Christmas Table

When I was at my friend’s engagement party a few years ago, I had this delighful experience with an apricot and coconut truffle. But I thought – this could be even better with good quality dates…

So finally this Christmas I came around to doing something with that idea. I wanted to make some date and chocolate truffles. And I went mad – I made them on three different occasions! The first were rolled in cocoa but my family found that they were too strong and a bit suffocating when the cocoa gets stuck in the throat. The second I added more dates to the mix and they were much more softer and I coated some in melted chocolate and some in coconut.
Finally the third time round I decided to add some liquer to the mix and coat them in crushed roasted almonds and coconut.

Bliss! I’m happy they made their way to the Christmas lunch table (see below) because it is hard to put dessert next to my aunty’s whose perfected her sweets for years and years. She enjoyed them, hurrah! I ammended the recipe from journey kitchen here

Truffles at our Christmas table with triffle, coffee flavoured Amoretti biscotti, fresh fruit salad and natural yoghurt.

Makes 30 truffles.

INGREDIENTS

750g quality dates
A good few TBsp’s of olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon, grounded
2 TBsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ginger, grounded
A few TBsp’s of liquer (of you choice)

For dusting

roasted and crushed almonds
dessicated coconut

METHOD

preparing mixture: In a small-medium saucepan, heat the oil and add the dates. Stir well. Continue cooking until the dates are very sticky. Add some water in if you find it is sticking. Remove from the stove and add the spices and cocoa powder. Stir well till they have combined with the mixture. Let it cool for 5 minutes.

making the balls: Once it has cooled, use your hands to remove the date seeds. Then, measure a TBsp of mixture and shape with your hands. Lay on a lined baking sheet and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to harden.

rolling the balls: Once they’re firm enough, roll some in the almonds and some in the coconut.

Enjoy!

Potato and Rice Croquettes

When I was growing up my family would travel to my nonna’s house every fortnight. I always remember her cooking in this antique-style kitchen and my brother and I retreating to the comfortable lounges under this big religious artwork and relaxing by watching some mundane television for 30 minutes until lunch was served. It smelt so good. And even when my stomach was so full of home-made pasta and meats and salads, my nonna would say “mangi mangi” (eat up! eat up!).

I have fond memories of eating this food at the table with my family, my dad always sitting across from my brother and I. The food served was always made with great care, probably from recipes past down and with lots of loving in them. I used to enjoy a couple of these croquettes as the ‘second meal’ – the meal after the pasta, even if I was full they were very hard to resist.

My aunty showed me how to make these charming little Italian croquettes and I am very thankful. Now that the recipe has been passed down to me, I’m going to give them a go on my own.

I made these for a church fundraising event and it makes 60 croquettes so you would have to bring them to a party or freeze them!

INGREDIENTS

3 cups short or medium grain rice
4 medium potatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic
10 parsley stalks
5 eggs
3 handfuls of parmesan cheese
1 packet of breadcrumbs*
500 ml canola oil

*You can buy the ones with cornflakes to give it a stronger yellow colour.

METHOD

prepare rice: In a large saucepan, fill water close to the top. Pour the rice in and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Once the rice is cooked, rinse it to remove the starch.

prepare potatoes: Boil some water in a kettle and place the potatoes in a colander in a large saucepan. Pour water over the potatoes until just covered. Steam them with the lid on for about 20 minutes.

prepare mixture: In a large mixing bowl, mix the rice and potatoes together. Add the parmesan cheese, garlic and parsley. If the mixture is too soft, add more rice.

dunking the croquettes: Crack the eggs into one deep plate and pour the breadcrumbs in another deep plate. Wash your hands so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands. Build a factory line if you can (have another person helping to quicken the dunking). One person shape the croquettes into ovals with a rolling technique with your hand palms (this takes practice). The other person carefully dunk the croquettes into the egg briefly (make sure it is well covered) and then roll it around in the breadcrumbs mixture to coat it.

cooking the croquettes: When you’re ready, heat a deep-base pan and use 500ml of canola of oil for deep frying. One set of croquettes should take about 6 minutes.

Enjoy and pass them round the table!!

The ‘Stack’

This is my dad’s simple invention. Piling up our favourite dish and calling it “the stack”. It’s typicaly served with lamb but I requested a vegetarian option and so egg it is! This dinner is a great pick-me-up because the flavours of the roasted vegetables really come out with the strong balsamic vinaigrette.

It is best served warm and enjoyed over a long conversation because it is quite filling and takes a while to work your way through to the bottom. Or you may prefer to eat the lettuce leaves with the roasted vegetables so you’re not left with what might appear as unflavoursome garnishes!

