The boys - Alessio and Sebastian - turned TWO on July 27 and we celebrated the day before with a little family party at home. Being winter and them still having big day naps, we haven't done the massive soiree thing yet, but it's always a noisy affair anyway!
We went with a 'double' theme seeing as they're twins and turned two and because, hey, us parents still get to choose the theme at this age. We'll have to wait 'til they're 22 to attempt it again ;) We had a bit of a seeing-double theme for the food (lots of chocolate with vanilla), a B1 & B2 cake thanks to my friend, Larissa Parker, from Yum Yum Custom Cakes, a twin quiz, double pass-the-parcel, and a matchy-matchy dress theme for the guests if they so chose! It really was double the fun, though Lessi missed out on cake because he was ready for his nap... :):)
Pics: James Elsby, naturally. (His rellies somehow avoided getting in the photos.)
I have a dirty little secret: I am a two-minute noodles fiend. My mum is particularly disgusted at this foodie habit of mine (if you can even call it 'foodie').
Okay, so I don't eat them as regularly as in my uni days, but there's always a packet of noodles in my pantry. Top chefs often admit to this when asked about their most embarrassing food item at home, so, hey, I'm in good company, right? Right?? (Mum's shaking her head...)
My thing used to be Trident 'Hot & Spicy' noodles. Zap them in the microwave for three-and-a-half minutes (I don't know where they get the 2 mins from), drain out the boiling water, throw in a tin of tuna, chopped parsley and chilli, and lemon juice. Bingo! You're done. Lately (cough, not very often) I've moved onto Maggi 'chicken' noodles done, uh, tortellini style. Yes, I'm a creative 'un. Once the noodle are cooked, chuck in cream, shredded ham, and mushrooms (as per my unappealing attempt at a pic up top), and bon appetit!
A friend of my husband's swears by Indomie Mi Goreng 'barbecue chicken' noodles (he's also a shameless addict). He says 'just cook the noodles (don't drain), then add red wine vinegar and crack in an egg; stir and eat.'
So 'fess up... how do you like your - wholemeal, non-MSG, naturally - instant noodles (aside from, not from India as per the current scare)? And would you feed them to your kids?
While you're pondering this issue, check out the below pics from my family's recent trip to Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant - just so it shows I have some class, even if we were the last people in Adelaide to pay a visit. Was the cooking better than my mum or nonna's? If my mum's reading this, then NO! Did we go to Macca's afterwards for dessert? Erm, yes.
The toilets, above, are a bit trippy. The restaurant's in an old bank building.
Mum brought home a, er, souvenir, above. Being Italian, she likes to get her money's worth. (Jamie, I know where she lives...)
What's hard for my mum about me including her recipes in my current (Italian-style) manuscript is that she tends to cook from 'feel' rather than instructions. So she's been trying to write down the recipes for me, then second-guessing herself and making the dishes as well to make sure she's remembered all the steps!
Above are some pics she sent me when testing her (modern) ricotta recipe, plus how my nonna used to make it. Why not try one of the recipes, below, for yourself? Beats paying for the exxy supermarket stuff and tastes a heap better, guaranteed ;)
Nonna’s homemade ricotta
1 litre of full cream milk
1 large twig off a fig tree
Clean twig. On the base, cut two deep cuts, forming a cross about 2” deep, so that gum can be released.
Place milk in a saucepan and warm to almost boiling point. Then keeping on the hotplate on very low, stir with the twig until the milk separates. Once separated, take off the heat and keep stirring until the whey has become clear and the ricotta has formed. Place into cheesecloth so that the liquid drains away. Once cool, place in a container in the fridge. Use with poached fruit in place of cream.
*This method makes a very soft ricotta, almost to the consistency of cottage cheese and can be sliced. It has quite a strong taste unlike the version made with vinegar.
*Great way to use up any excess milk!
1 litre of full cream milk
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of vinegar
Olive oil, dried oregano and cracked pepper to taste
Place milk in a saucepan and warm to almost boiling point. Take off the stove, add salt and vinegar, and stir until the milk separates. Strain the mixture in a fine sieve, allowing all the liquid to drain off.
