Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas in Edinburgh

We went right back to our traditional favourites this year, after an antipodean reprise in 2011. Starters were blinis with cream cheese and smoked salmon, served with champagne, OF COURSE. (How fun were the middle-class jokes about serving blinis with bellinis...) Then straight into the main event: luscious roasted potatoes, Nigella's decadent sprouts with bacon, perfectly crisp and sweet roast parnsips, a huge Swiss chard gratin, and of course a MASSIVE turducken, with cranberry sauce to go with.

Followed up by a brandy-soaked Christmas pud:

 I was given an amazing new lens for Christmas, a pancake (wide-aperature) perfect for low light conditions and food photography (thanks, Santa!!). So from this post onward, the photos should hopefully look even more delectable than before.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Silverbeet Lasagne

It's one of those weekends where you haven't quite run down the fridge enough to justify buying a whole shop of new food, but at the same time you're a bit worried you might run out of food midway through the week. Planning to the rescue! One of our purchases last week was a huge bunch of silverbeet, and a fairly large bunch of beetroot. While we'd eaten the roots of the latter, the leaves and stalks were still hanging around, and we hadn't even made a dent in the silverbeet. So I googled around, and found this recipe, added the beetroot stalks, and it worked out remarkably well. In fact the beetroot stalks added a really nice purple colour. For perhaps the first time ever, I managed not to burn the top of the lasagne, by covering it in foil. Genius (/facepalm).


  • 2kg of silverbeet and/or beetroot stalks & leaves
  • 1 large white or red onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 x 50g tin of tomato puree or paste
  • 1/2 glass red wine
  • 6 tsp dried mixed herbs, or a few handfuls of fresh
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • salt and black pepper
  • 120g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 litre of milk
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese

Finely chop the onion and fry gently in olive oil until translucent and starting to colour. Crush in the garlic, fry for a further minute, then add the tins of tomatoes and puree, rinsing them out with some red wine and a little water. Add the herbs, bay leaves and sugar; stir, cover and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally, until thickened. If it stays too runny, remove the lid to reduce the water content. Taste and season.

While the sauce is cooking, melt the butter in the microwave and add the plain flour, then gently stir in the milk a little at a time. Microwave for a minute or two, stirring every thirty seconds, until it begins to thicken. Add the Parmesan cheese and nutmeg, then again season to taste.

Wash the beet plants thoroughly, then separate the stalks and leaves (you don't have to be exact). Finely chop the stalks and fry in a little olive oil, then cover and steam for a minute or two in their own juices. Meanwhile, roughly chop the leaves, then add to the stalks, cover and steam for a further minute or two until wilted. Drain the cooked beet plants into a colander and squeeze out the liquid with a spatula, or, after it cools, with your hands. The volume will reduce by about half to two-thirds! Squeeze over a little lemon and season well.

When the tomato, cheese and silverbeet are done, begin the lasagne assembly; I prefer the order: tomato, lasagne, tomato, silverbeet, lasagne, cheese, lasagne, tomato, silverbeet, lasagne, cheese; then top with cheddar and cover with foil. Bake at 175 C for an hour, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes to allow the cheese to turn golden. Rest of 10 minutes before slicing.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Palak Raita (Spinach with Yoghurt and Spices)

I'm going through a big spinach phase at the moment. There's no better way to prepare it than to wash it thoroughly (grit is HORRIBLE!) pile it into a big saucepan and cook it in the rinsing water for a few minutes, then squeeze it out completely and use or serve as soon as you can. I like it very simply dressed with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a generous dusting of salt.

Tonight's curry calls for a more robust treatment, and fortunately my Giant Asian Cookbook is ready to provide. They start by cooking the spinach in exactly the same way I do - so really it's just the dressing that changes.


  • a big bunch of spinach, cooked as described above
  • 1 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds or ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 250g plain yoghurt

Fry the mustard seeds in the ghee or butter at a low heat  until they start to pop, Add the cumin seeds, ground cumin and fenugreek, and stir fry with a wooden spoon until the spices colour - but be careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat, and add the salt and cayenne, if using, then allow to cool. Swirl the spinach, yoghurt and spice mixture together in a bowl; serve cold or at room temperature (more fragrant).

Alu Gobi Bhaji (Spicy Fried Potato and Cauliflower)

Another one adapted from my Giant Asian Cookbook: a quick and simple curry that we served with delicious spinach and yoghurt.


  • 2 tbsp of ghee or oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp asfoetida
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • a thumb of fresh ginger, finely grated or chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 small head cauliflower
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • fresh coriander, to garnish

Fry the mustard seeds in the oil over a low heat until they start to pop. Add the asfoetida, chilli (if using), garlic and ginger and stir-fry until golden. Break the cauliflower into florets and dice the potato - it can help to leave the cauliflower a bit large and make the potato quite small, to even out the cooking time. Add the turmeric, salt, cauliflower, potato and 60ml of water and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the potato and cauliflower are tender. Sprinkle with garam masala, top with coriander leaves and serve.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Potato and Cheese Polpettes

Here's an alternative vegetarian barbeque burger to the ubiquitous bean burgers. Not sure I'd want to serve them in a bun: better with a sweet and spicy chutney, some gorgeous steaky portabellas and plenty of black pepper.

5-6 medium mashing potatoes
250g feta cheese
4 spring onions
4 tbsp chopped fresh dill (or mint, if you prefer)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp lemon juice

(Peel the potatoes if you like - I don't.) Wash, cube and simmer them until soft, then mash, allowing plenty of steam to escape - for once you want this to be a kind of dry mash. While it cools a little, finely chop the spring onions and herbs, then add them to the potato, season with plenty of black pepper and stir well. Stir in the egg and lemon juice. Finally, crumble in the feta and fold gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for an hour or so. Then divide into little balls and flatten them slightly. Brush with olive oil, then barbeque on the grill or hotplate for a few minutes each side, until golden brown and hot through. (We might use a lower heat and more oil next time!)

Monday, 29 October 2012

Bulghur Wheat and Mango Salad

A nice riff on this recipe from summer last year: a bit more cucumber and mint, and a handful of basil, as we had no radishes. And a huge bbq'd sweetcorn, YUM.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

BBQ Asparagus

Another thing you must try on the BBQ: asparagus! (Served with sweet potato, pumpkin and some marinated pork, in this meal.)

Friday, 26 October 2012

BBQ Naan

I've made naan before, and this uses exactly the same basic recipe, but this time I made one of those kitchen mistakes that turns into a serendipitous discovery.

I put the dough on in the breadmaker and went out for a nice walk with my husband. I came back and floured a worksurface, and rolled the dough out into two large thin pieces: about half a cm thick, and each piece was the size of a baking tray. I usually find my naan is too thick so wanted to get it nice and thin so it would cook quickly at a high temperature. I popped each piece onto a large baking tray and left it for 10-15 minutes to rise. Crucially, I forgot to flour the baking trays!

