Mum’s Lasagne

Sunday evening, weekend is winding down and it is a bit cold today as well. This setting just calls for mood food i.e. Mum’s lasagne. I have recently started cooking family dinner on Sunday nights and this week I figured i’d make my first lasagne (with continual advice from Mum of course). Similar to me, my mother also doesn’t really measure anything when she is cooking so we had a series of “blobs” and “handfuls” which I have deciphered into actual measurements so that you can try out the recipe for yoursef!

There are four fundamental lasagne layers with two requiring some preparation before assembly. The layers are the lasagne sheets (store bought in a box and will cook in the oven), the meat mixture, homemade bechamel and then of course cheese! What seems like a labourious endeavour to get over the line for dinner, it is so simple! So for those who are cooking for a few or wanting to meal prep (recipe is freezer friendly), have a go at this!

Mum’s Lasagne

What you’re going to need

Packet lasagne sheets (Barilla have a 20 pack that are pre cooked and dried)

1 cup grated tasty cheese

Meat mixture

500 g pork mince (or any mince of your choice)

400 g Tomato Passata

1/2 medium sized onion, diced finely

1 small carrot, diced finely

1 clove garlic, grated with Microplane/crushed

4 small cup mushrooms, sliced thinly

10 basil leaves

salt and pepper to season

1 tablespoon olive oil for frying

Bechamel

1/4 cup butter/margarine

2 tablespoons plain flour

150 ml milk

1/4 cup grated tasty cheese

Method

  1. In a large frying pan, heat up the olive oil on a medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and cook until aromatic. Turn up the heat and add the mince. Chop the mince with your spatula until broken up into small pieces and browned.
  2. Once meat has been browned, turn the heat down to a low-medium heat and add the Passata and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and stir until well combined. Leave to simmer on a low heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  4. In a small non stick saucepan, melt the butter on a medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until flour has dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk until well combined. Add back to the heat and whisk until mixture has thickened. Set aside off the heat until ready to assemble the lasagne!
  5. In a large baking dish (I used a square one), line the base with some of the lasagne sheets. Add half of the meat mixture on top and spread evenly. Add a thin layer of bechamel on top of the meat. Place lasagne sheets on top of the bechamel and repeat (you will end up with three lasagne sheet layers, two meat layers, two bechamel).
  6. Once all layers are assembled, cover the top layer of lasagne sheets with the grated tasty cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes (covered with foil) and then the last 20 minutes uncovered to get colour on your cheesy top layer.
  8. Serve hot!
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Barilla Cooking Class

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Northern Italian Winter pasta cooking class at Casa Barilla in Annandale, NSW. It was my first ever Italian cooking class and I was super excited. I entered the room and was warmly welcomed by all the Barilla staff and was served an aperitif. Then, it was time to meet the chef. Executive Chef Andrea Tranchero hosts all of the cooking classes at Casa Barilla and has done demonstrations at multiple food festivals and venues including the recent Good Food and Wine Festival in Sydney.

The class size was intimate giving a warm communal feel rather than a large industrial style class. We watched the chef create the two dishes we were to prepare ourselves later today and we were so amazed. The room smelled amazing and he made dishes that might seem complicated to the eye but are quite easy for anyone to prepare at home.

Andrea Tranchero plating up both courses.

So then it was our turn. First course was Cuttlefish Casserole in Red Wine and Garlic Sauce with Soft Polenta. I haven’t really cooked with a lot of seafood (tinned tuna does NOT count) but I love to eat it . So first up was preparing the cuttlefish. The cuttlefish was purchased from the fish markets earlier in the morning and was already cleaned (perfect). We pan fried it with some fresh garlic and the Barilla red wine and garlic sauce. Next step, the polenta. I really enjoy polenta but struggle to get it right. Thankfully, there is a pre prepared polenta that only takes 5 minutes to cook on the stove top! To finish it off, a mix through of some marscapone.

