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I sincerely believe risotto is easy to make.  All it takes is a little time.  It’s a great recipe to have in your repertoire; the basics are all the same and with a few variations to the add-ins you’ve got a different meal every time.

This particular flavor combination may seem a bit odd, but I’ve made it twice now to rave reviews.  The crispness of the lemon is softened by the goat’s cheese; it is especially delicious when served with a roasted leg of lamb that’s been pre-steeped in a bit of the lemon, minced shallot, orange juice and a splash of soy sauce.

basic risotto

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock

To prepare the basic risotto, lightly toast rice in large saucepan (I use my wok) over medium high heat, in equal parts butter and olive oil, for 4-5 minutes.

Add white wine and cook for another 3-4 minutes to burn off the alcohol, then reduce heat to low.  Slowly add chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, allowing it to fully absorb into the rice before adding more.  Stir occasionally (I find, constant stirring is not necessary).

Cook for 25-35 minutes or until rice is soft. 5-10 minutes prior to end of cook time, add salt & pepper and whatever others spices, meats, vegetables, nuts or cheese desired, and voila!

How to make an intermediate risotto: at the beginning, saute 3-4 cloves garlic (diced) and 3-4 shallots (diced) in butter and oil first, before adding the rice. Use a homemade chicken stock, made from boiling a whole chicken or bones, veggies and a few bay leaves, not that store bought stuff…

preserved lemon, herb and goat cheese risotto

200g chevre
4-5 half-pieces of preserved lemon, finely diced
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh herbs: e.g., basil, parsley, sage, chive
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Prepare basic/intermediate risotto.  Add preserved lemon after 10 minutes of cooking time, when rice is still semi-hard, so the lemon has a little time to cook down and to let the flavors meld.  When rice is fully cooked, add fresh herbs, chevre, a healthy amount of fresh cracked pepper and toasted pine nuts.

Stir and allow cheese to melt in, about 1-2 mins more, and serve.

(basic ingredients)

(risotto, roast leg of lamb, stuffed zucchini flowers and rocket salad)

(always good to have someone to help with the stirring)

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goat cheese stuffed zucchini flowers

fresh zucchini flowers, from local markets
1/4  cup creme fraiche
200g goats cheese
chopped chives

If necessary, remove baby zucchini from flower and reserve for another use.  For filling, mix together creme, cheese and chives.  The mixture should have a soft and creamy but still slightly firm texture.

Gently pry open flowers and remove stamen at the base of the flower.  Stuff with cheese mixture, twist tops, slick with olive oil and scatter with rock salt.

 

Zucchini flowers are considered to be a delicacy, so when I saw them for (relatively) cheap at my local market I thought they would be a perfect complement to a goats’ cheese risotto I planned to make.  This particular recipe is based on a NYT article, highlighting the pleasures of zucchini flowers in the raw, since they are often simply battered and fried.

Raw, the taste of the flower was rather mild and delicate.  All in all, these were fun to make and plenty edible, but in the end, I’m not sure they’re really worth the effort.  Still, they sure make for a gorgeous photo.

Food is such a great coping mechanism.

Last weekend, I headed down to Brighton Beach for brunch and some hands-on cooking.  Laura and I bartered for an exchange of our respective talents – custom-made jewelry for her; lesson in pasta making for me.  Seeing as she just wanted a replica of a design I’d made for myself, I’d say I got the better end of this deal!

We spent a full afternoon forming, kneading, resting (with a glass of bubbly), rolling, cutting, filling and then devouring our fresh, hand-made pasta.

(Kelly, Grace and me churning out the linguini)

This weekend, I spent the better half of Saturday making soups.  See Damiano & Kristin arrive Tuesday morning hot from the summer days of Paris to the tail end of a dreary Melbourne winter.  So I thought I’d better have some comfort food on hand to help with the transition.

I made Steve’s favorite slow cooker potato soup, french onion soup, and a new one—this roasted tomato soup from one of my favorite food blogs.  Taste test says, delicious!  I added some fennel to the roasting process (tip: remove before blending) and ended up with an earthy and rustic soup that really gives you the sense some love has gone into it.  Thanks as always Mr. Rufus!

I’m planning to (defrost and) serve with tortellini, and there’s something about a rustic tomato soup (read: not from a Campbell’s can) that seems Italian to me.  So let’s just call it a double weekly whammy of Italian cooking!

To top it all off, I recently got a surprise “going away” gift from Kelly – a shiny new pasta rolling machine.  Now I can put my skillz to good use.

(but I think I’ll wait til next weekend; I’ve got three Italians staying with me this weekend.  Too much pressure!)