Serves 3

INGREDIENTS

2 carrots, chopped in chunks
1-2 potatoes, chopped in chunks
1/4 pumpkin, chopped in chunks
5 roma tomatoes, halved
Large bag full of mixed lettuce (radicchio, rocket, romaine, baby spinach, mesclun, butter…)
6 free range eggs, boiled and halved
125g feta, crumbled
A good drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper

METHOD

preparing roasted veges: Pre-heat oven at 200°C. Chop the vegetables and in a mixing bowl, toss oil to coat and season. Line a baking dish with baking paper, spread them out and lay them flat. Roast for 40-50mins at 180°C or until tender and browned.

making the vinaigrette: combine 1-2 TBsp balsamic vinegar, 1-2 TBsp extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper in a small jar and shake.

compiling the stack: Line the base of the plate with a bed of mixed lettuce. Then alternate between roasted vegetables and eggs piling it high. Give the stack a good drizzle of the balsamic dressing and crumble feta cheese on top.

Ginger and Choc Scones

These are not your traditional scones that you would serve with home-made jam and fresh cream. (yum!) Instead they are more like a healthy substitute for a morning or afternoon tea snack when you’re craving chocolate or a moist soft treat. The chocolate is divine here as it is soft enough to melt in the mouth. I also think these scones are well-balanced with the spices and ginger so as to not be an overpowering or overly sweat treat.

The original recipe is from the crazy Post Punk Kitchen (check out the way they write this recipe – intense!). I use organic raw sugar because it’s lower in GI and I feel better eating it than other packed sugars. I’ve also added crystallized candied ginger because they are a MUST as they give this recipe a bit more of a kick.

Makes 10.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups plain flour
1 cup wholemeal
2 TBsp baking powder
1 1/2 TBsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
A good pinch of allspice
1/2 cup organic raw sugar, extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cups milk (soy/rice/almond milk if you prefer)
1 tsp vanilla extract
140g good quality chocolate
1/4 cup crystallized candied ginger, roughly chopped

METHOD

Firstly, preheat the oven to 200°C. In a large mixing bowl combine all your dry ingredients (except for chocolate and crystallized ginger) and give it a good stir. Take the chocolate bar, with the wrapping still intact, give it a good smashing or two (I learnt this trick from watching old episodes of Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef series – full of advice and great tips). The chocolate pieces will be ready to fold into the dry mixture. Also add the crystallized ginger at this point.

Line and lightly grease a baking tray. Scoop the batter in big chunks, about a few heaped TBsp’s and drop them on the sheet. Don’t worry so much about the distance between them they generally don’t grow much while baking. Give a good sprinkle of raw sugar on the top.

Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes until they are firm to touch. Enjoy by themselves or with a small cup of milk or tea!

Home-made Pasta with Napoletana Sauce

Or as Italian’s know it as “Tagliatelle alla Napoletana”. It’s a simple joy to eat one mouthful of this. When my dad & I first made our own pasta and the sauce to go with it in early 2010, it took a long afternoon and perseverance to see and taste the rewards. But it was worth it! Now we know that anyone can try making pasta from scratch and suceed. Now we have an electic pasta maker that makes rolling the dough quicker and less exhaustive than using the manual one.

The recipe for fresh pasta that I’ve simplified below is from Jamie Oliver’s website here – because I believe he has learnt from the best. And ofcourse the classic Napoletana is dad’s recipe. Eat up and enjoy!

Serves 4.

Home-made Pasta

INGREDIENTS

600g Tipo ‘00’ flour (you can get this fine flour at an Italian delicatessen)
6 large free-range or organic eggs

METHOD

Making the dough: Firstly, add the flour and eggs into your food processor. Blend till the flour resembles breadcrumbs. Tip the mixture onto the lightly floured work surface and collect the dough together using your hands. Then, begin to knead it (this takes practice to perform well). Keep going till you the pasta feels more smooth than rough. Then, cover the dough in cling film and let it chill in the fridge for a good half hour.

Rolling the pasta: Firstly, set up the pasta machine so it’s locked onto a clean work surface. Dust the work surface and split the pasta dough into three seperate pieces. Rolling out the first piece, press it down with your fingertips so that it’s flat. Set the pasta machine to the largest setting and roll the pasta dough through. Everytime you put the dough through the pasta machine flour it so that it doesn’t stick to itself. Then, put the pasta machine down one setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Repeat this another two times or until it is smooth and silky.

Work the pasta dough through to the lower settings, you will see the pasta go from wide to narrow. When it’s at the narrowest setting, fold the pasta sheet in half and feed it through lengthways, then repeat this three times until you have a square sized piece of dough. Then, turn it at a right angle and pull it through the pasta machine at it’s widest setting. After the final rolling, it should be a rectangular thin sheet of dough with straight edges. Finally, turn the pasta machine to the cutting setting or attach the extra component and feed the pasta sheet through. You can use a handful of semolina to keep the pasta seperated as you wait to cook it.

