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Spanakopita (Spanaki = Spinach & Pita = Pie)

31 Aug

Ok, straight-up apologies to any Greek people reading this. This is probably not an authentic recipe and you will no doubt roll your eyes in dismay at yet another bastardisation of one of your most delicious dishes. Sorry, but sometimes I get a hankering and there is no good Greek food that I can afford around my neighbourhood.

Here’s what you’ll need…

1 packet of Phyllo pastry

About 150 grams butter, melted

1 large bunch silver beet or spinach

2 eggs, lightly beaten

200 gram block fetta (Greek), crumbled

2 tablespoons grated parmesan, or similar hard cheese

One brown onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon dill, chopped

A little olive oil

Salt and pepper

Here’s what you do…

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius.

1. Rinse the spinach/silver beet thoroughly and drain. Squeeze out excess moisture with your hands. Roughly chop. Set aside in a large bowl.

2. Sautee the diced onion and the garlic in a little olive oil until soft and translucent. Add to the spinach.

3. Add the cheeses, egg and dill to the spinach and onion, season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

3. Grease a large, rectangular baking dish with a little melted butter.

4. Set your phyllo pastry on the bench, opened out flat and cover with a tea towel to prevent from drying out (it is very tricky to handle if it dries – will tear and shred so easily it will drive you mad). It is also important to check the packet instructions – usually I have to leave mine out of the fridge, in the packet for an hour or so until it is room temperature before using.

5. Layer the base of the pan with 2-3 sheets of buttered phyllo. I find it easiest to lay the sheets in the dish one at a time and brush with butter in between each layer. It is very important that the layers are brushed with butter.

6. Tip the spinach mixture on top of the pastry base and spread out evenly, patting down gently with your hands.

7. Add the remaining sheets of pastry, one at a time, brushing with a little butter in between each layer. You will have lots and lots of layers, but this pastry is extremely thin and you want a nice top on your Spanakopita – flaky and buttery. Yum.

8. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut the top of the pie into squares or triangles. Do not cut down into the filling. You want to cut through all the layers of pastry, as neatly as you can, but without reaching the filling.

9. Put the tray into the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

10. Allow to cool slightly, cut and serve.

Serve on its own as a snack or with a salad and some fresh Greek yoghurt. Also, good cold/room temperature.

PERFECT PIES!

16 Aug

Just a friendly reminder to MAKE AND EAT PIES! In my book, there is no more satisfying a food experience when you are cold, hungover, starved, sad or celebrating.

Here are a couple I’ve made lately to inspire you and get those salivary glands going…

Apple and Cranberry Pie

Christmas Turkey Pot Pie.

After dinner I asked my niece (3 at the time) what type of pie she loves best, “Love Heart Pie”, she answered. Don’t we all!

Or check out the Lamb, Onion and Stout Pie recipe I submitted for a competition ages ago. It didn’t win, but it won me a husband!!

Aussie Icon

Aussie Icon

Personally, I love all sorts of pies. Lattice top pies, bottomless pies, pot pies, party pies. But my favourite is a real, proper pie – pastry on the bottom, pastry on the top, hot, steamy salty or sweet filling.

PIES! Make one today. Your friends, family and belly will thank-you.

In my book, the perfect pie is actually not perfect at all, at least not aesthetically! I like homemade pies that have gravy goo oozing out the edges or sticky fruit leaking through slits in the top. Wonky edges and extra crispy bits are perfect. As long as the pastry is cooked through and the filling is made from good stuff, you can’t go wrong! No Martha Stewart style perfection pies for me please. I guess in a pie I’m looking for unpretentious perfection… If that makes sense?

Or if you want to try a truly weird food experience, form my hometown of Adelaide, try a pie-floater! A hot meat pie, floating in pea soup, with lots of tomato sauce. If you’re lucky you’ll get a spoonful of mash on top. Sounds ridiculous? Tastes amazing. Promise. Try it! Next time you make pea and ham soup get a pie from the shop, plop it in a shallow bowl of soup, tomato sauce on top. Promise you’ll love it, you just have to embrace it.

Here are some leftovers pies ideas…

Chop up leftover roast meat, veggies and gravy.

Use a tin of cream of mushroom soup with leftover roast chook or christmas turkey.

Homemade baked beans make yummy pies, add a bit of cheese!

Mix leftover steamed/stir-fried vegies with some satay sauce and make little satay veggie pies.

Stewed fruit of course – my favourites are apple and cherry, apple and pineapple, apricot made from rehydrated turkish dried apricots (put some booze in this one)!

