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Saturday, August 17, 2013 continental childhood favourite

When I was young my family lived in the very continental Melbourne suburb of Yarraville.  By continental I mean that there were many European food sellers that had opened up shop in the town’s main shopping strip.  There was a small Greek sweet shop – this was where I got to experience “death by sugar syrup” for the first time in the various baklava and sugary pastries.  A short stroll down was a “continental” bakery where Vienna bread and baguettes were always so soft and delicious when paired with some Polish sausage from the butchers.  One of my favourite Yarraville delicacies would have to be from another café style bakery near the station.  I sadly cannot even remember their country of origin, but I suspect it was Croatian or Macedonian based on their preparation of the best Burek I had tasted - by the age of 10 anyways! 
There was always something about the crispy filo pastry up top that just gave way when you bit into them and then you were on to the next layer which would be soft pastry dotted with spiced mince. It all ends with the pastry base which once again was crunchy and buttery, leaving shards of golden pastry all over the place.  Satisfaction was always painted on the faces of anyone who ate these delectable delights and appreciation was always represented by the mess of pastry crumbs on your cheeks and on the front of your clothes.
I don’t live near Yarraville anymore and on a recent drive through the main street, I am certain the café bakery is no longer there.  I have located a delicatessen in my area that does fresh hot Burek and I try to get in early on a Saturday to pick up my smallgoods and cheeses and secure myself a slice of their Burek.  I have to admit that theirs is not as special as the Yarraville one from so many years ago but without much choice of Burek alernatives, I cannot complain.  
I was most disappointed one morning when I was at the delicatessen and was told they were out of Burek and wouldn’t have any until the following week.  It had been a while between Bureks and I definitely had a hankering.  There was only one place nearby where I could guarantee some Burek – my kitchen! So with filo pastry, butter and minced meat in tow, I headed home to try my hand at a childhood favourite.
1 packet x Filo Pastry
300g x Lamb mince
250g x Butter, melted
1tbsp x Olive oil
1 x Onion, finely diced
2 clove x Garlic, crushed
1tsp x Allspice powder
1tsp x Paprika (Sweet or Hot. You choose!)
¼tsp x Cinnamon powder
½tsp x Salt
1tsp x Nigella seeds
To prepare the mince mixture heat the olive oil in a frypan and add the onion cooking until soft
Add the lamb mince and fry gently stirring to ensure there is no more pink
Now add the garlic and powdered spices folding through to combine all the ingredients
Turn the heat up a little and cook the mince to a nice dark brown, adjust seasoning if required, remove from heat and allow to cool completely
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
Prepare the filo by placing the entire packet’s contents between two damp kitchen towels
Use a metal pie dish or deep oven pan and butter the base and sides generously 
Place a sheet of filo pastry inside the pan tucking the excess evenly around
Use a pastry brush to paint the pastry with a splash of melted butter then add another layer of pastry
Repeat until you have used seven sheets of pastry then add half of the cooled mince mixture in one even layer
Repeat the seven pastry sheet process followed by a layer of the remaining mince mixture
Finish with another seven layers of the pastry 
Paint a generous splash of butter onto the top filo pastry layer
Sprinkle the nigella seeds over the melted butter
Place the pan into the freezer for 15 minutes then remove and cut into the desired serving slices
Do not cut all the way through to the bottom of the pastry, you need only go two thirds of the way
Place the pan into the preheated oven and cook for 40 minutes keeping an eye on the top layer to ensure that it does not burn.  You may cover with baking paper if it is browning too much
Once ready, slice the Burek into the preformed pieces and serve 