When cool, place the ricotta in cheesecloth (or sieve) and squeeze out any moisture. Put in a container and refrigerate overnight. Next day, cut into required pieces, dress in olive oil, dried oregano, and cracked pepper. Use on dry biscuits, in salads or as additional sandwich fillings. Keeps for a week in the fridge!
This Easter Sunday we celebrated with a small family gathering at my parents' place. Since the grandparents have passed on and great-grandkids have been added to the mix, the family get-togethers are more splintered, smaller events, though my mum still cooks for an army!
At Easter, my mum's mum used to make traditional chicken-shaped Easter bread featuring eggs wrapped in dough (which looked a bit like this). I never used to appreciate the effort that would have gone into making these as a kid as I was too interested in devouring the choccie eggs, but now it's a tradition I remember fondly - and one that is likely lost forever!
Still, there was plenty of other food to go around, including roast pork and crackling, spinach fritters, potato bake, home-made pita bread, and tonnes of yummy salads and desserts. I'll spare you the video of all the kids - and adults! - doing an impromptu performance to Joe Cocker's You Can Leave Your Hat On using dad's hats as props. But check out the pics of my dad, Rocco, in his prized veggie patch.
Happy hols - and hope the Easter bunny was kind to you (and didn't advocate quitting chocolate this year.) :)
You've worked as a PA to a well-known Melbourne chef and so does your heroine, Becca Stone, in Yes, Chef! How much of the novel is fact and how much fiction? And does it get annoying when people assume it's all true to life?
When I began writing Yes, Chef! I honestly didn't think it would ever be published. I wrote it more to prove to myself that I could finish a book and so in the beginning I did use a time in my life as a basis for Becca and some of the situations she encountered. These characteristics very quickly took a departure from reality, however, in order to suit the confines of the story and provide conflict and tension in Becca's life.
I'm always careful to maintain that Yes, Chef! is fiction as I wouldn't want people to think the chef I worked for was anything like the arrogant chef in my book. It's another reason I decided to set the book in London, aside from the fact that I adore the city and it would make it easier for my characters to travel to interesting places such as Istanbul and Florence.
I think it's only natural for people to think that everything must be true and I don't blame them. It isn't of course, I merely used my years of experience in the industry to provide an authentic background for Becca and the other characters.
Can you say who the chef you worked for was and if they've read the novel?
Chef Damien Malone from Yes, Chef! is most certainly not based on any one person but rather an amalgamation of people I've worked with in the past, stories I've heard from friends in the industry and what I've read and seen of notorious chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.
Part of the inspiration behind Yes, Chef! was discovering for myself what an interesting and varied job I had working for a well-known chef and then wondering what it could be like if I didn't work for someone as nice and humble as my boss, chef Andrew McConnell.
I no longer work for Andrew as, after three years as his PA, I decided to focus on my writing and our farm, but we remain friends. I'm not sure he's had time to read my book but when he does I'm sure it will make him laugh.
Before becoming a foodie, you had an occasional stint on stage and screen in London. Can you tell us more about that and what it was like afterwards to be 'dropped' into the food world?
Growing up I always did a lot of acting and dancing and so when I left school I assumed that was what I was supposed to do with my life. I moved to London in order to pursue a career as an actor and yet I always seemed to be more dedicated to my day jobs than I was to attending auditions or honing my craft. As a result I only ever had small theatre roles and extra roles in film and television.
I did work behind the scenes for the TV series, Midsomer Murders, which was a lot of fun but it wasn't until I rediscovered writing that I understood what it was like to have a true career passion.
Working with food began as a job to pay the bills in London and then became a career choice once I returned to Melbourne and was offered the role as Andrew's PA. It wasn't until I began working for Andrew and then met my husband that I truly began to appreciate food and now even though I'm no longer working in the industry it still remains a passion for me.
A book reviewer was surprised by kitchens being described as 'such sexed-up places' in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and your book. Why do you think being around food encourages 'mingling'?
