recipes

Rekindle

The slow cooker and I have a seasonal relationship. In early Autumn we greet one another like long lost friends and set about sharing some very productive times together. As winter descends our partnership strengthens as we work together ever more closely, exchanging smug glances and proudly patting one another on the back as each lovely braise, curry or soup develops. However, by September 1, we are so bored in each other’s company we cannot bear the sight of one another. If either of us has to deal with another diced onion or budget cut of meat we’ll shriek. We retreat to separate areas of the home, the cooker in the hall cupboard, me to the barbeque. Occasionally over the summer when the cupboard door opens, we catch sight of one another and glare, as not enough distance or time has elapsed to make our hearts grow fonder. Now as the leaves begin to colour and an extra layer overnight is required, we seek each other out with renewed interest to begin another industrious season in the kitchen together.

The secret to keeping things fresh with the slow cooker is to change it up a bit each year. Repeating old favourites is fine to point, but as cooks we evolve and as diners our palates change. There are certain staples the cooker is renowned for: lamb shanks, beef casserole, chicken curry and the like but if you want to keep this appliance relevant, it needs to move with your current dietary preferences. Today I have had a pork shoulder rubbed in paprika and coated with a mix of tomato, brown sugar, hot chilli sauce, apple cider vinegar and chilli flakes languishing in the cooker for 8 hours on low. A slaw of cucumber (current garden glut), carrot shred and coriander, dressed with apple cider vinegar, lime juice, honey and toasted sesame seeds, will sit nicely with this pulled pork inside some warmed wraps. I cannot think of a nicer Saturday evening dinner right now – and there will be plenty left for tomorrow.

My forward plan for the cooker this season includes gently cooked fish parcels and steamed dessert puddings. This is a way of using the cooker’s traditional technique, but for shorter periods, as these dishes will only take 2-3 hours at most. Using the cooker this way, frees up the oven for other food, or simply allows you to cook without constant supervision. I have never really considered using my cooker as a dessert oven and thoughts of a fruit pudding simmering away quietly in the background while the main meal is underway is quite appealing.

Of course, like so many households, ours is one of an ever-changing combination of occupants, who dine at various times around the clock. Having a pot of soup on hand and a lovely loaf will always cater for these out of hours diners. The slow cooker is perfect for this, and so I intend to broaden my soup repertoire this year. So to kick this off, spurred on by all of the current ‘research’ around the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and wanting to have a hearty soup underway, my oval partner and idea produced a delicious minestrone which we paired with some lovely seedy sourdough. Looks as though the relationship for 2017 is off to a great start.

minestrone

2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 potato, diced
1 zucchini, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 rashers bacon, diced
½ cup tomato paste
1 punnet cherry tomatoes or fresh chopped tomatoes
2 cups water
2 teaspoons chicken stock powder
410g can red kidney beans, drained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and cracked black pepper
2 cups of cooked risoni or other small soup pasta

Put all ingredients in the slow cooker, except the pasta, and mix well. Season well with salt and cracked black pepper. Cook for 4 hours on high or 7 hours on low. 30 minutes before the soup is cooked, add the warmed cooked pasta and stir through, cooking for a further 30 minutes. Serve the soup with shaved parmesan and crusty bread – whenever

serves 6

This recipe is an adaptation of one from Sally Wise, who has written some fabulous slow cooker gems. This particular soup is from Slow Cooker – Easy and Delicious Recipes for all Seasons.

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recipes

Feast or Famine


With one away on school camp, another at university and the third spreading his wings into life outside the confines of the school timetable, dinner time catering has been flipped on its head. From loaves and fishes it has become ‘how do I cram all of these leftovers back into the refrigerator that no one was home to consume but out of habit I cooked anyway?’ As such, I was peering into the chilled shelves when met with the questioning stare of some lovely marinated baked chicken wondering what its next culinary incarnation would be. Thankfully, I have tucked away, a simple and quite delicious chicken curry recipe that requires leftover cooked chicken.

