Saturday, June 28, 2008

Potato Salad with Labneh and Herbs

Yoghurt cheese, or labneh, is a favourite and impressive appetiser that I adore. I love the creamy texture of this "cheese", spread over lightly toasted bread or crackers. It always adds 5 star power to a meze or antipasto platter. It's extremely versatile and can lend itself to a numerous combination of savoury or even sweet flavours. My preference is to marinate it in garlic infused olive oil, chilli flakes and herbs. If you're after a sweet labneh, it can be made with a splash of rosewater or combined with a fragrant honey.


1 kg of Greek yoghurt
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp crushed dried chillies
1 tblsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tblsp chopped fresh oregano
Garlic infused olive oil, enough to cover (or just add a couple of slivers of garlic cloves to your jar)

Place yoghurt over a sterilized piece of muslin or cheescloth. Bring the four corners together and tie firmly with string. Hang this bag, suspended from one of the shelves in the refrigerator, catching the whey over a large bowl. Leave for 2-3 days until the yoghurt stops dripping.

Roll the labneh into small balls and place on tray covered with baking or parchment paper, and leave overnight in fridge again, to allow the balls to dry out slightly.

Sterilize your jars by washing them and placing them in a 150 C degree oven for 15 minutes.

Lower the labneh balls into the jar, sprinkling each layer with the herbs and chillies, cover with garlic oil, and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

The labneh was a wonderful addition to a warm potato salad, also heavily laced with herbs and a delicious maridade/dressing. Kalyn, the creator of Weekend Herb Blogging, is taking time out from tending her beautiful garden, to host her event this week.

Warm Potato Salad, with labneh and herbs


1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon za'atar (Lebanese spice)
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
salt and pepper
800g Kipfler potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthways
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 red capsicum
1 cup picked parsley leaves
1 cup picked coriander leaves
200g labneh balls in chilli, roughly chopped
50g pine nuts, toasted
Lebanese bread, to serve


Preheat oven 200°C (180°C fan-forced).

Whisk lemon zest and juice, za'atar and oil together; season with salt and pepper. Toss half of dressing over potatoes with garlic and place onto a flat baking tray. Bake 30 minutes or until crispy and golden.

Place capsicum over gas flame until blackened and transfer to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cool. When cold, remove black skin and tear flesh into large pieces.

In a large serving bowl, combine parsley, coriander, labneh, pine nuts, capsicum and roasted potatoes and mix gently.

Drizzle remaining dressing over potato salad and toss until evenly coated. Serve immediately with fresh Lebanese bread.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bread Baking Day # 11 - Sprouts

Happy Birthday BBD! One year old already, and growing stronger each month. Congratulations Zorra. You must be proud of your baby. So for this month, Zorra from Kochtopf is hosting her very own event's birthday party and chosen sprouted bread as the theme. I must lead a very sheltered life, because I had never heard of sprouted bread, let alone tasted it. So of course I had to do some research on the subject. Essene bread was a noticeably popular search result, and this bread dates back to prehistoric times when a grain/water paste was made to make a thin wafer, cooked on warmed stones. If you visit Zorra's site, there is a very interesting history of how this type of bread originated, and the scientific reasoning as to why it's so good for us.

I'm afraid that I'm more of a "modern" baker, not having the precious time to sprout my grains or wait around for a bunch of rocks to heat up in subzero temperatures. So after lots of reading about sprouted breads, and the methodology used, I opted for store bought alfalfa sprouts, which I love tossed over a salad, or combined in a sandwich. Sprouts and bread form a very nice partnership indeed.

Because I had a pot of vegetable soup bubbling away on the stove in readiness for an easy Sunday night meal, I thought mini sprouted bread loaves would make a pleasing and nutritional accompaniment to the meal. The addition of peppitas, which are shelled pumpkin seeds, enhanced the flavour to a new level.

At first I was hesitant about adding the sprouts to the unmixed ingredients, fearing that they would end up a mushy pulp, but this didn't happen surprisingly. You could still pick the odd sprout out of your teeth after eating! They tasted fantastic, and were the star attraction of the meal. What a perfect way to use up leftover sprouts, which continue to grow in the fridge, before they spoil. I will definitely be making these again.

