Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mougrabieh or Giant Couscous

There is only one thing I vow never to do again in my life, and that is to cook "instant" couscous. Never again will I open a cardboard box, pour boiling water over the grains, fluff and serve. I know it's easy, sometimes even half edible, that is if you add a ton of herbs or other ingredients to spice it up with, but compared to the "proper" couscous, it doesn't have a "hope in Hades" of landing on my dinner table again.

The reason I'm so vehement in my distaste for instant couscous is that I've tried the "real stuff". And it's far from being instant. Whilst not labour intensive, it's time consuming to prepare, and you need to be organised in advance. But the final result runs rings around the couscous a la cardboard. Call me a food purist, I'm easy with that. Taste and texture win hands down over convenience I'm afraid.

When I stumbled across a packet of Mougrabieh, or commonly known as giant couscous, in my local health food store, I couldn't get to the counter quick enough, fearful that someone would do a waist high rugby tackle on me, and steal my much coveted treasure.

The secret to perfect couscous is to steam it over a fragrant liquor. The semolina grains of Lebanese Moghrabieh are much larger than Morrocan couscous grains we are familiar with and they swell up to the size of baby peas, so a conventional steamer insert was easily used.

Firstly pour boiling water onto the moghrabieh, add I tablespoon of olive oil, a good pinch of salt and another good pinch of Ras el Hanout. Let sit for 10 minutes, moving the grains around occasionally so they don't stick together. This process removes some of the surface starch.

Add the aromatics to the cooking stock:

1 litre (2 pints) water
1 onion
1 hot chilli
1 cinnamon stick
10 strands of saffron
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
2 bay leaves

Place drained couscous in the steamer, cover and steam for 2 hours, until the couscous is soft.

I then added the steamed couscous to this recipe which really satiated my Middle Eastern food cravings. Wonderful dish to serve with grilled meats or a tagine/braise. Just perfect for a cold, rainy autumn evening.

Lebanese couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon


1 preserved lemon
1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 3/4 cups moghrabieh couscous
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 475°F.

Halve lemons and scoop out flesh, keeping both flesh and peel. Cut enough peel into 1/4-inch dice to measure 1/4 cup. Put lemon flesh in a sieve set over a bowl and press with back of a spoon to extract juice.

Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and salt to taste in a large shallow baking pan and spread in 1 layer. Roast in upper third of oven 15 minutes, or until squash is just tender, and transfer to a large bowl.

Cook onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn golden. Add to squash.

Cook couscous using method outlined above. Add couscous to vegetables and toss with 2 tablespoon oil to coat.

Add lemon peel and juice, parsley, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon, and salt to taste. Toss to mix well.

Wandering Chopsticks is this weeks host of Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging
After browsing her blog, I think Vietnamese food will fast become one of my favourite cuisines as well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fancy a bit o' crumpet?

Melissa from Baking a Sweet Life is hosting Bread Baking Day #10, and the theme is "breakfast breads". In Australia, our traditional breakfasts derived from English cuisines from the late 1700's, when this country was settled with mainly convicts from "The Mother Country". I know one of my ancestors was a convict, relocated to Tasmania, for stealing a sheep. Naughty Rufus!! Way back in those days of hardship, food was simple, with flour being one of the main staples, even though it was, more than often, weevil infested and acrid. Damper was a common staple among the poor, and whilst that is a treat to make in the camp oven when you're out camping (obviously), a more civilised and lady-like breakfast is a piping hot crumpet, with butter and honey oozing through the holes onto your plate, to be mopped up with the last piece of remaining crumpet.

According to Wikipdia "Crumpets, also known as pieclets, are generally circular though long and square varieties also exist. They have a distinctive flat top covered in small pores and a resilient, slightly spongy texture. Crumpets alone are bland and generally eaten hot with a topping (usually butter). Other popular accompaniments include cheese when melted on top of the crumpet, jam, Marmite, marmalade, honey, peanut butter, cheese spread, golden syrup, and maple syrup."

The term "crumpet" has also been given the slang meaning of reference to an attractive woman, however in this society of equal rights and feminism, that term is not bandied about in public as much now.

Although the preparation was time consuming, the end result was well worth the wait. Never again will I grab a packet of supermarket crumpets, which I now liken to discs of fluffy cardboard. The only bit o' crumpet to be had in this house are these babies.