This recipe has also dealt with excess charcoal chicken purchases and the unthreading of chicken kebabs that the barbeque crowd simply could not finish. Not only surplus chicken, this recipe requires fresh tomatoes – which we have in abundance right now and any opportunity I have to use them outside of pasta sauce or salad becomes a hallelujah moment. Last winter I became a serious curry cook so my spice library is fully stocked. The remaining ingredients are basically pantry mainstays so I did not need to set foot outside of the kitchen to put this one together.

Nearby on the sideboard, two plump eggplant made themselves apparent. They were trophies brought in from the garden earlier in the week and having served their admiration purpose sufficiently were ready for the pot. Madhur Jaffrey, my Indian food go to has a simple recipe, Aubergine with Nigella seeds, which my daughter has affectionately shortened to ‘black seed’. This vegetable dish is the perfect accompaniment to any curry, so that’s where those eggplants were going to perform their swan song. With these two dishes underway, all that remained was to boil a pot of rice, spoon out a fresh bowl of yoghurt and pan fry some frozen flat bread for sauce dabbing. By the time you lay all of these dishes out on the table, it appears as if a magnificent feast has been prepared. At this point, I can never resist slipping out to the garden just beyond the kitchen door and plucking a sprig of lemon balm or mint to garnish the yoghurt bowl.

It doesn’t really matter who appears at the table, as this meal seems to go around generously and anything left is further enhanced in flavour the following day as the spices are given extra time to develop. A recent purchase of a tiffin carrier means I can individually pack any leftovers and deliver them to a very appreciative grandmother who can also have her own mini feast. I have coveted these little stainless steel carriers for years, my first introduction to them being at a cricket match when Australia was playing against India. I sat behind an Indian family and at lunch break was fascinated as they unclipped each individual pot from the stack and doled out rice, curry and like to all of the family present. Our local supermarket had a shipment of these shiny wonders recently, so of course one was slipped into the trolley with the milk, oats and washing powder.

flexible chicken curry
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
½ tsp salt
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
2-3 tomatoes roughly chopped
300ml chicken stock
cooked chicken chopped into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp yoghurt

Heat the oil in a heavy based pot and fry the onion gently with the salt until softened. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the spices and cook stirring continuously for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir through for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and stir through the yoghurt. Simmer for another 5 minutes or until the chicken is well heated through.

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book reviews · recipes

Fika

Fika Ikea Baking Book

As formalities continue to be shed in an effort to live in a more simplified fashion, so too our food has begun to follow suit. More frequently we are encouraged to eat our meals in a ‘deconstructed’ form. Jamie now scatters his communal dinners across a chopping board, cheesecakes are commonly served up in drinking vessels and salads regularly layered in kilner jars (maybe this is my cue to toss a scoop of Vegemite, a few cheese shavings and some bread in the lunch box for some deconstructed school sandwiches). But I digress. The Scandinavians, or more specifically, Ikea, have had the jump on this mode for years. Their latest contribution to our pared-down existence is their new baking book, Fika, illustrating each recipe as a collection of deconstructed ingredients. Intrigued? So was I.

Fika is the Swedish term for a coffee break, generally shared with others. This book offers a host of recipes perfect for such events. Based on your level of experience and time affordable, you can dip in and out of this baking collection and come up with some delicious treats. The Rustic Biscuits caught my eye, basically because in my ‘deconstructed pantry’ all the elements were present and equally because the bakes could be made in two stages (dough needs to be chilled a while) allowing me to fit swimming lessons in between. And what lovely, crispy little gems they turned out to be:

Rustic Biscuits

Even on a day when baking is not within your reach, this book is a lovely browse, as rarely have I seen a collection of recipes photographed in such a simplistic form. For novice cooks to be able to see baked items broken down this way, leaves very little hiding space for uncertainty or self-doubt to settle. Dismantling kitchen fear and apprehension my friends, can only be a good thing.

