Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Comforting Cottage Lasagne Pie on a cold Autumn evening

Cottage Lasagne Pie


 I have been on my phone a lot more than usual over the last few days communicating with people at home regarding Cyclone Debbie. I am feeling a lot more relaxed now than over the last few days knowing that Cyclone Debbie has passed over Mackay. Whilst lots of unfortunate people have incurred a lot of damage and flooding, thankfully we only had a few branches and lots of fallen foliage landing in our yard and loss of power for 12 hours. A couple of very good friends and neighbours have kept an eye on our property and have checked inside the house to ensure that everything is ok. Part of me would love to go home as soon as possible as a catastrophic event like this really makes you appreciate what you have all over again. I just wanted to be back in Mackay, looking after my home, and ensuring everything was alright. When we left of course there was no indication that this would happen. However the roads are blocked and probably won't open in some places for another week or so. We are also committed to house sitting for our son until they return from overseas and looking after their beautiful two border collie dogs, our grand dogs, ha, ha. So we will stay put over here in the Perth Hills all going well. 


On Tuesday when Debbie was unleashing her wrath on the East Coast, it was a cold and windy day here in the hills so I started cooking some comforting, nourishing food. I want to leave some cooked meals in the freezer here so that when Matthew and Myrtille have finished their work at the end of the day and Hugo is needing to be fed, at least they can heat up a nourishing meal if they haven't had time to cook anything, to relieve some of the pressure on them.

I have called this dish a  Cottage Lasagne Pie as I layered a few lasagne sheets through it instead of using flour to thicken up the mince, and also added some sliced tomato and chopped oregano and parsley to the sliced tomato. Myrtille doesn't like anything thickened with flour so that influenced how I cooked this mince. Cooking tasty savoury mince is a simple thing to do and I basically have this recipe in my head, often adding extra vegetables depending on what I have on hand. It is also a very economical way to stretch the budget for families, and can be frozen in edible portions.

Ingredients:

1 kg good quality beef mince
2 onions, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
3 large sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons good quality tomato sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 can of water or beef stock
Extra chopped vegetables such as zucchini if you wish particularly if you have children eating this
5 large potatoes, boiled and mashed with a little butter and milk

Method:

Saute the onion in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil until translucent but not browned. Add the mince and brown it. Add the vegetables and cook until slightly softened, then add the water and sauces and simmer for about 15 minutes until it is all cooked. Season lightly with some ground pepper. Simmer, until the liquid has cooked down, about 30 minutes then taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning.

Place a layer of lasagne sheets on the base of your rectangular dish. Add half the mince, then another layer of lasagne sheets, and then the rest of the mince. Top with sliced tomato and chopped herbs.
Top with mashed potato and decorate with a sprinkle of dried thyme.

Placed in a moderate oven, 180 deg. C, and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is nicely browned.


Whilst I was cooking, Mr. HRK was saying how he wished I was cooking pies instead of Cottage pie, as we were both feeling like comfort food on this particular day. So I saved some of the cooked mince, and used some of it with some puff pastry to make a few small pies for us. They were delicious.




Whilst the mince was cooking I also had a pot of homemade chicken stock cooking on the stove to freeze, and I will  make some soup from that at a later date. It will be nutritious and healing to have over here in the cold Perth winters when a lot of people catch the flu.



This is the stock simmering away on the stove.

Thanks for visiting my blog and have an enjoyable and safe weekend. Best wishes,
Pauline





Saturday, 25 March 2017

Country life near Lake Leschenaultia in Chidlow, W.A.

I just want to say thank you to everyone who follows my blog and hi to friends from home who read it and who are anxiously anticipating the effects of an imminent cyclone. Mr. HRK and I are trying not to be anxious knowing that it could still hit our part of the world, and here we are on the opposite side of the country feeling rather helpless. At this stage the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting it will make landfall just south of Townsville so hopefully it will miss Mackay but one just never knows. Good friends have contacted us and offered to do some of the preparation work and move some furniture inside before it gets really windy  so that is reassuring. Good friends are such a treasure and I am already planning what I will cook for them when I get home, which could be sooner than we planned if the cyclone makes landfall around Mackay.