Over the weekend, Steve pointed to this foreign looking substance at the market and said, “what’s that? can we eat it?”

Never one to pass over a new vegetable opportunity, especially with such enthusiasm from Steve, I bought two.  With a budding sore throat, I was craving something warm on Monday night, so I whipped up this amazingly hearty, soothing, creamy without cream soup.

celeriac and apple soup

1 large celeriac, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
50 grams butter
3 apples, sliced
500-750 mls of chicken stock
3 handfuls sage

topping: leftover baguette (diced into cubes), 50 grams each chopped bacon & walnuts

Heat butter and onion in a large saucepan and let simmer for 3-5 minutes.  Add celeriac and sweat for another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock to cover the celeriac entirely and sage (or season to taste) and allow to simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until celeriac is soft.  I had some deep-flavored chicken stock on hand that I’d brewed over the weekend, which I’d like to think added to the heartiness of the final product, but regular ol’ store stock will do.

Add apples, cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly and blend for 2-3 minutes to give it a soft and silky texture.  Voila!

Now, you may have realized my trick to getting my husband to eat veggies by now:  always add bacon!  This soup is no exception. But I thought the topping, objectively, really gave the soup a punch; the smoky bacon and nutty crunch adding another dimension to the creamy texture of the soup.  To partake, fry bacon for 3-5 minutes, then add walnuts and diced baguette and continue to saute until bacon is cooked and bread is slightly crispy.

This dessert was a confluence of coincidences. I had rhubarb on hand, which I had bought Saturday morning to make apple rhubarb pie.  But we had too much fun at the Kellybrook cider festival on Saturday, and in the end, I forgot to buy a bag of apples! I’ve also had lemon curd on the brain, since lemons are just coming into abundance at the trees in the neighborhood.  So I searched around, and came up with this concoction to put my rhubarb to good use:

rhubarb curd tartlets

1 portion sweet short crust pastry
6 stalks rhubarb
1/3 cup sugar (or honey)
6 egg yolks
2 tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbs butter, chopped

1. Wash rhubarb and chop into small pieces (always remove all leaves, they are poisonous!).  Mix with sugar (or honey) and stew over low heat for 20-25 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and puree in a food processor.

2. Roll pastry, cut and shape into greased mini muffin or tartlet pans. Bake for 10 minutes until golden.

3. To make curd, whisk eggs, sugar and lemon juice in a heat proof bowl.  Add 1 cup of rhubarb puree and place over a saucepan of simmering water, whisking constantly.  Add chopped butter and continue whisking for 5-10 minutes until thickened.  Cool, and pipe into tartlet shells.

I’ve always loved rhubarb, and typically stick to the classic apple or strawberry plus combinations. But this curd really allows the rhubarb to shine through on its own.  Sweet and oh so tart; what a fantastic experimental coincidence.

As for the cider festival, I did manage to remember to bring home a liter of scrumpy from Kellybrook…

(the merry men dancers at Kellybrook Cider Festival)

Cupcakes & Cherries Jubilee

Jubilee sauce:
500 grams frozen cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water
3 tablespoons orange juice + 1 tbsp zest
1 tsp cherry or vanilla extract
2 tbsp brandy

This sauce is so delicious it can (and SHOULD) be put to a variety of uses: pour over ice cream for a classic cherries jubilee; mixed in greek yogurt for a cold breakfast treat or just consumed by the spoonful straight from the pan.  I chose to make vanilla cupcakes, blend half the sauce with vanilla frosting to make cherry frosting, and drown the cupcakes and plates with a generous helping of sauce on top.

To make the sauce, whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan.  Stir in water and orange juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, until thickened.  Stir in cherries and zest and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove cherries from heat, and stir in extract.  Pour brandy over top and ignite with a long lighter.  Gently shake the pan back and forth to spread and then slowly extinguish the flame as the brandy burns off.  Use to your own aim…

(oh and in case you’re wondering about the presentation, I have a mini muffin tin that is perfect to make bite-sized nibbles out of the last of the batter and/or to place atop a full-sized cupcake for dramatic effect!)

I adapted this recipe from an Australian amateur cooking show I love, My Kitchen Rules: 1) adding meatballs for my meat-o-saurous man; 2) using organic, store-bought (gasp!) pasta and sauce instead of making them from scratch and 3) swapping fresh ricotta for mozzarella, because my delicatessen makes the most beautiful creamy fresh ricotta and it is a sin to eat buffalo mozzarella any way other than straight from brine to mouth.

birds’ nest pasta
lasagna sheets (5 were more than enough for 2 people)
bechamel sauce
thinly sliced leg ham
fresh ricotta cheese
rosemary and lamb sausages
pasta sauce

1. Prepare bechamel sauce and meatballs.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is simply no reason to make meatballs from scratch when you have a gourmet butcher in the neighborhood. Simply squeeze out of the casing, shape into balls, roll in your favorite flavoring if desired (spice rub, breadcrumbs, brown sugar, cracked peppercorns…) and voila.

