Mediterranean Meatballs

Time saver: this recipe is adapted from one of the Annabelles, I can’t remember which one. I’m pretty sure in the original recipe they use lamb mince, and that’s not my jam (but I wouldn’t stop you from doing it).

meatballs_mediumBecause the meatballs are so delicious you really only need a simple sauce – it’s been a while since I wrote this recipe up, so these days I might go for a simpler sauce than I’ve given here. Either way, it’s a delicious meal, just like mamma used to make, if your mamma was Phil.

On with the show, serves 5-6.

Meatballs

  • 1kg minced beef
  • 200g feta
  • 100g pitted black olives, chopped into eighths (around 25 olives)
  • 2 thick slices of bread, crusts removed (plus cold water to dampen)
  • 1 egg
  • Ground black pepper
  • ½ cup shredded fresh basil/coriander/parsley
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Additional oil for frying

Tomato sauce

  • 2x 400g tin peeled chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • ¼ c red wine
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Oil for frying onion

Pasta

  • 500g pasta – e.g. fettucine, spaghetti… (plus plenty of salted water to cook in)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Optional: Small amount grated parmesan, and fresh herbs to garnish.

Prepare sauce:

  1. Heat oil in a small pot, then sauté the onion and garlic till clear.
  2. Add the tomatoes, sugar, oregano, thyme, salt, wine, black pepper.
  3. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from the heat, and either blend in a blender, or use the stick mix to create a smooth, lump-free sauce.
  5. Return to a low heat and simmer gently. Add more wine/salt/pepper if required.

PUT A LARGE POT OF SALTED WATER FOR THE PASTA ON TO HEAT

Prepare meatballs:

  1. Put the mince, olives, egg, fresh herbs, and olive oil in a large bowl.
  2. Add the feta, crumbling it into small pieces.
  3. Moisten the bread with cold water, squeeze it slightly so it no longer drips, then crumble into the bowl.
  4. Combine all the ingredients thoroughly.
  5. Shape meatballs and place on a plate. About 1 large tablespoon at a time, rolled quickly between your palms to make a meatball. (Should make around 28-30 meatballs of this size.)

PASTA SHOULD BE PUT IN THE POT TO COOK AT THIS POINT

  1. Heat oil in a large hot frying pan.
  2. Fry the meatballs until cooked through, turning every 2-3 minutes. This should take around 8-10 minutes, but may take longer depending on the size of the meatballs and heat of the pan.

To finish:

  1. When the pasta is cooked, drain it quickly and return it to the pot. Stir through the tablespoon of olive oil, coating it (and preventing it from sticking).
  2. Dish up the pasta into large bowls.
  3. Dish out the meatballs on top of the pasta.
  4. Cover the meatballs with the pasta sauce.
  5. Optionally, sprinkle a little grated parmesan on the top, and garnish with a sprig of fresh herbs.
  6. Don’t forget a glass of red wine.
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Peanut butter mousse cupcakes

Time saver: Phil does his bit for the obesity epidemic in New Zealand.

First off, this recipe isn’t my own, the credit goes to Ms. Humble of Not So Humble Pie, with her Dead Man’s Peanut Butter Cupcakes. I’ve made them a couple of times now, so this is just a record of my attempts to adapt them to the New Zealand market.

When I was younger I used to watch Sesame Street, and back then, the Cookie Monster really loved cookies. These days I think he says things like “Cookies are a sometimes food”, which is kind of a sell out for a creature whose life is devoted to the finding and devouring of cookies. Be that as it may, today kids, I’m here to say ”Peanut butter mousse cupcakes are a sometimes food”. If you eat these regularly they will probably kill you. Fair warning.

The first I knew about these was when a young friend of mine (Jonathan DeGenius) gave me one to try. I didn’t know what I had, so I took it home and halved it with my wife. I think we nearly cried. Here’s the email I sent immediately afterwards:

Subject: “Amazing awesome deliciousness, or something to that effect…”

“Hey Jonathan, that subject line is from my wife who just had half of that cupcake. We both agreed it was the best cupcake we’ve ever eaten. The peanut mousse is incredible.”