We had decided to cook the naan on the bbq, since it's not entirely dissimilar to a tandoori oven, and thought the charcoal-y taste might be appropriate. So I brought the baking trays outside to the hot bbq, and tried to transfer them. But without flour, the naan had completely stuck to the baking trays, so as we pulled the dough off, it stretched and deformed and tore in places. I didn't want to roll it out again, because it had already had enough rising time, so we just shrugged, sprinkled a bit of flour on the mangled dough, and cooked it as it was, for about ten minutes in the hot bbq (lid down).

Eureka! Perfect naan: loads of crispy bits, doughy bits, tasty yoghurt-y charcoal-y yumminess... loads of fun to tear into and mop up the spicy curry we'd made to go with. So I guess the lesson is, roll out the dough so it's thin enough, but then mistreat it a little so it's not uniform, and you'll end up with a perfect naan :)

Monday, 22 October 2012

Pan-fried Tofu

While away in Margaret River, we went out to a nice restaurant I'd visited before. After a day tasting wine and nibbles and a fairly hefty brunch, I wanted something simple and vegetarian, so ordered the 'corn-crusted tofu with noodle salad'. To my surprise, when it arrived, they had 'run out of corn-crusted tofu', so replaced it with a blob of silken tofu! Of course, you can't just eat silken tofu on top of a salad; it's an ingredient for say, vegan brownies or Chinese soup. Baffling to have it trickling down the side of my cold noodle salad... for maybe the second time in my life, I sent the meal back and asked for a speedy replacement (fish of the day, excellent).

So when I got back home, I still had a craving for properly-cooked tofu, so picked up a lovely firm block from my local Chinese greengrocers', along with a big bundle of cheerful, flowering greens. I cut the tofu into half-inch thick triangles and dipped them into a mix of half-flour, half Chinese spice and a generous grating of black pepper and salt. Pan-fried over a moderate heat until golden and crisp, but still moist and wobbly in the middle, hen served atop the greens and rice, it was exactly what I wanted. Yum!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Fried Spicy Fish

Lazy meal for one tonight: a lovely fillet of bronzy shark from the fishmonger's, dipped in a mix of crushed dried chillis, coriander, turmeric and salt, then fried for a minute or two either side, and served on a bed of stir-fried Chinese greens. Minutes to make, heaven to eat. (Days of guilt over eating shark . :-/ )

Monday, 15 October 2012

BBQ Carrots

If you haven't tried carrots on the BBQ, you really should give it a go! The trick is to buy a big bunch of baby carrots with the tops still on; the big woody scrubbed-to-death carrots from the supermarket just won't cut it. Gently wash off any dirt and dry with a tea towel, or leave overnight to dry in a colander. Brush lightly with olive oil, making sure to coat every last patch, and season with a little pepper.

BBQ over a medium heat, preferably with the door closed. They're done when a little of the skins are just beginning to blacken and separate from the core, and they break softly rather than bending or snapping crisply. Also - they'll taste warm, nutty and sweet, with a tiny hint of bitterness from the charcoaled edges. Delightful! Dust with flakes of sea salt for further seasoning. We served them tonight with freshly wilted spinach and a lentil and feta salad, although only a few of the bunch made it to the plate without being snaffled!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Steak and Blue Cheese Sandwich

Super-indulgent, super-fast Sunday lunch!


  • a medium porterhouse or rump steak
  • a large bunch of spinach
  • a medium wedge of blue cheese
  • fresh granary bread

Season the steak on both sides, then pan fry in a smudge of oil until rare (90 seconds per side). Set aside to rest. Meanwhile, wash the spinach thoroughly and remove any tough stalks. Place in a large saucepan, still wet; cover with a lid and steam in its own juices for 2-3 minutes, until wilted. Remove and put in a colander; squeeze out the water with a spatula, or, when cool enough, your hands; finely chop. Cut the warm steak against the grain into thin slices.

Reheat the steak pan and, using the oil still in the pan, lightly toast each slice of bread on one side. Onto one toasted side, slice pieces of blue cheese, then top with spinach and steak; close with another toasted side facing in. Repeat for another sandwich, or two. Slice diagonally and serve immediately!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Huevos Rancheros

Decided to do something a little different after Zumba today - well, I decided the night before, since it helps to cook the refried beans in advance. In the morning, it was a matter of minutes to put the ingredients together, and then enjoy a protein-rich meal with a big cup of coffee.


  • 400g refried beans
  • three cloves of garlic
  • a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Cheddar cheese
  • 4 tortillas
  • 4 eggs
  • fresh coriander
  • guacamole or sour cream

Put the tortillas on a large, foil-covered or well-oiled baking tray. Spread on the refried beans. Drain the tin of tomatoes and slice the tomatoes into wedges; dot on top of the beans. Try to make a bit of a well with the beans and the tomatoes. If you like your egg runny, separate the white and pour it into the well; cook under a hot grill for a couple of minutes until it is almost cooked. Cover with cheese and plop on the yolk, then grill for a further minute until the cheese is sticky and melted and the yolk is hot. Cut into wedges and serve garnished with a few leaves of fresh coriander, with plenty of guacamole or sour cream to go with.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Courgette Souffle

Another entry from Delia's Frugal Food that at first I skipped straight over, then went back to, thinking 'Aaactually, courgettes ARE really cheap, and it has been years since I made a souffle...' With my lack of recent experience in mind, I followed the instructions almost to the letter, including barely half a courgette between four people. So I'm slightly upping the quantity in the recipe below. I also messed around with the herbs since I didn't have any parsley or chives - I think almost anything works, even a very mild herb like marjoram, as the flavours are well-preserved and aromatic in the beautiful fluffy matrix. I served this with just a salad of pears, toasted walnuts (used the oven as it was already on, energy-saving score!) and avocado, dressed with honey and balsamic vinegar. If you were very hungry you could also have a bit of crusty bread or mashed potatoes. Oh and we ate all of this between two of us. I disagree with Delia that anyone would be excited to receive a single egg and some air for lunch.


  • 1 medium courgette
  • 90g butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 40g cheddar
  • 25g Parmesan
  • a handful of herbs; I used thyme and marjoram
  • 4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 200 C and butter five 0.28L ramekins (or equivalent volume souffle dish). Wash, top, tail and slice the courgette lengthwise. Scoop out all the fluffy seeds and chuck, eat or feed to the worms. Very finely slice or mandolin the remaining flesh, and fry it in half the butter until soft and just beginning to colour, then turn off the heat, season and set aside to cool a little. Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter in a pyrex jug or bowl in the microwave, combine well with the flour and then stir in the milk. Microwave for another minute and stir thoroughly, then grate in the two cheeses and stir in the herbs. Separate the eggs; when the white sauce is cool enough (<57C), stir in the yolks. Beat the whites until they stand up in stiff peaks, then pour over the cheesy white sauce and fold together; don't overmix it, some inhomogeneity is fine.