I think it's more the nature of the industry that encourages shenanigans between co-workers. When you work such long and unsociable hours I think it's natural to flirt and fall for the people you work with as you see them more than you do anyone else. Working in a restaurant is also a very unique working environment.
At no other job are you run off your feet for between eight and 14 hours on end with very little breaks, dealing with often demanding customers while running in and out of a hot kitchen, all the while trying not to do anything to set off the highly stressed chefs. Restaurant staff need to find a way to make this all not only bearable but enjoyable and flirting is a part of that.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
I wrote quite a lot during high school but didn't take writing seriously until I returned to Australia from London. I had the idea for a series of young adult fantasy novels but I struggled to get the first one finished. I didn't understand that I needed to treat my writing as a business and so I enrolled in a commercial fiction masterclass to get some advice.
The author who ran the class [Fiona McIntosh] enjoyed hearing my stories about the restaurant industry and encouraged me to elaborate on them and turn them into a book. I decided to take her advice as after four years trying to write fantasy I thought a change of pace might do me good.
I had such fun writing Yes, Chef! but never really had publication in mind. I thought I would prove to myself that I could finish a book and then go back to my fantasy series. But when I showed Yes, Chef! to a few writer friends their reaction was overwhelmingly positive and so I thought I'd send it to Penguin and give it a try.
Within a month I had a call from an editor at Penguin's digital-first imprint, Destiny, saying they were interested in publishing Yes, Chef! and three weeks after the eBook was released I received the wonderful news that they had decided to release a print edition. It was all very unexpected and now even though I'm on a different path from writing fantasy, I feel very grateful that I get to do something I love for a living.
How different is your life now in the Dandenong Ranges on a small-acreage farm with your husband and chooks to your life in Melbourne and London?
Very different. In London I used to spend my weekends shopping and going to parties and now I spend my weekends watering and weeding! Sounds like a change for the worse but I wouldn't say that.
We live in such a lovely peaceful area and it's such a pleasure to grow your own food. It's also a wonderful setting to write in. Before moving to the country we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne so it's a big change and a lot of work but I enjoy being busy.
Oh, and we now have seven chooks which is a debacle as the original four don't like sharing their territory with the newbies one bit!
You grow vegetables, berries and herbs to sell to some of Melbourne's best restaurants. How does this process work? Are you up early and off to farmer's markets, and is it a seven-day-a-week job?
It's most definitely a seven-day-a-week job. Even though we don't work all day every day on the farm there's always something do be done, whether it's weeding, watering, feeding the chickens or sowing new seeds.
My husband works full-time running a number of top Melbourne restaurants and so our first customers were the chefs he works with. We do get up early to harvest and then he drops the produce off before starting work so it's a very long day for him.
Instagram has been a great marketing tool for us. We aim to grow interesting and varied produce that excite chefs and we've picked up new business by posting pictures of our wonderful produce. It's such a pleasure for us to see our produce on the menus of so many of Melbourne's top restaurants and even more satisfying to hear such well-respected chefs rave about the quality of the food we grow.
What is the signature dish your friends and family know you for? And are you a keen cook?
My husband is actually the cook in our family. He's not a chef but he has such a natural talent and love of cooking that he's the one with the signature dishes. Our meals always revolve around what we have available on the farm. It's so enjoyable to harvest your dinner from the garden and then cook with it.
I'm the baker in the family and my most recent signature dish is a rhubarb and cinnamon cake. I discovered the recipe on the What Katie Ate blog when I had an oversupply of rhubarb in the garden and it's so delicious and easy to make I've turned to it a few times when entertaining recently. The recipe can be found here.
For more on Lisa, visit http://www.lisajoyauthor.com/.
Bestselling romance author Cathryn Hein has let me 'guest' on her blog today here. I'm chatting about what to do with too many zucchinis and the 'care packages' my mum often sends, as above, to make sure I'm eating right (at the ripe old age of 36)! Oh, and you can win a copy of my ebook, Pretty Famous, too. Thanks for dropping by xx
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.
Finding my inner peasant...