Photographs

Ejo #117 – My Mother’s Recipes: Chicken In Red Sauce

When I was a kid I didn’t like tomatoes very much. I liked them well enough raw, in a salad or a sandwich, but that was it. Anything with tomato cooked into it was blech to my palate. So I would aristocratically dip my hot chips in mayonnaise and snobbily eat my Four’n Twenty meat pies au naturel. When Mum made spaghetti bolognaise she would serve the pasta and the sauce separately and I’d happily reject the bolognaise, grating a little bit of goat’s cheese on my plain spaghetti instead. And when Mum made stuffed tomatoes, I would gouge out the yummy rice filling and wastefully leave behind a whole plateful of tomato cups. Which is why chicken with red sauce was never one of my faves growing up. Too tomatoey. Oh, but what a fool!!! Over the years I have come to appreciate tomato in all it’s forms and guises, including cooked!

Since Mum only ever cooked our favourite meals when David and I visited her in Melbourne, she never thought to make this one for us and as a result it’s been years and years since I’ve had it. Which is why I was so delighted when Pieta recently found a bunch of old handwritten recipes, including this one for chicken with red sauce. Yay!!! It was so wonderful to be able to cook this meal with my sisters and to actually enjoy, and appreciate, it with them. Especially since they both used to love it when they were kids.  It was truly delicious and I’m grateful that each of us was able to bring a recipe of Mum’s to this series. I still have a few of Mum’s recipes written down, but because Mari, Pieta and I won’t be able to cook together for a while, this post will be the last of “My Mother’s Recipes”. I’m sure I’ll be whipping up some of Mum’s other delicious recipes with David in Dubai, but it just won’t be the same.

chicken recipe

Not exactly a recipe, but close enough that we were able to decipher, and create magic, from it.  The butter, rice, fry, water bit is how our Mum used to make the rice.

Speaking of Dubai, we’ve been back here for just under four weeks and I already miss being in Melbourne. I miss the cool weather. The trees. The fresh air. Nature. My friends. I miss good food and good coffee. I miss hanging out in the neighbourhood I grew up in (and which I’ll probably never hang out in again). Shopping at the local supermarket, late in the afternoon and walking home with the groceries in the dappled light. I miss listening to the kookaburras laughing at dusk, and the magpies warbling at dawn. I miss my Mum’s beautiful garden. I miss my Mum.

And I miss my sisters. So fucking much. I miss spending every day with them. I miss the three of us all staying in the home we grew up in – the first time we’ve lived together in over 25 years. I miss the military precision required for the morning shower rush. I miss watching TV with them, going for drives together, running errands, talking, crying, laughing. I miss eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with them, and getting plastered with them. I miss their smiles and their quirks. I miss cooking with them. And I particularly miss the three of us cooking our Mum’s recipes together. It was so fucking special to have the opportunity to do that. We’ve never done it before, and who knows if we’ll ever do it again (though I really hope we do).

Recreating Mum’s food together was nostalgic, fun, delicious, cathartic and yes, a little bit sad. But most of all, it was something that bonded the three of us together in a way that we have never connected before. Food can be amazing like that. It thrilled me that the three of us could sit down to eat the food that we made – the exact same food that our Mum nourished us with, the food that she used to put her heart and soul into cooking for us. It was a beautiful thing. And I’m so happy that I can share it with you. It truly gives me joy that some of you have actually made these recipes for yourselves. That’s what this is all about. Food is love, or at least it is in my family.

Kalí órexi.

CHICKEN IN RED SAUCE
INGREDIENTS:
olive oil for frying
1 kg chicken wings and drumettes (free range and organic if you can afford it)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste (more to taste)
1 teaspoon flour
a pinch of dried oregano
cooked rice to serve

IMG_7512IMG_7516
IMG_7514

The ingredients.  We used brown rice which takes a bit longer to cook but is super easy (just pop a cup of brown rice and 1¾ cup of water into a saucepan with a large pinch of salt, and bring to the boil before lowering heat to simmer, covered for 35 minutes.  Remove from heat and stand for five minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving).

METHOD:
Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat.  Add chicken and brown in batches.  Set aside.

IMG_7518

The browning of the chicken.  Be careful not to cook it, you just want to sear it all around to seal in the juices.  Mmmm, juices.

IMG_7520

The browned chicken.  As always, a glass of wine makes the cooking process run so much more smoothly.

Add more oil if necessary and saute onion until soft.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add tomato paste and stir to combine well.  Add flour and cook for a minute, stirring.

Add chicken pieces back to saucepan and stir, ensuring the chicken pieces are all coated in sauce.

IMG_7525

The flour will be a little lumpy at this stage but don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of it in the next step.

Add a little bit of water and stir through to dissolve any floury lumps (see, I told you we’d take care of it).  Add more water, enough to just cover the chicken, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens.

Serve over a bowl of rice and make sure you get lots of sauce in there.  YUM!

