lamb baklava

Something very special happened today. I had spanakopita for lunch. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but would it change your mind if I told you that it was the best spanakopita IN THE WORLD?

The spanakopita I had for lunch today was the result of a modern day miracle. The miracle of working out the perfect time to go to Cultured Salad in Melbourne's Walk Arcade. You see, the spanakopita at Cultured Salad is lovingly crafted by the delicate hands of angels. Virgin hands that have never touched anything except filo pastry. It has the perfect balance of saltiness and creaminess and the pastry, by some act of God, is simultaneously chewy AND crispy. It is perfect in every way, which I suspect is why, everyday it sells out in about 5 seconds flat.

You would be a fool to try and get spanakopita from Cultured Salad at 3pm. And if you are one of those types who has their lunch at a reasonable hour, even 12.30pm might see you leave with a sad face and an empty tummy. For days you skipped breakfast, 11.30am is just a tad too early if you hoped to break your fast with spanakopita, but if you can hold out for an extra 15 mins you just might get lucky.

Fellow Melbournites, please don't take my advice lightly. It has taken me weeks of crushing disappointment (and fallback Maccas lunches) to get this timing down to a fine art so I trust I have left this valuable information in the right hands. I'll see you in the queue.

lamb baklava
Serves 4-6

500g lamb mince
12 sheets of filo pastry, cut into half (along the short length)
60g butter, melted
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 eschalots, finely chopped
60g feta
2 tbsp roughly chopped mint
1/3 cup roughly chopped pistachios, plus extra crushed to sprinkle on top
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp sumac
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
Pomegranate molasses, to drizzle

Preheat a fan-forced oven to 200ºC.

In a large frypan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add eschalot and garlic and gently fry for 5 mins or until opaque. Add lamb mince, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon, until browned. Drain off any excess liquid. Add cumin and sumac then stir to combine. Remove from the heat, add mint and pistachios and allow to cool slightly before adding feta. Season with salt and pepper then allow to cool completely (this is important as putting hot lamb onto the pastry will make it soggy and nobody likes a soggy pastry).

Brush filo sheets with melted butter. Layer 12 of the half sheets into the bottom of a 20x25cm casserole dish. Top with the cooled lamb mixture. On top of the lamb layer, repeat filo layers with remaining pastry.

Using a very sharp knife, score the top layer of the pastry in a diamond shape. Drizzle the top layer with the remaining olive oil, then sprinkle with crushed pistachios before baking for 15-20 mins or until golden and crispy. Serve lightly drizzled with pomegranate molasses and a side of Greek salad.


gingerbread-breaded pork chops

I love a good schnitz. I find schnitzel to be one of the most easy ways to test out new flavour combos - whack the new ingredient into the crumb and slap it on, fry it up and chow down. I've had varied results, but none so bad to send THBBF (The Hungry Babushka Boyfriend) directly to the pantry for backup two-minute noodles (as a recipe developer these are an important staple in our house).

Wanting to work ginger into this recipe, and knowing a little sugar hit works delightfully with pork, it was a no-brainer to use a childhood classic, Ginger Nuts (the Arnott's brand biscuits, not the ranga genitalia) for a gingery punch. I also threw some almonds in there too, just because. The biscuits lent the dish a subtle spice and gave me an excuse to eat the rest of the packet for morning tea tomorrow.

gingerbread-breaded pork chops
Serves 4

4 boneless loin pork chops
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted almonds
4 Ginger Nut biscuits
1/2 cup plain flour
1 egg, whisked with a splash of milk
Sea salt flakes
Steamed broccolini and mashed kumara, to serve

In a small food processor combine almonds and biscuits. Blitz to a fine crumb. Add breadcrumbs and stir well to combine.

Put flour onto a large plate, then on a separate plate the breadcrumb mixture. One at a time, lightly coat the pork fillets in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip into egg mixture, then finally coat in breadcrumbs, pressing lightly to make crumbs adhere to the surface.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frypan over a medium-high heat. Cook pork for 8-10 mins, turning every couple of minutes to ensure a nice, even golden colour. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and allow to rest slightly before serving with broccolini and kumara mash.


raspberry and elderflower loaf

I've been a bad blogger. A bad, bad blogger. I KNOW I should have had some recipes up my sleeve to tide you over, but instead I abandoned you for two weeks while I kicked back and relaxed in the Land of Queens (Queensland that is, not Oxford St, Paddington).

But I've been thinking about you, I swear. In fact, I went back to school for a blogger's workshop and attended the infamous Kidspot Voices of 2014 launch party on Saturday night where I mingled with fellow blog-people and got a drunken picture of myself on the red carpet which you can see if you mosey on over to my instagram (does this sponsor advertising make my nose look big?).

Truth be told, I was in desperate need of a holiday. First thing on the to-do list was a mani/pedi. Sitting down at the bone-crushingly intense massage chair (seriously, those things are dangerous - I've had physio sessions less painful), I rolled up my jeans and looked down to discover one shaved leg and one hairy leg. Have you ever been so busy in your life that you could only commit just enough time to shaving one side of your body? Second thing on the to-do list was to shave my leg.

Having safely returned to Melbourne this morning, I am here now with a peace offering - cake. This very special recipe has been triple-tested and run by a dedicated team of taste-testers who all give it the double thumbs-up.

raspberry and elderflower loaf
Serves 6 (piggies) - 8 (healthy-types)

150g unsalted butter, melted
160g caster sugar
2 eggs
140g Greek-style yoghurt
1/4 cup elderflower concentrate (I like Ashbolt brand)
225g self-raising flour
125g fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 160ºC (140ºC fan).

