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    • A Rather Good Lasagne, Crisp Green Salad & Tingly Lemon Gelato.

      The latch of our front gate can quite often be heard from inside our little weatherboard home heralding the arrival of guests. Beau more often than not will jump up from whatever it is that he has been doing and race to the door, or to our bedroom window to see who it is! Lately, it has been delivery drivers dropping off our groceries and fruit and vegetables from the local farm. But every so often it is our next-door neighbour, Paul, who so generously gifts us a large container of his mouth-watering bolognese sauce... I have lost count as to how many times we have received this now-famous (in our home) meat sauce and those times have often been on "one of those days" where nothing has quite gone to plan and I feel as if I have been chasing my tail all day long! So it is a welcome relief, to say the least when that container is passed over...Spaghetti bolognese for dinner it is, much to everyone's delight! I don't know why it took me so long to realise that I could in fact use the sauce between layers of lasagne sheets...perhaps it's because, much to Ben's disappointment, lasagne - the meat variety anyway, just isn't something I generally make. until now! For lasagne to be truly memorable it absolutely must have the addition of that creamy white bechamel sauce and at least three types of cheese...now let's be honest here, I am a firm believer in enjoying everything in moderation and this particular dish is something that one would not indulge in every second night but, if you are to enjoy a good lasagne then you may as well do it with all the bells and whistles. All that is needed to accompany it is the torn leaves of a crisp iceberg or cos lettuce; refreshing slices of cucumber dressed in nothing more than a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, pepper and a generous scattering of sea salt flakes to balance the richness of all those comforting flavours. Ben has even gone so far as to say that is the best lasagne he has eaten, and he is my harshest critic. But this story is not just about lasagne and the many cheesy, meaty layers it involves, it's about more than that. It is about connecting with your neighbours, letting them know that you are there for them. It doesn't require lengthy conversations or even an invitation to sit around your kitchen table, it can be as simple as a quick hello, how are you? or a container of bolognese sauce left at the front door, it doesn't matter what it is, what does matter is the feeling that comes with these acts of kindness, and you really can't put a price on that. Oh, and the empty containers...they are of course filled with freshly baked treats and then left at Paul's front door...and so the cycle continues. We recently had this as part of our Sunday lunch and so I wanted to share it here with you in the hope that it may just make it on to your "to Cook" list. Now the sauce does make rather a lot, Paul likes to cook for a crowd! You could halve this recipe (which is the amount that you will need for the lasagne) but why not cook the whole lot and then divide it up and freeze for a quick midweek meal tossed with some pasta. You could, however, pop it into a container and leave it at the front door of a loved one or even your next-door neighbour, you never know you may just get something back in return... And what better way to end such an indulgent meal than with the refreshingly tingly tang of a scoop of lemon gelato. This recipe comes from the always lovely, always kind and extremely generous Belinda Jeffery. It is from her book, The Country Cookbook, which is one of my favourites, not only for the recipes but for the words that are weaved onto the pages as well. We served ours in vintage glass footed bowls topped with a single strawberry, but we have also enjoyed a scoop or two in waffle cones, which is also equally as lovely. You will ideally need an ice-cream churner, however, Belinda does say that it can be done by hand as well, it just won't be as smooth and it will most definitely require a fair bit of elbow grease, but if you are up for the challenge then the results will be well and truly worth it! The meat sauce Recipe kindly shared by Paul, our next-door neighbour This makes quite a lot of sauce, so feel free to halve it, or cook the whole lot and portion it up to freeze. You will only need 1kg of sauce for the lasagne. 