Dollop half of the mixture into the bottoms of the ramekins or souffle dish, top with fried courgettes, and cover with the remaining mixture. Stand in a roasting tin and pour in boiling water until it comes a third the way up the side of the ramekins or dish. Pop in the oven and reduce the heat to 170C; bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Paellish and Cabbage & Apple Salad

Tonight I follow some extremely vague instructions from Nigel Slater's 'Tender' to make a 'sort-of paellish thing' which works really well, and has maybe 90% of the flavour with none of the hassle. I go for some fusion cuisine and serve with a traditional English cabbage & apple salad as both ingredients are super-cheap and super-tasty at the moment. A dressing of cider vinegar, dijon mustard and olive oil elevates the simple flavours to crisp perfection.


  • a white (brown) onion
  • a couple of chorizo sausages
  • a couple of sticks of celery or stalks of fennel
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • a ladleful of rice (I accidentally used Thai white and it was fine)
  • twice as much water as rice
  • a handful of parsley

Peel and finely chop the onion and fry in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes. Cut the chorizo into fat coins and add to the onion; fry for another minute or so. Dice the celery or fennel and add, along with the stock powder and rice. If you like, you could deglaze with a little white wine at this stage but I didn't bother. Add the boiling water; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the rice is just done. Wash, finely chop and stir through the parsely; taste, season and serve.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Oyster Mushrooms and Chinese Greens in Peanut Sauce

There were big boxes of Chinese greens at the grocers' market at the weekend, and because it's spring, some still had beautiful little yellow flowers on them. I couldn't resist, and bought a tray of oyster mushrooms to go with, since I'd enjoyed the ones I ate at Greenhouse so much. Most stir-fry recipes just tell you to throw them in with everything else, but I can't argue against this strongly enough. The best way to cook them is to lay them all out in a large flat pan with a drizzle of oil, and fry until golden, then flip and repeat - it only takes a couple of minutes and you simply have to be strong and leave them alone. The rest of the veg can be stir-fried normally and then you can put it all together at the end. The result has far better flavour than stir-frying everything together.

  • a large bunch of Chinese greens (we used flowering choy sum)
  • a carrot
  • 3 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice
  • knife-point of cayenne or chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5 tbsp boiling water
  • 300g oyster mushrooms

Cut the choy sum bunches widthways in half to separate the thick stalks from the thin stalks with leaves. Slice the thick stalks diagonally into bite-sized pieces, and roughly chop the leafy ends. Reserve any flowers. Peel and mandolin or julienne the carrot. Combine the peanut butter, five-spice, cayenne, sugar, soy sauce, mirin and lemon juice in a small bowl.

Heat a wok and a large flat frying pan, each with a little vegetable oil, until shimmering. Place the oyster mushrooms in the frying pan in a single layer, and fry until golden - about two minutes - then turn and caramelise on the other side. Meanwhile, stir-fry the carrot in the wok for a minute, then add the choy sum stalks and crush in the garlic and fry for a further two minutes. Add the leaves of the choy sum and the bowl of sauce and stir until the leaves have wilted. Top up with boiling water if the sauce looks dry. Serve over rice, with the oyster mushrooms and flowers placed on top, and the sauce drizzled over.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Almond-Crusted Salmon

Once again left alone for the weekend! This time I'm a sailing-widow. Makes me less worried about leaving him for the Murchison when I go up for telescope-commissioning for a week and a half! Unfortunately we have a house inspection on Monday so the house needs to be spotless before then. So after the man returns from sailing we need to do a huge amount of cleaning - no way am I doing it all myself!

So we'd need something fast, but also filling after a day sailing and cleaning... when I popped to the supermarket to get new milk, I dropped into the fishmonger and picked up some very nice salmon fillets, oddly the cheapest fish in there despite its Tasmanian origins. I really wanted to cook them with almonds, but not just the usual flaked almonds one pairs with trout. A quick google revealed this recipe, which I was a little skeptical about, but with a small modification, worked perfectly. The salmon was moist and tender, the almonds crispy and nutty, and the meal was complete with a dollop of smooth, creme fraiche-enriched mashed potato, and a generous bunch of wilted spinach sprinkled with sea salt and lemon juice. Fantastic!


  • a couple of plump salmon fillets
  • a couple of handfuls of whole almonds
  • 2-3 tbsp parsley leaves
  • one egg (well, half an egg is enough, but where will you get half an egg??)
  • plain flour

Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Blitz the almonds and parsley together in a blender, pulsing until the almonds are a coarse kibble, but not a powder. Beat the egg with a fork on a plate. Dredge the seasoned fillets in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip the skinless side into the egg and then into the topping, pressing half of it into each fillet. Fry, topping-side down in a medium-heat plan in a glug of olive oil. (Amazingly, the topping will stick on to the salmon!) After a couple of minutes, flip to the skin-side and fry for a few more minutes, until the salmon is tender and the skin is crispy. Serve with potatoes, greens, and lemon wedges.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Hot and Sour Chicken Broth

We spent most of the day playing board games with the Western Australian Boardgames Association, who have an ENORMOUS collection of games and loads of friendly people to play with. Learned three new games: a sailing/trading/collecting game a bit like Bohnanza, a game about trading and selling tea (my favourite! But maybe because I won :) and a game about defeating Cthulu using schoolgirl powers, like a British Buffy.

The upshot for dinner was that we didn't go shopping, and I had to use all my powers of improvisation on the remaining sad vegetables in the fridge to create a decent meal. Fortunately I had also used my power of foresight and left a chicken breast defrosting in the fridge, knowing I'd need some protein after morning Zumba.

Overall this worked pretty well, even the courgette (carefully not overcooked). Not a patch on fresh Chinese greens of course. The heart of cauliflower just needed using up; you could easily sub this for something more tasty, like some broccoli or sugar-snap peas.


  • a thumb of ginger
  • a stick of lemongrass
  • a handful of coriander stalks
  • a couple of bay leaves
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • a chilli (optional)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a large carrot
  • a heart of cauliflower
  • a large courgette
  • a chicken breast
  • 2 x 75g bundles of dried egg noodles
Cut the ginger in half and slice perpendicular grooves into the flesh, to increase the surface area without breaking the ginger up into small pieces. Simmer with the lemongrass, coriander stalks, bay leaves, stock powder and chilli if using, in around 300ml water, for 20 minutes or until the stock is fragrant.

Meanwhile, peel and dice the carrot and cauliflower. Halve the courgette lengthwise and scoop out the soft seedy interior. Chuck, eat, or feed to the worms. Dice the remaining firm shell of courgette into the same size cubes.

Drain and reserve the stock, discarding the ginger etc. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Fry the carrot in a little vegetable oil, leaving it to sear just a tad. Add the stock and simmer for a couple of minutes. Finely shred or slice the chicken and add with the courgette, cauliflower and noodles. Bring back up to the boil and simmer for a minute or so, until the noodles are soft, the chicken is cooked through and the courgette is barely done. Top up with hot water if  the noodles have absorbed too much. Serve and drizzle over with very dark soy sauce.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Massive Pasta Bake

My meatballs are great in a huge pasta bake. Nothing fancy, just a litre of tomato sauce, maybe 15 meatballs, and a 500g pack of penne cooked to al dente, all tossed together and baked in the oven. One day I will manage not to singe it!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Mushroom, Spinach and Feta Pizza

New toppings for a classic pizza! I used a slightly spicier tomato sauce by adding a pinch of chilli pepper flakes to our usual recipe at the start, so it became imbued with a lovely warmth. The sauce went straight on the base, then sliced and sauteed field mushrooms and finally cubed goat feta - the sharpest we can find in Australia. After 15 minutes, we threw on a handful of spinach for the final five minutes' baking in order to gently wilt it and bring out the earthy flavour. A quick season and it was ready for devouring.
Maybe a little bit more than a handful of spinach...