Very healthy rosemary to be expected in a Mediterranean climate
Meanwhile, it has been a busy couple of weeks, with us flying across the country from Cairns,  via Alice Springs to Chidlow situated in the Perth Hills in Western Australia where our son Matthew and his family live. We spent an idyllic four days at a country house near Lake Leschenaultia, where there was no internet, so blogging was a little out of the question really. I did most of my internet work using mobile data on my phone which can be a challenge. I will also catch up this week hopefully with reading the other blogs that I follow now that I have access to a computer and wifi. And the weather has been so much cooler over here minus the humidity which is great.

Beautiful lavendar in flower
However, we had farm animals for company, and we also did a lot of babysitting of our gorgeous little grandson, which I have to say was really tiring but so wonderful. At 8 months old he is an absolute delight. So my cooking also revolved around what I could give little Hugo for lunch and also for his tea. He has my genes as he just loves his food and plenty of it even though most of it still needs to be mashed, ha, ha, although finger food is good.

His Mum and Dad have had a really busy week finishing off research work for their jobs and they work from home, so it was just easier for us to live offsite just down the road and help out with little Hugo. The chickens at the chalet are of a quite exotic breed and look as if they have spent the morning in the beauty parlour, however there is a very frisky rooster on patrol in the chicken coup and they aren't laying yet so the No Entry sign is very firmly located on the gate. There are also two geese in the coup to ward off the foxes, and they didn't seem particularly happy with us either, however it was all very entertaining and Hugo was quite fascinated with the rooster, safely from the outside.


Asparagus
Hot chillis growing which I didn't think would grow over there


Citrus which will be this year's crop
Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone and thanks for dropping by for a read.

It's lunchtime as we are two hours behind Queensland over here which still takes a little bit of getting used to.

Best wishes

Pauline

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Tropical Garlic Prawns


Eating prawns and seafood are synonymous with living in North Queensland, and the further North you travel the more it becomes the preferred option for a delicious meal. I think that when it comes to eating seafood, often freshly cooked, chilled,  and unadorned is best, however garlic prawns is such a classic and delicious way of cooking green prawns. I have adapted this recipe from one I found on my friend Julia's blog from Tropigal Cooks. We both love seafood so I knew this would be a good recipe. This one was originally for 600g of prawn meat, so I have just slightly increased the quantities to suit 1kg of green prawns. This was enough for three of us, so to serve four people you could safely increase the quantity of prawns by another 400g. There will still be enough delicious garlic wine sauce for everyone and plenty of prawns.

I had these gems in my freezer and always intended to make garlic prawns from them, and when I knew we would be driving to Cairns I decided to bring them up in our car fridge freezer and cook this dish for our daughter Shannon as well. I would never freeze cooked prawns because they are never the same again and become mushy, however it is quite safe to freeze green prawns and not impair the quality of them, as long as they are thawed out in the fridge. This is a great recipe as every part of the prawn is used imparting so much flavour. The shells and heads are poached in wine to create a beautifully flavoured base and stock, which combined with the cream and garlic creates a rich and delicious garlicky wine sauce. Mr. HRK and Shannon both loved this dish so I think it will now become part of my regular cooking repertoire. Initially cooking up the shells and prawn heads is a little bit more work than some of the other recipes out there, however the result is well worth it.

I am also very careful when buying fresh prawns, green or cooked,  to look at the labels in the seafood distributors or the supermarket and only buy Australian Wild caught if possible. Sometimes the only ones  available are from the prawn hatcheries and that is fine if they are local hatcheries, but the wild caught prawns are far superior in flavor and quality.

So easy and quick to make. Thanks Jules.

