Author: Sarah Ferguson

Moussaka

Moussaka

If, like me, you thought moussaka was a Greek dish, you were wrong. It originated in Rumania, but is widely cooked in Greece and Turkey. So there is your piece of trivia for today!

Just a word about cooking aubergine, or eggplant. I had been brainwashed by cookery books to do one of two things to aubergine before cooking: either slice it and soak it in milk for an hour to remove any bitterness, or sprinkle it with salt, leave for an hour, then wash. I do not like the salt method, as no matter how much you wash the aubergine, it still tastes salty. Turkey, (where almost everything contains aubergine), was an eye opener. They do absolutely nothing to their aubergine, except wait until the very last minute to peel and slice them. Since I went to Turkey, I have not soaked an aubergine in milk, nor have I salted one, and the results have shown such precautions to be absolutely unnecessary. Don’t peel and slice the aubergine until you are ready to use it. To cater to tradition, I have included the usual instructions in the recipe. If you trust me, forget them.

Moussaka is a combination dish of layers of cooked lamb mince and aubergine topped with a white sauce flavoured with Parmesan cheese. Do not be tempted to use beef mince. The combination of lamb and aubergine was made in heaven, and beef does not come even close.

Meat Sauce:
1 kg lamb mince
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Oil for cooking
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes, or equivalent amount of Italian tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large aubergine or several small ones
Oil for grilling

Sauté the onion and garlic in oil if a heavy based frying pan until transparent. Remove from pan and set aside. Increase the heat and brown the lamb mince, stirring well. Return the onions to the pan and add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, brown sugar and cinnamon. Season to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes. If you feel the meat needs thickening, make a roux of flour and butter, add some of the liquid to the roux, stir well, ensuring that there are no lumps, then add to the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley last.

Peel the aubergines and slice into 5mm slices. Sit them in a shallow dish containing milk for about half an hour. Drain off milk, wash aubergine well and dry with paper towels.

Spray a baking dish with oil, add a layer of aubergine and spray with oil. Place the aubergine under a hot grill, and lightly brown. Turn and repeat on the other side. Repeat with the remaining aubergine. Alternatively, the aubergine may be shallow fried in oil, but they will absorb a lot of unnecessary oil this way.

Grease an oven dish (approx. 33cm by 23cm by 5cm) and place a layer of aubergine slices in the base. Top with half the meat mixture. Add another layer of aubergine, then the remainder of the meat. Finish with a layer of aubergine.

Cream Sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (more if you like a very cheesy sauce)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make a thick white sauce using the butter, flour and milk. Add the grated nutmeg and half the grated Parmesan. Stir the beaten egg into the sauce.

Spread the sauce over the top layer of aubergine. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 180C and bake Moussaka for 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.

Rhubarb and apple crumble

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

I love any fruit crumble and I love rhubarb, so this recipe was a must. The crumble topping is a little different from what I am used to, but works well. The ground cassia is not an essential ingredient but does add a nice spice to the mix.

Because the rhubarb will collapse in the middle when taken out of the oven, it is important to have it well covered with crumble.

8 stalks rhubarb
4 granny smith apples
50g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons caster sugar

Crumble:
360g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cassia
180g caster sugar
250g chilled unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla bean

To make the crumble, sift the flour, baking powder and ground cassia into a bowl and add the caster sugar. Dice the butter, then rub it and the vanilla extract into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly and lumpy.

Wash the rhubarb, discard the leaves and chop the stalks into 3cm lengths. Core, peel and cut the apple into similar sized chunks.

Butter a medium-sized baking dish with most of the softened butter, leaving a little to dot over the fruit. Mix the rhubarb and apple into the dish, then dot with the remaining butter and sprinkle with the caster sugar.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Generously pile the crumble over the fruit. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and the juice from the fruit is bubbling around the edges.

Serve with thick cream.

Many thanks to Nadine from Feast Photography for the photo.

Lady finger banana bread

Banana Bread

They say that Cavendish banana’s are the better banana to cook with but I’ve never had any complaints about banana bread made with Lady Finger bananas. We used to get a glut when all the bananas on the Tiffin’s tree next door all ripened at once.

Banana bread is the only recipe I know of when it’s better if the ingredients are overripe.

This recipe uses plain flour combined with baking powder rather rather than self raising flour (see Flour Facts) which makes it easier than mucking around with both types of flour. If you don’t have baking powder, the recipe calls for 1 3/4 self raising and 1/4 plain flour.

2 cups plain flour
7 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
1//2 cup full cream milk
2 eggs, lightly whisked
50g butter, melted then cooled
4 overripe small lady finger bananas, mashed*

Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease an 11 x 21cm loaf pan with melted butter. Line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper. In a large bowl, sift the plain flour and baking powder together at least twice to combine then add the cinnamon. Stir in the brown sugar, ensuring there are no lumps and make a well in the centre.

