Spicy Korean Beef in the Slow Cooker

If you have a slow cooker and are time poor then this recipe, adapted from one by Nigella Lawson, is for you.

Nigella uses brown rice. I used pearl barley and I also added some toppings. We love pearl barley, which you can use as a substitute in most recipes which call for brown rice.

500g minced beef
1 can chopped tomatoes and 1 can water
1¼ cups pearl barley (or brown rice)
¼ cup Sriracha chilli sauce (or another chilli sauce/paste)
¼ cup soy sauce
1 packet 250g beansprouts
To serve: 
Sour Cream
Grated cheese (I used cheddar)
Chopped fresh coriander

Place minced beef, tomatoes, water, pearl barley or brown rice, chilli sauce and soy sauce in a slow cooker. Stir to combine, then cook on low for four hours, stirring a couple of times. When the pearl barley is tender it’s ready. Place beansprouts in a bowl. Cover with boiling water, stand for one minute then mix into the meat mixture. Allow to heat through for 15 minutes.

Serve as it is or topped with sour cream, grated cheese and coriander. Can be served in wraps or taco shells or on top of corn chips.

Additions: if liked, add a drained can of corn or a couple of cups of frozen peas about half an hour before serving. I also added a splosh of dry sherry. Why not?

Moussaka

When I started cooking, any recipe using eggplants involved salting the slices and leaving them to drain, in order to remove any bitterness. You then had to pat them dry and fry them in oil. Eggplants are a bit like blotting paper and will soak up as much oil as you give them. More recent varieties of eggplant seem to have eliminated the bitterness and browning the slices in the oven means you don’t need to use too much oil.

This recipe was given to me by my friend Margaret when we were all posted to Tel Aviv, many moons ago. Like a big lasagne, it’s a great choice for feeding a crowd. All the preparation can be done ahead and with a big salad and some crusty bread you’re all set.

1kg eggplants, sliced 1cm thick
1kg minced lamb or beef
2 chopped onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 Tbs olive oil
1 400g tin tomatoes, chopped (or equivalent in fresh tomatoes)
500g mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 Tbs chopped parsley
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 heaped Tbs tomato paste
½ cup water + 1 beef stock cube
Olive oil for brushing or spraying
Grated Parmesan cheese
Sauce:
30g butter
30g plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1½ cups milk
2 beaten eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 200°C. Arrange eggplant slices on two large oven trays lined with baking paper. Spray on both sides with olive oil, or use a brush. Cook for 20 minutes, turning once, or until golden brown on both sides.

Heat oil in a large frying pan and cook onion and garlic until soft. Turn up heat and add meat and mushrooms and cook stirring until meat has browned. Add chopped tomatoes (skinned if fresh), herbs, tomato paste, cumin, stock cube and water and season to taste. If the frying pan isn’t big enough put everything into a deeper pan. Simmer 10-15 minutes, adding a little more water if necessary.

This recipe is enough to make two large moussakas or one extra large one, as shown in the photo. If preferred, make half the recipe. Fill each dish with layers – meat sauce sprinkled with a little grated Parmesan, eggplant slices, then meat sauce and more Parmesan, then remaining eggplant slices.

For the sauce, melt butter in a non-stick pan, add flour and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes. Gradually add the milk, stirring until thick before you add more. Season to taste. Remove from the heat and add the beaten eggs last. Pour sauce over the top of the moussaka and spread out evenly. If you’re making it early in the day, refrigerate at this stage until you’re ready to bake. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 200°C, or until browned and bubbly. Stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Can be completely cooked a day ahead, kept in the fridge, then just reheated.

Serves 10-12

Chicken Fajitas

I’ve been writing this blog since 2011 and this is the first Mexican dish. Fajitas make a quick and easy mid-week dinner which even some fussy kids might enjoy.

It’s a good option for those trying to cut down on carbs, so I had mine without the tortilla, Serving with tortillas makes it go further, so double the recipe will serve a family of six.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 onion, sliced or cut in wedges
1 red or yellow capsicum, or half of each, sliced
2 Tbs olive oil
½ lime, juiced
Seasoning:
1 tsp each chilli powder, ground cumin and garlic powder
½ tsp each paprika, oregano and salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve:
Tortillas, warmed
Sour cream
1 avocado, sliced
Coriander

Mix seasoning in a bowl. Trim chicken breasts and cut each into 3 or 4 thick lengthwise strips. Add to the bowl of seasoning and mix to coat well.