IMG_7528

As with most comfort foods the result isn’t super Instagrammable – however it is super eatable and super delicious, so get in there.  A good squiz of lemon juice really helps to elevate the flavours (it is a Greek dish after all). 😉

 

Ejo #116 – My Mum’s Recipes: Meatballs With White Sauce

A couple of years ago, I thought it would be wise to ask my Mum how she made my favourite meal, meatballs with white sauce.  And I’m so glad I did because I don’t really think I could have ever reverse-engineered it.  There’s a sneaky little step at the end which turns a pot of boiling meat into something absolutely magical.  And the secret is avgolémono.  Avgolémono, which literally translates into egg-lemon, is a very Greek flavouring used in lots of different types of dishes.  But my absolute favourite (the best) is this one.

My whole life, whenever my Mum asked what I’d like to eat for my special birthday meal, the answer was always meatballs with white sauce.  And later on, after David and I moved to Dubai, Mum always cooked it as our welcome home meal, because she knew that’s what I wanted.  Sometimes we’d even have it as our farewell meal too.  I’m pretty sure that I have never, ever asked for any other dish.  Ever.  So of course she was never surprised with my answer.  She still asked, but she always knew.  Everyone knew.  This was my dish.  This will always be my dish.

I’m pretty sure meatballs with white sauce has a proper Greek name, but I don’t know what it is.  We always called it meatballs with white sauce, to differentiate it from another of Mum’s dishes which was meatballs with red sauce.  We kept things simple in my family.  This isn’t a dish that can be described.  It needs to be eaten, it needs to be tasted, it needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  This dish does take some time to cook, but it’s not difficult to make, so I do hope that you give it a shot.  And who knows, maybe it’ll become your favourite dish too.

Because she knew how much I loved it, meatballs with white sauce became a love letter between my mother and me.  She loved cooking it, and I loved eating it.  And we always shared a moment of gratitude/appreciation/acknowledgement when she served it at the dinner table.  Fittingly, it was the last thing my Mum ever cooked for me.  I had no way of knowing back then that it would be our last meal together but if I had known, perhaps I would have cooked it for her.  Either way, I’m glad it was meatballs with white sauce.

Kalí órexi.

MEATBALLS WITH WHITE SAUCE
INGREDIENTS:
500g mince
3 eggs
5 small handfuls of short grain rice
2 small handfuls of oat bran
cayenne pepper, to taste
olive oil
juice of 1½ lemons

METHOD:
Mix mince, one egg and rice in a bowl.  Add a splash of water if required.  Season with salt, pepper and cayenne, and add oat bran and a dash of olive oil.  Mix well, cover and leave for 20 minutes.

IMG_1724

My Mum used to use breadcrumbs but then she experimented a little bit and found that oat bran made the meatballs softer.

 

IMG_1726

Cover with plastic wrap and go have a glass of wine.

Shape the mince into meatballs.

IMG_1730

Measure each meatball by the very first meatball, rather than the last one you’ve made.  That way they will end up roughly the same size.

 

IMG_1732

One of these meatballs is not like the other.  Try to make them all the same size so they cook evenly but don’t forget that one of them will be sacrificed in order to make the dish so damn creamy and thicc and delicious.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and brown the meatballs on all sides.  In the meantime boil a pot of water.

IMG_1734

Brown the meatballs in batches – but be sure not to cook them through.  You just want them to be a golden brown colour, all over

Place the meatballs and the oil from the frying pan into the pot of water and allow to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until done (about 90 minutes).

IMG_1740

You just want a very low simmer.  Also, you don’t want too much water in the pot otherwise the whole thing will turn out too watery.  No-one wants that

When you are ready to serve, mix the lemon juice and 1½ cups of meatball liquid from the pot with an electric mixer.  Add one meatball and continue mixing until smooth.  In a large bowl, crack two eggs and a splash of water and mix until frothy.  Slowly add the meatball liquid.

IMG_1748

This is where the magic happens. And that magic is called avgolémono.

Add this frothy mixture to the meatballs, shake the pot and sit for a couple of minutes to allow it to set.

IMG_1753

Look at them!!!  I just want to put my whole face in there.  My Mum would be proud.

 

Ejo #115 – My Mum’s Recipes: Stuffed Tomatoes

Here I am writing another ejo about my Mum’s food, and the only thing I can think of is how much I just want my Mum back.  This need permeates every cell in my body and imbues every single moment of my day.  It is relentless, because while my “grief” may be gradually subsiding, my sense of loss seems to only increase.  And I don’t think that the words exist that could explain this feeling to you. I am at my parent’s home in Mt. Waverley, with my sisters, stripping it bare to prepare it for auction in a few weeks. This is about as much fun as it sounds.  And yet there is nowhere else I would rather be. I’m so fortunate that I’ve been able to take some extended leave from work to be here with my sisters, to sort through the stuff that we’ve accumulated as a family over the last 36 years. And boy, is it a lot of stuff. So far we’ve donated more than two dozen carloads of family belongings to charity shops, filled skips with 8 cubic metres of rubbish, given away countless bits and pieces to friends, organised for another charity to pick up several of the larger pieces of furniture, and we’ve rented a storage unit that is already filling up fast.  Oh, and we have a garage full of hard rubbish that the council will (hopefully) pick up in a couple of weeks.  Honestly, we may even need to get another skip. It is just mindboggling how much stuff a four bedroom house can hold.