After finding out where he’d got the recipe from I couldn’t wait to make them myself, and so I did. The cupcakes were brilliant, but I did notice a few things. When you follow the original recipe, it kind of feels like you’ve buying every possible dairy product imaginable. (You basically are, it uses: sour cream, butter milk, butter, cream cheese, and regular cream.) The other thing is that you’re left with the somewhat daunting task of disposing of 24 substantial cupcakes. (Once your friends hear about them it’s not actually that hard to offload them.) As well as that, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t pipe enough peanut butter mousse onto each cupcake to use it all and was left with quite a lot of it in a bowl in the fridge. I took care of that with judicious use of a dessert spoon over the next few days, culminating in what was either an absolute high or low point (you be the judge) where I re-melted the remaining chocolate coating and then ate the mousse, dipping spoonfuls of it into the liquid chocolate. Hopefully I can save you from that same awful fate.

Anyway, I figured that with such a decadent topping you could probably get away with a much simpler cupcake recipe. It should also be possible to make a smaller quantity of the peanut butter mousse, using quantities that fit better with the quantities sold in New Zealand shops. Also, if the cupcakes were mini-sized they’d be a bit less daunting for your wimpy friends.

So, when I made these for my brother’s birthday, I used a simpler cupcake recipe, and scaled down the peanut butter mousse. As it turns out, Ms Humble has already given a peanut butter mousse with reduced quantities in her Dead Man’s Peanut Butter Pie recipe. So you could just go and read that recipe, however, if you prefer the metric system (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) read on…

Peanut butter mouse cupcakes – makes around 36 mini-cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 125g butter, softened
  • ½ cup white sugar (caster or granulated)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup white flour (if using self-raising flour, omit the baking powder below)
  • ¼ cup cocoa (I used Dutch cocoa, if you don’t have it just use normal cocoa)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1-2 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 36 mini-cupcake cases (paper, or if you can find them, the foil ones are even better)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C (160°C if fan-forced).
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs.
  3. Sift in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda. Add the milk and vanilla essence and stir to combine. (You could do all of this in a food processor if you were so inclined.)
  4. Place the cupcake cases in mini-muffin tins, then use a couple of teaspoons to spoon the mixture evenly into the cases. The cases should only be about half full, since we only want the cupcakes to rise as high as the edges of the cases (everything else will be chopped off).
  5. Bake for around 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.
  6. Using a sharp bread-cutting knife, cut anything higher than the edge of the cupcake case off the top of each cupcake. This is to give you a nice flat surface to pipe the mousse onto.

Peanut Butter mousse

  • 1½ cups fresh cream
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 250g cream cheese (not spreadable, not low-fat, if you’re worried about that, don’t make these cupcakes)
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter (this is around 275g)
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  1. Add the sugar to the cream, and whip until fairly firm, then set aside.
  2. Combine the cream cheese, icing sugar and peanut butter and beat till smoove. (This sticky mixture had a tendency to climb up my beaters, so I had a spoon handy to push it off it got too high.)
  3. Add the whipped cream to the mix, and beat on low until just combined.
  4. Put the mousse in the fridge to chill (or freezer if you’re in a hurry, but keep an eye on it), and lick the egg beaters clean. Sigh with delight.

The cupcakes are ready, the mousse is chilled. Time to align those synergies.