1kg pork mince 1kg veal mince 200g bacon, diced large punnet of mushrooms, finely diced 2 large brown onions, chopped large bunch of parsley, remove stalks and chop very finely (Paul states that this is very important to use the stalks) bunch of fresh basil chopped the same as the parsley 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and finely diced 1 carrot, finely chopped 4 cans of diced tomatoes (Mutti brand if you can find them) Ariosto Italian herb mix (or something similar such as Gewhurzhaus Maria's pizza pasta blend) salt and pepper olive oil In a large pot, heat 4 tbsp olive oil and add the mushrooms, onions, parsley stalks and basil stalks, garlic and carrot and cook over a low heat with the lid on until soft and slightly caramelised, about 40minutes to an hour. Stirring every now and then. Add the pork, veal and bacon and once again place the lid back on. Once the meat has begun to cook, mix it all in with the vegetables. Add 1 tbsp herb mix along with a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the tomatoes and mix it all together. Paul uses a potato masher to break up the meat at this stage. Cook with the lid on for an hour or so over low heat. season to taste. You can at this point cool to room temperature and store in the fridge. Paul says that the second cook works really well to break the meat down even further. The flavours will also develop if left for a day or two too. You can also use pancetta instead of bacon, as Paul's son does. Assembling the Lasagne 1kg meat sauce 250g packet lasagne sheets, I like to use Barilla 200g mozzarella, grated 200g parmesan, grated 200g buffalo mozzarella, torn For the Bechamel 100g flour 100g butter 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or cream 1 1/2 cups milk 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg salt and pepper Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and then add the flour, stirring together until it starts to smell slightly nutty. Add the warmed cream and milk mixture bit by bit, whisking constantly until thick and luscious. Continue to cook for another minute and then grate in the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Oil a lasagne dish, mine measures 30cm x 19cm. Mis together the grated mozzarella and parmesan. I also should mention that you can add in whatever cheese you have handy, I have also made this with some leftover fets and grated halloumi too. Cover the base with a layer of meat sauce followed by lasagne sheets. Meat sauce, half of the bechamel, half of the cheese, half of the torn mozzarella, lasagne, rest of the meat sauce, rest of the grated cheese, lasagne, bechamel and finally the rest of the torn mozzarella. Cover with a sheet of baking paper followed by a sheet of foil and pop into the oven for 40 minutes or until bubbling around the edges. Uncover and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes, until golden. Crisp Green Salad Meanwhile, you can prepare your salad... Tear off as many leaves from a midi cos lettuce (or iceberg, something with a crisp green leaf is good here) place them into a pretty serving bowl along with sliced cucumber and perhaps even some sliced radishes. Drizzle over a good glug of extra virgin olive oil followed by a few grinds of black pepper, salt and a swoosh of white wine vinegar if you so desire. And now for dessert... Tingly Lemon Gelato A recipe by Belinda Jeffery You can start this recipe a few days in advance as you need time to churn it and rest in the freezer before serving. Or as Belinda puts it "to ripen the flavours" finely grated zest of 3-4 lemons 2 cups (500ml) of lemon juice, strained 330-440g caster sugar, you can vary the quantity of sugar depending on how sweet you would like it, the sweeter version will result in a slightly softer texture. 1/2 cup (125ml) cold water 1 cup (250ml) thickened cream Put the lemon zest, lemon juice, caster sugar and water into a large bowl and whisk them together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream and whisk it all until it is very well combined. Make sure you have placed your ice cream churner bowl into the freezer before you start this recipe too. If you have one, pour the mixture in and then churn until frozen. Spoon the mixture into a container, I have an insulated ice cream tub that I use but you can use a loaf tin or recycled ice cream container, cover it tightly and place into the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight, or even a few days before. If you don't have an ice-cream churner you can do this by hand...pour the mixture into a large stainless steel bowl and pop into the freezer for 4-5 hours, or until its frozen 5cm in from the edge, remove the bowl from the freezer and give it a really good whisk either by hand or with a handheld electric beater to break up the ice crystals and to smooth it out. Place the bowl back into the freezer, freeze again and follow the same steps as before, repeating the whisking/beating. For an even smoother texture, you can repeat this a few more times. Your muscles will indeed be stronger for it! The gelato keeps well for up to a fortnight.