Put your leftover curry in a pie!

TIPS FOR A PERFECT PIE! (Pie pros will already know these probably, but they are tips that helped me learn to make good pies)!

Whether you are using store bought pastry or home made, it is important to blind bake your base first! I find the best way is to cover the base with baking paper.

Always brush your pastry top with egg-wash or something to make it shiny.

Here are some toppings I’ve tried:

* Fig Jam – looks pretty with the little fig seeds
* Cardamom sugar – mix a pinch of cardamom into some Demerara sugar
* Coloured sugar – you can buy it from the grocery store – kids love this!
* Lavendar sugar, thyme sugar, rosemary sugar – these are all herbs that taste lovely with sweet fillings

Crust ideas:

* Cheddar crust is amazing! Just add cheese to your pastry dough for savoury or sweet pies. So delicious!
* Herb crust – load your pastry with herbs for extra flavour
* Pepper crust – instead of making a peppery stew for a filling, add lots of pepper to the pastry
* Of course cut out shapes for the top! Scour the op-shops and kitchen stores for unusual cookie cutters, some of the ones I have found are a cute rabbit for rabbit pies, christmas themed for leftover Christmas pies, flowers for a girly strawberry pie. Be creative with shapes – cut out a fish for the top of a fish pie
* Instead of one large sheet cut to fit your pie tin, cut the pastry into lots of rounds, or use a cutter to make lots of pieces and layer them in a pattern of concentric circles on top. You can see the filling through little gaps and it just looks, well… different and kind of cute. Here is an example – this blogger has done a superb job, geez that looks like a tasty pie! Herb Crusted Peach and Cardamom Pie
* Cut out little shapes to make a border around the outside edge of your pie top.
* Cut shapes out of your top sheet instead of layering extra pastry cut outs on top.

The Perfect Pie…

* An old fashioned black bird is ideal for saucy fillings – cut a whole in the centre. He is designed to let steam out to help your pastry lid cook. Cute and retro, but very purposeful! Most kitchen shops should have them
* Make sure your pie filling is plenty moist – nobody likes a dry pie! Ask your green grocer about the best fruits for pies if you are not sure. You want fruit that holds its shape somewhat, but isn’t dry or too watery when cooked. Sometimes a combination of fruits is best to get the right balance. Pectin in fruit is what makes it go nice and sticky. For example, if you have a lot of berries (low pectin), mix it with something higher pectin (like an apple, plums or quinces).
Nobody likes a soggy-bottom pie either. If your sauce is too runny, thicken with a little corn starch and water or drain off some of the runny stuff.
* I always prefer to cool the filling before adding it to the pie. So, if you make a pre-cooked stew or other filling mixture, allow it to cool first. This will prevent your pastry from going gooey before it goes into the oven.
* In my opinion, is cooked in glass or ceramic. Not sure why I think this, just have a feeling that pies in metal tins are inferior. I guess ceramic and glass heat slower than metal and so the base doesn’t cook too quickly, leaving time for the filling to cook just right as well. Or maybe it’s just childhood nostalgia? My Dad always made rabbit pie in an oval shaped, dark brown, deep ceramic dish. For me, something with a sloped edge prevents the pastry from ‘slumping’ in the dish.
* Serve it with something! Whether it’s plain old tomato sauce on a meat/veg pie (don’t be a snob, you know you want it), a side of mash and peas or crispy salad, or for sweet pies a dollop of cream, custard or ice-cream is heaven. For something different, or a bit posh, try these out – natural yoghurt sweetened with honey or not sweetened at all, for fruit pies. Raita and chutney with a curry pie. Beetroot relish or chilli tomato jam with savoury pies.

Personally, I think the best list of pie recipes online that I have found belongs to the BBC.

And to my USA followers, you know I want to hear from you… You are a nation of bigger pie nuts than even us Aussies! I’ll never forget my first Cherry Pie a la mode experience when I was fifteen in a New York diner.

Lamb, Onion and Stout Pie

31 Mar

Aussie Icon

Rick Stein’s national live tour is happening now. A friend and fellow food enthusiast drew my attention to a competition being hosted by Stein to uncover ‘Ultimate Australian’ dishes. Well didn’t my little ticker start racing with enthusiasm! Then didn’t I find myself awfully perplexed! What’s Australian food? We all puzzled for days. Don’t we just borrow from everyone and everywhere and love it and appreciate it as though it’s our own? Or do we just make it up as we go along? I had spanakopita for breakfast, a Vietnamese pork and salad roll for lunch and I made a hot Singapore curry for dinner. The cornish pasties from a generations old recipe that my Dad’s mum used to cook when I was little made me weak at the knees the moment I entered her house and smelt them baking. Mum’s mum made lamb and barley soup that was so delicate, so perfect. I just can’t make it the same. My mother cooks honey soy chicken wings that make my toes stretch open and Vietnamese spring rolls to die for. My Dad makes the best Canadian breakfast known to planet earth! The specialties of my culinary forebears reflect the truly diverse nature of ‘Australian food’, whatever that term means to you.