So yes, I’m here in my home town, Melbourne.  The reasons I love this city are many, but mostly I love it because of the people that live here.  My sisters, my friends.  Usually a trip to Melbourne is jam-packed with social engagements, fun outings, dinners, weekends away, picnics, drinks (lots of drinks).  But this time I’m not here to socialise or to have fun, I am here to spend time with my sisters and to work. And (self-pity alert!) it really is hard work.  Almost every single knuckle on my hands is scraped, my knee and elbow are hurting from a spectacular tumble I took in the back yard a week ago, my forearm was scratched by some mystery item and I’m debating whether I need to go and get a tetanus shot, just in case. I have a gorgeous array of bruises, in various stages of bloom and I needed first aid when I gashed my wrist trying to wrestle a toolkit from the back of my Mum’s car.  A couple of days ago, I almost concussed myself when I banged my head on a wooden ledge, and my arms ache from carrying heavy boxes (who needs the gym anyway). But most of all, my heart aches because, room by room, we are systematically deleting the fragments that collectively defined not just my childhood, but my sense of identity.

The only thing that has made this process tolerable is the fact that I’m sharing it with my sisters. Together, we are working as a team to write the final chapter of the Stathopoulos family home.  There are ups, and you can bet your sweet ass there are downs.  But one of the things I absolutely love is that every night, after a hard day at work, the three of us gather together and eat dinner as a family.  It’s such a beautiful, bonding thing for us to do and I’m so grateful for it.  Dinner time was always a big deal in our family.  It was a time to connect, to talk, to sometimes fight (c’mon, we’re Greek, of course there were fights) and to enjoy my Mum’s amazing cooking.  I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity, while I’m here, for the three of us to get together and cook one of our favourite of Mum’s dishes – stuffed tomatoes.  This recipe has been a favourite in our family for as long as I can remember – because it’s absolutely fucking delicious.  I hope that some of you try cooking this at home, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as we always have.

Kalí órexi.

IMG_1468

These few, simple ingredients make a yummy traditional Greek meal.

 

STUFFED TOMATOES
INGREDIENTS:
8 ripe (but not too soft) bull-heart tomatoes
1 large brown onion, peeled
4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic)
8 heaped tablespoons medium white rice (one for each tomato), plus extra for the pan
1 small bunch of parsley (stems removed), finely chopped
a few sprigs of mint leaves, finely chopped
olive oil
2 large roasting potatoes, cut into eighths, lengthwise

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 180°C (for a fan forced oven – otherwise 200°C)

Make a horizontal cut near the top of each tomato to create a “lid”, making sure not to cut all the way through.

Using a spoon, gently scoop out the inside of each tomato, making sure to keep the skin intact.  Preserve the pulp.

IMG_1473

Scooped out tomato with the lid (kinda) attached.  Notice the lumpy tomato pulp.

Place the scooped out tomatoes in a roasting pan, leaving room for potatoes and extra rice.  Coarsely grate the preserved tomato pulp until it becomes juicy with no lumps.

IMG_1481

Unlumpy tomato pulp!!!  This is probably the hardest part of the recipe, but very necessary.

Coarsely grate the onion (prepare to cry!!!) and add to tomato mixture.

Finely grate the garlic cloves and add to tomato mixture.

IMG_1502

Behind the scenes.  It’s thirsty work recreating a recipe.

Add eight tablespoons of rice to the tomato mixture (one for each tomato).  Then add extra rice (for the pan – we used an extra five tablespoons).

IMG_1496

The rice mixture goes in the tomato cups and also into the pan, resulting in different textures.

Add chopped parsley and mint to the tomato mixture and stir to combine the ingredients.  Season to taste. Add a liberal glug of olive oil (we added about three tablespoons), and stir to combine.

IMG_1518

Plenty of olive oil.  This is a Greek recipe, after all.

Taste (the most important part of cooking any meal).

IMG_1525

Ready to assemble.

Fill each tomato cup with the tomato/rice mixture, making sure not to fill all the way to the top.

Place potatoes in pan, and season to taste.  Add remainder of tomato/rice mixture into pan with the potatoes and drizzle the entire pan with olive oil. Place the roasting pan on the middle tray of the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 1½ hours or until the rice and potatoes are cooked to your liking.

IMG_1534

Pop the tomato lids closed and then pop the pan in the oven.  Wait for the delicious aromas to permeate your house, and your brain!!!

Enjoy!!!

IMG_1541

I was so excited to eat this I forgot to take a photo right away.  Nom nom nom!!!