Peanut butter mousse cupcakes

  • 250g milk chocolate (I used Whittaker’s Creamy Milk Chocalate – 33% Cocoa) (if you want to be sure to have enough chocolate, maybe consider getting another 50g bar just to be safe)
  • 2 Tbsp flavourless oil (I used rice-bran oil – yes this seems strange, but it solves the problem of tempering the chocolate, and means you can bite into the cupcakes without the tops shattering)
  1. Line the cupcakes up on your bench.
  2. Equip a large piping bag with a round tip (I used one with an 11mm wide opening), then carefully spoon the peanut butter mousse into it. (If someone else is around, get them to hold the bag for you.)
  3. Pipe some mousse onto the top of each cupcake – place the tip just above the centre of each one, hold it steady and pipe out a big blob (so that it almost reaches the edge of the cupcake), then raise the tip a little and pipe out a second smaller one. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect, no one will care.
  4. Put them in the freezer as you go to firm the mousse up for the next stage.
  5. Once all the cupcakes are safely in the freezer, break the chocolate up and put it in a small microwaveable jug/bowl, along with the oil. Microwave it carefully (it should take around 1 minute) until melted. Stir to take care of any remaining lumps. (If you don’t have a microwave you can melt it on the stove using a double-boiler technique, melting the chocolate in a metal bowl sitting over a small pot of water, heated gently and stirring constantly.)
  6. Transfer some of the melted chocolate to a small tumbler/rammekin – you want something fairly short and narrow that you can lower the tops of the cupcakes into.
  7. Take the cupcakes from the freezer (maybe in batches of 12), carefully lower each one mousse-first into the melted chocolate, down to the edge of the case (but not over the edge or it makes it hard to get the cases off). Lift it up and let the excess chocolate run off, then set down on the bench. Because the mousse is cold the chocolate should set fairly quickly. Transfer the cupcakes to the fridge as you finish each batch. Top up the tumbler with more chocolate as needed. Repeat until finished.
  8. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them. If you want to you could take them out 30 mins before eating to bring to room temperature. They should last for a couple of days in the fridge, but you probably won’t need to find that out. Enjoy!

Midori and Lemon Sorbet

Time saver: Summer’s on its way, cool down with a refreshing sorbet.

Midori and lemon sorbet - in shotglassesThis is a variation on the classic lemon sorbet. The sweet melon flavour of the Midori complements the tartness of the lemons, while also adding a little colour. Although I’ve used Midori, you can probably get away with any of your favourite liqueurs/spirits.

Your freezer needs to be quite cold when making sorbet (or you’ll have to wait a long time for it to freeze). If you leave the sorbet too long without beating it (particularly before the first round of beating) the syrup may freeze solid. if that happens, just leave it to thaw for a few minutes, then beat and return to the freezer.

Midori and Lemon Sorbet

If well beaten, this recipe makes just shy of 1 litre.

  • 2 c water (use filtered/bottled water if the tap water is chlorinated)
  • 1½ c white sugar
  • 1 c freshly squeezed lemon juice (around 6-8 lemons, more if they’re small)
  • 3 Tbsp Midori Liqueur
  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan, heat on a hot element, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Let it come to the boil, and simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat.
  3. While the syrup cools, juice the lemons. Strain the juice through a sieve into the saucepan of syrup, add the Midori, and mix well.
  4. Pour the syrup into a shallow freezer proof bowl and place bowl in the freezer. (I normally just use an old 2 litre ice cream container.)
  5. Leave to freeze for a couple of hours, then retrieve the bowl and beat with electric beaters/stick mix. After beating, return to the freezer.
  6. Repeat the beating process a couple more times, with hour long intervals. The more you beat it, the lighter and smoother the sorbet.
  7. Serve in chilled glasses. For a palate cleanser, use 40ml shot glasses, for dessert use larger chilled martini glasses.

Midori and Lemon Sorbet - in cocktail glass

Lemon sorbet

Time saver: Phil cleanses your palate, and proves he doesn’t own an ice cream maker.

I used to make this all the time, until I started feeling guilty about all the sugar in it. Whatever, it’s delicous and surprisingly easy to make…

Lemon sorbet

If well beaten, this recipe makes just shy of 1 litre.