Cook the pasta: Fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Slowly add the pasta ribbons by the handful. Turn the heat to medium-high and the pasta will be al dente in 8-10 minutes. Serve with Napoletana Sauce or any other delicious sauce you have made.

Napoletana Sauce

INGREDIENTS

1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
425g can of chopped tomatoes*
1 carrot, finely diced
1 zucchini, finely diced
2 tsp rosemary and oregano, dried or fresh
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped or ripped
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper

*Our favourite brand is MUTTI. Produces very soft and creamy tomato sauces.

METHOD

In a medium- large saucepan, fry some oil on medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Then, add garlic for one minute. Add the tomatoes, carrots, zucchini and dried or fresh herbs and bring the sauce to the boil.

Season and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes – 1hr to get the acid out of the tomatoes. You can keep the lid of the saucepan off to quicken the process if you are in a rush. Make sure you check on it every 15-20 minutes to give it a good stir through. It will be ready when the tomato liquid has reduced and the sauce becomes thick. Add a good handful of basil to the sauce and let it continue to simmer for 2-5 minutes. It’s now ready to serve! Yum.

Baked Ricotta Cheesecake

Every few months, my aunty comes around to our home (or we go to hers) and my dad and I are always eager-eyed and ready to absord her honed culinary skills. The three of us are united by our interest in cooking and occasionally we will unwind after long hours in the kitchen and sit down to one of our favourite SBS food programs, “Food Safari” . We inject our comments and presumptuous remarks on how the fancy food can or should some-how be replicated for the home. It certainly makes for lively and interactive pre-recorded TV watching!

My dad has admitted he has a weakness for Cheesecake and so one afternoon, when it was pouring rain and the right atmosphere for dessert, we decided to invite our aunty around to bring her plethora of baking utensils and help us in the kitchen to make the much-loved traditional Italian dessert from Food Safari’s Loretta Sartori.

INGREDIENTS

1 x 26 cm disc of shortcrust pastry-baked and sides at 6cm high
3 eggs
60g sugar
350g cream cheese, at room temperature
650g fresh ricotta cheese
80 mL cream
50g sugar
80g almond meal
80g orange peel
100g sultanas, (optional: soaked in rum)

Sweet Shortcrust Dough

1 egg
100g castor sugar
200g unsalted butter
300g plain flour

METHOD

Making pastry: cream the butter and sugar in a food mixer until light and pale. Add the egg and continue creaming until it’s absorbed. Stop the mixer and add the flour, mix until combined. Wrap this dough in plastic and chill for a good hour or two. After it’s chilled, knead the dough lightly to soften, then roll it out with a touch of flour to dust. Measure the dough to fit a 26 cm round disc, and the sides at 6cm high with the remaining shortcrust dough. After lining the base with pastry, cover the wall of the ring that forms the sides of the cheesecake. Trim off any excess dough. Then, bake at 180°C for 15 minutes to brown it.

Making filling: Whisk the eggs and sugar until thick. Set aside. In a food mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Then, add the fresh ricotta and beat until smooth. Add the cream, then gradually add the whisked eggs. Mix until it is well combined. Fold in the almond meal, orange peel and sultanas.Transfer into the prepared pastry base.

Baking the cheesecake: Bake for a further hour at 180°C. When it’s cool, use a sifter to dust with icing sugar.

Serve: Enjoy at room temperature over strong coffee or tea. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days or frozen for a month or so.

Home-made Crackers

I’m so happy and relieved to finally begin writing down my thoughts and adventures with food and the various traditonal, vegetarian, and other good-living recipes I’ve collected over the years. Now to my first recipe post…

The Za’atar spice blend has been foreign to my kitchen for a while probably because in trying to do good, I stay away from blends…especially when I argue that I can make it myself. But because I love all things Middle-Eastern, this special mix of dried oregano, basil thyme, sumac, roasted sesame seeds, salt and other herbs is now a regular feature on my sandwhiches and a staple during snack times. The best and probably most common and recognised way that za’atar is enjoyed is by dipping some soft, fresh turkish bread into a nice helping of extra-virgin olive oil mixed-well with the za’atar so as you eat it there are no dry parts and it is just soaking in the oil. Divine! And ofcourse, enjoyed in moderation!

If you’re like me and love making home-made foods for a snack or to bring to a party, these are just ideal! These healthy crackers were created by substituting the parmesan cheese and elusive garlic powder with the abundance of za’atar in my pantry. (because at the markets and lebanese/middle-eastern grocers they sell these huge one kilo bags. It’s cheap but it’s also plentiful).