In a large frying pan, heat half the oil, add chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and add the other tablespoonful of oil with the onion and pepper strips. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes until cooked and starting to brown. Slice chicken and return to the pan. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, then drizzle with the lime juice. Serve with tortillas, sour cream, avocado and coriander.

Serves 2-3

Chocolate Cakes

Just back from six weeks travelling in Europe. Spent time in the UK, France and Poland, with a week in Thailand on the way back, to recover. Caught up with 27 close friends and family, ate too much, drank too much, but had a great time. It was our first trip to Europe since September 2019, before the dreaded Coronavirus became a part of our lives.

Before we left we heard all sorts of dreadful stories about cancelled flights and lost suitcases. But considering we flew on a total of 11 flights – from Canberra to Sydney to Bangkok to Paris to Krakow to Toulouse via Amsterdam to Nice to London to Bangkok to Phuket to Sydney – I have to say we had a pretty good run, getting through all airports in less than an hour.

The only exception was our flight from Krakow to Toulouse with Easyjet, which was delayed when we transited through Amsterdam. A strike by French air traffic controllers meant they were limiting the number of planes which could land in France, so we sat in the plane on the tarmac in Schiphol airport for three hours. Our pilot told us we were lucky ours wasn’t one of 500 flights which had been cancelled that day. He sent us a bottle of water and a biscuit to keep us quiet.

There’s a terrible sinking feeling when you’re standing by the baggage carousel, there are no more suitcases going round and a sign appears saying “Baggage delivery completed” or words to that effect. Due to the strike there was literally nobody in arrivals to speak to, with all the help desks unattended. We went to the departure lounge where we found a member of staff who showed us how to complete a form online, on one of those machines you normally use to get a boarding pass, with details of the two lost bags. Twenty-four hours later they were delivered to our friends’ house in the French countryside, miles from anywhere, by a little man with a van full of suitcases. He said he had delivered 150 that day.

I’ve been too busy unpacking, washing and getting things organised to cook something new, so here are a few suggestions for anyone who feels like baking a chocolate cake.

Chocolate Fudge Cake  is the Rolls Royce of chocolate cakes and our family’s celebration cake. We make for birthdays, anniversaries and even weddings. Fiona’s Gluten Free Chocolate Cake is great for anyone who is gluten intolerant. And this Stir Crazy Chocolate Cake (photo above) contains no eggs and is quick and easy to whip up.

Apple Cake

The last few posts have all been savoury, so I thought it was time for a cake.

Everyone loves apples and this recipe, which appears in various formats on Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, is delicious, quick and easy. It’s raining cats and dogs as I write this – what could be better on a cold and miserable day than a warm slice of cake with my morning coffee?

This cake is also nice served warm as a dessert, with cream or ice cream.

3 eggs
¾ cup sugar (150g)
4 Tbs vegetable oil
Grated rind and juice of 1 small lemon or ½ large lemon
½ cup plain yoghurt or sour cream (125g)
1½ cups self raising flour (230g)
2 apples, cored, halved and sliced
1 tsp icing sugar and ½ tsp cinnamon
50g butter
Extra icing sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C. Place eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters until thick and pale. Whisk in the oil, lemon rind and juice and yoghurt or sour cream and lastly fold in the sifted flour. Scrape into a greased and bottom lined loaf pan.

Push the apple slices (leave the peel on) into the top alternating from side to side. You may think you’re going to have too many, but they just fit in nicely. Mix cinnamon and icing sugar, then sprinkle over the top, using a small sieve. Dot with small pieces of butter. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until evenly puffed and golden and a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool, then sprinkle with a little more icing sugar using a sieve. Serve cold as a cake or warm as a dessert, with cream or ice cream.

Makes 1 loaf

Prawn and Pesto Pizza

I don’t eat pizza very often, but when I do I’m fussy about what goes on top.

This is my favourite combination, using home-made pesto instead of the usual tomato base and a gourmet topping of prawns, bocconcini balls, grated mozzarella and pine nuts. This combination elevates the humble pizza to a whole new level.