100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp. golden syrup
35g blanched almonds, chopped
225g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tbsp milk (optional)

  1. Cream butter, sugar and syrup.
  2. Combine almonds, flour and bicarb of soda and then add this mix to the creamed mix.
  3. Work into a dough (at this point, you may or may not need to add the milk, depending on how dry your dough is).
  4. Roll the dough into a long sausage, about 3 cm thick and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate for up to an hour or freeze.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Remove cling film and cut slices of dough about 1 cm thick. Lay these out on trays lined with baking paper.
  6. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

You will need to be forgiving with some of the text in Fika, as we are crossing a fairly challenging language barrier here. The odd ingredient may be foreign, and occasionally ml is used in place of gram, but remember, we are working on our flexibility.

Rustic biscuits and coffee

Postscript: By the way, Fika is a marvellous word to have in your vocabulary when you burn your hand on the oven tray whilst young family members are present.

recipes

Honeycomb

chocolate coated honeycomb

Ever wondered what to do with all that leftover honeycomb and chocolate you have? Nor have I, but if there’s ever a reason to stockpile it, this brownie recipe is the one. Shards of brittle caramelised sugar amongst fudgy chocolate brownie – pair this with a nice cup of tea and you have what I would consider to be the ultimate treat.

As autumn slides in, and with it the cooler evenings, what better way to see you through the complexities of Downton Abbey life than a cup of tea and a good chunk of this.

chocolate honeycomb brownie

In fact, I’m sure if Mrs Patmore had culinary associations with those ‘across the pond’, the resulting recipe exchanges would have made possible the serving of this racy brownie to the drawing-room, and all manner of crises may have been averted.

If only Tom could have chowed down on a piece of this scrumptious bake, I’m sure he would be less inclined to espouse his unpopular political opinions (unfortunately alienating him from his English in-laws). Edith’s recovery from her jilting would have been far more expedient had she been offered a slice,  and the stress caused by the recent financial crisis that almost had the Abbey thrust on the open market, would have swiftly been alleviated. Perhaps if Bates could have been slipped a piece through the bars, there would have been more joy in his life than simply Anna’s letters, and even the sourpuss O’Brien might have seen the positive after a good munch.

And, despite its American origins,  I’m sure Granny would have secretly loved it.

Not a Downton fan and haven’t a clue about anything I’ve just written? Don’t be concerned. If your blood is red (not blue) and you’re up for a bit of luxury in the evening, then here are the steps to take:

1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
180g butter
200g dark chocolate
3 eggs, beaten
100g chocolate coated honeycomb, roughly crushed

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius and line a rectangular pan with baking paper.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder. Mix well.
  3. Melt butter and chocolate and pour into dry mix with the eggs. Mix until smooth.
  4. Stir through 3/4 of the honeycomb. Pour into baking pan.
  5. Sprinkle remaining honeycomb evenly over the top and bake for 35 minutes or until firm. Slice when cool.

instagram cadbury

Postscript: Just wanted to include a snap of an old friend who has accompanied me on many baking adventures and who gave a standout performance in this batch of brownies – Cadbury.

recipes

Banana

Banana Cake

You may recollect (about a year or so ago), due to the devastating impact of the weather in the northern zones of our land, the banana crops were obliterated. It was not uncommon in ensuing months to see their price per kilogram reach $15. In our home (and I am certain in many others), bananas were given equal respect as would be paid a King Island lobster or a jar of Russian caviar. During this time of the banana’s elevated status,  ‘who ate the banana!’ was frequently shrieked, a child who returned one in their lunch box had a lot of explaining to do and never was a hand of the curved yellows left to blacken in the bowl. Ever.

Fast forward to modern times and we see our ‘nanas back to $2.99 kg – and the last couple in the fruit bowl at the week’s end resembling the ace of spades.

‘The great banana shortage of 2011’ has been indelibly burned on my psyche, so in true 1930’s depression style, I have been bagging the black boys up and tossing them in the freezer – two by two. Mrs Beeton would be thrilled to know, that this week, I have begun my resurrection of these frozen orphans and they have had a very happy ending in a delicious banana cake. Here is where their journey ended.

