Asparagus & Lemon Risotto

IMG_4526This dish is spring on a plate. The smells, the flavour, the colour….everything about it just sings as loud as the birds which have come to chirp in our garden.

I chose to cook this risotto the cheat’s way, using the same throw-it-all-in-and-walk-away method for this Pumpkin and Roast Garlic Risotto, but if you are a risotto purist, feel free to make this the “normal” way (I’ll just wave at you from the lounge where I’m playing with my kids, while you’re standing at the stove, stirring stirring stirring…).

IMG_4512 IMG_4523 IMG_4527Asparagus & Lemon Risotto – serves 4

2T olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
2c arborio rice
1/2c white wine
750ml vegetable stock
1 bunch asparagus spears (woody ends removed), chopped in thirds
1/4-1/2c parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan; add onion and sauté until soft but not browned.

Add garlic and half the lemon zest; stir and cook a few minutes.

Add the rice and cook for two minutes, stirring to coat all the grains in oil.

Pour in the wine and stir until the liquid has evaporated.

Pour in the vegetable stock and stir well; cover the pan and leave to cook for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the asparagus pieces and cook, covered, a further four minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining lemon zest, parmesan cheese and seasonings. Cover and set aside for a few minutes.

Taste; add lemon juice, cheese, and seasonings to your liking.

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Completely unrelated to food BUT – have you entered my children’s book giveaway which closes tomorrow at 5pm?

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Salmon and Avocado Salad with Dill Dressing

I’m married to a man who grew up on a cattle farm; his mum has a freezer full of beef and lamb. He rather reluctantly eats the vegetarian meals I prepare, always asking (with a cheeky grin), “Where’s the meat?”

Luckily, he would choose seafood over meat 95% of the time. Tall loves fish, especially salmon, snapper and blue cod. We try to eat fish once a week (even though I am mildly allergic, bleurgh), and during the warmer months, we eat a lot of fresh fish and salads.

This is such a simple, quick dish to prepare; serve with fresh bread (I like the texture of a ciabatta or Turkish pide with this) and a chilled glass of pinot gris or beer.

Salmon and Avocado SaladSalmon and Avocado Salad with Dill Dressing – serves 2-4

mesclun salad leaves
2 avocados, diced chunkily
1 bunch fresh asparagus, steamed until tender
1/2 telegraph cucumber, halved lengthways and sliced
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
1 wood roasted/hot-smoked salmon fillet
200g baked ricotta (method below; omit completely for dairy-free)
3T olive oil
approx. 1T lemon juice
1T fresh dill tips*
1t brown sugar*
salt and pepper

Combine mesclun, avocado, asparagus, cucumber and tomatoes in a large serving bowl.

In a small jug, whisk together the remaining ingredients; taste and adjust seasonings to your own taste. *You might want to reduce or increase the amounts of sugar and lemon juice depending on whether you like a sweeter or tarter dressing.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently to combine.

Break the salmon into bite-size chunks and add to the salad along with chunks of baked ricotta.

Serve with lots of bread to soak up the dressing, and a glass of something cold and delicious.

Salmon and Avocado SaladBaked ricotta:
Line a baking tray with a small square of baking paper. Plop the ricotta on top, in an evenly-spread disc. Drizzle with olive oil and season; add fresh thyme leaves or dill tips. Bake at 200degC for 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and slightly crusty. Remove from the oven and cool. This can be made using firm-from-the-deli ricotta or fresh-from-a-pottle ricotta; I’ve tried it with both, and they are different in texture but equally delicious.

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Potato Soup with Chorizo & Parsley

I know, I know – another soup recipe…..but we do love us some soup in this house. This was another that my smallest boys devoured; the biggest wasn’t sold until I told him there was spicy chorizo hiding in there, and then he was happy.

This has got to be one of the simplest soups on the planet; by itself, the potato soup would be pretty boring, but with the chunks of crispy chorizo and fresh, grassy parsley, it is delicious.

The original recipe suggests a greater quantity of milk than I used, but adding the suggested 250ml would have created a very thin soup, which I didn’t want. The original also suggests using chorizo slices, which are similar in size and thickness to salami slices, but I thought that rustic chunks would be nicer. I like textural contrasts with food.

Potato Soup with Chorizo & ParsleyPotato Soup with Chorizo & Parsley – serves 4

40g butter
450g potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, diced
salt & freshly ground black pepper
900ml chicken stock
50-100ml milk
chorizo sausage
1T olive oil
large handful fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Melt the butter in a large soup pan. Add the potatoes and onion; season. Cover the pan and let the vegetables sweat over a low heat for around 10 minutes.