Alfalfa sprouts and peppita bread

3/4 c Plus 2 tablespoons Water

1 1/2 ts Salt

2 tb Honey

1 cup of alfalfa sprouts

2 tb Olive or Vegetable oil

3 1/4 c Bread flour

1/2 c Unsalted raw pumpkin seeds (peppitas)

1 tsp Yeast


Measure carefully, placing all ingredients in a mixer and knead for about 6 minutes, or until dough is not sticking to the bowl, and feels quite firm. Let dough rise until for 2 hours (it won't be visibly doubled but the oven spring is great). Divide dough into eight equal pieces and shape into mini loaves. If you have deep rectangular or round muffin pans, grease lightly with oil then dust over flour, and place your dough into pan. Let loaves rise again for another hour or so, and place in very hot oven (450 F) for 10 or 15 minutes, then turn heat down to about 350 F for another 15 minutes, checking that the edges don’t burn. When cooked, turn out onto wire tray to cool.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Befuddling Muddleine's

It's Taste and Create time again, an event founded by Nicole at For the Love of Food, where you are given a partner, visit your partner's blog, and chose a recipe to recreate in your own kitchen. So this month I'm off to Great Britain to the home of Hippolyra, who has an incredibly healthy and tasty blog, Fuss Free Flavours and I'm all in favour of anything "fuss free". As soon as I saw the recipe for Genoise Batter Madeleine's, something I had never tried before, I knew my decision was made. I even had a Madeleine tray, brand new and waiting to be tried, in the cupboard. I purchased this tray a couple of years ago, when I renovated my kitchen, and tossed all of my old stuff out, replacing it all with brand new shiny items.

Righto...lets get started. The eggs and sugar were happily mixing away. Time to grease the shiny new tray. What new tray? It was gone...not a trace. Every cupboard and drawer was upturned. Where else could it be? In the meantime the Genoise batter was not going to wait. The kitchen had been turned upside down in my vain attempt to locate the missing tray. I could only surmise that I had lent it to my octogenarian neighbour at some stage, and she has "forgotten" to return it. I was very suspicious of her having early stage Alzheimer's, and now that suspicion was seeming more of a reality. Of course she wasn't home when I was running around like a mad woman doing circles, so I had to improvise with another pan (which I didn't even realise I had!). Could the Madeleine tray have morphed into this tray that I'd never seen before? This was turning into a fiasco, and I felt as though I had completely lost my mind, along with the tray. Perhaps it was me with early Alzheimer's. It's still a mystery and it's annoying the crap out of me.

Needless to say the Madeleine "fingers" turned out great, even if they look nothing like Madeleine's. I'm sure every French person is guffawing with laughter, so in respect for the true and proper Madeleine's, I'm renaming mine Muddleines, so as not to offend anyone, especially Hippolyra. And when I find my tray, I will make proper Madeleine's, damn it!

"And that's all there is -- there isn't any more."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Waste not want not" Chestnut Soup

Although the peak of the chestnut season has passed, there are still a few chestnuts floating around at Farmer's Markets. Up until now, I had never tasted a chestnut. Absurd you say? Probably. And I've never tasted a truffle. Even more absurd. Growing up, chestnuts were only available if you knew someone who had a chestnut tree. I didn't. Commercially produced chestnuts were unheard of. Now, however, it's a very viable market for farmers looking at ways to increase their income. And when you realise the labour intense process of getting them out of their tough shells, you can fully understand why pre-cooked, pre-shelled and frozen chestnuts are such an exorbitant price.

I painstakingly set out to see what all the kafoofle was about with these so-called "nuts", which are actually the only nut that is classified as a vegetable, and the only "nut" allowed to be eaten on the Pritikin Diet.

And honestly, I really don't think I could be bothered to do it all again. The slitting of the tough outer shells was labourious to say the least. I was in constant fear of losing a digit or two along the way. Roasting was the easy part. The removal of those damn tough layers was pretty much the final straw.

I couldn't for life of me imagine why I had always yearned to smell freshly roasted nuts sold from a street vendor on a snow covered New York sidewalk. That's what Hollywood does to you I guess.

So with the meagre handful or two that I extricated from those shells, I thought Chestnut Soup was about the easiest option I could take from here on, apart from tossing them all in the garbage. But as consumers, we waste so much food each year, equating to approximately $400 AU per household. I could use that extra money each year, so from now on I'm not going to waste food. Full stop.

My new rule of thumb is to buy what is seasonal, fresh and only the amounts that I need. As the local Farmer's Market is only held on a Sunday morning, this can cause problems for the rest of the week, hence daily visits, or at least every second day, to the supermarket are required. From now on, I'm going to make sure that I can actually access everything in the crisper part of my fridge, instead of finding slimy vegetables down the bottom that I'd forgotten I'd even purchased. My pantry is so well stocked, I should only need to visit the meat and veg and dairy aisles of the supermarket for at least the next 6 months. The doors of my fridge groan with the weight of jars of condiments that have only had a teaspoon of their contents removed, and no doubt diminished in flavour as well. The shelves have ridiculous amounts of cooked left overs that no one bothers to reheat and actually have again as a meal. The dog usually has them for dinner. I honestly over cater and I need to stop doing that.

