Sunday, March 27, 2011

Easy lasagne

There's not much in life that I love more than a good lasagne. That said, I don't much care for the laborious process traditionally involved with creating this Italian comfort food. I was therefore thrilled when my good Swiwi (that's half Swedish, half Kiwi) friend, Jo (who you can find blogging here) provided me with this easy recipe. She was initially dismayed that I tweaked it to include meat (my excuse: I live with a carnivorous male!), but I think she'll forgive me. I've made this lasagne a number of times since the recipe was exchanged and cannot rate it more highly for simplicity and taste. 

Easy lasagne
Serves 6-8
A splash of olive oil
1 onion
500g beef mince
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 heaped teaspoon of hot paprika (optional)
2-3 carrots
2 zucchinis
1 can crushed/chopped tomatoes
200ml crème fraîche
250g frozen spinach - defrosted
50g feta (not pictured below)
1 pkt lasagne sheets
2 generous handfuls of grated cheese
3 tbls milk
About two hours prior to cooking, remove spinach from freezer and set aside to defrost.
Pre-heat oven to 210°C. 
Fry up onion and garlic in a couple of splashes of olive oil. 
Add and brown beef mince, as well as the *secret* ingredient for those who like their lasagne with a little kick - paprika. 
At this stage, I should probably shout out to Nagambie Gold olive oil and Oasis Bakery (provider of this paprika) - both of which are excellent local Victorian companies, whose products I use on a near daily basis. 

I digress! Next add the chopped carrots and zucchini. Your pot should now look something like this:
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and allow to bubble away on the stove top for around 10 minutes, at which time the carrots should be beginning to soften, but shouldn't be mushy (after all, it's going to be cooked in the oven later on). 
Now is a good time to squeeze the excess liquid from the defrosted spinach.
Add crème fraîche, stir through and remove pot from heat. 
The crème fraîche is truly the star of this lasagne - it negates the need for making a béchamel sauce and provides a beautifully intensive creaminess to the dish. 
Now it's time to layer it up!
Repeat until all meat sauce is used (I make three layers of meat with these quantities).
It's now time for the beast to be baked (at around 210°C for 30 minutes). If your oven is anything like mine (i.e. pathetic!) you'll need to stick the lasagne under the griller for a couple of minutes to nicely crisp and brown the top. 

Et voilà! My easy lasagne is done!
Serve piping hot (check out that steam!)...
...and enjoy the oozy creamy goodness of lasagne in less than an hour - stellar!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shallot Thai Restaurant

Where: Shallot Thai Restaurant (3 locations in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, but we visit 181 Waverley Rd, Malvern East, VIC, 3145)
What: Regularly ordered dishes include the Pad See Ew (with beef), Pad Met Mamuang (with chicken or prawns), any of the Thai salads on offer and the green curry.
Rating: 15.5/20

There are some restaurants I feel I shouldn't really review, because I've become too close to them and feel I lack sufficient objectivity. Shallot is one of them. I have been dining here with family and friends since the restaurant opened and regularly collect Friday night take-away from the establishment. Nonetheless, on a recent "date night" with my beloved, I decided to take some photos and thought I might spread the "Shallot love" around a little. 

I have to admit that Thai food in Melbourne tends to be a little, well...."meh" (for lack of a better term). Besides the top notch eateries such as Longrain, the less expensive Thai restaurants seem to lack the requisite intensity of flavour that Thai food demands. I would argue that Shallot is different, provided one orders the right food (i.e. food that is not intentionally designed to appeal to Western (read: bland-loving) palates).  

On this particular night we decided to kick off with a couple of Singhas - I find these beers very refreshing and crisp, complementing the strong flavours of Thai food.

We then ordered our usual favourite - Pad See Ew with beef. The thick ribbons of noodes, crisp greens and thin slices of tender beef are sensational - really delicious!

As it was a warm night, we decided a salad was essential. The salads at Shallot are known for their traditional, punchy Thai combination of sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter. All contain various proteins with a hefty dose of red onion, coriander and greens. On this particular evening my beloved couldn't resist the special - deep fried soft shell crab. It didn't disappoint, despite the grainy, shadowy image (I only had my iPhone on me).

Yes, it's suburban and yes, it can be full of families, but Shallot does not disappoint food-wise. Meals are good value for money (especially the take-away options) and the quality and freshness of food is consistently excellent.

Shallot Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 18, 2011

Going to Noma!

Last night at 2am my mobile phone rang. My first groggy response was to ignore the call and go back to sleep. However, given the number was "unknown" I decided to answer in case it was an emergency involving family or friends. Thankfully, it wasn't. Rather, it was a call from the world's number one restaurant - Noma in Copenhagen. See this link for details of its recent crowning. 

My beloved and I had tried to book Noma at precisely 10pm (Australian eastern time) on 1 March for lunch dining during our trip to Europe in May. Although I hit refresh on my browser at least a *gazillion* times when the booking system opened, I was unsuccessful and instead was asked to leave my details should there be a cancellation. 

Now, I typically have little faith in these "leave your details and we'll call you if someone pikes" arrangements, but lo and behold, Noma did call us. I don't know who on earth would turn down a booking at Noma, but I sure am grateful that they did! This will truly be the experience of a lifetime for foodies like us. I'm not quite sure I can adequately articulate my excitement at this point, but I can tell you that I was so elated by the 2am phone call that I immediately ran (a hard motion with a busted knee and at 2am!) to fetch my lap top and check that promised confirmation email had arrived (it had) and salivate over the sample menu on their website. 

I'm going to Noma, baby, yeah!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Things are looking up!