Progress shots from Course 1 and plate up

Second course was Three Cheese Tortellini with Pumpkin, Crispy Guanciale and Sage. I had never really thought to eat puree with pasta but it just works SO well. Good way to get in extra veggies as well. So first we started with the pumpkin and leek puree. Really simple ingredients that complement each other perfectly. With the addition of freshly made chicken stock courtesy of Andrea, the puree was smooth and flavoursome. Next up was the sage butter sauce. We melted some butter in the pan until it was golden brown before adding freshly chopped sage. Once the tortellini was cooked, we added them into the butter with a generous serving of parmesan cheese. Once well combined, it was time for plating. Puree. Tortellini. Crispy Guanciale (similar to prosciutto and was fried in olive oil to get it extra crispy). Finished off with a drizzle of olive oil!

Progress shots from Course 2 and plate up

Each course was paired with beautiful Italian wine. After devouring our two courses that we freshly prepared, we had some Pure Gelato mini ice cream cones for dessert. Yum!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this cooking experience. Cooking classes give you a chance to learn a new skill, refine old ones and better yet, try out some flavour combinations you may not have even thought of! Would highly recommend you give one a go!


If you are interested in participating in one of Barilla Australia’s cooking classes, follow the link provided here – Barilla Pasta Cooking Class 

Click the links below for more info on Barilla Australia and Andrea Tranchero

@barillaaus

@andreatrancherochef

 

 

Aquafaba Chocolate Mousse

So aquafaba (chickpea water) desserts have been all over my Instagram and Facebook feed for a little while now. Since I always have a tin of chickpeas in my pantry, I figured I’d give this a go. I was definitely a bit of a sceptic at first that’s for sure. However as I began to whip the aquafaba like I would eggs, it was coming together exactly as it should. Weird huh? I don’t have an intolerance to eggs so this was a curiosity challenge more than anything. With melted chocolate folded through, these turned out to be quite a tasty afternoon dessert.

This recipe definitely gives you the light and airy feel of a mousse with a subtle chocolate flavour. If you are looking to be more nifty with your food leftovers and are keen for an experiment, I reckon you should try this out. Or, if you happen to have an egg allergy or are a vegan well then this is perfect!

Aquafaba Chocolate Mousse

What you’re going to need

1 tin chickpeas, draining the liquid into a medium sized bowl (save chickpeas for Hummus )

1 block 70% dark chocolate (100g if using Lindt)

2-3 tablespoons castor sugar (adjust to taste)

Method

  1. Using a hand mixer, beat the aquafaba and sugar until stiff peaks form (ideally you can lift the mixer out of the bowl and you will have mixture all over the blades). This will take at least 10-15 minutes.
  2. Melt chocolate using your preferred method. (I like the bowl over water approach on the stove top. It’s quick and works every time).
  3. Once completely melted, pour into the aerated aquafaba and fold through with a spatula. Keep folding until all mixture is even.
  4. Spoon mixture into small ramekins.
  5. Leave to set in the fridge for 4 hours. Serve fresh out of the fridge with grated chocolate on top.

 

Chocolate Mousse

Sweet Potato Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

For the most part, I am trying to eat healthy. I am quite a bit fussy about salads though. They can just be so ordinary and unfulfilling. I always need something to give them a bit more substance. For example, quinoa, pearl couscous or a starchy vegetable like in this case, sweet potato. I cook with sweet potato quite a lot because it’s flavoursome, healthy and most importantly filling.

I was out shopping earlier for groceries and noticed that my local store had pomegranates! I’ve eaten them numerous times but have never actually bought one. Decided to take the plunge and buy one. With a bit of manual labour, I managed to get out all the seeds ready for use. I normally don’t like fruit in my savoury salads but pomegranates are the exception. So in went a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds. Now for a dressing. I wanted something tangy but not with too much vinegar so went with a honey mustard style dressing. Easy to make with ingredients that most people will have in their pantries staples.