Ingredients:

Serves 3-4 people

1 kg raw green prawns (peeled and the shells and heads reserved) (1400 grams will be a good quantity for 4 people)
1 1/4 cup white wine
50g butter
1 tablespoon garlic infused olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
300ml cooking cream
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup rice or spaghettini to serve (I prefer rice)

Let's cook:-
  1. Peel the prawns, remove the heads, and place the green prawn meat back in the fridge in a covered dish. Place the prawn shells and heads, the wine and a cup of water into a saucepan over a medium heat and poach until the liquid reduces by half. Strain through a fine colander and reserve the liquid. You will need about 1 cup of this stock.
  2. Discard the shells and heads.
  3. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat.
  4. Add the garlic and the prawn meat and cook, stirring for 2 minutes until prawns start to turn pink.
  5. Add the mustard, cream and the reserved prawn stock and cook for 2 minutes.
  6. At this point if you think you have too much sauce, remove the prawns to a dish and keep warm, and simmer down the sauce gently for about 10 minutes. Removing the prawns stops them from becoming tough. Add the prawns back into the sauce.
  7. Stir through herbs (I prefer parsley) and and toss to combine. Add the cooked pasta if you are using pasta instead of rice. Serve the prawns with the rice.
  8. Serve in bowls with grated fresh Parmesan. (I didn't have any Parmesan this time and honestly it wasn't missed.)
Bon appetit and enjoy your prawns!

Thanks for visiting,

Best regards

Pauline.









Saturday, 11 March 2017

C ' EST BON Restaurant Francais, Cairns

Last week we drove to Cairns in Far North Queensland for a special birthday celebration with our wonderful daughter, and where better to celebrate than at C'est Bon. Mr. HRK and I don't eat out very much at home, which makes it all the more special when we dine at an excellent French restaurant like C'est Bon when travelling. This restaurant also hosts a Pinot Noir Dinner each year which the Birthday Girl has been to and now she knows the staff by their names and is on their newsletter mailing list.

The service was excellent, with minimal time between courses. Classic dishes such as Crepes Suzette and Rack of Lamb were given the extra adornment they deserve. However the standout dish for me was the dessert that I ordered, the Chocolate Souffle. I struggle sometimes now to comfortably eat three courses in close succession, however I still had plenty of room in reserve for the souffle and it was the best I have ever tasted. I could have eaten more of it. Of course Mr. HRK and the Birthday Girl were also helping me to finish it after they had demolished the Chocolate Sphere and the Crepe and they could have eaten even more of those as well.

I had forgotten what a lusciously light dessert a well made souffle is. The Chocolate Sphere was pretty amazing as well.

A sparkler with the crepe to celebrate her birthday and our beautiful daughter was extremely happy with her birthday dinner, and so were we. C'est Bon.....
C'est Bon, 20 Lake Street, Cairns


Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Cognac Flambee and Creamy Mariniere Sauce



A dozen snails with Garlic Parsley Butter 
Classic Crepe Suzette. Sorry this is out of order.........

Sauteed scallops, Vinegared Cannellini Bean Puree, Roasted Almonds, Perlee Vinaigrette
Seared Lamb Rack, Anchovy Aromatised Eggplant, Chickpea Crisp and Thyme Jus. So tender and tasty
Aged Black Angus Eye Fillet with Rustic Mash potato and Green peppercorn sauce. Mr. HRKs choice and one of the best steaks he has ever eaten, a big call.
Crispy Skin Pork Belly with Beetroot Puree, Red Wine Poached Pear, Cauliflower, and Jus
Chocolate souffle - Amazing
Chocolate Sphere, Raspberry Mousse, Chocolate Puff Rice, Berry Marmalade and Hot Chocolate Sauce. 

Collapsed Chocolate Sphere after Hot Chocolate Sauce has been poured over it. 
Thanks for visiting and have a great week,

Best wishes


Pauline

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A visit from Juvenile Metallic Starlings one sunny morning


We have lots of birds visit our garden but we hadn't seen these Juvenile Starlings before.  Regardless of how busy we are, there is always time to listen, watch and observe the birds. These had us stumped though as to what they were. After checking all of our usual sources, such as the bird books and the online bird sites we phoned our twitcher friends, Ann and Wayne living up in Eungella and from the description we gave them they knew exactly what they were. The Man of the House had seen Starlings before but not the juveniles, and certainly not a flock of them. They didn't stay for the whole morning,  but it was nice to see them.

