Have you ever looked into the pantry or fridge and wondered what's for dinner? Of course you have, that's how most of us survive. Or perhaps you're a little more organised. Maybe you find some hours on a weekend to do something that sets you up for the week ahead. Daen Lia works both ways.
While she might spend some time making her mother's famous breadcrumbs - made from a white sandwich loaf, of all things - she's just as likely to look at a carton of eggs and think here we go.
Lia is setting the Australian food scene on fire. Her food is Mediterranean, with even less fuss than you would expect. She's a social media star but someone who touches generations of home cooks who want to get a tasty dinner on the table.
Her debut cookbook, Garlic, Olive Oil and Everything Else, is based around the simplest of ingredients. Take this one idea and turn it into something magical.
"I wanted to give an insight into how I run my home kitchen," she says. "The book is divided into the core elements that influence all of my cooking. These are familiar ingredients that I always have in my kitchen and pantry. On a rare occasion I find myself without garlic or olive oil, I am sent into a panic and my partner is sent on a late-night grocery run while I am halfway through preparing dinner."
It's these simple ingredients that turned Daen's Kitchen from a hobby into a career, and they're also ingredients which most home cooks have at hand.
"I use minimal ingredients and create magical meals out of them," she says. "There are staple ingredients that you will always find in my pantry or fridge, from overripe tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, of course, to stale bread, butter and eggs.
"These ingredients offer endless opportunities ... and you don't even have to get overly creative! You can make the most delicious meal from just garlic and olive oil. For me, there is no greater feeling than making a meal from items you already have on hand. I am always proud of myself when I don't have to drag myself to the grocery store."
We've given you a few recipes that have grown from her mother's breadcrumbs - made from a simple stale white loaf.
"My mum and I always have our homemade breadcrumbs stored in the pantry or freezer as they are so versatile, simple and downright delicious," she says.
"I know that it can be so easy to resort to store-bought breadcrumbs but you cannot even compare the two! Store-bought are usually blended up so fine that they resemble more of a powder than a crumb and will result in a soggy mess as soon as they hit the pan.
"Our breadcrumbs are full of fresh herbs that result in a lovely and unique green colour and have an amazing chunky texture that makes every bite taste like a mini crouton. We have tried every type of bread to make these breadcrumbs and every time the winner is a cheap plain white sandwich loaf - they make the best breadcrumbs."
Now go cook dinner.
The power of social media
With an enormous worldwide social media following that grows by the day, Lia has established herself as one of Australia's most popular digital creators. How has social media shaped her food journey?
"A food blog is something I have always wanted to start and funnily enough, when I moved back home from living and working overseas in Cambodia, mum and I started one called Kelly's Homestyle Country Cooking," says Lia.
"The name is hilarious! It didn't get very far."
A few years passed and she was cooking more and more and started to question why she wasn't documenting the food she was making.
MORE GREAT READS
"I had no photography skills but I picked up my phone and began to take pictures of all my dinners that I uploaded to an Instagram page called Daen's Kitchen. It began as a way for me to share what I was cooking throughout the week with my mum as we love to talk about food and cooking."
She soon realised she really enjoyed the documentation of it all. She did photography classes, watched YouTube tutorials and bought a proper camera.
"A year on, I decided to do a video. I was heavily pregnant with my daughter when I decided to film myself making mum's crispy crumbed chicken, it's a great meal to have in the freezer. It went viral and everything changed for me.
"Now I have a team that works for me, a YouTube cooking show on the way, millions of followers and this cookbook."
Crispy crumbed chicken
This was my first video to ever go viral and was really the recipe that changed everything for me. It turned Daen's Kitchen from a hobby into a career. I began the video with the line, "I'm going to share my mum's secrets on how to make the crispiest and best crumbed chicken". And that's exactly what I am going to do for you again here. First, we must use Mum's famous breadcrumbs for that superior crust. Second, we add garlic to the egg wash for a lovely subtle garlic flavour throughout. And third, we fry the chicken in a light olive oil for not only a gorgeous golden brown colour, but also a little extra flavour.
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2kg chicken breast fillets
750g Mum's Famous Breadcrumbs
150g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt flakes
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
light olive oil, for frying
1. In a wide shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and garlic and set aside to allow the garlic to release its flavour into the egg.
2. Cut the tenderloins off the chicken breasts and set aside. Using a sharp knife, cut through the middle of each chicken breast, horizontally. Let the knife do most of the work, applying a small amount of pressure as the knife glides through crossways. It's easiest when you place one hand on top of the chicken breast. Repeat this step with the remaining chicken breasts.
3. Place one piece of chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using the smooth side of a mallet, pound the chicken from the centre outwards until the breast is roughly 2cm thick and has an even thickness throughout. This step is to ensure the chicken cooks evenly. Set aside.
4. Place the breadcrumbs in a large bowl.
5. In a wide shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and pepper, then set up your dredging station. Begin with a plate of the flour, followed by the egg wash, followed by the breadcrumbs and finish with a large clean plate or tray to place the crumbed chicken on.
6. Take one chicken breast and coat both sides evenly in the flour, then place in the egg wash and coat both sides evenly. Lastly, place in the breadcrumb mixture, applying pressure with your hands when you flip the chicken over to ensure the breadcrumbs are evenly adhered all over.
7. Transfer the chicken to the clean plate, then repeat with the remaining chicken, including the tenderloins. Place the plate of chicken in the fridge for 15 minutes to allow the crumbs to set.