Sweet Potato Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

What you’re going to need

Salad

½ gold sweet potato, peeled and chopped into small even pieces

Generous handful of mixed green salad leaves

1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds

20 g feta cheese

Dressing (note: these are rough measures so taste you as go until you’re happy)

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Pinch sea salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
  2. On a baking tray, add the sweet potato with a drizzle of oil and pinch of salt. Bake until soft. (15-20 minutes roughly)
  3. Whilst the potato is baking, place all salad ingredients on your serving plate.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined (you’ll find that the dressing will split if you leave it sitting on the bench so whisk just before serving as well)
  5. Once potatoes are cooked, allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving with the rest of the salad and dressing.

 

 Sweet Potato Salad

 

Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake

I must admit, I only really got into tinned tuna last year. Before that, I’d eat it sporadically and just mix it with corn kernels and seasoning. Now that I am working full time and often procrastinate preparing my lunch until the morning of…(habit I am trying to break that’s for sure), I often find myself looking for things I can just pick up and easily pair with something else. My favourite last minute lunch that is healthy and filling is just simply a tin of tuna, single serve microwave rice, half an avocado plus seasoning. Works well when it needs to but you can only eat so much tuna and rice right?

Alas, today’s meal was a combination of carb cravings, utilising leftovers and of course branching out of my go to tuna routine. The gift I had today was time. I wasn’t in a rush to bolt out the door and make my train and so could actually concentrate on making something flavoursome. This is simple home cooking and it just works so well every time.

Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake (serves 2)

What you’re going to need

1 cup spiral pasta

100 ml cream

1 teaspoon butter

1 70g tin tuna

handful baby spinach, roughly chopped

3 slices sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

tasty cheese, grated (quantity up to you)

salt and pepper to season

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius
  2. Cook pasta as per packet instructions until al dente.
  3. In a saucepan on a medium heat, add the cream, butter and seasoning until well combined. Optional: mix in a bit of the grated cheese here for extra flavour.
  4. Once the sauce is ready, add the cooked pasta, tuna, spinach and tomatoes. Stir until the pasta is well coated and the additions are mixed in evenly.
  5. In a small baking dish, add the pasta mixture and spread evenly. Add the rest of the grated cheese.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese on the top goes crispy. Set to cool for 5 minutes and then eat.*

Tuna Pasta Bake.JPG

* This recipe is freezer friendly. Wait until completely cool and freeze in a snap lock bag. 

Spinach and Feta Fritters

I don’t know about you but I have a tendency to crave ultimate mood food (aka pizza, burgers and the like) when I am relaxing. To me, Sunday is my day of relaxation. I am usually at home and pretty lazy quite frankly but a girl’s gotta eat right? And so comes today’s recipe.

Opened the fridge and it was pretty bare. However we tend to freeze our leafy greens when they’re no longer good for fresh use so I had a whole stash of kale and spinach ready to go. Next stop, creamy element. I’m a big sucker for cheese and eat it religiously so threw some feta in the mix for these ones as it pairs perfectly with leafy greens. Lastly, a twist. A half filled jar of semi dried tomatoes that lifted the dish to what became a really great lunch.

Spinach and Feta fritters (yields 4-6 small fritters) 

What you’re going to need

1 heaped cup of baby spinach and kale

3 small semi dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

20g feta cheese

1 egg

1/2- 1 tablespoon self raising flour

salt and pepper to season

basil + olive oil to dress (optional)

Method

  1. In a pulse blender, combine the baby spinach, kale feta and semi dried tomatoes. Pulse until roughly chopped (don’t blend too much or you’ll end up with more of a dip consistency)
  2. Transfer mixture from the blender to a small bowl. Add the egg and mix well with a fork. Once combined, add small amounts of flour and stir until mixture holds well together but it’s not too thick. (too much flour makes fritters rubbery in texture and taste. Add with caution)
  3. Heat up a non stick fry pan on medium. Once hot, spoon even amounts of the mixture onto the pan. Cook on one side for about 2 minutes or until you can comfortably flip them over with a spatula. Flip over and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute until golden brown
  4. Serve immediately with chopped basil and olive oil drizzle.