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Cauliflower and Cashew Salad (with Pork Chop)

I can't remember where I picked up this recipe but it's one of my favourite ways of eating cauliflower. By being extremely careful not to overcook it, you can preserve its earthy, mealy flavour and freshen it with a spike of lemon juice and mustard. I love to pair it with soaked raisins for sweetness, toasted cashews for a sort of smokiness, and serve it with a freshly-grilled pork chop, only just done and dripping with hot juices. A dollop of mash is purely optional (as is the chop, for vegetarians).


  • Half a head of a large or a whole small cauliflower
  • A generous handful of raisins
  • A generous handful of cashews
  • juice of a lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • a small bunch of basil

Break the cauliflower into small florets and pop them in a steamer; steam for four minutes, then test every minute until just barely done, and remove from the heat immediately. They will continue to cook in their own heat. Soak the raisins in a little hot water. Toast the cashews over a low heat until brittle and crunchy. Combine the remaining ingredients and shake to form a dressing. Wash and tear the basil into a salad bowl. Drain the raisins and combine with everything else in the bowl; toss gently and serve while still warm.


Following my usual recipe, this time with pure beef mince, a little rosemary and parsley, and a fresh loaf of white bread for extra-special breadcrumbs, I make three trays of meatballs, enough for a huge pasta dish for the week and a large bag for the freezer. Nothing like the smell of fresh bread and hot meatballs on a Sunday morning :)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Stir-fried Snapper with Sesame and Ginger

The other half is away orienteering (or 'rogaining' as they call it here) this weekend. For me a supper for one is a chance to experiment and buy an expensive ingredient :) I pick up a gorgeous snapper fillet from the fishmonget, bouncy to the touch with just the tiniest scent of the ocean. As this is a stir-fry it's important to prepare everything before you start, even if it feels slow. Everything happens at once at the end! For once, quantities are for one.


  • four tbsp sesame seeds
  • a stalk and leaves of a large broccoli, or the florets if you prefer
  • a good-sized snapper fillet
  • a 75g bundle of udon
  • an inch-long piece of ginger
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2-3 tbsp light soy sauce

Start by dry-frying the sesame seeds over a moderate heat, turning occasionally until they are golden brown and smelling gorgeous. Remove from the heat. Wash the broccoli, remove and reserve the leaves, and peel the hard skin from the stalk. Julienne the soft inside into strips. Peel and grate or finely dice the ginger. Rest the udon in some hot water to separate the noodles, or if dried, cook according to the packet instructions.

Cut the snapper fillet into bite-size pieces, and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat some vegetable oil in a shallow pan and fry the pieces of snapper for a minute or two each side, until golden brown. Meanwhile, stir-fry the broccoli with the ginger for a minute or so, until the leaves are beginning to wilt. Add the udon and the rest of the ingredients and bubble for a further minute. Stir through half of the sesame seeds, then serve, topped with the snapper and the remaining seeds, with more soy sauce to drizzle and the other half lemon to squeeze over.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

24-Hour Rye Bread

Nom, rye bread! I love its aroma and texture, and it goes perfectly with pastrami, lettuce and mayo, one of my favourite sandwich combos. The trouble is that trying to make an all-rye flour bread is a great way to make a doorstop. I turned to my brilliant bread book for advice and inspiration. While all the recipes suggested were sound, I needed something that I could do in my own kitchen, with the materials I had. For instance I usually have wholewheat sourdough starter on the go - in fact I really should post my usual wheat sourdough recipe - but I have no rye starter, and I don't really want yet another tub of fermenting yeasty flour in my fridge.

So I tried using the wheat sourdough to make a half rye, half wheat sourdough, and gave it plenty of time to develop. In fact, I made it over 24 hours, so I only had to attend to it briefly in the morning and in the evening. (Add yourself another 24 hours if you don't already have a tub of sourdough starter in your fridge.) The result was fantastic: perfectly risen, great texture, and of course that wonderful rye flavour. Next time I might try a bit more rye but this was quite a satisfying experiment.

For the production leaven

For the dough
  • 400g leaven (above)
  • 150g rye flour
  • 200g water
  • 100g wholemeal wheat flour
  • 200g strong white flour
  • 10g caraway seeds
  • 5g salt
  • 1tsp yeast
Mix the leaven ingredients together (in a breadmaker bucket is fine) and leave for 12-16 hours, after which the mixture should end up with bubbles on top and smell slightly acidic. (Ideally, do this in the morning before you leave for work.)

Combine the leaven and rye flour in the breadmaker by putting it on dough for a minute or so. Put the rest of the ingredients on top (keeping the salt and yeast separate) and leave for 5 hours, then put on a wholemeal (~4h) cycle. (Ideally, use the timer setting on your breadmaker so that the bread is ready in the morning.)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Mushroom and Broccoli Bread Pudding

I'm always pushing myself to try new things. Sometimes those new things are old things, such as this 70s vegetarian recipe from my charity-shop One-Pot book. I was looking for something to use up a massive $1 broccoli we'd bought, and after looking up recipes in the index, I found this one. I recoiled immediately at just the name - 'Cheddar and Broccoli Bread Pudding' - but then I figured, if it's something I'd usually never cook... now would be a good time to try. So I followed the instructions, and hey - it really wasn't bad! It tastes a little too much like the sum of its parts, so if anyone has some ideas on how to fix that, comment below. I think some herbs would be a start, but here's the recipe in its original bland glory:


  • an onion
  • 225g mushrooms
  • 450g broccoli
  • 340g wholemeal bread - about 8 slices
  • 125g mature Cheddar (half the original!!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 285ml milk
  • 2 tomaotes

Peel and finely chop the onion, then soften in some butter or olive oil in a large lidded frying pan. Meanwhile, slice the mushrooms and cut the broccoli into small florets. Add the mushrooms to the onions, toss and cook for a further two minutes, then add the broccoli, season well, cover and steam for five minutes - don't be tempted to lift the lid or the water from the mushrooms will escape.

Preheat the oven to 190 C and lightly butter a large baking dish. Slice the bread very thinly, and remove the crusts if they are tough. Line the dish with half of the bread, then spoon half of the broccoli mixture in, then half of the cheddar. Whisk the eggs with the milk and pour half into the dish. Add further layers of bread, broccoli, Cheddar and egg, then very thinly slice the tomatoes and place the slices on top. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes. Serve with a mixed, well-dressed salad.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Braised Lamb Shank with Shallots and Red Wine

Earlier today I ran 12k. I knew in advance I was going to be pretty much crippled afterwards, and also desperately craving protein. So we picked up a couple of hearty lamb shanks at the butchers' yesterday, ready for a long stew into tenderness. In deference to my sad throbbing legs, we even did the grocery shop in a car, instead of on the bikes as usual! Fun times.