To speed things up you could use a bought pizza base and bought pesto, but the home made options are, as always, best. The dough recipe makes one very large pizza (or two smaller ones) and is easy to double for a crowd. Many teenagers have hollow legs and are capable of demolishing a whole pizza each!  If you do make double the dough recipe, do it in two batches, otherwise your food processor might struggle. If you make two smaller pizzas you could do one with prawns for the adults and one with whatever the kids prefer.

When we fire up our pizza oven for a crowd, I make 3 double batches of this dough and end up with about eight medium-sized pizzas. For one pizza it’s not worth using the pizza oven, so I use the oven.

Dough:
250g plain flour (preferably “00”)
½ tsp salt
Half a packet of dried yeast (about one level teaspoon)
2 tsp sugar
2 Tbs olive oil
160 ml (about ¾ cup) lukewarm water
Topping:
About 6 Tbs pesto
16-20 raw, peeled prawns, depending on size
100-150g bocconcini balls
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2-3 Tbs pine nuts

Place all ingredients for the dough in a food processor and process until it forms a ball. If the mixture is a too sticky to form a ball, stop the motor and add another tablespoonful of flour and mix again. Tip out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave for an hour or two, or until it has doubled in size.

Meanwhile make the pesto and assemble the topping ingredients. Preheat oven to 220°C or whatever is the hottest temperature your oven can reach. Knock down the dough and knead it for a minute or so, then press it out into a circle about 30-35 cm in diameter on a lightly oiled baking sheet or pizza stone. Spread with pesto, then arrange the prawns and bocconcini balls over the pizza. Top with grated mozzarella and pine nuts.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until browned and bubbly. In a pizza oven it will take slightly less, probably 8-12 minutes.

Serve with a salad.

Makes one very large pizza

Quick Pasties Using Roti Paratha

I bought a packed of 8 frozen roti paratha from an Indian grocery store and used them to make these meat pasties. They were amazing. The best meat pies I’ve ever made.

If you can’t find Indian roti paratha, buy puff pastry and cut out big circles about 15cm or 6 inches in diameter. I thawed the roti, filled them, pinched together the sides at the top, brushed them with beaten egg, then baked them at 200°C for just over half an hour.

As for the filling, you can use your imagination. I used some leftover roast lamb from a slow roasted shoulder, mixed with leftover gravy and leftover roast pumpkin, all cut into 2cm cubes. I served the pasties with hot English mustard and a mix of peas and asparagus.

You could look for a Cornish pasty filling online and use that, or use this beef casserole recipe, or this recipe which uses oxtails – just take all the meat off the bones.

For a seafood pasty use this recipe for Seafood Mornay, without the breadcrumb topping. It’s one of the most popular recipes on this blog.

Spinach and Feta Pastries

These little savoury pastries are a great addition to lunch boxes, picnics and buffet lunches. They are also great to serve with drinks. Most kids love them and it’s a good way to get them to eat some green veggies.

Once cooked and cooled, if not serving immediately, you can keep them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them. They will just need a few minutes in a hot oven or an air fryer to heat up.

1-2 sheets bought puff pastry
Filling:
About 225g frozen chopped spinach, thawed (I used half a 450g pkt of spinach nuggets)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
¾ cup thinly sliced spring onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra:
1 beaten egg to brush

Preheat oven to 200°C. Squeeze any liquid from the spinach then mix it with remaining filling ingredients. Cut out 12 squares of puff pastry, approximately 8cm or 3 inches square. I got nine from one sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.

Lightly but thoroughly (mine got a bit stuck) oil a 12 hole muffin pan and place a pastry square in each. Place a rounded tablespoonful of filling in each, then go back and use the rest to top them up. If you have too much you could use another muffin pan and make a couple more but I found the mixture made exactly 12.

Pull the four pastry points over the top of the filling and pinch lightly together. Brush with beaten egg, then bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days and reheated for a few minutes in a hot oven or frozen.

