Being a mum to 19-month-old twin lads, I’m always excited to speak to twins who are all grown-up and still the best of friends! As are 26-year-old identical twins Helena and Vikki Moursellas — My Kitchen Rules 2014 finalists and now the co-authors of their very own cookbook, Taking You Home: Simple Greek Food. Today I spoke to the blonde half of the pair, Vikki…
We’ve had The Block twins Lysandra and Alisa Fraser, Big Brother twins David and Greg Matthews, and now you guys! Why do you think twins have such an edge on reality shows?
Being a twin is pretty crazy [laughs]! It’s so hard to explain sometimes. You’ve just got a really strong connection and that’s why Helena and I got so far I think in the competition. We had such a strong connection that no one else had. Now we’re also working together, we’ve got our cookbook and our catering business, and we’re about to open up a restaurant — we just work so well together, because we’re so close. I think it’s a bit of a bonus being a twin [on TV].
Tell us about your new catering business.
We’ve been doing a bit of catering around Melbourne. It’s just under our own names. So we basically come to your home and we cook for up to 70 people. We’ve done a couple of birthdays and private dinners. It’s so much fun. We love it. It’s like being back on the show. We work off Instagram – http://instagram.com/helenaandvikki. If you’ve got the budget to fly us wherever, we’d do that, too!
And the goss on your upcoming restaurant?
Yeah, we only just announced that [at the Sydney book launch] last night, so that’s exciting. Hopefully [it’ll open] in April. That’s in Sydney in Pitt Street. It will be mainly modern Australian and a little bit of Greek [cuisine]. We haven’t announced its name yet, so maybe I’ll hold off on saying. My boyfriend’s actually in Sydney, too [which works well].
How big a process is putting together a cookbook?
It took a while but we just had so much fun. It wasn’t really a job at the end of the day. We just loved it. We started in April last year, and we had 85 recipes [to perfect]. Our friends and family loved it because we were always cooking away in the kitchen and feeding them. They weren’t complaining! It was a long process, but the wait is worth it. It was incredible how [the final stage] worked. You go to the studio and there’s a team helping make your recipes and photographing your food.
How do you stay so slim working around food all the time? :)
I’ve actually just lost 13kg! I put on a lot of weight when I was on the show. I’ve just been eating healthy and not having chocolate and bowls of pasta at 12am!
Did you have fun poring through your photo albums for personal pics to include in the cookbook?
It was a little emotional. [Shots include that of the twins’ father who passed away from a heart attack when the girls were 12.] It was [also] really fun matching every photo with a recipe, because every photo has a personal story and that’s what we love about the cookbook.
You’re from Adelaide, but now live in Melbourne. When did you make the move and why?
We’ve been living in Melbourne for the past two-and-a-half years. We love Melbourne. Our heart’s there. It’s a beautiful city... [Adelaide] is a beautiful city [too]. We lived there our whole life, 24 years! But it’s not the place I want to be [now]. It’s too quiet for me. I need to be in a place where things are moving quickly. Melbourne and Sydney are the places to be... I'd never put down Adelaide, because at the end of the day, it's home.
What were you doing before the whole TV thing happened?
We were just doing a bit of study [Vikki in graphic design and Helena in radio], but what we were doing we weren’t really passionate about. The show feels like it was meant to be. We didn’t go on My Kitchen Rules because we wanted to be on TV. We went on there because we have a passion for food and cooking and we’re very proud to be Greek and that’s what we love to cook... Food's our life and that's what we want to do.
Taking You Home: Simple Greek Food by Helena Moursellas and Vikki Moursellas, published by Hachette Australia ($39.99).
One of the fun things about researching my current novel, drawing on my Italian ancestry, is scouring all the old photo albums for inspiration.
The pic, above, of my late nonna with my mum on her lap and her brother, Michael, beside them gave me a bit of a jolt. We'd just taken one of our boys, Alessio, right, to have a haircut and realised we'd gotten him a 'short back and sides', like Michael back in the '50s. Some looks never go out of fashion!
Also while in book research mode recently, I came across a fab recipe! I wanted to have my heroine cook my nonna's famous spinach fritters, but then realised spinach is a cold-season crop and the book is set in summer.
So I looked up 'tomato fritters', and lo and behold, there is such a specialty from Santorini. (The most I remember about my trip to the Greek island is feeling sorry for the donkeys which transport tourists up the steep steps! Maybe sampling these babies at the top would have made me feel a little better...)
I used a recipe from the foodie blog, Lemon & Olives, though my hubby set out all the ingredients and took over the frying part - can you tell he doesn't have much patience with a newbie cook like me? :) This was the result... Delish!
Adelaide author Susan Murphy has come to appreciate the Italian way of life - after marrying such a man! She chats about her immersion into the culture, below... (And after reading, check out more on her delightful debut novel, inspired by her other career as a marriage celebrant here!)
"If you’re a child of the late eighties or early nineties, you might remember those wonderful t-shirts (and sometimes tank tops) that shouted 'Italians Do It Better'.
While it was a fairly broad generalisation to make, I wondered what exactly it was that Italians ‘did better’. That was, until I married one.
Having been raised by Irish/English parents whose idea of a big family meal consisted of a few sausages, some mashed potato and three veg (gravy if you were lucky), entering the shrine of an Italian kitchen (whether it be indoor or outdoor - or both) was a new and eye-opening experience.