Anyway, back to the recipe. It's a Nigel special but seriously, I think people have been cooking meat like this since the Middle Ages. Or whenever it was that wine was invented. We also found out that in stews, you can happily use pickling onions ($6/kg) instead of shallots ($12/kg): after an hour they taste identical. I'm going to go fall over now.


  • two lamb shanks (or one, or four, depending on how much meat you feel like!)
  • 250 ml red wine (doesn't have to be good enough to drink, but shouldn't be vinegar either)
  • 250 ml vegetable or meat stock
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 8-10 shallots, or pickling onions
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
In a casserole pot, fry the lamb shanks, turning once or twice so that they sear and get nice caramelised edges. Meanwhile, tail and peel the shallots, and split or cut any large ones in half. Slosh the wine onto the meat and add the shallots/onions, vegetable stock, rosemary, and crush in the garlic. Stir once, cover and simmer for an hour and a half, until the meat is falling off the bone. (Or you can pop it into a 160C oven; either way.) Stir in the mustard, and serve with fluffy mashed potatoes and some wilted spinach, with black pepper grated and lemon juice squeezed over.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Raisin Spice Bread

We spent a lovely afternoon playing games at a friend's house the other weekend, and they gave us generous wedges of this bread spread with cream cheese to snack on. They have the same breadmaker as us and the recipe was straight from the book, so I decided to make it too - amazingly I've never made a sweet bread in the machine! After this I'd love to try a brioche. And that doesn't have any fruit in it, so no chance of me messing up the dispenser setting, as I did for the first time making this :)


  • 130ml water
  • 130ml milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 575g white bread flour
  • 100g malted dark bread flour (optional, replace with white or wholemeal if you prefer)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 cup raisins
Put everything except the raisins into the breadmaker; put the raisins in the dispenser, or add at the second knead. Pop the breadmaker on 'sweet' and brush with a little sugar glaze at the end if you like.

Or, if you have no breadmaker, knead for 15 minutes, rise for 40, punch down, rise again for 30, shape however you like, rise again for 50 minutes, and then bake for 70 minutes at 115C.

They taste just like hot cross buns so you could also put the dough on, then take out, shape into small buns, rise again and bake for maybe 20 minutes to produce hot cross buns. Then the glaze is mandatory!

Refried Beans

We have been eating beans all week, thanks to the 2kg or so I made last weekend. Beans on baked potatoes, beans with barbequed sweet potato, beans in wraps and of course, beans on toast! The consequences haven't been entirely pleasant for those around us. This is the last meal I'm making with the beans, and since it's been a whole week I wanted to reheat them right through. So I threw in a couple of spring onions and the rest of my spices from my refried beans recipe, and tossed about in a pan until spicy and sizzling. It's amazing what you can do a few spices and the last sad vegetables at the bottom of the drawer: guacamole, salsa, barbequed sweet potato and shredded lettuce complement the lovely beans in some yum (freshly-defrosted) tortilla wraps.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


It's orange season down under! I remember last year I was really impressed by how good and cheap the oranges were at the tail-end of winter, and this year they're just as delicious. All over Perth, orange and lemon trees are heavy with fruit, and frustratingly they're all locked away behind garden walls, much of the fruit rotting in sunshine. Some friendly gardeners pick the fruit and leave them in big boxes outside their house for anyone to take away. I've gathered a few lemons from those boxes this year, but so far no oranges. However they're less than $1 per kilo in the market, so I pick up the least ripe, saddest-looking navels I can find (no Seville down under, that I can find), shred them with our shiny new mandolin, and make a huge vat of marmalade. I have fond childhood memories of 'helping' my parents make marmalade, and I think we only used up the last of it after a decade or so! Once again, I've made about enough for a long time...
I'm not including the recipe, since frankly it didn't set the first time, and I had to empty all the jars and boil it down by another 25%! But a few rules-of-thumb are: use a really big pot, a 1:1:0.5 ratio of fruit:sugar:water, keep a couple of pectin sachets handy, and a big stack of cold plates in the freezer for the 'wrinkle test'.

Prawn and Sweet Potato Fritters ('Ukoy')

We had a sad sweet potato hanging around in the cupboard that I wanted to use up. This recipe turned out to be a stunningly inefficient way to do that, but made totally delicious and great finger food. You could eat them as a starters, but we just made 25 or so and chowed down while watching a movie :)


  • 250ml boiling water
  • 250g raw small prawns
  • 150g plain flour
  • 80g ground rice
  • 30g cornflour
  • 2 eggs
  • black pepper
  • 125g peeled and grated sweet potato
  • 115g bean sprouts
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp mild vinegar

Cook the prawns in the boiling water (in a saucepan, presumably) for 3-4 minutes, until pink and just cooked. Drain, reserving the prawn stock and leaving both prawns and stock to cool for ten minutes or so. Pluck the heads off, and if the shells are tough (i.e. if you couldn't find really small prawns), shell them completely.

Put the flours and ground rice into a bowl and whisk in the eggs and the cooled prawn liquid; season well with black pepper and salt. Add the grated sweet potato, bean sprouts and spring onions, and fold gently to combine. Drop 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp of batter into a frying pan of hot oil, and top with 2-3 prawns, pushing into the batter and then flattening with a spatula. Fry gently so the sweet potato has time to cook through, about 2-3 minutes each side. Stack on a plate with kitchen paper.

Crush the garlic and combine with the salt and vinegar to form a dipping sauce. The fritters also work well with sweet chilli sauce.

Real Baked Beans

I remember my parents talking about how they used to bake their own beans back when they were at uni. For quite a few years I couldn't see why: baked beans are pretty cheap, right? And how good can your own be anyway?

Well, here, they're not so cheap - at least three times the price of the same beans in the UK, usually more. On the plus side, we live near a great combined market with huge sacks of the white haricot beans that one could bake into beans. Having seen those sacks every time I visit the market, and occasionally cringing as I open a tin of expensive baked beans, I eventually thought - let's do it. Let's bake some beans.

For such a classic British staple I turned to Delia, in her Frugal incarnation. I've simplified some of the steps, since her recipes always seem to involve way too much measuring and transferring from one pot to another. Oh and... because I didn't think 450g sounded like very many beans... I made a whole kilo. Which is an entire massive Le Creuset absolutely full of beans. Well, at least we're sorted for the week! They are also better than the tinned version, after all :)


  • 1 kg dried white haricot beans
  • 3 litres water
  • 3 tsp dijon mustard
  • 4 tbsp molasses or treacle
  • 4 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp (or a tiny tin) of tomato puree
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 500g streaky belly of pork

Put the beans and water in a huge oven-proof pot and bring up to the boil, then turn off the heat and leave for an hour to soak. Reheat up to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally to make sure no beans are sticking.