English Crumpets

Preparation Time 30 minutes

Cooking Time 40 minutes

Makes 30


  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 250ml (1 cup) warm milk
  • 250ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 450g (3 cups) plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp bread improver
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250ml (1 cup) water, extra
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Vegetable oil, to grease
  • Butter, to serve
  • Honey, to serve


  1. Combine the sugar and yeast in a medium bowl. Gradually pour in the warm milk and water and stir until yeast dissolves. Cover with plastic wrap and stand in a warm, draught-free place for 10 minutes or until mixture is frothy.
  2. Combine the flour, bread improver and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  3. Combine extra water and bicarbonate of soda in a jug. Use an electric beater to beat the flour mixture for 1 minute or until mixture deflates. Gradually add the water mixture, beating well between additions, until well combined and smooth. Cover batter with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes to rest.
  4. Brush a large non-stick frying pan with vegetable oil to lightly grease. Brush six 7.5cm-diameter non-stick egg rings with oil to lightly grease. Place egg rings in frying pan over medium-low heat. Pour 60ml (1/4 cup) of batter into each ring. Cook for 7 minutes or until large bubbles come to the surface, the base is golden and the top is set. Use an egg lifter to turn and cook for a further 1 minute or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack and remove egg rings. Set crumpets aside. Repeat, in 4 more batches, with remaining batter, greasing and reheating the pan and egg rings with oil between each batch. Serve crumpets with butter and honey.

Notes & tips

  • Prep: 30 mins (+ 10 mins standing, 1 hour proving & 30 mins resting time). Keep the heat of the pan low, and don't be tempted to turn the crumpets until the top looks quite dry.


Australian Good Taste - June 2003, Page 156

Thanks to Zorra from Kochtopf for creating and overseeing this wonderful event.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Yummy? Me?

Wow, I'm chuffed! My first award, thanks to Zainab & meedo, is from two sisters who have an extraordinary blog, Arabic Bites.

They have received this award, rightly so, many times and decided to share it around. "Yummy blog award is the award given to a blog with most yummy recipes/photos". Thanks ladies, I'm honoured!

Now I have to nominate my "favorite yummy-licious :) dessert(s)that I have ever prepared/eaten". Hmmmm.....I'm not big on desserts, but occasionally I have the odd sweet tooth craving. So here goes:

1. Caramel creme, the only dessert in my repertoire when I was a teenager ( I must make them again!)
2. Good old fashioned apple pie that Mum makes. I love her sweet pastry.
3. Cherry Ripe chocolate bar. One is never enough!

As fate has it, I've been really "into" Middle Eastern food lately, partly due to the fact that my daughters gave me a gorgeous Emile Henry Tagine for my birthday/Mothers Day. So I'll be scouring Zainab & meedo's site for some interesting recipes and techniques. They make fantastic bread too, so pay them a visit soon!

There are so many "yummy" blogs around worthy of this award, it's difficult to choose only a few.

Burcu's Almost Turkish Recipes Because I love Turkish food
Nic's Cherrapeno Her desserts and sweets are to die for
Michael and Cindy's Where's the beef? Vegetarians with an enormous array of yummy foods

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Veal Scallopini (well, almost) with Tortellini

Always being the adventurous weeknight cook, wanting something simple, quick, but not boring and bland, my thoughts turned Italian tonight. I had all of the ingredients on hand to make a speedy Veal Saltimbocca. The sage in the garden is just beautiful right now, and begging to be picked to encourage tender new leaves to grow. I love the literal meaning of saltimbocca – “jumps in the mouth”. The marriage of sage and prosciutto can definitely jump in my mouth anytime it wants.

However, teenage daughter wanted to know it this “salt and whatever” was going to incorporate pasta, something that I’ve not cooked in a while, and her cravings were getting the better of her. Well there goes my saltimbocca out the window, I thought. So, just to appease the menu requester, I opted for Veal Scallopini with veal tortellini, and just to appease the chef’s yearnings, tossed in some sage and prosciutto into the sauce. Everyone was happy, and nobody but the chef knew of the deviation to the original recipe. I quietly had my own little “jump in the mouth” party, unbeknownst to anyone else!