Now we are entertained each morning by the beautiful song of the Magpies.We may not have time to smell the roses, as we don't have any ha, ha, but we have time to  watch and enjoy the birds.





I must tell you I bought a whole fish called a Grunter at the Saturday farmer markets, a fish which is in season in North Queensland at the moment. It is an Estuary fish also known  as the Javelin fish. I don't  often  buy whole  fish  to bake so it was with a little bit of trepidation knowing that  Neil would need to scale and clean it, not one of my favourite jobs either, however he happily did it and we ate it for dinner the following night. Next to Barramundi, I think it is my favourite tasting fish. When it was full size minus it's head, I thought we would have a couple of meals off it. They aren't big fish, the larger ones being protected for breeding  purposes, and there was just enough to feed the two of us. The rule with cooking Grunter is to keep it simple, the KISS principle, as the flavour is delicious on its own. Just some lemon, soy sauce, spring onion and tarragon was all that I used  and it was delicious. I placed 2 cm of water in the base of the baking fish, so the fish wouldn't  dry out and cooked  it on a baking rack for about 40 minutes. Cooked to a turn.


Best wishes
Pauline

Monday, 6 March 2017

Sicilian Caponata, a Healthy Mediterranean Diet Option



Caponata alla Siciliana or Sweet and Sour Eggplant

Caponata is a sweet and sour Sicilian vegetable dish that ticks most of the Mediterranean cuisine boxes. We ate the Caponata as a vegetable dish to accompany chicken during the week, although it can be served on its own to accompany healthy breads or as a relish. The smaller the size of the vegetable pieces the more you can call it a relish. It will keep in the frig for a couple of days and improves in flavour as a result.

A healthy Japanese Eggplant bush growing in my garden, inspired this recipe. One important thing I have learnt about eggplant is that once picked they don't have a long shelf  or refrigerator life. Eggplant don't seem to store well and they are best not refrigerated, however it is still quite muggy and hot here in Mackay so I think it would be too warm leaving them out on the kitchen bench and so I prefer to cook them close to harvesting. The Japanese or Asian eggplant variety are milder in flavour and have less seeds than the larger aubergines, and the bush supports the weight of the eggplant better than that of the large globe shaped fruit. From now I think that these are the ones we will grow.



I am aware that many of my food and cooking choices during the week "unconsciously" tend to fit into the framework of what is now called the  Mediterranean diet, which we are told is very healthy. Food choices are also based on what is available at the Farmer's Market, trying to eat more fruit, vegetables and pulses  and a decision to reduce the amount of meat we are eating in our diet. The latter isn't easy at times as I grew up in Rockhampton, proudly the Beef Capital of Australia for Heaven's sake, so I was raised on good beef, however there are so many more vegetable and fruit choices available now. My goodness, the weight should just be falling off, however life isn't that simple when you are in your early 60s, but it is a good start towards aiming for a healthy lifestyle. Thankfully the Mediterranean lifestyle allows a good glass of red wine with our meal, in moderation of course and it compliments Caponata beautifully.

All of the traditional recipes for Caponata suggest 1 cup of olive oil for this quantity of vegetables, however next time I will reduce the amount of oil to 3/4 of a cup and just check that it isn't sticking to the pan. The vegetable combination is absolutely delicious however the amount of oil needed is a personal taste.


Ingredients:

1 kg cubed eggplant, or 2 large ones, cut into 2 cm cubes
salt
6 inner sticks of celery, cut into 2 cm pieces
3/4 cup of olive oil, approx.
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup pitted  green olives (I threw in a few black ones to use them up)
1 large red capsicum
1/2 cup well-drained small capers
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup roughly chopped basil
1 1/2 cups Fresh Tomato Sauce or Passata or canned Italian Plum Tomatoes, drained and chopped
(I used my stash of frozen Oven Baked Tomato Sauce for this recipe)
1/2 cup white or red wine vinegar (I used white)
2 tablespoons sugar

Find the recipe for Oven Baked Tomatoes here.