125g softened butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 cup milk

icing sugar, lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a loaf pan.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in vanilla essence.
  3. Beat in egg.
  4. Add the bananas and mix through.
  5. Fold in the sifted flour.
  6. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and then gently stir this through the mix.
  7. Spoon mix into prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Mix icing sugar with some lemon juice and spread over the cooled cake.

lemon iced banana cake

Postscript: the turquoise and white bowl in the background is vintage Pyrex. The amish farming scene pattern it wears is called ‘Butterprint’  – and I just love it.

recipes

Soup

soup vegetables

There comes a point where it is time to literally take stock, and when I reach this juncture, this is the soup I turn to. It ticks all boxes: nutritious, economical, substantial, simple, and when a dietary line must be drawn in the sand, it is always the first meal that kicks off the new regime.

One of the fastest ways to churn through dollars and ingest large portions of energy dense food, is to buy lunch. If the decision regarding what to eat is made minutes before consumption, it is heavily influenced by raging hunger hormones and low blood sugar. All rational thought will evaporate when a large roast pork roll with gravy at $10 a pop looms. By the end of the week, $50 has also evaporated, and 500 grams has cleverly attached itself in its place – except not to the wallet but rather the waistline.

The best way I have discovered to sidestep this scenario, it to have a pot of soup on hand. Dished swiftly into a soup mug or bowl in the morning, a quick zap at lunchtime and a nice lunch is available. No purses opened, no lipids stored.
1 tbspn olive oil
1 onion sliced
1 leek sliced
3 sticks celery chopped
2 medium carrots chopped
1 litre chicken stock
salt and pepper
1/2 cup rice
1 can chick peas or butter beans
handful of shredded cooked chicken
parsley

  1. In a large pot, heat the oil on a medium heat and gently cook the onion, leek, celery and carrots, until the onion has softened.
  2. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat and add rice.
  3. Once the soup has reached the boil, turn down to a simmer and cook for 15-20 mins, or until rice is cooked.
  4. Add the chickpeas/beans and shredded chicken and simmer for a further  10 minutes.
  5. Serve with parsley scattered over and fresh bread on the side.

vegetable, chicken and rice soup

Postscript: This is the kind of soup that can be added to or subtracted from. Check your refrigerator or your preferences and make the necessary changes.

recipes

Plum

PlumsFor keen preservers, the produce section at the supermarket or the local fruit shop is a veritable candy store over the summer months. After the monotonous display of apples, pears and bananas over the chilly months, it is easy to be dazzled by the array of mangoes, peaches, nectarines and apricots on offer. Plums arrive a little later and often so briefly, that if excess time is spent admiring and pondering, the window of preserving opportunity slams shut, and another year must pass before these beauties arrive again.

So my friends, do not be caught out. Gather your old jars, select a choice kilogram of nicely ripened plums (any variety) and after an hour or so pottering in the kitchen you will have about five lovely jars of plum jam.

1 kg plums
1 kg jam setting sugar

Remove stones from plums and chop finely or process in the food processor. In a large pan add chopped plums and sugar, and cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and boil rapidly for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and test a small amount of jam on a saucer that has been chilled in the freezer. The surface should wrinkle when pushed. Pour hot jam into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool and then wipe away any stickiness on jars with a damp cloth. Add your labels.

Plum jamPostscript: Purchasing a kilogram of fresh plums is a win –  win situation. You are either going to end up with a well stocked pantry shelf, or if time gets away and good intentions are lost, a lovely fresh feast.

recipes

Crisp

The most delicious way to incorporate all food groups into one mouthful, is to take a bite of a crispy homemade pizza. Every thing from rocket to chorizo to feta can be enjoyed on a floury base with undertones of olive oil and fresh herbs. Not only a culinary treat, pizza night at home is a social family experience.