Veal Scallopini with Tortellini

Serves 4-5


750g thinly sliced veal steaks
to taste: salt and pepper
¾ cup flour
5 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cloves fresh crushed garlic
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
¾ cup dry white wine 190ml
¾ cup mushrooms sliced (optional)
1 medium diced onion (optional)
8 slices prosciutto (very optional)
12 fresh sage leaves (very optional)
1 lb tortellini noodles 500g


Pound steaks with a mallet until really thin.
Add salt and pepper and dredge in flour.
Melt 5 tablespoons (105ml) butter in heavy skillet; add crushed garlic and sauté Veal Slices, lightly browning over a medium heat; turn but once.
Remove veal to a shallow baking pan.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) of butter to skillet and sauté onions and mushrooms, prosciutto and sage leaves (optional ingredients) for 2½ minutes.
Add ¾ cup white wine and bring to a boil.
Simmer 2-3 minutes to blend all flavours.
Pour wine sauce over veal; cover pan and bake 35 minutes at 350ºF. (176ºC)
Cook tortellini noodles until tender in salted boiling water.
Drain and rinse.
Place tortellini noodles on serving platter.
Cover noodles with veal slices, and pour the remaining wine sauce over entire dish.

Kalyn's weekend herb blogging lands in the lap of Cate from Sweetnicks and my secret herb ingredient is sage. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bombay Biryani

Taste and Create is a food blogging event, founded by Nicole, and for my first involvement in this fantastic themed event, I was paired up with Simran from Bombay Foodie. I love all food from India, so of course I was both excited and delighted with the selection. Each month Nicole draws participating blog names out of a hat and pairs them up with another blog. You visit the blog, scour over it with a fine toothed comb, chose a dish which catches your eye, recreate it, and then blog about it. Wonderful concept, and a great way to really delve into a blog. Simran loves to bake and she is also a "salad specialist", but I knew I had to make something authentically Indian, so I chose her aloo chhole biryani. The middle layer in this biryani is packed full of flavour, and she uses black chane as the key ingredient. As Simran explains "For the uninitiated, (that would be me) black chane are a smallish brown variety of chickpea grown in India". As I didn't have this particular ingredient, I substituted ordinary chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked in the pressure cooker. I'm sure that this substitution didn't take anything away from the flavour of this dish however.

When I turned out the biryani "cake", I was extremely pleased with its appearance and even more so, the taste. What a fabulous dish to serve as a side at a dinner party. Opulent and elegant. Thanks Simran for taking our family to Bombay this evening.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lemonade scones

Happy Mothers Day to all Mums out there. Put your feet up, relax and enjoy the company of those that have made you a mother. Put aside the thoughts of how tough it is to raise children through their varying stages of life, and cherish the thought that they really do love you as much as you love them.

This is a no fail recipe for the simple scone. My own mother could whip up a bunch of these without thinking twice about it. When I was a child, she patiently allowed me to rub the butter into the flour, adjusting my poor technique quite often. She would never have dreamed of using a food processor, not because they weren't invented in those days, but because making scones was somehow therapeutic to her, and her own mother taught her this way.

In all of my married years, I have yet to master a tall, fluffy scone. Sure, they were always edible, if only for the first hour, then they turned into the equivalent of hockey pucks. Sorry Mum, but the food processor is the only way I can produce scones as lovely as yours, and I shamefully admit, I have to add lemonade to give them that extra assistance. I hope I have made you proud!

Lemonade scones with jam & cream

Ingredients (serves 16)

  • 450g (3 cups) self-raising flour
  • 80g butter
  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) diet lemonade
  • 1/2 cup whipped cream
  • Raspberry jam, to serve
  • Whipped Cream, to serve


  1. Preheat oven to 220°C. Grease a baking tray. Combine flour and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Add the lemonade and cream. Use a flat-bladed knife to stir until combined. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
  3. Press the dough out to a round 3cm-thick disc. Using a 5cm-diameter scone cutter, cut into rounds. Place scones, side by side, just touching, on prepared tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and scones sound hollow when tapped on base. Transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool. Halve scones and spread with jam and whipped cream.