Sprinkle the eggplant pieces with salt and drain for an hour in a colander.

Blanch the celery for 1 minute in boiling water and drain and allow to cool slightly.

Rinse the eggplant well, dry and drain the pieces. Eggplant soaks up a lot of oil if the oil isn't really hot, so instead of frying the eggplant I prefer to bake it.

Toss the eggplant with 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of the olive oil; spread onto baking parchment in a baking tray and and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large frypan, saute the onion in the remaining oil until it begins to colour.

Add the celery and garlic,  and cook a minute longer, don't let the garlic brown, then add the olives, the capers, tomato sauce pr chopped tomatoes, capsicum, vinegar and sugar.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the eggplant and simmer for 10 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Stir in the mint and cook 5 minutes longer

Check the seasoning, adjust to your taste, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Bring back to room temperature and serve sprinkled with toasted pine nuts or almond slivers, and fresh chopped basil.

I had only eaten Caponata once before I made this recipe whereas Ratatouille is so popular and so similar. Have you eaten Caponata very often?

Thanks for dropping by and please leave a message at the bottom of the screen in the comments box so that I know you have visited. Just scroll down to where it says to leave a comment and then hit publish. It would be nice to hear from you.

Best wishes

Pauline x


Thursday, 2 March 2017

The memories embedded in knitting and sewing





Burda pattern 9477

This is the warm  hat I have made for my 7 month old Grandson Hugo this week, which hopefully will keep his little head warm when they travel to Denmark and France later this month. It should still be quite cool then. Once I got started, and became used to Burda's style of instructions it was quite easy. I am starting to really feel like a retiree, and am enjoying the challenge and relaxation that sewing and knitting brings to my life. However  cooking is still very much on my horizon.

Knitting has become a regular part of my daily routine as well, and fills the gaps nicely, which really surprises me. I have never really been what I would call a successful knitter but  I have been going really well with this Waffle knit pattern and actually made the last dishcloth/face washer without a mistake, or the need to pull some out and redo it. I am enjoying the challenge, the tactile process, and the thrill of creating something from nothing. It's never too late to start.

The Waffle Knit Pattern can be found here,  I first found it on Rhonda's Down to Earth blog.
http://homespunliving.blogspot.com.au/2007/11/waffle-knit-dishcloth-pattern.html

This morning we were waiting patiently to see the segment with Hugh Sheridan on the ABC News Breakfast programme, as I like following his career. He is an extremely talented young Australian singer , actor and dancer, the whole Triple Threat scenario really. So whilst I was waiting for the segment to show, I kept knitting while the Man of the House was talking to me, and then finally Hugh Sheridan's interview came on. During the interview, and with a total loss of concentration on my knitting, somehow I managed to create an extra stitch. So I am blaming Hugh for my knitting mistake this morning, although it was worth it to see his interview, and I wish I was in Sydney tonight to see his concert. However I suppose the lesson learned from that story is to put your knitting down and focus on what you are watching, even though I am so used to being able to multitask.

Anyway I  pulled out a row and I thought I had corrected the problem. I am still not that skilled with correcting knitting mistakes as I can now see that there are still a couple of small problems in that row. Fortunately though the vertical rows of the pattern design are still aligned, and this cloth will live in my kitchen and not become a gift as a facecloth or dishcloth. Whenever I look at this dishcloth in the future I will think of that interview. Which makes me think that perhaps memories become embedded in our knitting projects as they continue over time. Do you think that is part of the satisfaction of knitting and handicrafts in general?

I am finding that whilst this pattern looks complicated it really is easy if you can knit plain and pearl and it looks so effective. It is just a matter of concentrating on the task in hand.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thanks for visiting

Warm wishes

Pauline