicker and easier to consume! perfect to take along to BBQs or parties, they're a great finger food or starter to a meal!

things you will need:

3 large potatoes
about a cup of grated tasty cheese
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a stick of chorizo
oil for cooking (i used olive oil for the chorizo, vegetable oil for the croquettes)
3 eggs, beaten

what you will need to do:

peel and boil the potatoes until they're cooked through. drain the water and mash the potatoes thoroughly, then add the cheese, salt and pepper. do not add milk to this mash, the mixture needs to be thick and "dry" enough for you to fashion it into croquettes! leave the mash to stand and cool.
remove the casing from the chorizo and slice into pieces (better to err on the thin rather than thick side). heat the oil in a pan and lightly fry for about 4 to 5 minutes. remove from heat and pour contents of pan into the mash. stir to combine and let cool.

once cooled, use tablespoon sized amounts of mash mixture and fashion thick, short sausage shaped croquettes using your hands. you should end up with about 15 croquettes all up.

in a small bowl, beat the eggs and in another bowl or plate, pour out about a cup of breadcrumbs. coat each croquette in the egg mix, then roll in the breadcrumbs. repeat once for each croquette.

in a large pot or deep frying pan, pour enough oil so there's about 2cm of oil for frying. heat the oil and carefully (use a slotted spoon for this step!) place the croquettes into the hot oil. i'd recommend frying 3 or 4 at a time, any more and they can start to stick together and fall apart. fry the croquettes for a few minutes, turning regularly to achieve an even golden brown colour. place the croquettes onto a plate covered with kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil.

serve immediately, preferably with a smoky aioli.

potato and chorizo croquettes....

add breadcrumbs.....

and fry. the result is crispy and delicious!

Monday, 6 August 2012

duck and porcini pierogi in porcini and red wine broth

duck and porcini pierogi in a porcini and red wine broth
this was inspired by a recent meal i enjoyed thoroughly and felt would work perfectly as pierogi. the original dish featured tortellini, which are essentially just italian pasta dumplings, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to translate from italian into polish. allow yourself plenty of time with this dish, pierogi are notoriously labour-intensive, plus you'll need to give yourself a good 2 hours to get the duck cooked nicely.

things you will need:


4 duck maryland pieces
1 medium brown onion, peeled and very finely chopped
3 sticks of celery, very finely chopped
3 small carrots, peeled and very finely chopped
1 (if large) or 2 (if medium) garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
1 cup of chicken stock (i used store-bought this time. if you're feeling especially dedicated then go ahead and make your own, but it'll add about 2 or 3 hours of extra cooking time on)
1 cup of dry white wine
3/4 of a cup of porcini mushrooms
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a little butter for frying


leftover confit duck pan juices and vegetables
1 cup of red wine (i used a shiraz voignier)
about 2 cups of porcini water (the flavoured water leftover after reconstituting the dried porcini mushrooms)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup of chicken stock
a couple of bay leaves
duck maryland bones


2 cups of plain flour plus additional flour to dust your work bench
pinch of salt
1 egg
1/3 of a cup of lukewarm water
a little butter for frying

what you will need to do:


preheat oven to 180C. season the skin of the duck marylands with sea salt and pan fry in a heavy based pot or large pan skin side down until some of the duck fat starts to appear in the pan (do not use any additional oil for this step, just dry fry and the duck fat will start to melt and coat the pan). this will take about 5 or 6 minutes on a medium heat. remove the duck from the pan, and throw in the finely chopped garlic, onion, carrot and celery. fry in the duck fat until the onion starts to glisten. add white wine and stock and bring to the boil. place the duck pieces back in the pan, skin side up, cover with a lid and place in the oven for 2 hours.

about 1 hour into the duck cooking, place the porcini mushrooms into a large bowl or pot and pour over 2 to 2 2/12 cups of boiling water. leave to stand until duck is cooked.

once cooked (the duck should be falling off the bone), remove from the oven and pull all the meat from the bones and place into a large bowl. shred the meat with a knife and fork so you are left with no chunks, just shredded duck meat. finely chop the porcini mushrooms and fry in a little melted butter. stir through the shredded duck meat, season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and set aside.