Bring the stock to a boil in a separate pot; when the vegetables are tender, add the hot stock and cook a further 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Purée the soup in a blender or using a stick blitzer. Season to taste and reheat; add sufficient milk until you reach your desired consistency.

Just before serving, cut the chorizo into chunky slices. Heat the oil in a fry pan and fry the chorizo until crispy.

To serve, drop chunks of chorizo into each bowl or soup and top with fresh parsley; drizzle with the paprika-flavoured oil that rendered out of the chorizo.

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Original recipe: Darina Allen for Market Kitchen Cookbook

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Cauliflower and Bacon Soup

Cauliflower doesn’t feature highly on my favourite vegetables list. I’ll eat it, but I don’t usually cook with it; I’d choose broccoli over cauliflower any day.

IMG_3618 However, when my husband pointed out this recipe in the Sunday paper, I was happy to give it a try. I love that he is more than happy to have soup for dinner…as long as there is enough bread to go with it. His opinion is that there should be enough bread to dunk into your soup that you can reach the bottom of the bowl without needing to use a spoon.

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This soup couldn’t be easier to make, and it is packed with flavour – don’t let the insipid colour put you off. Next time, I think I’ll reserve some bacon and fry until crispy, then add to the pureed soup; the crunch would be a nice contrast to the velvety soup. It’s a good Cheap-As Tuesday dinner, but is equally good a few days later.

(If you prefer a vegetarian soup, check out this recipe for Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Soup – YUM!)

IMG_3626Cauliflower and Bacon Soup – serves 4-6

2T butter or olive oil
4 shallots, chopped (I used 3 shallots plus half a red onion)
1/2 c chopped bacon
900g cauliflower florets (approx. one large cauliflower)
100ml dry white wine
1.5L beef stock
250ml water
Salt and pepper

Heat butter or oil in a large soup pot. Add shallots and bacon, and sauté over a low heat until the shallots are soft (around 10 minutes).

Add the cauliflower and wine; let the wine bubble for 30 seconds, then add the stock and water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is soft.

Purée in a blender or with a stick mixer; season to taste and serve with fresh bread (preferably hot from the oven, dripping with lashings of butter or margarine!).

IMG_3620~~~~~~~~~
Original recipe: Sunday Star Times (some time in July 2013)

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Eating on the Move

In this week’s groceries, I did something I never do: I bought pizza bases and cookies.

Before you insist I hang my head in shame, please hear my defense:

We’re moving house this weekend.

Being the organised soul that I am, I decided to pack our pantry and cupboards last weekend. Herbs? In a box. Assorted rices? In a box. Baking supplies? In a box. Rolling pin? In…well, you get the picture, right??

IMG_3516Our pantry looks bare (although I am painfully aware that my “bare” pantry will be someone’s full pantry, and I count myself truly lucky that I can be so glib about this), and each time I open it, I am a little shocked (that may also be in part because there’s a random bottle of toilet cleaner in there).

IMG_3517IMG_3518I planned this week’s meals to use the minimum amount of ingredients, cooking implements and crockery, simply so I could keep packing.

Spaghetti bolognese: one fry pan, one pot
Pork and noodle stir fry: as above
Pizza: two oven trays
Spanish omelette: one fry pan
Lamb shank soup: one fry pan, one slow cooker
Lasagna from the freezer: one microwave

IMG_3521I think I am officially a packing geek.

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Capsicum & Ricotta “Ravioli”

As we move into our new house in a couple of weeks (hurrah!), I’m gradually emptying out our freezer of bits and pieces. Last week, I wondered what to do with 16 wonton wrappers. I could have made wontons, but honestly? 16 wouldn’t have been enough. I wondered about wonton soup, which is a favourite of mine (using this broth recipe as a base), but not so much of my husband’s.

Eventually, I settled on making “ravioli”. I was conscious of how bland bought ones usually are (except the ones from Waitrose…man, I miss Waitrose), so tried to make these as flavoursome as possible. Even still, I think they could have done with more parmesan cheese and slightly more seasoning, so the quantities in the recipe below are what I should have used.

IMG_3388

Capsicum & Ricotta Ravioli – serves 2-3

2 red capsicums, quartered and deseeded
200g ricotta cheese
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 c finely grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
16 wonton wrappers

Place capsicums under a grill, skin-side up, and grill until the skins are blackened. Remove from the oven and wrap in cling film for a few minutes before peeling off the skins. Finely chop the flesh.