    • Spiced Fig & Walnut Bread

      Every Sunday night once the house has been blanketed in silence and both Beau and Viviana have drifted off to the land of dreams I slice two thick slices of sourdough and place them into the toaster. The kettle has been boiled and my mug awaits. Chamomile has been my choice of late. As soon as the toast pops up, I smear a good dose of butter over each and watch as it melts into the light golden crumb. A lick of vegemite on one and the other, marmalade. At the moment its a luscious almost creamy apricot and lavender. This is something that I so look forward to and after our Sunday lunch feast that has now become quite an enjoyable tradition, this simple pleasure is indeed all that is needed. And I know many of you out there are also lovers of toast for tea as I had so many messages a couple of weeks ago when I posted my toast up on my stories on Instagram. Some of you were even having it right then too. Now it is normally only the plain sourdough variety that is dressed in all the vegemite and marmalade glory, however on the rare occasion when I have made a fruit loaf complete with plump apricots or figs and the crunch of walnuts, or pinenuts, together with a concoction of warming spices it takes this Sunday night toast session to a whole other level, oh yes, it is really quite lovely. So I thought I would share this recipe with you on the off chance that you may like to switch things up or have a go at making your own fruit loaf. It is particularly good with a smear of crunchy peanut butter...or smooth if that is more your thing. Some ricotta and honey don't go amiss here either if you get a little fancy... Spiced Fig & Walnut bread You will need 50g of sourdough starter for this recipe. I usually make a plain sourdough loaf at the same time too, just dividing each into their own bowl. So all up you will need 100g of the starter if doing this. If you don't have a starter then your best bet is to find someone who does and ask very politely if you could have some, bakers having the big hearts that they possess will almost always say yes. I got mine years ago from my mother in law and I have now passed some of that one on to a couple of people as well. Such is the joy in sharing! This recipe is based on the method for the overnight sourdough on the Fig jam and lime cordial website which I can highly recommend having a look at as it is full to the brim with information. Over the years I have tried many methods and I find this one to be the best for me, both for the timing and for the results. Sometimes it can all seem a bit too complicated this whole sourdough bread making but when its stripped back it really isn't hard at all and when you are not too concerned about all the sourdough jargon, like hydration levels and how open your crumb is, then it becomes a part of your day or week, and really is the gift that keeps on giving. 50g ripe sourdough starter 450g bread flour 50g spelt (or another flour of your choice) 7g salt 375ml water 1tsp ground cinnamon 1tsp ground ginger 1/4-1/2 tsp cloves (depending on how strong you want this flavour to be) 150g dried apricots or figs 100g raisins 100g walnuts (or pecans, pine nuts, almonds, whatever you have on hand) The same goes for the dried fruits, play around with different ones. I have used a combination of dried pears, apricots, figs and golden raisins which was really lovely too) Singing Magpie Produce has the most wonderful selection of dried fruits if you fancy purchasing from a 100-year-old family orchard in the Riverland, South Australia. You can also add in a scattering of poppy seeds or sesame seeds if you feel like it too. Mix together the starter, flours, salt and water with your hand until almost combined and then add the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl. You don't need to worry about chopping any of the fruits or nuts. Cover with a tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes. Now you need to perform your stretch and folds. Wet your hand and taking the dough in your cupped hand, stretch it up and then fold it back into itself while turning the bowl and then picking up the next fold until you have completed one whole turn of your bowl, this should take about 8 folds. Cover again and let rest for another 30 minutes. Repeat this step three more times before leaving your dough to rest, covered, at room temperature overnight. In the morning you should wake to find that your dough has grown and resembles a soft pillow. Preheat your oven to the highest setting, mine goes to 250 degrees celsius. Place a dutch oven or large pot with a lid into the oven to heat up too. Making sure that it is quite high so that the bread has room to rise. Mine measures 12cm x 20cm and I got it from Aldi and its the best! With a wet hand, scrape the dough out onto a lightly semolina dusted workbench being careful to not knock it around too much. Taking one side up and over into the middle and then repeating this on the other so that it is like a neat little parcel. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rest once again for 20 minutes on the bench. This dough will feel quite dense and maybe a little tricky to get the folds done properly, but as long as you have something that resembles some sort of round then you will be fine. During this time you can prepare your breadbasket if you don't have a "proper" one the baskets from the ricotta tubs make an excellent alternative. Place a tea towel into the basket and dust with semolina. Take your dough onto a semolina dusted bench and bring the sides up and over into the middle to create a ball. Turn this over so that the seam is now on the bottom and give it a few turns then place it into the basket with the seam side up. Cover and allow to sit for another 20 minutes while you clean the dishes/put a load of washing on/get the kids dressed/make yourself another cup of tea. Now rip off a piece of baking paper and then holding the basket in one hand place the paper on top, tip the bread onto the paper and take the tea towel off the top, brush the semolina over the top so that it is nicely covered and then with a sharp knife make a cross on top. (that's a lot of tops) Remove the pot from the oven and place your bread on the baking paper into the pot, pop the lid back on and place into the oven for 20 minutes. When the time is up, reduce the oven to 200 degrees celsius and remove the lid before placing back into the oven for another 20 minutes. When she's done, take her out and turn out onto a cooling rack, removing the paper if it's stuck on the bottom. Allow to cool and then slice and generously spread with butter and give yourself a little clap.