using the same pot the duck was cooked in, along with all the pan juices and leftover vegetables, pour over the rest of the chicken stock, the porcini water and the red wine. add the duck bones, a couple of bay leaves and sea salt and pepper to taste. simmer, covered, for an hour on a very low heat. stir occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking to the pot and burning. drain all the solids and set aside.


in a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and egg. add the lukewarm water in increments and start working the mixture with your hands until you have a nice flexible dough. it should be pliant and moist, but not sticky. if the dough is sticking to your hands, add a little more flour. place half of the dough onto the flour-dusted work bench and start rolling it out with a rolling pin. roll the dough until it's a couple of millimetres thick and using a 10cm diameter cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough. place these on a wooden board covered with a damp tea towel (this will stop the dough from drying out).
to make the pierogi, place a small amount of the duck filling into the centre of each piece of dough, then fold over and pinch to seal. if the dough is a little dry, use a couple of drops of water on your fingertip to moisten the dough and ensure the pierogi are properly sealed. do not be tempted to overstuff the pierogi, as the dough can break or the piergoi can fall apart during boiling. continue this process until all the duck mixture is gone. you should get about 25 to 30 pierogi from these quantities.

to cook, boil a large pot of water with a pinch of salt and place about 8 to 10 pierogi into the boiling water. boil each batch for 9 minutes, and remove with a slotted spoon. finally, melt a little butter in a pan and fry the pierogi on a medium heat until they are golden brown. this step is optional, the pierogi may be eaten after they're boiled, but i love the texture and appearance of the golden brown pierogi. when ready to serve, reheat the broth.

to serve, place 5 pierogi into a large serving bowl and ladle over 3 spoonfuls of the broth. can be enjoyed with a dollop of sour cream if preferred.

Monday, 25 June 2012

when life hands you lemons....make lemon cake!

light, bright and delicious lemon cake.
this citrusy delight was inspired by a neighbouring lemon hanging over the fence and the desire to bring a bright pop of yellow into an otherwise dull and monochrome winter palette. it's light and luscious, zingy and YELLOW - just the thing for a grey winter day. cosy up with a generous slice and a cup of lady grey and drift away on thoughts of sunshine and summertime.

things you will need:

125g of caster sugar
125 g of softened butter
185g of self-raising flour
1/4 of a cup of milk
a pinch of bi-carb soda (or baking powder)
2 eggs
1 lemon
icing sugar (to dust the cake)

what you will need to do:

firstly remove the rind from the lemon. you can use a vegetable peeler to do this but i prefer a small, sharp knife. try to get the rind only, and not the white skin underneath (as it's quite bitter!). in a small food processor/whizzer, combine the caster sugar and lemon rind. this breaks up the rind and releases the fragrant lemon oils into the sugar, so your cake will be really yellow and lemony. juice the lemon and reserve the juice.

place everything else except the icing sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl and combine with an electric hand mixer or food processor. add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice ensuring the batter doesn't become too runny. if the batter is still a bit thick, add another teaspoon of lemon juice.

pour into a springform baking tin (mine is about 22cm in diameter, or roughly 9 inches) and bake in a 170C oven for 25 minutes. run a skewer through the cake to ensure it's cooked (it should come out clean). cool the cake then drizzle 1 or 2 teaspoons of leftover lemon juice over and dust with icing sugar.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

golden glaze

this is a super easy, super delicious baste/glaze/sauce you can whizz up at home and use to tart up any number of otherwise-dull dinner options. i personally prefer it on the bird, as it's quite sweet and works well with the flavours of chicken. the quantities below should yield enough glaze for a small chicken.

things you will need:

1/4 of a cup of olive oil
1/2 a cup of golden syrup
juice of half a lemon
pinch of sea salt
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 red chilli, de-seeded
2-3 teaspoons of cumin

what you will need to do:

place all the aforementioned ingredients into a small food processor and blast for about 30 seconds. taste to ensure the flavours are balanced; if it's a bit olive oily, add in a little extra squeeze of lemon juice. otherwise, it's ready to go.

use this glaze to jazz up chicken maryland pieces or when roasting pumpkin.

note: the golden syrup will caramelise pretty quickly in a hot oven, so be sure to keep checking on your roasting bird/plant to ensure it doesn't burn!