Spinach and Feta Fritters

 

New York City Eats

I have just returned from a two week holiday in New York City and I am already feeling the nostalgia. It was my first time visiting the United States and was definitely a change from my norm back in Australia. It really is the city that never sleeps. I spent 12+ hours of my day roaming the streets checking out the sights, catching up with friends and most importantly eating all the wonderful food that the city has to offer. What I bring to you today is a snapshot of the tasty delights that I consumed whilst in the Big Apple. It is by far not an exclusive list of places that are worth visiting but are the highlights of my short stint.

 

Bagels – Absolute Bagels (2788 Broadway, Upper West Side) $

Bagel

 

Oooo la la first New York bagels. I went with simple cream cheese on a plain bagel just for starters. The shop was everything I expected from a bagel place. It was a little local bakery filled with customers and pretty much raining bagels. As the mornings were quite cold while I was there, bagels served as a perfect warm start to my jam-packed days of sightseeing.

 

Pizza – Famous Famiglia Pizzeria (Corner W 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue)* $

New York Slice

I was never really into “just cheese” pizza. It always seemed so uninviting and pedestrian. Well my thoughts have changed about cheese pizza forever since my first taste of a New York Slice. Homemade, rich and flavoursome tomato sauce base, a generous amount of cheese melted to perfection on a crispy thin base. Oh and bonus, they’re basically giving them away with slices ranging from $1 – $4. There were a few of these stores around the city but this was my local.

 

Bacon and Egg Roll – BEC  (148 8th Ave) $

Bacon and Egg Roll

Okay not going to lie, main reason I went to this place is because of the name. Alas, the food was actually
really good! If you want to switch it up from bagels for breakfast then have a wonder down 8th Avenue and get yourself a classic bacon egg and cheese on fresh ciabatta. I am a big fan of runny yolk and this place cooked the egg to perfection.

 

Deli – Katz Delicatessen (205 E Houston St) $$$

World famous deli both for their pastrami and also Pastrami Sandwichtheir movie features (When Harry Met Sally anyone?). I walked in here and was immediately intrigued by every little thing in the place. From all the photos along the wall of past visitors (both famous and non) as well as the enormous counter and diverse selection of food available to diners. I had pastrami on rye with a generous side of pickles. It was a battle to eat but worth it in the end and reaffirmed why people flock from all over the world to visit. Due to its popularity and fame, it is quite pricey for what it is. Best is just to not think about it and just eat there anyway.

Italian – Amici II (165 Mulberry St, Little Italy) $$

Lobster RavioliIs it even a trip to New York without a visit to Little Italy? I had a wander through Mulberry Street not really knowing what I was looking for but then stumbled across this quaint looking restaurant, dimly lit but filled with life (and a very enthusiastic waiter). I was spoiled with choice. The menu was filled with traditional Italian dishes with all the pasta made fresh in-house. I ended up going with the lobster ravioli with absolutely no regrets. It was so rich in flavour and the “flamingo” sauce complemented the fresh pasta perfectly. I paired this with a cocktail and devoured the free bread with homemade garlic and herb oil. Molto bene!

Fries – Food Stand at Yankee Stadium $$ 

Have you even been to America unless you have had a Cheese Frieshot dog, cheese fries and a soda? Well I had all three…in one day. Only managed to grab a photo of the cheese fries because they were the most glamorous looking of the trio. I didn’t even want to think about what the “cheese” sauce was made from or if it even was cheese but I ate it anyway happily because there is just something so satisfying in devouring junk food. I only do it sparingly so that when I do, I get the ultimate satisfaction and no guilt.

Brunch – Le Garage (157 Suydam St, Brooklyn) $$

Poached Eggs and ChorizoI spent my second week in the borough of Brooklyn and was lucky enough to have a wonderful friend show me around her local neighbourhood. But first, brunch. This place reminded me a lot of home. Quirky cafes, poached eggs, you name it. I dove straight into my chorizo and eggs whilst sipping on house made mimosas. What a time to be alive. This place is a bit out of the way from where most tourists reside but it is worth a look at if you want to feel a bit more local during your stay.