  • 2 c water (use filtered/bottled water if the tap water is chlorinated)
  • 1½ c caster sugar (plain white sugar also fine)
  • 1 c freshly squeezed lemon juice (around 6-8 lemons, more if they’re small)
  • (optional) zest of 1 or 2 of the lemons
  • (optional) 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  1. Put water and sugar in a small saucepan, and heat on hot element, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved. If using zest, add this to the saucepan too.
  2. Let it come to the boil, and simmer for a minute or two, then remove from the heat.
  3. While the syrup cools, juice the lemons. You want around 1 c of juice, but if you’re a bit over/under don’t worry too much. Add juice to the saucepan of syrup and mix well.
  4. Pour the syrup into a freezer proof bowl – I normally just use an old 2 litre ice cream container. If you’re using zest, you could strain some or all of it out at this point.
  5. Put the bowl in the freezer. Come back in a couple of hours time, retrieve the bowl and beat with electric beaters. You can also use a stick mix quite successfully – and this will work better than beaters if you’ve over-freezed it. After beating, put it back in the freezer.
  6. Repeat the beating process a couple more times, with 30 minute to an hour long intervals, depending on your freezer. Over this time the syrup should transform to slush and then sorbet. If I’m making it overnight, I’ll generally beat it a couple of times at night, and then return in the morning, using the stick mix if it’s too frozen. (Being ice you can always just leave it out for a few minutes to melt if it’s too hard to beat.) The more you beat it, the lighter the sorbet.
  7. Lots of recipes would now have you beat an egg white through the sorbet. Doing so will make it smoother, airier and add body. It’ll also mean you have raw egg white in your sorbet, it takes all sorts.
  8. Serve in chilled glasses. For the degustation I used chilled 40ml shot glasses. If you’re serving it as the main dessert, chilled martini glasses work very well and look the business.

Mushroom, blue cheese and pesto pizza

Time saver: Phil comes up with a pizza topping combo no self-respecting kid would ever think of eating – so you can have it all to yourself. (Not that I have any kids, but the cat definitely wasn’t interested.)

It’s funny how what I intend to write about doesn’t get written, yet I can somehow find time to write about a pizza most people won’t like. My wife’s been away for a couple of days, and I’ve been living off leftovers and the kindness of friends, so I haven’t done much in the way of cooking. That all changed tonight though, when I finally succumbed to my hunger and whipped up this pizza. No photos unfortunately, I destroyed the evidence rather quickly. (I intend to fix that some time soon, but no promises.)

Just a quick word about pizza bases: tonight I cheated and used a bought one, if you want to do a home made base it’ll be 10 times better. Just remember that the area of a circle = Pi * r² and adjust the topping quantity appropriately. Piece of cake.

Mushroom, blue cheese and pesto pizza

Since pizzas are pretty robust, the quantities here are really just a guide. You’re free to increase/decrease the amount of any of the ingredients according to your taste and judgement, and I’m sure the result will still be good. For most of you, just the title itself is probably all the recipe you need.

  • 9″ pizza base (for a 12″ pizza you’ll need to almost double the quantity of topping, and for an 18″ pizza you’ll need four times the quantity)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ½ clove or ½ tsp crushed garlic (could use whole clove if it’s small)
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt
  • 1¼ c grated cheese (125g is roughly 1 cup when grated) (I used Edam, if you’ve got mozarella by all means use it)
  • 75g mushrooms, sliced
  • 20-30g blue vein cheese
  • 2-3 Tbsp basil pesto
  1. Pre-heat oven to 230°C (about 450°F). If you’ve got a pizza stone, use it, otherwise just put one of your trays in to heat.
  2. Put pizza base on a sheet of baking paper.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the tomato paste, olive oil and garlic, mix well.
  4. Spread tomato paste over pizza base, going right to the edges. (If the base doesn’t look saucy enough, just add a bit more tomato paste and olive oil, if it’s too saucy, just spoon some off.)
  5. Crack some black pepper and salt over the base, then cover with cheese.
  6. Spread mushrooms over the cheese – they’ll shrink a lot, so cover the whole thing.
  7. Crumble the blue vein over the pizza, distributing in small pieces. If you’re a fan, feel free to use more.
  8. With a teaspoon, dollop some basil pesto around in a stylish fashion.
  9. Put the pizza in the oven (with baking paper) on your pre-heated tray/pizza stone. Cook for 15 minutes or so, until the base is cooked and the cheese is melted and golden.