Yesterday was the day I was meant to run 5km for Christchurch and, as you know, this attempt was thwarted by a knee injury that occurred last Sunday. Indeed, most of this past week has involved me lying on my back with an elevated leg or running (no pun intended!) from physician to scan to surgeon. And the verdict? Totally busted anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), cracked cartilage and a helluva lotta bone bruising.

By very early in the week, it was apparent that the injuries sustained were much more than bruising and muscular strains. Check out the swelling (or look away now - I understand if you're squeamish!):

I took the news well and was optimistic about my plans to head to Europe at Easter. However, by midweek (and one day prior to a scheduled appointment with my surgeon), my positivity began to flag. Perhaps he would tell me that I couldn't fly. Perhaps I would not be fit to walk by then. At 11am on Wednesday, my mood took another blow, as my hot water tank burst, spewing bubbling water and steam across my parquetry floors. Being immobile, I called my beloved for assistance (he's seriously been my rock/man-slave this week - I will be forever grateful!) and a few plumbers and sparkies (that's "Aussie" for electrician) later and the problem had been rectified...albeit at a cost. The day was nicely rounded out when Pickle decided to have a piddle on the floor. TRIFECTA!

Here's the little jerk. How can I stay mad at a face like that?

As I prepared to see the surgeon on Thursday, I braced for the worst. Like all good surgeons, this one was socially inept, preferring to speak to his desk or the wall than maintain any sort of eye contact. I find such ostensibly antisocial behaviour comforting in a surgeon - as if, what they lack in social skills is somehow balanced by their ability to interact with an anaesthetised body...I digress!

I was advised that I would need surgery, should I wish to participate in any sort of activity that requires lateral movement in the future (basketball, skiing, tennis, running around corners etc.) and that until then, I'll be a kind of inverse crab (i.e. only able to move forwards and backwards). My star sign is Cancer, after all!

The good news? Surgery is not required until 2-6 months after the injury to ensure a better outcome in the long term. The even better news? I will be able to travel to Europe and partake in all walking (and maybe even some biking) activities, provided I build strength up in the leg to compensate for the missing ligament. HUZZAH!

So, there you have it. A knee reconstruction has been tentatively scheduled for mid-July (happy birthday, Georgia!), but I have *much* to look forward to before then, like sandwich cake in Sweden, snails in garlic butter in France, the generous breakfast spread provided by my German "family" and a good Malaysian curry or two to finish off.

Things are looking up!

Monday, March 7, 2011

...and sometimes the world seems to conspire against you...

So, once again I have publicly declared on this blog that I will run 5k and once again I will fail in doing so. I was so excited about the opportunity to run and raise money for Christchurch. However, it's not to be. Last night during a game of mixed basketball I *did* my knee. Really *did* it. Worse than ever before. The collision involved a male opponent, who was running backwards trying to intercept a high pass. Likewise, I was running forwards to intercept said pass. He backed straight into me and we ended up tangled and falling together - the lower portion of my leg at a decidedly obscure angle. He fell on my knee - all 100+ kgs of him (not that he's at fault - it was clearly an accident) and I could feel (maybe even hear?) a pop in my knee. Needless to say, I'm sure my screams are still echoing around the tinny stadium 12 hours later! 

After a trip to emergency and a handful of X-rays later the jury is still out. Apparently, there is far too much blood in the joint to ascertain the extent of my injuries. It's most likely a bad soft tissue injury, but I'll need an MRI once the swelling's subsided to determine exactly what I've done. At this point, I'm really hoping I haven't torn my ACL - please cross your fingers and toes for me! 

Now, given I can't put any weight on my left side at present, a 5k seems totally impossible in the near future. Nonetheless, I'm glad to have been able to provide a small donation to this important cause and I urge you all to do the same

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Running for Christchurch

Yes, yes - astute readers will know that I didn't quite reach my February goal of running 5k, that I vehemently declared I would here. I was just thinking about how I could break this to blog readers, when I heard about Run for Christchurch. The idea is the brainchild of a bunch of Kiwi-based fitness bloggers who have put together this virtual 5k event to raise money to rebuild the city of Christchurch (where, incidentally, I have holidayed on two occasions). The minimum donation is a meagre $5NZD ($1 per km) and all proceeds go towards the Red Cross New Zealand Earthquake Appeal.  

I shall be donning my red and black (you know I'm serious, because normally I wouldn't be seen dead in the colours during the footy season!) the weekend after next and busting my gut to prove that I *can* run 5km. Who's going to join me, or at least join me in donating to this very worthy cause? 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pandan infused coconut rice pudding

As noted previously, I *finally* got my hands on some delightfully fresh pandan leaves on the weekend. As one of my favourite flavours, I was eager to make a dessert that used these fragrant leaves. I needed a simple recipe that I could make with limited ingredients. I settled on a variation to my usual rice pudding (whereby I replaced one cup of milk with some light coconut milk and the pandan leaf took the usual spot of vanilla, cinnamon and citrus zest). To say I was amazed by the subtle and delicious flavour of this dish is perhaps an understatement. I think this one will be a definite "repeat offender" on my dessert repertoire. 

On a related but different note, in searching for a recipe using pandan leaf, I noticed that this delectable ingredient is not featured commonly on food blogs or recipe sites. Accordingly, I hope that this post gives others some ideas (and confidence) for cooking with it - it's well worth it! 

Pandan infused coconut rice pudding 

You can see that I used long grain rice in this recipe. While this is not typically optimal for rice puddings, it was all I had in the house and actually worked out much better than expected. 

Looks simple, right? I can tell you that it definitely was, but the combination of flavours most certainly boasts the wow factor! I'd be interested to know what other people like to make with pandan leaves. Next for me is a pandan sago pudding. I shall be reporting back on that little experiment shortly.