In a separate bowl place the milk, eggs, melted butter and mashed banana and stir until well combined. Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.

Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside in the pan for 5 minutes to cool before turning out onto a wire rack.

*The number of bananas required is dependent on their size. For the cake in this photo, I used 8 organic/home grown Lady Finger bananas thanks to #nadine_shaw. These were each the size of an actual lady’s – albeit very chubby – finger.(SF)

Photo thanks to #nadine_shaw and her “dodgy” iPhone.

Vinaigrette

The classic vinaigrette contains olive oil and vinegar. The proportion was once quite a definite 2:1, but even that rule is no longer followed. People have become more health conscious, there is a far greater variety of oils and vinegars available, and I think that people are thinking more about what they are doing when they are cooking. Some salads need a lighter touch than others, and garlic is no longer considered necessary in a dressing.

I would say that a classic vinaigrette is still made with virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar, with perhaps just a touch of lemon juice, so my classic vinaigrette is as follows.

3 tablespoons olive oil (virgin)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic or 2 roasted garlic cloves (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together, and toss over salad just before serving.

If serving more than one dressed salad in a meal, or at a party, try to vary your vinaigrettes, both in the oils used and the vinegars. Apple Cider Vinegar has pretty much replaced the standard white wine vinegar for us, so that’s what we use most of the time.

Remember too, that lemon juice is treated as a vinegar for the purpose of the exercise. Fresh herbs steeped in white wine vinegar and left in a corner of the cupboard just keep getting better and better.

Poached eggs with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce

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If you asked ten people what Eggs Benedict was, I am sure nine and a half of them would tell you it was poached eggs sitting on smoked salmon with hollandaise sauce.

Which is what happens when restaurants (and some food writers) are sloppy with their naming. A similar situation exists with Eggs Florentine.

Nevertheless, I just love eating this, whatever it is called.

4 thick slices of sourdough bread
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic (optional)
A generous quantity of smoked salmon
8 poached eggs (these can be poached in advance and reheated, as they would be in a restaurant situation)
Hollandaise sauce
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A sprig of dill or tarragon, to garnish

Brush both sides of the sourdough slices with a little olive oil and place under a hot grill for 1 – 2 minutes each side, until crisp and golden. Rub one side of each slice with the garlic clove.

Top each slice of sourdough with a generous quantity of smoked salmon, top the smoked salmon with 2 reheated and well-drained poached eggs. Spoon hollandaise sauce over the eggs.

Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper if using, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Garnish with a sprig of dill or tarragon and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Variation: Cook some spinach in a little butter to wilt, then chop finely. Transfer the spinach to a sieve and, using the back of a spoon, press out as much water as possible. Season the spinach with salt and freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Top each slice of sourdough with the spinach, add the smoked salmon, the poached eggs, then the hollandaise sauce. Garnish as above.

Almond Christmas Wafers

christmas almond wafers

185g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs
250g plain flour, sifted
100g ground almonds

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour and almonds and mix to a firm dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or until very firm.

Divide dough into 4 portions, roll out one portion 5mm thick and refrigerate the remainder until required. Using biscuit cutters in Christmas shapes cut out the dough (Christmas trees, angels, stars, etc.). Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake on a greased and lined baking tray at 180C for 10 – 12 minutes, or until golden.
Store in an airtight container. Dust some of the shapes with icing sugar before serving.

Layered Mascarpone and Berry Christmas Pudding

Layered Mascarpone and Berry Christmas Pudding

250g mascarpone
3 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons caster sugar
300ml cream
125g amaretti biscuits, crushed
125g hazelnuts, chopped
1 punnet blueberries
2-3 punnets strawberries
Extra blueberries and strawberries for decoration
Toasted slivered almonds for decoration

Almond Christmas Wafers to serve. (Recipe follows)

Process mascarpone with egg yolks and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Whip cream until soft peaks form and fold through the mixture. Carefully wash and dry the beater, then beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold through the mascarpone mixture. Fold in the amaretti crumbs and the hazelnuts.

Wash and hull the strawberries, cut into halves, quarters if they are very large. Wash and dry the blueberries.

Arrange alternating layers of mascarpone and mixed berries in a glass serving bowl, finishing with a layer of the mascarpone. Do this carefully, as the dessert looks spectacular through the glass. Chill well. Decorate the top with a wreath of berries and scattered almonds slivers.

To serve, place on a large serving platter and surround with almond Christmas wafers.

Photo by: Taste.com.au