2. Boil water and blanche lasagna noodles two at a time for 4 minutes until just softened.  Drain noodles and lightly cover with oil on both sides to keep from sticking.  Working quickly, layer bechamel sauce, leg ham and ricotta and roll into logs.  Place seam side down in a shallow baking dish with a small portion of sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking.  Repeat, then top with a spoonful of sauce.  Cover dish with foil, and bake at 180C (350F) for 20 minutes.

3. 15 minutes into the pasta baking time, saute meatballs over high heat until browned all over.  When browned, pop into the oven for the remainder of the time to keep warm.  After 20 minutes, remove foil from baking dish, top pasta with grated parmesan and cook for another 5 minutes uncovered.

4. To serve, slice pasta rolls into thirds, extract oh so carefully from the pan, and smoother with meatballs and warmed sauce.

This recipe for baked potato (in my local grocery store circular of all places) really caught my eye. I had some leftover prosciutto from the night before, and need a suitable pair for my delicious grass-fed eye filets. These definitely hit the mark…

ingredients:

choice of steak cut

4 Chantilly or other small baking potato

sliced prosciutto

1/4 cup parmesan cheese and bread crumbs

sage or other herbs, chopped and added to crust topping

First, thinly slice potatoes nearly (but not all the way!) to the bottom.  I used two wooden kitchen spoons as buffers on each side of the potato, to stop the knife from going all the way through.  Season and sprinkle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes or until softened. Rip prosciutto into pieces and press small folded bits between the slices of the potato.  Top with crust and cook for another 20-25 minutes until tender.

After searing the fillets, I used leftover crumb as a crust, popped them into the oven to cook through, and served with the sliced baked taters and salad.  Delish!

Fall is definitely coming – the crisp undercurrent of the wind, the emergence of scarves on the streets of the CBD, the descending darkness that makes 6pm in the office feel like midnight.

And with fall comes figs, and it is definitely fig season. I picked up 5 big, plump ripe figs at the local farmer’s market for $3 because they just looked too beautiful to pass up (and were cheaper than my morning coffee). Determined to find a way to make Steve eat (and like) them, I dreamed up this little tart…which was apparently so good I forgot to take an “after” picture!

prosciutto, goat’s cheese and fig tart

puff pastry
4 ripe figs, sliced thin
6-8 slices of prosciutto
goats cheese (I used a creamy local variety stored in olive oil, which gives it such a silky texture)
4 medium-sized red onions, caramelized

Caramelize onions (takes appx 1 hour). Bake puff pastry shell in tart pan for 10 minutes or until slightly golden brown.  Layer caramelized onions, goat’s cheese and prosciutto, and top with fig slices. Season with a dash of fresh cracked pepper and drizzle of honey.  Bake another 10-15 minutes, slice and serve.

The verdict, success!  He loved it, figs and all….

Steve has been begging for some duck lately, and Dad & donna’s arrival gave me a great excuse to cook (lucky duck!).  We spent Saturday at Prahan Market, picking up some fresh pasta, an assortment of game (duck, kangaroo and emu) and local produce.  Then on a rainy Saturday afternoon, we had a stir fry extravaganza.

Grilled duck with stir fried vegetables and udon noodles

4 duck breasts, fat trimmed to a thin strip and scored
udon noodles (serves 4)
veggies of choice (we used carrots, snow peas, peppers, onion, bok choy)
green chili and garlic cloves, to taste, thinly sliced (remove chili seeds for less heat)
4 eggs

Boil water and cook noodles according to directions.  Warm wok over high heat and add chilis and garlic with olive oil, and prepare veggies (slice).

Prepare duck breasts by removing most of the fat, and leaving a strip of about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long. Score fat and marinade in soy sauce for 10 minutes. Grill 6-8 minutes skin side down; flip and grill another 4-6 minutes. (If not cooked through, continue grilling on skin side to render the fat and avoid overcooking).  Allow to rest for at least 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Add vegetables to wok with hot chili and garlic infused oil (carrots and bok choy first).  When cooked to desired doneness, add noodles, additional olive oil, soy sauce and salt & pepper to taste and stir. (Scoop noodles out of water and into wok, and keep boiling water on high heat to poach eggs. I like poaching, so that the delicious gooey yolk spills out onto the noodles when served, but feel free to fry in the wok if you’d prefer).

Serve noodles topped with egg and sliced duck breast.