 

Burgers – Shake Shack (1 Old Fulton Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn)* $

My oh my, people rave on about this place for a reason. Shake ShackThe burgers are so fresh and flavoursome, it almost makes you feel like you’re not eating fast food. We went with the original Shackburger accompanied by cheese fries and a soda each. Enough said, you need to try this whilst in New York City (especially since this is the city where it originated). Get on it.

 

Poke – Sons of Thunder (204 E 38th St) $

Poke bowlI really wanted to try poke whilst in the United States even though this is a Western American dish technically. As per reviews on Buzzfeed and Instagram, I landed at this place on the East Side that was thriving. I happened to be around at lunch hour and the place had a huge line (always reassuring). I went with a half salmon + tuna over white rice + avocado ($1.5 extra). Overall I was satisfied with the dish. I had confidence that the ingredients were all fresh due to the turnover of trade. It is a generous portion and would probably get mixed greens instead of rice next time.

Mexican Fiesta – Tacombi (255 Bleecker St) $$

My first proper meal in New York City was at Tacombi, a Mexican place located in Greenwich Village. We had chipotle corn, guacamole and homemade corn chips and tacos (of course). I had a pork taco and a crispy fish taco (yum). The meal was filling, flavoursome and located in a really cool garage vibe place to give a street food feel. This food was accompanied with cocktails including a pina colada for me. All in all, night and money well spent.

Southern BBQ – Virgil’s Real BBQ (152 W 44th St – Times Square) $$

My friend and I were in desperate need for mood food on the day we discovered this place and it definitely delivered on what we needed. First up was BBQ wings with a blue cheese sauce (the full size wings and not the teeny ones that disappear in a second). I then followed this up with a pulled pork sandwich, house cut fries and homemade pickles. Let’s just say I was full for the foreseeable future. Even though it was close by to Times Square, it was tucked away a bit away from the action so you could escape the controlled chaos that is Times Square. Tasty, friendly service and moderately priced.

German – Retagast Hall & Biergarten (113 N 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) $$

After a long day of sightseeing around the popular neighbourhood of Williamsburg, we decided to park ourselves at the long bench tables at Retagast Hall. My friend expressed how great the sausages were here so was keen to try them out. I had Bratwurst on a pretzel bun (yes that’s a thing) and loaded with homemade sauerkraut. I was spoiled with choice for mustard. I ended up going with the most German option available. As well as this we decided to split one of the giant pretzels! It was warm, fresh and the way every pretzel should be. There were also pickles on the side. Yes!

Greek – Souvlaki GR (116 Stanton St) $$

If you’re having Greece nostalgia like my friend and I were and you are unfortunately not in Greece, then this is the place to go. It is decked out exactly like the Greek Islands with the white and blue colours protruding from all angles. They even had the pink flowers and blue chairs as part of the decor. We started off with Greek fries which consisted of house cut fries covered in herbs and feta. Next up it was souvlaki pita which mimicked a mini “Gyros” but a bit more glamorous. Finally, we finished up the meal with loukoumades drizzled in honey and sprinkled with nuts. Food babies for days.

A few other places I visited that are worth mentioning that I didn’t manage to capture any decent photos from are as follows

  • The Meatball Shop (170 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn) – $. Perfect for lunch or late night feed.
  • Gray’s Papaya (everywhere) – $. Hot dog cravings sorted within seconds.
  • Magnolia Bakery (Grand Central Dining Concourse)* –  $. Cupcakes and fan girl moments.
  • Gallow Green (542 W 27th St) – $$$. Beautiful rooftop with light meals and cocktails.

So that’s it! I was spoiled with choice and have barely even scratched the surface on one of the most incredible cities in the world. Can’t wait to go back.


* Places indicated with a * are found in multiple locations. I have included the address of the location that I visited/frequented most.

Price scale 

$ – giving it away

$$ – a happy medium and well justified

$$$ – I really loved it and forgot about my whole food philosophy for a second