Preheat the oven to 120 C. Finely slice the onion and add, along with the rest of the ingredients, to the beans, and stir to combine. Tuck the piece of pork into the beans, leaving only the rind exposed, which you can slash with a knife to crisp if you intend to eat it. Cover and bake for 6 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing's sticking. The beans will absorb most of the liquid, but if they absorb all of it and start to go dry, feel free to top up with some extra water.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Porterhouse Steak, Braised Fennel and Mustard Rollini

We take our weekly stroll to the butchers' and pick up a beautiful Porterhouse steak, which we plan to sear for 90 seconds each side and split between us. Enjoying the beautiful sunshine and pottering about the house, we leave the main grocery shop until Sunday. When I come to cook our lovely steaks, I find none of the accompaniments I'd usually use, not even potatoes! I still crave that sticky, carby counterpoint to the steak, so I take some inspiration from a 'nursery classic', and also try out a new kind of pasta hanging around the cupboard.

At the bottom of the vegetable drawer sits one folorn fennel, left 'til all of the easily-prepared vegetables are already eaten. I flick through Nigel's recipe books but find he's not really a fan of fennel, dedicating it a mere two paragraphs in his massive British vegetable compendium. However, there's plenty of ideas in those few sentences, one of which is exactly the way my dad prepares chicory. I give it a go, and it's absolutely amazing.

  • a large fennel
  • 250g rollini, or other shaped pasta
  • 4-6 tbsp crème fraiche
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • a seriously good steak, or two

Cut any discoloured parts from the fennel and slice off the toughest part of the root, but leaving most of the base intact so that the sheaves still hang together. Cut into large lengthwise wedges; a small fennel could be quartered, a large fennel cut into sixths or eighths. In a frying pan large enough that all the fennel can lie flat, melt a couple tbsp of butter and a little glug of olive oil. Add the fennel wedges and stir around gently until coated in fat. Set the heat to low, cover the pan and braise for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice. You want the fennel to be gently caramelised where it touches the pan, but not burnt, and for the trapped steam to cook the vegetable through.

10 minutes before the fennel is done, set your pasta to cook in plenty of boiling water. Meanwhile, pan-fry the steak; 90 seconds each side will give a lovely rareness, but of course feel free to alter depending on your taste and the steak's thickness. Set aside to rest. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and return it to the pan, along with the crème fraiche and mustard; warm through over a low heat, stirring so that it doesn't stick. Taste and season, then serve with the steak and braised fennel.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Purple Salad (and Potato Rosti)

It's the end of the week and the fridge needs clearing out, so it's time to reinvent old recipes by substituting almost all of the ingredients! I also had a go at making a potato rosti, but the edges of my pan were too tall, so it was impossible to detach and flip cleanly. We'll buy a good skillet and sometime I'll put a recipe for rosti up.


  • 3 medium or 4 small beetroot
  • a big handful of green beans
  • 1-2 ripe avocados
  • a few handfuls of salad leaves
  • a generous handful of basil (chives would work too)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp grain mustard

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Scrub, top and tail the beetroot and slice into wedges; peel if the skin is tough. Brush with olive oil and roast for an hour, until soft, sweet and caramelised. Top the green beans, halve and steam until green but not overdone: they will continue to cook after you remove them from the steamer. Peel and stone the avocadoes, and slice into wedges. Blend half of the basil and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor to make a thick dressing; taste and season.

When the beetroot are cooked, fold them gently with the beans, avocados and salad dressing until slightly but not totally combined (or everything will be bright magenta!). Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Cornish Pasties

Recently I was back in the UK, and the first thing I bought as I stepped out of the airport was a Cornish pasty. My mum used to make them for us when we were little and they were such a treat! Any spare pastry would be spread with jam and popped in the oven to make tiny bonus tarts. When I went to uni in Bristol I fell in love with all the different pasty bakeries - over the years I tried all the varieties at all the little shops until I knew where to get my favourites anywhere in town. Sadly in Cambridge, the only pasty shop was a 'Cornish Pasty Co.' chain franchise, whose pasties are always a bit sad, flat, salty and missing those beautiful generous pieces of meat that make pasties such a treat.On my return to pasty-less Perth, I resolved to make my own, for the very first time in my life!

I'm a big fan of well-cooked stewing beef; I can't stand underdone chewiness. So I simmered a very plain and warming beef stew last night, then left it covered overnight. In the morning the meat had reabsorbed much of the juices and the remaining gravy had thickened into a pasty-perfect consistency. The pasty pastry was simple: 600g plain flour, 130g butter, 130g cooking margerine, and a pinch of salt, all whizzed together in a blender to make breadcrumbs, then folded together with just enough water to combine. I cut it in half, flattened each piece into rough discs, then chilled it for twenty minutes while I prepared a nice clean dry worksurface, dusting it and a rolling pin with plain flour. I also greased a couple of baking trays and found a plate of roughly the right size to serve as a guide for cutting circles of pastry. Then I carefully rolled out each disc of pastry until it was around 4mm thick, and cut out discs, stacking them on a plate ready for use. I combined all the offcut pastry together and was able to get a couple more discs out, ending up with eight 12cm discs from that quantity of pastry.

To fill the pasties, I placed a disc on the edge of a baking tray, and filled the center, lengthwise. Then I brushed the edges with beaten egg, and brought the edges up together, pressing them together with my fingers and forming that awesome ripply pattern. According to Wikipedia, you can make pasties in this upright fashion or in the crescent fashion; both forms have been practiced in Cornwall for generations. Personally I like this shape as it's the same one my mum uses, and the filling is less likely to ooze out if you mess up the pastry join! That said, make sure to pay special attention to the tips of the pasties: squash them together very well to prevent ooze and create those wonderful decadent flaky-pastry-only moments at the beginning and end of eating a pasty.

I kept filling until I ran out of pastry - I missed running out of stew by a few spoonfuls - then brushed them lightly with beaten egg and baked for 35 minutes in a preheated 200C oven. With great restraint I managed to cool them on a rack for a couple of minutes before chowing down on a couple for dinner! I'm sure they'd be great for lunch but they didn't last long in our house :) We only managed to keep another pair of pairs for dinner the next night by sealing them in a plastic box and hiding it from ourselves. Pastry is so GOOD.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Beef and Ale Stew

This week I have a plan, and it involves stretching a kilo of cheap beef across three very tasty meals. The trick with cheap cuts of beef is to simmer them for a long time, until the gristly fatty connective tissue breaks down and becomes a thickener for the sauce. By this point the meat itself is tender and falling apart. Wonderful!

First off is the world's simplest stew, something I can always throw together if I have just a few minutes to do the preparation before I go do an hour's work -- or telecon as is usually the case on Tuesdays. Tomorrow I want to use the remaining stew in Cornish pasties, but tonight it's just as-is, with delicious fresh bread spread thickly with margarine to dip in. This recipe serves six if you were to eat it all straight away.