So for the chestnut soup, in went a plate of left over roasted potatoes and garlic at the last minute. All blitzed up, nobody new the difference. In fact it added a new dimension to what was probably going to be another bowl placed in the fridge, forgotten, forlornly shoved to the back, only to be tossed out along with the slimy veges. The recipe called for 1.5 litres of chicken stock. I only had a litre, but there was a half litre of beef stock buried in the bowels of the fridge, which was still within its "use by" date, so that was tossed into the soup as well. Waste not, want not, my mother has always said.

Chestnut Soup

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 1kg chestnuts
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 celery sticks, chopped
  • 125 gm pancetta, or lean bacon
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red-skinned potato, peeled, chopped
  • 1.5L (6 cups) chicken stock
  • 150ml thick cream


  1. Preheat oven to 200°C. If using fresh chestnuts, use a sharp knife to cut a cross into the flat side of the chestnuts. Transfer to a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes, until chestnuts feel quite soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle (they peel much better when warm), then use a small knife to remove the shells and any furry skins. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, celery, pancetta, rosemary and garlic and cook over low heat for 5-6 minutes until the onion softens and the mixture just starts to turn golden. Add chestnuts, potato and stock. Season, then bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Taste and season again with freshly cracked black pepper.
  3. Set aside the soup to cool slightly, then blend in batches. Return to the pan, stir in the cream and reheat. Serve drizzled with the rosemary pesto (optional).
Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging travels to the UK this week, and Joanna from Joanna's Food is kindly hosting the event. I think I'll send these prickly vegetable nuts as my entry. Be sure to check her roundup which showcases herbs, fruit and veges from all over the world.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Mean Tagine

A hearty winter meal, combining lamb, tomatoes, herbs and spices was on the menu this week, after a few rainy days. Although the temperatures have been quite mild (so far) for this early stage of Winter, it's still cool enough to crave a belly warming meal, and this dish certainly fit the bill. I threw it together after a hard day at the office, and it was ready in no time. Frying off the meatballs was no trouble, as you just need to brown them so they retain their shape, whilst bubbling away in the rich and spicy tomato sauce. The coriander added at the end of cooking was the finishing touch to a very satisfying meal.

Astrid from Food Paulchen's Blog is kindly hosting Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging event for this week.

Lamb Kifta Tagine with Eggs

Ingredients Meatballs

  • 500g lamb, finely minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil for frying

Ingredients Sauce

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cans tomatoes (400g), drained and chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 500ml water
  • 1/3 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 6 eggs


To make the meatballs, combine the ingredients and, using wet hands, form the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Heat the oil and brown the meatballs all over. Drain well on paper towels.

For the sauce, heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole dish and lightly sauté the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the remaining ingredients, except the water, fresh herbs and eggs, and stir well. Then stir in the water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until it has reduced to a very thick gravy.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and continue cooking for a further 8 minutes. Carefully break the whole eggs into the sauce, cover with a lid and cook until the eggs are just set – about 5 minutes. Serve at once, liberally garnished with the fresh herbs and with plenty of Turkish bread at the side to mop up the runny egg yolks. Alternatively, accompany with a dish of plain buttered couscous and a dollop of thick natural yoghurt.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Roast chicken, fennel, preserved lemons and olives

I've planted fennel in the garden for the first time this year, and boy do I wish I had planted a lot more. I just love it, roasted and caramelised, devouring every last morsel of it. Fennel can be a bit like coriander to some - you either love it or hate it. It's aniseed flavour marries perfectly with chicken, olives and my other favourite, preserved lemon.

This is a Maggie Beer recipe from her book Maggie's Harvest, and although it is in the Summer section of the book, this is such a comfort food in the winter as well. Fennel is an autumn vegetable and there is a male bulb and a female bulb. Round and bulbous, a female. Longer and thinner, a male. That's typical! I wonder what sex mine will turn out to be when I dig them up. Curvy, voluptuous females I hope!!

This dish is a weekly staple. It's quick, very little preparation is required and best of all it tastes fantastic.