8. Fill a large frying pan with a generous amount of olive oil - about 2-3cm deep. Heat the olive oil over high heat until bubbles form around a wooden skewer placed upright in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and fry one or two pieces of chicken at a time for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy. It's best to test one piece of chicken to make sure your cook time and heat levels are accurate. Transfer the cooked chicken to a wire rack with paper towels underneath and leave to rest for 5 minutes, then serve.
Tip: This makes a large batch of crumbed chicken, so you can store it in the freezer, uncooked, and always have it on hand.
Mum's famous breadcrumbs
These breadcrumbs have affectionately become known as "Mum's famous breadcrumbs" because of how often we use them in our cooking. They are versatile, simple and just downright delicious. So why am I asking you to drag out your food processor to make something that's just blended bread and can easily be purchased from the supermarket? Because Mum's famous breadcrumbs are like nothing you can buy. What's even better is that you can make a large batch and store them in a jar in your pantry or in zip-lock bags in your freezer for several months.
1 700g sliced white sandwich loaf
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley (about 40g), leaves and stalks
2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and finely diced
1. If the bread is fresh, lay the slices on a baking tray or wire cooling rack and leave to dry out overnight or for a minimum of four hours.
2. Roughly tear the bread apart and place in a food processor with the parsley and rosemary. Blend until the bread is still quite chunky and the herbs are mixed through. We aren't looking for a fine and crumbly texture as it's those chunky, crusty parts that make these breadcrumbs extra special.
3. If you are using a small blender, you will need to do this step in batches.
4. Place the breadcrumbs in a large bowl or an airtight container and store in the pantry or fridge for four days or freezer for three months.
Mac 'n' cheese with breadcrumbs
My partner, Joel, has minimal cooking skills, which had never been a problem in our house since I love to cook and he loves to wash the dishes. We had a great routine in place. That was, until I became pregnant with our daughter and my feet were so swollen that I could only stand on them for a minute at a time. Being the thoughtful partner that he is, Joel went out and bought a barbecue. He felt confident that he could grill a steak or a whole chicken that I had marinated the day before. From this, his passion for barbecuing and mine for finding the perfect side dishes began. I reached out to my friend Rachael from the American South for advice on how to make the best mac 'n' cheese and she directed me to a recipe by chef Ashley Christensen. Surprisingly to me, it used no roux. It was just cream and cheese, and one of the best mac 'n' cheeses I had ever eaten! I have tinkered with this recipe to make it my own, but it is heavily influenced by Ashley's recipe.
600ml thickened cream
sea salt flakes
50g Jarlsberg, grated
50g Pecorino Romano or parmesan, grated
150g cheddar, grated
50g Mum's Famous Breadcrumbs
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. In a large pot of heavily salted boiling water, cook the macaroni for about five minutes, until barely al dente. Drain.
3. While the pasta is cooking, bring the cream and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a saucepan over low heat. Simmer for 5 minutes to slightly thicken the cream, stirring often. Add the pasta to the pan with the cream and stir through for two minutes. Add the cheeses, one-third at a time, stirring through after each addition, until fully melted and you have a smooth texture.
4. Place the breadcrumbs, olive oil and a generous amount of salt in a small frying pan over medium heat. Fry for several minutes or until golden.
5. Transfer the mac 'n' cheese to a baking dish (or multiple small ones) and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, then serve immediately.
Nanna's broccoli pasta with cured egg yolk breadcrumbs
The aroma of pasta, chicken stock and broccoli bubbling away together always brings on a sense of nostalgia for when my brother and I would eat this meal in my nanna's tiny brown-brick apartment. My version is slightly different from my nanna's, because she wasn't the type to cure an egg yolk. However, she would sprinkle some of our famous breadcrumbs, which were cooked with anchovy, over the top of the pasta for that lovely crunchy and salty element. Cured egg yolks have that sharp and salty umami flavour that is also found in anchovies or pecorino romano. This is a great midweek meal that can be thrown together so quickly. The breadcrumbs are optional but highly recommended.
80ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground white pepper
750ml chicken stock
sea salt flakes
300g dried small shell pasta
1 head of broccoli (about 300g), cut into small pieces
2 tbsp grated pecorino romano
100g Mum's Famous Breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1 cured egg yolk (see below)
1. In an enamelled cast-iron casserole dish over high heat, combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, white pepper, chicken stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil.
2. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium, add the pasta and broccoli to the pan and stir well. Stirring occasionally, keep the water at a rapid boil for 15 minutes or until 80 per cent of the stock has evaporated and the pasta is cooked. Reduce the heat to low, add the pecorino romano and stir it through until you have a smooth and silky texture.
3. While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and toss them through the oil for five minutes or until golden and crispy. Remove the pan from the heat, sprinkle in the chilli flakes and grate in the cured egg yolk. Stir them through.
4. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the pasta and serve immediately.
Cured egg yolk
approximately 500g fine sea salt
6 egg yolks
1. Pour a 2-4cm thick layer of fine sea salt into a 20 x 15cm glass baking dish.
2. Use the back of a round tablespoon measuring spoon to create six indents in the salt, evenly spaced apart.
3. Carefully drop the egg yolks into the indents and completely cover them with salt. You should not be able to see any of the yolk. Cover and place in the fridge for six to seven days.
4. Preheat the oven to 100C or the lowest possible setting.
5. Carefully remove the egg yolks from the salt mixture with your hands and rinse under cold water to remove the excess salt. Pat dry with paper towel and place on a wire rack lined with baking paper set over a baking tray. Bake for one hour or until the egg yolks have dehydrated and are dry to the touch.
6. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one month.
We've made it a whole lot easier for you to have your say. Our new comment platform requires only one log-in to access articles and to join the discussion on The Canberra Times website. Find out how to register so you can enjoy civil, friendly and engaging discussions. See our moderation policy here.