Most nights in our kitchen, meals are individually plated, family members are seated and consumption takes place – rapidly. Pizza night operates differently. Rather than consuming finite meals, a steady stream of food to be shared is delivered to the table, as the oven door opens and closes, receiving fresh ingredients only to dispense them minutes later all sizzling and golden.

In this fashion, dinner stretches across the evening with breaks in between while the recipients wait for the arrival of the next combination of ingredients to arrive  to be sliced and distributed. The cook, aka me, usually dines upright from the kitchen counter, selecting a slice of a passing pizza every so often.

Make your dough in the afternoon and then leave it to its own devices until you are ready to roll later in the day. In terms of your toppings, use creative licence.  Here a few tips to assist:

  1. The baking paper is the key to the ease of the process as it provides the perfect surface to roll the base out on, a sturdy carrier to lift the topped pizza onto the baking tray with and a nice ‘serving plate’ to lay on your chopping board for slicing.
  2. For your tomato sauce see this post.
  3. Add slices of feta or bononcini sparingly rather that large quantities of processed grated cheese – everyone will thank you for this.
  4. Our family favorite toppings include, red onion, baby spinach leaves, rocket,  marinated artichokes, feta, bononcini, olives, prosciutto, chorizo, basil,  and oregano.

5oog of plain flour (or bread/pizza flour if it’s available)
1 tspn salt
7g sachet dried yeast (or 11/2 teaspns)
1 tbspn olive oil
300ml warm water

Combine the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil in a warm bowl. Pour in the water and mix to a soft, sticky dough. Turn out onto a well-floured benchtop and knead for around 10 mins. Dough should be smooth and elastic. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle extra flour on your surface if the dough is sticking. Oil the mixing bowl and put the dough back in. Cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour. Dough will have risen and doubled in size. Give it a good punch to deflate it and then leave it for a further 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees celsius and put your pizza trays in so they are heated as well.

Take the dough out and cut into four equal pieces. Tear off a large sheet of non-stick baking paper and roll the first piece of dough out as thinly as possible, stretching it as you roll. Spoon over your tomato sauce and then start building. Lift your pizza by the paper and place on the hot tray and bake in the oven for approximately 15-20 mins. Repeat with your remaining dough pieces,  I usually have two on the go at once to keep up with appetites.

Postscript: Lighthouse Bread & Pizza flour is my go to for dough production, not only because it performs well but largely because I am taken with the box.

book reviews · health and wellbeing · recipes

Rosemary

Rosemary has been an asset to me over the years. Not only for boosting the flavour of many a lamb roast, but also for the most reputable nutritional guidance one could ever hope to receive. The former of course, being the glossy green herb and the latter, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, one of Australia’s leading nutritionists.

Rosemary Stanton received her OAM (medal of the Order of Australia) for her services to community health. She has dispensed, across the decades, sound evidence-based information regarding food and nutrition, and during sessions of nutritional wagon falls, it is her books I turn to with a cup of lemon balm tea. My advocacy of her work is not solely based on her most recent enlightening book, The Choice Guide to Food, but by virtue of the fact that, dietary recommendations she has made in her early career and over the years, still stand today –  whilst a multitude of other nutritional claims and fads have come and gone.

When a delve into the science of human nutrition is required, we need the information to be delivered in simple terms, so we have the ability to surface with knowledge that is relevant and practical for us to live by. Rosemary’s style of writing supports this. I was thrilled to discover in her latest publication, not only does she cover food from the view of our physical health, but also for that of the health of our budget and  the planet.

To boost your own nutritional wellbeing, incorporate a couple of her recipes into your weekly meal rotation, they can be found in many of her publications or in various pages on the web. Here is her farmhouse soup from which to launch.

Let’s not overlook, however, the other rosemary who has also done a fine job throughout her career in my kitchen. Scattered over roasted potato wedges, blended through soups and kneaded into bread dough, Rosmarinus officinalis could also qualify for her own medal – for services to our taste buds.

Postscript: this post was written with a salute to Remembrance Day