Place butter, sugar, eggs, yoghurt and elderflower concentrate in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Add the flour and whisk until well combined. Fold through the raspberries and spoon into a lightly-greased 22x8cm loaf tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Smooth top with a palette knife and bake for 1 hour to 1hour 10 mins or until cooked when tested with a skewer.

Allow the loaf to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.


white truffled roast chicken with jewelled rice

During my teens there was a brief period of time that I called myself a vegetarian. And by brief, I mean about 2 days (sorry animals). My wavering loyalty was likely due to the fact that my meat-free motivations were somewhat shallow (I probably read about it in Dolly - the ultimate authority - and decided it was the right thing to do) so when I was confronted by the heavenly aromas of my Bubcha's roast chicken, the wildlife warrior in me made a swift exit.

In honour of failed vegetarian attempts and to celebrate the end of meat-free week, here is one of my favourite roast chicken recipes.

white truffled roast chicken with jewelled rice
Serves 4

4 chicken marylands
8 cloves of garlic
60g butter
1/2 bunch thyme
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Olive oil, to drizzle
White truffle oil, to serve

1 cup basmati rice
40g dried cranberries, halved (or roughly chopped, if you don't have OCD and a spare half an hour)
2 rashers of bacon, rind removed and discarded, cut into fine strips
Zest from 1 lemon (use a lemon zester)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Cook rice according to packet instructions. Spread out on a baking tray and allow to cool down (a couple of hours is good - this prevents the rice from sticking together).

Meanwhile, preheat a fan-forced oven to 160C. Arrange chicken marylands in a deep baking tray. Divide butter into 4 equal-sized pieces, then gently push the butter underneath the chicken skin (between the skin and the meat). Nestle the garlic cloves around the chicken pieces, then top with thyme sprigs before seasoning with salt and pepper and drizzling lightly with olive oil. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 mins (this will vary depending on your oven and the size of the chicken pieces - test doneness by poking a skewer into the thickest part of the chicken thigh and catching the juices in a bowl. If they run clear, the chicken is done. If there is any hint of blood in the juices, pop back into the oven for a further 10 mins, then check again). When chicken is done, remove from oven tray, cover lightly with foil and allow to rest while you prepare the rice.

To make the rice, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently so all ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the rice. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon the jewelled rice onto a plate. Top with chicken (the garlic cloves are yummy, the thyme sprigs - not so much). Drizzle chicken very lightly with truffle oil just before serving.


roast vanilla pumpkin and heirloom tomato soup with hand cut fries

It was flight of the bumblebees (literally) in my kitchen today.

I am currently gearing up for two weeks off (yes, things are going to be a bit quiet around here for a while) and I absolutely busting to get up to Queensland to visit the fams. Unfortunately, due to a heavy workload, THBBF won’t be joining me for the entire trip so I’ve been working hard to prepare care-meals for him so that I don’t come home to a skeleton. My man does not share my love of cooking, you see.

I had left our bi-fold doors open for ease of access to our resident tradies, who have been working away at the pile of rubble that is slowly resembling a shower again. Unfortunately a very large swarm of hungry bees also took advantage of this easy access when a saucepan of warm honey on my stove enticed them in (I was making honey soy for sticky chicken wings, in case you were wondering). At first I did not give it much thought as we are prone to the odd fly here and there. It wasn’t until our dog started going mental that I realized something wasn’t right (either that or another tradie had arrived), which prompted me to look up and be met with the sight of about 100 ravenous bees.

Firstly, may I just say that bi-fold doors are not something you ever want to have to try and operate in an emergency. After about 10 mins of adrenalin-fuelled fumbling, I finally managed to close them, sealing in about 30 bees.

I then ran around with a Tupperware container and a sheet of paper, trying unsuccessfully (but bravely) to trap them against the wall and slide the paper underneath before releasing them outside. After about 5 mins I realized that this was, in fact, the spider-capturing method and that it didn’t work as effectively on flying creatures, so I had to resort to the good old-fashioned fly spray. Common sense would dictate that this would have been the best method to begin with, however unfortunately I take product names a bit too literally (man brain, woman’s body) so it took a while.

I stood back and admired the Great Bee Massacre of 2014 that had just taken place in my kitchen. I then took a picture as evidence as I knew nobody would believe this story (after all, it has been a very long and stressful week. Hell, even I began to question if this ridiculous event had actually just happened). Luckily (or unluckily, depending on which way you choose to see it) the film of fly spray all over my house was proof that I wasn’t going crazy after all.

roast vanilla pumpkin and heirloom tomato soup with hand cut fries
Serves 2-3

800g butternut pumpkin flesh, cut into large wedges (from 1 medium sized pumpkin)
400g heirloom cherry tomatoes
4 tbsp light olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 potatoes, washed
400ml vegetable stock
Sea salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180ºC. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Whisk together olive oil and vanilla extract. In a large bowl, toss pumpkin with vanilla oil. Spread pumpkin on prepared tray, sprinkle generously with sea salt and bake for 40-50 mins or until soft when poked with a fork (but not golden). Pour tomatoes onto tray and return to oven for a further 20 mins.

Preheat a deep fryer on the highest setting. To prepare fries, julienne the potato. Lay fries between two sheets of paper towel and press down gently so that the moisture is absorbed. Dry potato = crispy fries (nobody likes a soggy fry!). Deep fry fries until golden and crispy (about 5 mins). Drain on paper towel.

Allow roast veggies to cool slightly before blitzing in a blender (or use a stick blender if you enjoy cleaning your roof) with vegetable stock until thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a medium saucepan and heat over a low heat until warmed through.

To serve, pour soup into bowl and top with a little bundle of fries. Season with sea salt flakes, serve immediately.

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