As for the choice of meat pie… My friends and family might think this an unexpected one from a girl who by the age of three preferred slurpy black bean chicken feet at yum cha to vegemite sandwiches and at 28 would definitely order an assam laksa over a sloppy steak burger with the lot any day!

I chose such a humble thing to cook because let’s face it, if there’s one food item you can buy on almost every main street in every village, town or city in Australia it’s a meat pie. If there’s one food countless Aussies (young and old) crave while pounding the pavements of foreign lands it’s a hot steamy meat pie with a generous glob of tomato sauce. If there’s one food most people new to the country are curious to try it’s a meat pie. Admittedly, there are probably more bad pies being sold out there than good ones. I cannot personally remedy this sad fact but I can cook a real beauty of a pie in my own kitchen, using the most lovely (and cherished) animal *baaaahh* and the one and only fair dinkum, down right favourite drink of Aussies – BEER glorious BEER. I have to say the thing I like most about cooking this dish is pretending I’m not sure which beer to use – a great excuse to stand around taste testing!

To salute Mr Stein I’ve chosen an aptly named Australian stout as the feature ingredient of the dish I have created for the competition. ‘Hatlifter Stout’ is what gives this pie its ‘wow’ factor. It’s from Gippsland (VIC) and it is delicious. The dark, slightly bitter, sweet and full bodied flavour of the stout adds such a rich depth to the gravy for this pie. The smell of the gravy is irresistible. It’s truly a resistance test to not dive in for a big forkful of the filling before it reaches the pie shells!

Ok here it is… You’ll need…

A boned lamb shoulder (tell the butcher not to bother rolling it for you but do trim off some fat)

Marinade:

3 cloves garlic (crushed)

2 sprigs rosemary (finely chopped)

2 fresh Bay leaves

juice of half a lemon

2 tablespoons dijon mustard

1 tablespoon treacle

salt and pepper

And…

6-10 french shallots, peeled and halved

shortcrust pastry

puff pastry

one egg and a little milk for brushing

Firstly, combine all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl, smother over the lamb and marinade in the fridge for as long as you have (minimum one hour).

Fresh bay leaves and rosemary are must haves!

Then, place the meat on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and cook for 2-3 hours (depending on the weight of the shoulder) at 180 degrees. Add the onions to the pan about 30 minutes before the end of cooking. Toss them around in the pan juices.

Don’t worry about dark bits, they add flavour intensity to the yummy filling!

Alternatively, if you cooked a lamb roast yesterday or the day before – use up all the leftovers. Easy!

For the next step you’ll need…

2 tablespoons plain flour

1 1/2 cups beef stock

1 bottle of stout – any of these will do…

Ok so I snuck in a NZ black beer. I had to taste test for the best (it didn’t win)! I decided to go with the Hatlifter – smooth and robust for a rich gravy.

As you would make gravy from pan juices for a roast, simply remove the meat and onions and set them aside. Place the roasting pan on the stove over low heat and stir the flour into the pan juices. Deglaze with the beer first, then add the stock (or water). Stir out and squash any lumps. Add the onions to the gravy and simmer while stirring until thick and smooth. The flavour of the gravy will mellow out as it cools and then as it is re-cooked. If it tastes a little bitter at first, don’t worry this recipe should all balance out in the end.

Second last, chop up the meat. I like to have some big chunky bites and the rest quite fine. This makes for a nicely textured filling. Combine the meat and gravy and set aside to cool completely.

Lamb, beer and onions – the aroma is unbearably good!

Finally, make the pies… Use shortcrust for the base and puff for the tops. Spoon the filling into prepared pie cases and top with puff pastry. Brush with a little egg and milk and bake for about 20 minutes in a 200 degree oven.

two4six8

Mr Stein, I hope you get to eat a yummy Aussie meat pie while you’re here!

Friends, I hope to see you at the show! I’ll be there with bells on (thanks for the tickets Mum)! Click the link below to check it out.

Rick Stein Food Odyssey Live On Stageh