    • Curried Lamb Forequarter Chops, Potatoes, Rice Pilaf with Silverbeet. And Apple & Banana Shortcake.

      The opening sentence in the hefty cookbook that is "The Australian cookbook" reads...The revolution in Australian cooking over the last few years has led to a new sophistication in the way we prepare and present food. More and more publications have a gourmet image which looks, and often is, very difficult to attain. Perhaps we have lost sight of the real values in food preparation and this is the reason for this book. First published in 1986, a year after I was born, Anne Thorpe compiled hundreds of recipes supplied from experts in their chosen fields as well as other contributors who were involved in Australian food at the time. It is one of those books, just like the "vintage" editions of The Australian Women's Weekly, where at first the photos catch your eye...paper doilies, a garnish of parsley tucked into the side of a rice dish, a Hawaiian chicken salad served in a pineapple. Then there are titles for the recipes...Chicken licken rice, Jumbuck stew, Farmland treat, Chicken mountains and 14 pages full of rice desserts! Who new one could have so many variations! The peach ginger rice cream complete with whole peaches topped with extra whipped cream and perfectly placed toasted almond slivers looks...interesting. However, it is amongst these pages where so many learnt how to prepare and present food and I have to be honest, it does bring a certain sense of nostalgia looking at (and smelling) the pages. I do not know who this book belonged to before it found itself on my bookshelf. Ben gave it to me for my Birthday a couple of years ago, he had found it in a second-hand bookshop and the lady behind the counter said he could have it for free...It was in perfect condition, not a splatter or an oil mark to be found. I am pleased to say that that has changed. A book has a life when it shows the marks of a cooks hand, be that a sauce-stained fingerprint or a scribbled note here and there and I have made sure that this book has been given that opportunity. So it was with great gusto that I heaved it off my bookshelf, carried it outside with me into the spring sunshine, matcha in one hand, pen in the other as I set about plotting and planning for our Sunday lunch from the pages of this classic recipe laden book. By the end of the day, in between the day-to-day chores and running around after Beau and Viviana, I had a plan...it was a combination of two recipes, chutneyed chops banana and farmhouse casserole which resulted in the curried forequarter chops with onions and potatoes. An abundance of silverbeet going to seed inspired the rice pilaf and it was a competition between the Blitz torte, lemon tart and the apple banana shortcake for dessert. I heeded the advice at the start of the Dessert chapter...Dessert is the ultimate indulgence, usually eaten when satisfied. Whether it be a smooth chocolate mousse or a simple cheese and fruit platter, it always forms a mellow end to a fine meal. Never serve a rich dessert after a heavy main course and if serving a saucy dessert then it is best to avoid sauces in other courses. Three courses are very filling so sometimes it is best to serve what is, strictly speaking, a first course followed by a delectable dessert. This is becoming a new trend overseas. Whatever the choice, make the end of your meal memorable and leave your guest craving for another invitation. Our tummies were full, we were indeed satisfied. And we enjoyed our delectable dessert of apple banana shortcake outside on the deck, in our camping chairs along with the dog and three chooks. There was a dollop of brown sugar whipped cream on each pretty china plate and not a crumb to be seen. I think these guests of mine are craving for another invitation...well, I do hope so, they make fine dining companions, even if it does get a little messy! The following Sunday lunch menu will serve 4, or 2 hungry adults and 2 little ones with leftovers the following day. Curried lamb forequarter chops with onions and potatoes 5 lamb forequarter chops 1/3 cup plain flour a good knob of butter or two 2 brown onions, peeled and sliced 4 potatoes, peeled, rinsed and sliced 1 tablespoon curry powder 1/2 cup of water 2 tablespoons fruit chutney (I used fig chutney) Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius. Coat the chops in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat a large roasting pan over medium heat. add in a good knob of butter and allow to melt before adding in the chops. You