I found the recipe from Stephanie Petersen‘s blog and I was immediately impressed by the simplicity of the ingredient list and the straight-forward method. These crackers are a delicious bitter bite that will satisfy a savoury lover’s craving in afternoons to come!

INGREDIENTS

1 3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat (or wholemeal flour)
1/4 cup za’atar
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup water

METHOD

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Blend the wet ingredients (oil and water) in a food processor. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients until it is mixed through and makes a dough. Divide into two balls.

Then with a rolling pin, roll each ball out onto a metal tray layered with one sheet of baking paper. Roll them out thin or thick depending on your preference. (not too thin that they are fully crisp and loose all their nutrition). Make sure you trim the extra dough on the edges, adding them to the middle as you roll out a good even sheet of dough on the tray.

Then, use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut the crackers in your prefered shape. (I did square shapes but triangle is great too). Spray or sprinkle lightly with water to allow the salt to remain and making the crackers that more crispier.

Bake at 180°C for 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the crackers.

Enjoy by themselves or with home-made dips and spreads like hummus and pesto. Keep them in an airtight container up to a week though they are hard to resist when freshly baked.

Serving on Beach Mission

I have heard alot of things about “Beach Mission” from friends in different Christian circles, both young and old. It seems to be the popular, fun, engaging and loving way to spend your time as a Christian in the New Year. At the back of my mind, I wanted to test this and see if what was said about it could be matched with my own first-hand experience of it. I learnt over the ten days I was there, that the rumours were indeed true! Alas, all these things rang true but mostly what stood out for me was the role of service and the abounding love that Christians can show to one another and their communities.

So this year, 2011-2012, over New Years, I spent ten days in community with other Christians from all over Sydney (some where strangers, others not). We did this by camping on a designated hill top, sharing our tents, our bathrooms, and eating the same food.

My role on mission was head Chef! Something that scared me from the outset because I wasn’t completly sure whether I could organise myself around the schedule, the seemingly inexpensive budget and muster up enough energy to continue cooking everyday and evening. I did however feel confident in the recipes I was preparing,  their ability in feeding the team and my capabilities in the kitchen tent (whether on the grass or on the floor I was excepting of the challenge of camp-style cooking). But despite my trepidation, perhaps at maybe someone falling ill from a hygeine issue, I feel I excelled in my role. This is not because I learnt to rely on my cooking skills or safety precautions (though they were numerous) but because of the surprising yet welcomed unwavering support by team members. It was one of the first times that I truly felt for certain that I knew what use these cooking skills could have, and how I could be creative with this great gift my family has passed onto me.

Upon a recent visit, my aunty from Malaysia was sharing with me about how she had a desire to go on an overseas mission yet she didn’t know entirely how she could be of use. To her delight, a cooking position came up which allowed her to use her cooking expertise and business knowledge. Yet in the context of serving in Africa, she really was challenging and expanding her skills honed in a restaurant kitchen to serve the medical team by assisting with food functions. Although my time on mission was shorter in comparison and had a different impact on the community in the caravan park in Australia to my Aunties’ in much-needy Africa, I really felt strongly about clinging on to what I thought of as her lesson in trusting God. That as believers, we can have a real desire to serve God in unknown places yet if we learn to nurture a deep trust in the Lord we can always take comfort in the truth that He is full of provision and will show us a way. That he will provide the right opportunity to use the gifts he has shaped in us and these can be a blessing to those in need.

Ultimately, serving the team and the people at Regatta point Caravan park was an intense yet highly satisfying time to remember and understand what it means to be Christ’s servant and be stewards of our gifts. I think it is so appropriate that the mission, hosted by SUFM, follows the festive season of Christmas. At a time when Christians rejoice in the coming of their saviour – the light of the world, and are spiritually preparing for His return, it is almost certain that what folllows is a New Year which takes hold of the Day. For if we are still living in this world, many people need to hear of Christ’s goodness and forgiveness, and to take hold of the moment – in our contemporary society, means to spend time away from our rushing-hectic-frenetic lifestyle to be in unity and community with fellow believers.

And lastly, what is so lovely about mission is that by simply being a loving Christian community that lives in harmony and forbears with one another (as Paul talks about in Ephesians – the book we spent our devotions in) is a true witness to non believers. That when outsiders look on us as a group and see our actions to one another, they can be inspired by the fact that individuals from very different social backgrounds in Sydney are living and breathing in the same space! It can cause them to wonder how they are different in the way they live their lives. So – I’m truly relieved to know that ultimately, the work on beach mission boils down to our loving actions and care towards the people we encounted and that this pointed them to Jesus Christ and the Father of all people.