Last night I had the opportunity to cook dinner for the first time in ages. Normally by the time I get home, Mr Teacher has already been there for hours and started cooking something up for us. Which is great. I’m totally spoilt. But when he cooks, he cooks what HE likes. I usually like these things too, but the pattern of options often leaves out many delicious ideas.
So when I cook, I like to experiment and try new things. Most importantly, I like to try something that Dan wouldn’t cook himself to give us even more variety than we already have.
But I’m lazy. When I get home from work I’m so zonked and tired and hungry and so… lazy. I want to be creative but I just really want to eat. Pulling myself from my sluggish self-pity, it’s incredible what a bit of entree snack will do for your cooking-creativity. So last night I went straight to lying on the lounge-room floor with a box of Barbecue Shapes and a pile of cookbooks. “Tonight, I will be creative,” I told myself.
I had mince. I had pasta. I didn’t want to make bolognese again.
I also had a can of eggplants which I’ve been meaning to try out.
I considered making something quick and easy then using my after-dinner energy to prepare a slow-cook for the following night. I found some awesome ideas in the slow-cooker book. Then the snack-high hit and I made a decision.
So in the book there was this interesting version of moussaka done in the slow cooker – and it looked complicated. I thought, “Why can’t I just try a cheat’s version, easy pasta inspired by moussaka?” So I did.
For those who haven’t tried it, moussaka is a Greek baked dish which includes mince, potato, eggplant and bechamel sauce – here’s George Calombaris’ version
. It is kind of similar to lasagne.
During my adventures I discovered that the key to that moussaka taste is not actually eggplant, it’s cinnamon. It’s the secret spice that I would never have thought to pair with mince if I hadn’t have been keeping one eye on this recipe!
Here’s what I did:
Cook up the mince:
– Fry beef mince in oil until brown
– Add chopped onion and garlic (actually I used spring onion and leek because I had some left over but normal onion would do fine)
– Add cinnamon and oregano (I just tipped some in but it was probably a bit over a teaspoon of each)
– Add a can of tomatoes
– Add eggplant from a can (if you use the fresh stuff I’m sure it’s better but obviously more work!)
– Add other veges if you want (I reckon zucchini would be great and maybe green beans too)
– Let it cook through until it’s quite dry
Make a bechamel/white cheese sauce. I’m probably not the best person to tell you how to do this because I just do it by feel. So if you’ve never done it before – follow a recipe, and listen to what it tells you. White sauce is very very very easy to stuff up. Mine is basically butter or oil, white flour, milk, cheese, salt and pepper. Don’t forget the cheese – it makes it.
Cook veges to have on the side if you want.
Once everything’s cooked, assemble in bowls – pasta, meat, white sauce. Yum!
I was so proud of myself that I made it work for me rather than being a slave to a difficult recipe. And I actually discovered a new way to use flavours – cinnamon instead of the usual paprika or chilli made all the difference to the overall taste of the dish.
I was also pretty excited when I got the tick of approval from Dan – he can be hard to please, especially when I experiment and it doesn’t go so well…