Chicken pieces roasted with olives, preserved lemon and fennel

2 kg chicken thighs, skin on, trimmed of excess fat
2 preserved lemons, flesh removed, rinsed and cut into long strips
2-3 baby fennel bulbs cut into 1 cm slices
freshly ground black pepper
EEVO for cooking
24 black olives with pips (otherwise the flavour dissipates)
sea salt flakes
1-2 tblsp verjuice
freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

Marinate the chicken in a bowl with the fennel, preserved lemon, pepper and enough olive oil to coat the mixture. Leave for at least an hour for the flavours to meld.
Preheat oven to 220C. Divide the chicken and marinade between two roasting dishes, ensuring there is enough room for the chicken, so it doesn't overlap. Add the olives then season with salt.
Roast for 10-15 minutes then turn oven down to 180 C. Cook until chicken is golden, and juicy, but keeping an eye on the marinade to make sure it doesn't burn.
Remove from the oven, drizzle with verjuice and a tblsp of the best olive oil you can afford, and leave to rest, covered for 15 minutes. Just before serving, add the parsley and pan juices to moisten the chicken.

Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging this week is hosted by Maninas from Maninas:Food Matters.

Maninas hails from Croatia, a country that I would dearly love to visit one day. Take a look at her great site, as well as Postcards from Croatia. Just beautiful.

Just Swanning Around with Chantilly Cream Puffs

When Suzanne from Home Gourmets announced the theme for this months Hay Hay it's Donna Day, I quietly cringed. Choux pastry....Aaarrgghh! I love eating the stuff, but successfully cooking it is another matter. My first and only attempt, up until now, was quite disastrous. After reading up a bit on how to make Choux, I realised now that I did every possible thing wrong in my first attempt. My pot was too small, the heat wasn't right, I felt that I had to stir it like a cement mixer...the list goes on. However, this event that is now nurtured by Bron Marshall and originally conceived by Barbara at Winosandfoodies is all about setting participants a challenge. And who doesn't love a challenge?

So with the assistance of Monsieur Larousse, who states " The first stage in making the paste is to heat the liquid (water or water and milk) and butter until the butter melts. This should be done slowly at first, without allowing the mixture to boil (if the liquid boils before the butter melts, it will reduce)". Wish I'd known that important little tip the first time. When referring to mixing the paste until a ball forms, Monsieur Larousse kindly points out "do not beat the paste at this stage or the fat will separate out slightly, making it oily". Yet another mistake I made first time round. Merci, Monsieur.

I decided to go ahead with Chantilly Cream Puffs, because I love saying Chantilly in French ("shahn-tee-yee "), and I have always put vanilla and sugar in my whipped cream, unknowingly making Chantilly cream all along. When he stated that these cream puffs are made to resemble swans, I nearly swallowed my tongue. Oh puhleese, can I just get the puffs right before murdering them with my lack of artistic abilities? Oh well, looks like I have more challenges on my plate than I expected.

The result? Not quite perfect (even a bit tacky) Chantilly Swans. Once again my family thanked Hay Hay it's Donna Day for allowing them to devour this indulgent pastry, which they have been deprived of in the past. You never know, I might even have another go at this satisfying paste. It's not as hard to make as I thought it was....once you know the secrets!

Chantilly Cream Puffs

Choux Paste
In a medium sized pot add 1 cup of water, or equal parts milk and water to make 1 cup. Toss in a large pinch of salt and 65 g (5 tblsp) of softened butter cut into small pieces. Add 2 tsp caster sugar. Heat gently until the butter melts, then bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture comes to the boil, remove the pot from the heat, add 125 g (1 cup) of plain or all purpose flour and mix quickly. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook until paste thickens, stirring (it takes about a minute for the paste to leave the sides of the pan). Don't overcook the mixture or beat it vigorously as this will make it greasy or oily. Beat in 2 eggs, the 2 more eggs one after the other, continuing to beat hard until a smooth glossy paste is obtained (I did this last step in the KitchenAid ...much easier).

Pipe or spoon onto baking sheet and place in a heated oven (220 C) for 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 200 C and continue cooking until golden and crisp. The initial warmer temperature is to create steam inside the bun, causing it to "puff". Pipe some backward "S" shapes (think of the number 2) onto the baking sheet. Obviously these "necks" won't need to be baked as long as the puffs, so I placed them on a separate small tray and put them in the oven towards the end of the cooking time.

Chantilly Cream
Place 400 ml (1 3/4 cups) of very cold double (heavy) cream, 100 ml very cold milk and 1 tblsp vanilla sugar in a chilled bowl and whip. When the cream starts to thicken, add 40 g (3 tblsp) caster sugar continuing to whip until thickened to desired consistency.

Split and cool the buns, then cut the top off each bun, cutting the top in half lengthways which will form the swan's wings. Fill the buns with chantilly cream . Place a "neck" at one end of the bun and stick the "wings" into the cream on either side. Dust generously with icing sugar.