Friday, August 16, 2013

Easy Chicken Paella

Where have I been? Don’t ask! In A nutshell – clearly not blogging! Life in 2013 has gotten faster paced.  It is almost as if someone decided to light a rocket somewhere in backside of March and before you have time to scratch – it’s August! Which means that the year is almost coming to an end and it’ll be 2014 before we know it.  
So to stay faithful to the blog I thought I would log in some hours of serous blogging and if I can commit to one or two new posts every week, I may have a reasonably sized 2013 volume.  I thought I might start off with some easy recipes that I have been plating up for the family and occasional friends.  You will have to excuse the photography (or lack of) in some of these posts because I have had to rely on the phone camera.  
I have a blogged a recipe for paella previously but felt the need to do it again, differently this time.  So this recipe steers slightly away from the traditional Spanish one but rest assured it is somewhat still true to the original (at least in the taste department). 
Most people might be a little deterred from going anywhere near a paella and strictly reserve the experience to market stalls where they are charged an exorbitant price for a plate of yellow goopy rice with one or two bits of seafood and a piece of chicken.  The food theatrics seem to justify the price tag as everyone is in awe of the big paella plate on the huge gas ring in the middle of the walkway, cooking up a serve that could feed a small village.  Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely one for a food show but the end result must be as worthy as the prelude. Far too many times, I have been left rather disappointed at the flavourless plate of paella that whilst being visually appealing from its preparation to its plating – it misses the all-important mark – taste!  
Here is the easiest paella recipe I could conjure up.  Forget about special bomba rice, saffron and chorizo.  Sometimes you don’t have these things just lying around at home.  This simple recipe delivers on taste and ease by using ingredients that are quite easily sourced.  You can make your own stock (which I highly recommend – see recipe) or you could buy 1½ litres of the ready-made liquid kind and have it boiling ready to use. I like to precook the chicken so that there are no pink bits when I bite into a piece.  It usually takes the same time as the stock does to brew.   
For the stock
2 sticks x Celery
2 x Onions
2 x Carrots
4 cloves x Garlic, bruised
2lt x Water
For the chicken 
2kg x Chicken wings, separated into three segments – wingettes, drumettes and wingtips
Olive oil
4 cloves x Garlic, crushed to a paste
Sprig x Thyme and Rosemary 
½  tbsp x Smoked Paprika
Salt, to taste
For the rice
500g x Medium Grain Rice
Olive oil
1 x Onion, finely diced
3 cloves x Garlic, crushed
2 x Tomatoes, diced finely
2 x Capsicum, cut into strips
1tsp x Turmeric powder
1 cup x Peas (frozen is fine)
Salt to taste
Place all stock ingredients into a large stock pot along with the chicken wingtips and bring to the boil
Skim any impurities that rise to the top and lower the heat
Cover and allow to cook for 1-2 hours then drain and reserve the clear stock liquid
For the chicken, place wingettes and drummettes in a ceramic or glass baking dish and rub through the remaining ingredients massaging the flavour into the wings
Cover and allow to marinate for up to an hour
Place covered dish into a 200 degree oven and bake for up to an hour
Turn the pieces over halfway through
Remove chicken from the dish and reserve any cooking juices
To start the paella place a large frypan (or paella pan) on the stove top and make sure your stock is boiling
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and then cook the onion until soft
Add the garlic, stir for a few seconds then add the tomato and cook for a further 3 minutes 
Now place capsicum and the rice and fry for another 2 minutes
At this point, add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking juices from the chicken
Pour in a cup of stock and stir through to deglaze the pan
When most of the stock has been absorbed, gradually add in another 3 cups
Now sprinkle in the turmeric powder and stir through evenly
Check the seasoning and add salt to taste
Pour in the peas stir gently and put the spoon away as you won’t be stirring anymore 
Arrange two thirds of the chicken pieces around the pan evenly pressing down so that they are submerged in the cooking liquid
Add extra stock if needed.  The liquid should be covering all the rice and some of the chicken too you may add more of the cooking juices now as well
Bring the dish to the boil then reduce the heat to a low and allow to simmer
Paella is ready when the rice is done, depending on the size of your pan this can take 30 to 45 minutes.  Taste as you go to check the doneness of the rice
When done sprinkle a dash of smoked paprika and top up with more chicken
Serve hot with a wedge of lime

"The paella will be a very exciting bright yellow thanks to the turmeric and all the flavours of the chicken and other aromatics should come through the rice.  Paella definitely is a very visually exciting dish and when I served this up to the adults who stuck around at my son’s 8th birthday party, they were most impressed – I think some of them thought they were going to be subjected to regular 8th birthday party junk food along with the kids – not in my house!"
"And how do you know when you have done a good paella? The pan should look like this" >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>    


Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Lentil Dal with Curry leaves

Here's my ultimate favourite dal recipe, and being the one that I have served up to a group of twenty or so attendees at a lunch gathering at work, it has definitely been given the thumbs up.  Once again, as with most of my Indian vegetarian dishes, simplicity is at this recipe's core.  From start to finish you should be able to whip up this dal in under 30 minutes and have a delicious dinner ready in no time.  And given that it is winter at the moment, nothing is quite as satisfying than this warm bowl of nutritional goodness to warm you up on the inside.
250g x Red Lentils, washed and drained
1.25 litre x Water
1 x Onion, chopped coarsely
1 x dried Red Chilli
1 tsp x Turmeric
1 can x Tomato
1-2 tsp x Salt
1 tbsp x Garlic, crushed (about 3 cloves)
1 tbsp x Ginger, grated
1 tbsp x Cumin powder
2 tbsp x Vegetable oil (or Ghee)
1 tsp x Black mustard seed
3 sprigs x Curry leaves, picked
Tip the washed lentils and water into a large saucepan
Place onto the stove on high heat and add the onion, chilli, turmeric, tomato and salt
Bring to a gentle boil, removing any froth that rises to the top
Combine the garlic, ginger, cumin and mustard seed in a small bowl
When the lentils have softened remove the chilli and discard, 
Now reduce the heat to a low simmer 
Use a stick blender to process the dal into a coarse and runny paste
In a separate frying pan heat the oil or ghee and add the curry leaves carefully
Follow quickly with the garlic and ginger mixture
Stir gently for a minute or two or until the mixture is browned slightly
Tip the mixture and oil straight into the dal, stirring well to combine
Taste for salt, adjusting more if desired
Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes then remove from heat
Dal will thicken slightly on standing
Serve with flatbreads or rice add extra red or green chlli if desired
Can be stored in a freezer for up to a month