From the insistence that I 'eat, eat!' every time my hand wasn’t touching my mouth to the presentation of plate after plate of deliciousness for a simple mid-week meal, I came to realise I could really get used to this life. That was until none of my pants fit.
Having been part of this wonderfully rich culture for over 22 years, I have come to see what, in fact, Italians really do ‘do better’.
The Pig: The pig is a tradition that my in-laws have been partaking in as far back as they can remember. There are often (still) arguments about how it should be done (my mother-in-law being from Naples and my father-in-law from Venice). But once it gets underway it’s a sausage fest.
By the end, dozens of delicious little packages hang gleefully from the shed roof, just waiting to be devoured. My kids absolutely love getting involved in all of it. And eating the fruits of their labour!
This, is definitely something the Italians do best.
Sauce: At about the same time every year my in-laws' house is a hive of (tomato-y) activity. My husband (or one of his brothers) usually hooks up the trailer and heads off to collect a load of tomatoes while the rest of us drag out dirty and dusty bottles and begin cleaning them in huge tubs on the back lawn. My father-in-law watches over his boiling tub and when the tomatoes arrive, it’s on! By the end of the day there’s usually a couple hundred bottles of delicious sauce, shelved and ready for Sunday lunches.
Goodies: There are a few other ‘goodies’ that my mother-in-law makes that are family favourites.
This is the beginnings of what my husband likes to call 'cholesterol cake', below. It’s a delicious concoction of meats and cheeses, baked on a home-made pastry base. So rich and terribly fattening!
Rice cake is another one that I love. It’s a mix of rice and ricotta (amongst other things – all secret, of course), covered in pastry and baked to a golden crust. I’ve tried on numerous occasions, with little success, to make it. Trying to get an actual recipe from my mother-in-law is impossible. “It’s a bit of this and a pinch of that”, she tells me, with no actual measurements. I suspect that she leaves out a pinch or two here and there. Mine is never as good as hers!
One thing I have mastered is almond bread. The problem is, when I make it, friends and family seem to appear from nowhere with take-home zip-lock bags. It never lasts for more than a day or two.
Italian food and culture has grown on me significantly over the years (especially the food). I can’t imagine not having these wonderful traditions and dishes as part of our lives and I’m so pleased that my kids will grow up remembering the times they spent at Nonna and Nonno’s house making sauce and salami.
When it comes to food, Italians do, in my opinion, have the right to the claim that they ‘do it better’." - Susan Murphy
Visit www.susanmurphyauthor.com or check her out on Facebook here.
My late nonna (on my mum's side) had a bit of an obsession with longneck beer bottles, but she wasn't an alcoholic. (Although, she did like the occasional homemade vino!)
She used the bottles to store her traditional passata sauce, as above. Passata is basically a fresh tomato puree, made at the summer's end, so you can get "a flash of summer warmth", in your winter meals (without the need for freezing the tomatoes). More on how it's made here.
I like to think of it as a 'base' to your pasta sauce, but if you don't have a nonna's handy collection to rely on, you could use a store-made pasta sauce instead, then add on from there...
What I love is that even though my grandma, Maria Felis, left us four years ago (aged 86), her passata is still feeding the next generation. My 18-month-old twin boys, as the below pics show, love their nonna's sauce, though they didn't get the chance to meet her in person.
For this pasta dish, my hubby, James Elsby (photographer extraordinaire), fried up some veggies from the garden first - eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes - along with store-bought onion and garlic. Then he chucked in the passata, basil and a little sugar (I helped a bit). This was all simmered for at least half an hour and seasoned to taste, then spread on top of the cooked pasta!
PS. This is not strictly Italian, but my Chinese friend Larissa Liu, who now lives in Adelaide, regularly holds weekend cooking classes at home via Meetup. I recently attended her class for Thai coconut sticky rice with mango, and thought it would be great for my book heroine to hold her own such class when she gets confident with her cooking! (Larissa also creates yummy cakes. Check out her site here.)
Here's the recipe for... LARISSA'S COCONUT STICKY RICE WITH MANGO!
200g (1 cup) glutinous rice
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons caster sugar (palm sugar is better)
Large pinch of salt
1 large mango, cheeks removed, peeled, thinly sliced
* Place rice in a bowl. Cover with cold water. Set aside overnight to soak. Drain. Steam, covered, for 25-30 minutes or until rice is tender and translucent, or microwave for 6-9 mins.
* Meanwhile, place coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and coconut milk is heated through (do not boil).
* Transfer the rice to a large bowl. Add half the coconut milk mixture and stir to combine. Set aside for 5 mins to stand.
* Divide the rice among serving plates. Shape each portion into 2cm-thick disc. Top with mango slices. Spoon over the remaining coconut milk.
I visited market gardener Tony Scarfo of Scarfo Organics in Lobethal, South Australia, last week as part of the research for my upcoming novel (working title: Tomato Dust). In it, my hero will be a market gardener, just like my late grandpa was - and Tony is!
When it comes to my video skills, I don't think Silvia Colloca has anything to worry about, but Tony was pure talent. (He's been on the box for Maggie Beer before!)
Adelaideans, you can find his produce at places like Organically Grown on St Bernards Road, Central Organic in the Central Market, the Organic & Sustainable Market at Bowden, Foodland at Pasadena and Frewville, and Bliss Organic Café. Or check it out on Facebook.
There's a video clip of our interview here. Backyard growers, if you fast-forward to about 5 mins 20 secs in, you can get some expert tips on growing tomatoes at home!
Finding my inner peasant...