  • 1kg diced beef
  • two large brown onions
  • a couple of bay leaves
  • 500-600ml dark ale (so a pint or a demi depending on your country of origin)
  • 15 shallots (optional)
  • two large carrots
  • four potatoes
  • two large tomatoes
  • 300g frozen peas (optional)

Chuck the beef in a large heavy-lidded casserole pot (e.g. a Le Creuset) and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, finely dice the onions. Once the meat is a little browned on the outside, add the onions and bay leaves and fry for a further 3-4 minutes, until the onion has lost its raw smell. Pour in the ale and bring up to a simmer; allow to cook uncovered until it stops frothing. If you're using the shallots, cut off the root and peel them, and drop them whole into the stew. Cover and simmer for an hour, checking halfway through to stir and make sure it is not looking dry.

After an hour, check a piece of meat - it should slice easily with a knife, and any fat should be transparent and wobbly. If the meat is still tough or the fat is white and stringy, simmer for a further half hour and check again. Meanwhile, scrub and cube the carrots and potatoes; finely dice the tomatoes. Add to the pan, cover and simmer for a further twenty minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are soft. If using the peas, pour directly into the stew, stir to cover, and simmer for 2-3 minutes until sweet. Chcek the stew for seasoning; it may need 1-2 tsp of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Serve with hot fresh bread.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Baked Pears and Ricotta Salad

Pears are very good at the moment, but still I'm impatient for them to ripen. This recipe shortcuts the wait by baking them in the oven. I also picked up some plain baked ricotta from the deli, but if you had time you could make your own at the same time as you cook the pears.

  • 2 large pears
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 big handfuls of rocket (arugula)
  • a big handful of walnuts or pecans (or in a pinch, sunflower seeds)
  • a 200g chunk of baked ricotta
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp runny honey

Preheat the oven to 200C; peel, core and quarter the pears; place in a roasting tin, dot on the butter and shake over the sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and tender. Five minutes before done, place the nuts or seeds on a tray and toast in the oven for a few minutes, until crisp and nutty. Combine the dressing ingredients together; taste and season if necessary. Cut the pear and ricotta into bite-size pieces and toss with the rocket, nuts and dressing. Spike with croutons or serve with crusty bread.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Lentil Loaf

This is something I've always been vaguely intrigued by, especially when festivities roll around and vegetarians complain about having nothing to eat but nut loaf. I thought I'd see just what it's like to make a lentil loaf, using my handy copy of Delia's Frugal Food. I was missing half the ingredients so added a couple of beetroot, which made the colour much more cheerful. Served over a pumpkin pilaf with a generous dollop of mango chutney, it was quite decent. I think it's missing the sheer umame-ness of a meat loaf, but it's pretty tasty and certainly keeps well over the week.


  • 110g green split peas
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • a few springs of thyme
  • a couple of bay leaves
  • 175g whole green or brown lentils
  • 600ml vegetable stock
  • a large onion
  • two carrots
  • a couple of small or a large beetroot
  • four fat cloves of garlic
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • two eggs

Put the split peas and herbs in a saucepan and cover with hot stock; simmer for five minutes; add the lentils and simmer for a further 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender (don't worry if there is excess water, you don't need to drain them). Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and fry in a separate pan for a few minutes; dice the carrot and beetroot and add to the pan, and crush in the garlic. Fry for a few minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Shred the parsley and add; remove from the heat. Combine the lentil mixture, vegetable mixture and Worcestershire sauce (off the heat) and stir in the eggs when cool enough not to immediately cook them (<57 C). Taste and season (mine needed around 2tsp salt and a looooong grating of pepper.) Spoon into a well-greased 450g loaf tin, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Turn out and leave to cool for a minute or two before slicing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Pasta e fagioli

We've been enduring a spot of cold weather recently; I even had to wear trousers when cycling to work for a couple of days! Actually I think I'm just a wimp after getting back from a nice week in Brisbane where it was 21C every day. I felt like something really homely and gorgeous, but not too meaty, after a week eating out. I googled around and found this lovely Italian 'peasant' dish which seemed perfect! There are many different versions around, but I started improvising from one that mostly included ingredients I had. (Sensible.) One thing that the recipes emphasised was that this varies massively region-to-region in Italy and it's ok to be more of a soup, or more of a sauce, or anywhere in between. So here's my take - and I will definitely be making this again as it was superb!

  • a medium onion
  • a carrot
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 425g tin of tomatoes
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 150g tubetti, macaroni or other small soup pasta
  • 400g tin of borlotti beans
  • grated Parmesan (omit if vegan, obviously!)
  • fresh parsley

Finely chop the onion and fry it over a medium heat until translucent (about five minutes). Peel and dice the carrot and add to the pan; peel and crush in the garlic cloves. Toss around and fry for a further minute, until the garlic is fragrant and softened. Pour in the tin of tomatoes, half of the stock, and add the bay leaves and rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove a ladleful of the soup and blend with half of the beans (be careful to cool for a minute or so or use a large blender so as not to explode soup everywhere!). Return the paste to the pan along with the pasta and cook for another 10 minutes, until the pasta is soft. Add the last half of the beans to the pan, turn off the heat and allow to warm through. Divide into bowls and top with grated Parmesan and finely chopped parsley.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Brussels Sprouts with Lardons

We borrowed this recipe from Nigella Lawson's Christmas book and since then, it's been the only way we've eaten Brussels sprouts! It's just fantastic and really transforms these mini-cabbages. If you're feeling festive you can chuck in a couple of peeled, cooked, halved chestnuts.

  • Several handfuls of Brussels sprouts
  • 2-4 rashers of bacon, or 100g lardons

Pick over the Brussels sprouts, cutting off the toughest part of the base, discarding any discoloured leaves and finally halving. Steam for 5-6 minutes, until bright green but not soft. Meanwhile, heat a barest smidgen of oil in a wok and snip in the bacon, or drop in the lardons. Toss about and fry for a minute until no longer transparent. Add the Brussels sprouts, toss once and leave for a further minute; toss again and leave for another minute. You want the Brussels to be well-singed and cooked through, and the bacon to be crispy.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Chick Pea Soup

A super-simple meal for Cambridge telecon night, cribbed from this recipe, but with a whole tsp of chilli flakes extra at the start, and leaving the chick peas until right at the end, because cooking them from the tin is totally unnecessary. Topped with  a splob of natural yoghurt, some coriander leaves, and served with a beautiful hearty fresh sourdough from our breadmaker.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Butter Chicken

When I visited India, we had one particularly amazing meal out at a rather fancy restaurant, where the meals cost a whole $10! A friend of mine ordered this and I remembered that it's often cited as the measure of an Indian restaurant; if the butter chicken is good, then everything else is probably good too. His was excellent. We've had a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer for a while and I've been intending to do 'something Indian' to them. Then at the Good Food and Wine show I picked up a really nice 'butter chicken' spice mix and all the pieces fell into place. I don't normally use spice mixes but I tried a bit with some bread and olive oil and it tasted so much like the real thing from India that I couldn't resist :)

I used this taste.com.au recipe for a starting point, although we dropped the amount of yoghurt since I was worried cooking it would make it separate, and we found the overall result bit too tomatoey, so this recipe has a reduced amount of puree. We couldn't bring ourselves to pour in the amount of cream they said to use, but feel free if you weren't using those arteries anyway! We served it with some plain rice and spicy & sour green beans: perfect counterpoint.