want the chops to take on a golden colour, once this is done on one side, turn over and continue to cook until golden on each side. Move the chops to the side of the pan and add the sliced onions and potatoes and a little more butter and swirl to coat them in the butter and the meat juices until they are slightly softened. Arrange the chops and onions and potatoes in the dish, as best as you can, making sure that there are onions and potatoes in between each chop and some on top. Mix the curry powder, fruit chutney into the water until combined and then pour over the chops, spreading it all over with the back of a spoon. Cover with a sheet of foil or two and place into the oven for 1 hour. Once the hour is up, remove the foil and pop it all back in for another 15 minutes uncovered. Rice Pilaf with Silverbeet Meanwhile, you can start to prepare the pilaf... 1/2 cup olive oil 1 brown onion, finely diced about 1kg of spinach or silverbeet, or a mixture of both, washed well, excess water squeezed out and sliced 2 cups of water 1 cup of rice, washed and rinsed 1 cup of frozen peas In a large frypan pour in the oil and warm over medium heat, add the onion and then lower the heat and pop a lid on to soften the onion without colouring. This will only take a few minutes, having the lid on creates steam which will soften the onion without colouring. Remove the lid and add the spinach or silverbeet and stir until starting to wilt, pour in the water, season with a good amount of cracked black pepper and a generous pinch of salt (add more than what you think as the rice will absorb a lot of it) bring to a simmer and cook until the greens have collapsed, add the rice and give everything a good stir. Pop the lid back on, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed. Ten minutes before the rice is ready to be served, take the lid off, pour in the peas and give them a quick stir, place a tea towel over the top of the rice and then pop the lid back on and bring the sides of the tea towel up and over the lid. Then finish cooking for another 10 minutes. This will make the rice extra fluffy. When ready to serve, give everything a good stir and check for seasoning, you may need more salt... Take the pilaf and the lamb to the table. I serve the lamb straight from the roasting dish, but I do spoon the pilaf into a serving bowl and then everyone can help themselves. And now for dessert... This can be made in advance or it can also be made up to the point of putting into the oven and then when you take the lamb out, all you have to do is to increase the oven temperature and then pop the shortcake in and it will be ready to serve after the lunch (or dinner) plates have been washed and dried and the sound of the kettle can be heard from the kitchen... Apple banana shortcake 125g butter, at room temperature 1/2 cup caster sugar 1 egg 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour 1 cup plain flour 2 apples, either granny smith or pink lady, grated 1 banana, sliced zest and juice of a small lemon 1 tsp apple cake spice (this can be purchased from Gewurzhaus) otherwise you can just add ground cinnamon Demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top Preheat your oven (or adjust to) 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and then add in the egg and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Sift in the flours and then mix until it forms a soft dough-like consistency. If it is too sticky when you touch it then add a little more flour until it can be handled without leaving any stickiness on your hands. It should feel lovely and soft. Place it onto a lightly floured bench and divide into two portions. Roll each one out into a circle big enough to fit into the cake tin. Place one round on the bottom. Stir the apples, banana and the spice together with the lemon zest and juice, then spoon this on top of the pastry, smoothing it all out evenly. Place the second round on top and press down lightly. Brush the top with a little water, make three or four incisions on top and then scatter over the demerara sugar. Pop into the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden. It can be served warm or at room temperature and is particularly lovely with a dollop of whipped cream with the added sweetness of brown sugar whisked in. Sit back and relax with your cup of tea in hand and enjoy the silence as everyone fills the last remaining space in their bellies with good, honest food that you have prepared, cooked and baked with love.

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