Makes 12

Best Beef Burgers

When we were a family of five, spaghetti bolognese and lasagne were regulars on the week-day menu. Now there’s just the two of us we don’t eat a lot of mince. Every now and then, however, I like to make burgers. Like everything else you make yourself, they are so much tastier than the ones you get in fast food outlets, especially if you use top quality, lean minced beef. And it’s the additions, such as mustard and grated Parmesan, which make all the difference to creating a great burger.

This mix is our favourite. If you end up with too many burgers, freeze them raw, or cook them and reheat the following day for lunch. Sometimes I have mine with just half a bun, or no bun at all and find I don’t miss the carbs. Feed a family by making some oven fries in the oven, or in an air fryer to go with the burgers.

500g top quality minced beef
1 small onion, or ½ a large onion, very finely chopped
½ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 egg
½ cup breadcrumbs (made from stale bread or use Panko crumbs)
1 tsp mustard (I use hot English)
2 Tbs grated parmesan cheese
Pinch grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 Tbs olive oil, to fry the burgers
To serve: 
4 burger buns, split and toasted
Lettuce, rocket or baby spinach leaves
Sliced tomato
Sliced red onion (optional)
Sliced cucumber or avocado or both
Mayonnaise or aioli
Fruit chutney, tomato ketchup or barbecue sauce (optional)

Mix all ingredients except oil and use your hands to shape into 4 evenly-sized burgers, the diameter of your buns. Refrigerate until serving time.

Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium to high heat and cook the burgers for 3-4 minutes each side, or until cooked to taste. Spread one side of the toasted buns with mayonnaise or aioli and the other with chutney, tomato ketchup or barbecue sauce. Serve the burgers in the buns with lettuce, rocket or spinach leaves, tomato and cucumber slices.

Makes 4 burgers

Unbaked Granola Bars

These quick and easy granola bars are a welcome, healthy addition to children’s lunch boxes and provide a delicious snack for the rest of the family. They don’t require any baking and are perfect for kids to make themselves.

Both recipes are fairly flexible, so feel free to substitute different seeds or nuts or to leave out something you don’t like or don’t have, such as coconut. The second recipe has honey as a sweetener, while the first one relies on dates for sweetness. Both contain chocolate chips, but leave them out if you prefer. If you don’t have all the seeds, double up on the ones you have.

Superfood Granola Bars
1 cup peanut butter (or another nut butter)
2 cups pitted dates, pureed in food processor
3 Tbs cocoa powder (optional)
1 cup porridge oats
¼ cup coconut flakes or desiccated coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt (optional)
2 Tbs sesame seeds
2 Tbs flax seeds
2 Tbs hemp seeds
2 Tbs chia seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup almonds (or walnuts, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts or macadamias)
½ cup chocolate chips

Place peanut butter in a small bowl and zap in the microwave for 20 seconds, or until softened. Add the pureed dates and, if using, the cocoa powder and mix well. Place remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the date mixture and mix thoroughly.

Grease a shallow square or oblong dish or container. This can be metal, glass, silicone, ceramic or plastic. Mine was 20cm or 9″ square dish and I sprayed it with oil. If the container is too big the muesli bars will be too thin.

Tip mixture into the container and use your hand or the bottom of a glass to flatten it evenly. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, then cut into bars. Stored in an airtight tin they will keep for a week or more, though I doubt they will last that long.

Makes 12-16

Rice Krispie Granola Bars
2 cups Rice Krispies or another brand of puffed rice breakfast cereal
1½ cups porridge oats
¼ cup coconut flakes or desiccated coconut
¾ cup honey
1 cup peanut butter (or another nut butter)
1 tsp vanilla essence
¼ cup chocolate chips (dark, milk, white, your choice)

Place Rice Krispies, porridge oats and coconut in a large mixing bowl. Heat honey in a saucepan or in the microwave, just enough to make it liquid, then mix in the peanut butter and vanilla till smooth. Mix into the dry ingredients and lastly add the chocolate chips.

Grease a shallow square or oblong container. This can be made of metal, glass, silicone, ceramic or plastic. Mine was 20cm or 9″ square and I sprayed it with oil. If the container is too big the granola bars will be too thin.

Tip mixture into the container and use your hand or the bottom of a glass to flatten it evenly. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, then cut into bars. Stored in an airtight tin they will keep for a week or more, though I doubt they will last that long.

Makes 12-16