Serve with a hot cup of tea, a warm sunny spot and a good book to read. Happy Mothers Day, Mum.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Lamb shanks in Wine Sauce

Autumn has well and truly arrived in its picturesque glory. The vibrant colours, the smell of wood fires burning, beautiful sunny crisp days and comfort food on the stove. It truly is a beautiful season, preparing us for the colder days to come.
My all time favourite cut of meat has to be the lamb shank. When we were kids, the lamb shank was always at the centre of arguments as to who would receive this juicy, succulent joint from the lamb roast. Back then, lamb shanks were considered a cheaper cut, and when feeding 4 hungry children, my mother would often buy a heap of shanks, at least one for each of us, to stretch her meager budget, as well as keeping peace at the dinner table.

Nowadays, the humble shank has skyrocketed to fame and fortune, deservedly so, taking on the new title of "Frenched Lamb Shanks". It is now leaner and supposedly more attractive to the eye. The taste will never alter, however the cost of the revamped shank seems to have risen as much as it's popularity. No longer is it a poor mans dish. It now receives star status on many a restaurant menu. If worse came to worse, I'd consider selling one of the children just to finance a meal of tender lamb shanks. Hopefully, for their sake, this won't happen in the near future.

My preferred method of cooking shanks is in the pressure cooker. And this recipe, with the richness of red wine and balsamic, was just the perfect autumn dish, and one I'll be "throwing together" on a week night more often. Served with pan fried rosemary and garlic potatoes, and a tossed salad, it was worthy of being shown on any classy restaurant menu.


2 large lamb shanks

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T. olive oil

10 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

1/2 cup chicken or mushroom stock

1/2 cup port wine

1 T. tomato paste

1/2 t. dried rosemary (I used a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary)

1 T. butter

1-2 T. balsamic vinegar

Trim the excess fat from the shanks and season then with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in the pressure cooker. Add the shanks and brown on all sides. When they are almost browned add the garlic cloves and cook until they are lightly browned, but do not burn them. Add the stock, port, tomato paste, and rosemary, stirring until the tomato paste dissolves. Close the pressure cooker and bring up to full pressure. Reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes. Release the pressure and remove the lamb shanks. Return the pressure cooker to the stove and boil uncovered for 5 minutes to reduce and thicken the sauce. Whisk in the butter and the vinegar. Serve sauce over lamb shanks.

Laurie, from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska would have to be one of the most envied bloggers in the blogosphere, as she has a home in Alaska as well as Greece, and she is hosting Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging this week. Her amazing Greek dishes are to die for, so head over to her blog for a real food fest.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Slow Cooker Thai Red Curry Chicken

I've been itching to get out my slow cooker, so today was perfect for this opportunity. A thick fog blanketed us this morning, nothing but greyness and dampness, after an evening of downpours followed by soaking, soft drizzle into the small hours of the morning. These weather conditions actually excite me for 2 reasons. First of all the gloominess outside calls for cozy wood fires to be lit inside, with the aromas of slow cooked spicy food wafting in and out of every room. Secondly, and most exciting of the two, is it's nearly mushroom time, and with the drenching received on Friday night, followed by a beautiful sunny day (after the fog had lifted), I'm off in search of the elusive mushy tomorrow. Maybe I'll be lucky, maybe not.

This dish is extremely simple, as are all slow cooker dishes. Dump the ingredients into the pot, turn it on and walk away. This meal is done in 4 hours total and simple in flavour but tasty. Next time I would perhaps add some extra Thai ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves and a touch of lemon grass. The possibilities are endless. And maybe a sprinkle of chopped coriander, rather than the basil leaves (which aren't visible in the photo).

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1kg chicken thigh fillets, trimmed,
  • cut in half crossways
  • 114g Thai red curry paste (out of a jar is fine)
  • 1 cup Chicken Stock
  • 150g fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, halved
  • 230g can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 140ml can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup basil leaves
  • steamed jasmine rice, to serve


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook chicken, in batches, for 1 to 2 minutes each side or until golden. Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Reduce frying pan heat to low. Add remaining oil to pan. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes or until aromatic. Add stock and stir until curry paste has dissolved. Add mushroom and bamboo shoots. Pour mixture over chicken and stir to combine.
  3. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 1/2 hours. Combine fish sauce, sugar and coconut milk in a jug. Stir into curry. Cover and cook on HIGH for a further 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in basil. Spoon curry over rice. Serve.

Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging has arrived in Australia this week and Anh, of Food Lovers Journey, from Melbourne will be the kind hostess. Be sure to visit her beautiful blog full of lots of Vietnamese inspired recipes and great photos.