  • two large chicken breasts
  • 2 tsbp yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp turmeric, 2 tsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp of paprika (or 4 tbsp of butter chicken spice mix!)
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 125g cashews, roasted
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Indian bay leaf or normal bay leaf
  • 200g can tomato puree
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 125ml double cream (double the quantity for extra richness)
  • fresh coriander, to garnish

Slice the chicken breasts into bite-size pieces. Put in a bowl and toss with the yoghurt, lemon juice, spices, ginger and garlic; marinade overnight, or for a couple of hours if possible.

Blitz half of the cashews in a blender until well-ground. Gently fry the onion in a little oil, then add the chicken and toss about until the spices are fragrant. Tip in the ground cashews, tomato puree, bay leaf and stock, and simmer for fifteen minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Stir in the cream and warm through; serve over rice, topped with a handful of coriander leaves and the remaining toasted cashews.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Pear and Almond Tart

We bought a huge bucket of pears last weekend and they have been sitting sullenly in a bowl, failing to ripen. So today I decided to use them in the best way possible - baking a beautiful French pear and almond tart. The recipe, according to my dad, is not French at all, but if you google it you'll find hundreds of examples of how to make it. I used this nice blog entry as it talked about all the different subtleties and, crucially, explained how to poach the pears. I won't rehash every single point since the post is worth a read in its own right, but I'll post how I made this wonderful tart... with metric weighted quantities!
My pastry isn't quite even but I'm working on it :)

For the pears:

  • two large or three small pears
  • water
  • sugar
  • a couple of cloves
  • a wedge of lemon

Halve, core and peel the pears then place them flat-side up in a saucepan. Cover with water, drop in the cloves and lemon, and add about a third as much sugar as you have pears. Bring to a simmer; while you do so, use the lid of the pan to trace and cut out a circle of greaseproof paper; cut a hole in the middle and place on top of the pears. Simmer for 6-10 minutes, until the pears are perfectly tender.

You can either chill and marinade the pears at this point, or use them as soon as they're cool enough to handle. The poaching liquid can be reduced down to a drizzling sauce, or frozen in an ice cube tray for another recipe. To slice the pears ready for the pie, place flat-side down on a board and, using a very sharp knife, slice diagonally through so that the pears will be able to fan out in that classic shape. Leave them on the board or a plate until the rest of the pie is ready. (If you chop savoury foods, especially onions, on the same board, make sure to line it first with cling film.)

For the pastry:

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 80g granulated sugar (halve if your pastry-handling skills are not strong)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 225g plain flour

Line a 9" pie or tart pan with butter and greaseproof paper. Briefly cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla. Add the flours and mix until well combined—the dough will form clumps and all the flour will have been absorbed. Form the dough into a thick disk. On a lightly floured board gently roll dough out to a thickness of 3-5mm. Brush off the excess flour and transfer the dough to a greased tart pan. Ease the dough into the pan, being careful not to stretch it or break it (the more sugar you use, the more fragile it will be); press it against the sides of the tart pan. Use a pair of scissors to gently cut the dough a 5mm taller than the edge of the tart pan.

For the almond filling:

  • 85g slivered or ground almonds
  • 85g sugar
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 20g flour

Blitz the almonds, sugar and butter together in a blender, then crack in the egg, egg white and almond extract. Whizz for a minute or so, then gently fold in the flour. Using a spatula, spread evenly over the pastry shell. Drop any excess from the spatula scraprings right into the middle of the tart. Using a metal or sharp-edged spatula, lift the sliced pears and gently slide into the pie in the classic pattern: into four, six or eight 'fans' depending on the size of the pears.

Bake in a preheated 175 C oven for 30-40 minutes, until the frangipangi is risen and golden-brown.

Baked Stuffed Cabbage Parcels

When I was in Cambridge last week, a friend gave me this copy of Delia's 'Frugal Food'. It's interesting enough, especially if you're short on 70s style things to do with lentils and cabbage. Since we'd bought an enormous Savoy for just a dollar, and I had the glorious freedom of an entire day with nothing to do but go for a long walk and cook, it seemed like a good time to figure out something fun and frugal to do. I settled on the 'baked stuffed cabbage parcels'. They really were rather good! Although I did bulk out and spice up the recipe a bit. The photo is taken before I pour over the requisite 400g tin of chopped tomatoes; personally I think it'd be nicer with the topping I describe below.


  • a large head of Savoy or green cabbage
  • 75g white rice
  • a large white onion
  • 400g beef or lamb mince
  • three cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • a large handful of parsley, well-washed and finely chopped
  • a generous handful of sultanas
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • a 400g tin of white (haricot or borlotti) beans (chick peas might work too)
  • a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chillis
  • a slice or two of bread, or a handful of sunflower seeds
Get a really huge saucepan that you can put the whole cabbage head inside completely. Practice taking it out again with a couple of big spoons or some good strong tongs. When you're happy that you have a good saucepan and a way of getting a hot cabbage head back out again, fill it up with boiling water and submerge the cabbage, preferably stalk-side-up. (I don't know how Delia stops it flipping; mine always went straight over no matter what I did!) Bring back to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes, then remove and drain. (I used the water from this to cook the pasta for another meal, but maybe you could put your feet in it if you're having a particularly cold winter and don't want to let it go to waste? I've no idea.)

Once the cabbage is cool enough to handle, get a nice sharp knife and a big bowl, and work your way around the cabbage, cutting off the leaves as you go. Once the leaves go yellow, you can maybe get three or four, before they become too small to be useful for this recipe. At that stage the texture should be quite crisply blanched, so it would work well cooled and used later in a salad, or served warm straight away with some butter. But it's not useful for the rest of this recipe so find somewhere to put it.

Set the rice cooking in a 2:1 water:rice ratio over a gentle heat. Finely chop and fry the onion for a few minutes, then add the mince and crush in the garlic. Fry for a couple more minutes, then add the cinnamon, thyme, parsley, sultanas, beans, tomato puree, salt and cooked rice. Stir well to combine and turn off the heat.

Put a cabbage leaf on a board or plate so that it curves upward, and slice about three inches of the thick stem away; eat or discard. If you want to make finger-food-sized parcels, slice the entire stem away, and use half-leaves to wrap 3/4--1 1/2 tbsp of mixture; otherwise wrap up 1 1/2--3 tbsp mixture depending on the size of the leaf. You should overlap the leaves enough that the mixture isn't bursting out. Place in a large roasting dish with the foldy bits at the bottom.

Meanwhile, (perhaps your sous-chef can help), heat the tin of chopped tomatoes with the oregano and chilli. Puree with a hand-blender into a fine sauce. (A good passatta will do equally well here.) Pour the tomato sauce over the tray of parcels, making sure to coat all of the leaves (they will go black wherever not covered by tomatoes). Bake for an hour, until the leaves are very tender and the sauce has reduced to a fine covering. Blend the bread into fine breadcrumbs, toss with a little olive oil; cover the tomato sauce and bake for a further ten minutes until crisp. Alternatively, serve with some toasted sunflower seeds.