Mix with ricotta, spring onions, garlic, parmesan and seasonings.

IMG_3374Place a heaped tablespoon in the centres of eight wonton wrappers; brush the edges of each with water and seal with the remaining eight wrappers. Make sure you press out any trapped air, and that the edges are well-sealed.

Cook, in batches, in a large pot of boiling water, for 5-7 minutes, until cooked.

IMG_3378Serve with the sauce of your choosing – I chose to serve these with my standard pasta/pizza sauce, topped with more parmesan cheese.

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Fun with Food

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Fun with Food: Nut Pulao

The perfect accompaniment to Chicken in Green Masala Sauce is a classic nut pulao.

This is a dish that is delicious on its own, but combined with the chicken curry – wow! It takes about the same amount of time to prepare and cook; they are two very easy dishes to prepare side-by-side, yet present beautifully and appear much more complex than they actually are!

Chicken in Green Masala Sauce and Nut Pulao

Nut Pulao – serves 4-6

1-2T vegetable oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
225g basmati rice, soaked for 30 minutes
1t cumin seeds
2t ground coriander
2t black mustard seeds
4 green cardamom pods
450ml vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
3/4c unsalted cashew nuts
salt and black pepper

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the onion, garlic and carrot for four minutes.

Drain the rice and add to the wok with the cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and cardamom. Cook for two minutes.

Pour in the vegetable stock; add the bay leaf and season well.

Bring to the boil, lower the heat right down, cover and simmer very gently for 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat – don’t lift the lid! – and stand for a further five minutes. Check that the rice is cooked – there will be small steam holes on the surface of the rice if it is done – and discard the bay leaf and the cardamom pods (which will have risen to the surface).

With a metal slotted spoon, stir in the cashew nuts and check the seasoning before serving.

Nut Pulao

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Spaghetti with Mushroom and Bacon Sauce

This is a dish I remember my mum making when I was a teenager, and before I moved out of home, it was the first “recipe” to be written in to my book of favourites.

I’ve adapted the recipe over the years, adding things here and there depending on what’s in the fridge and what I’m feeling like, but it’s always an easy, cheap and tasty meal that everyone seems to enjoy.

Add chopped chicken to up the protein stakes, or omit the bacon and use vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian meal. If you don’t have any fresh parsley, try fresh thyme instead, and feel free to serve this with fettucine (spinach fettucine is especially tasty here!) or any other long pasta.

IMG_2888
Spaghetti with Mushroom and Bacon Sauce
 – serves 4

250g mushrooms, sliced
3 rashers bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1T butter, plus 1t extra
2t flour
3/4c chicken stock
3/4c sour cream
1 egg yolk
salt & black pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the 1T of butter in a fry pan and cook the bacon and onion until the onion is clear. Add the mushrooms and cook for three minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Over a medium heat, melt the 1t of butter in the same pan; add flour and cook for one minute.

Gradually stir in the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low; stir in sour cream and egg yolk.

Season to taste; add vegetables back into the pan with 1/2c water from the pasta pot  and heat without boiling. Add more water from the pasta to loosen the sauce if desired.

Add fresh parsley just prior to serving over cooked spaghetti.

IMG_2890IMG_2892IMG_2897

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Fun with Food
Fun with Food is a way for you to share your foodie (mis)adventures with other people. You don’t have to be a superb cook, or produce Masterchef-quality plates of food; this will be a place to share new and favourite recipes, meal plans, cooking on a budget, lunchbox ideas, new products, kitchen successes and disasters (because we all have those!) and maybe some handy tips for getting fussy kids to eat their dinner!

The linky will open on a Tuesday and stay open for a week, so I hope you’ll share your kitchen adventures, and be inspired by what other people are doing in the heart of their homes.

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Spanish Omelette

I wish I could find my copy of ‘Let’s Cook’, by Alison Holst.

Actually, I know where it is – under the back of the fridge, helping to compensate for our sloping floor – but I just can’t get to it. This was the first cook book I ever owned, along with the brilliantly-titled follow-up, ‘Let’s Cook Some More’. One of them has the most hideous delightful 1980s photo on the cover. They were aimed at kids, with simple, healthy, fun recipes, many with names like “Cornstack Mountains” (creamed corn and cheese on toast) and “Peppermint Pillows” (homemade Oddfellows).

One of the first meals I learned to make came from these books – a recipe for a Spanish Omelette. Since then, this has been a standard fall-back dish whenever I’ve been short on time, money or inspiration – and often all three.

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When we were travelling in South America, I made a lot of omelettes. They were cheap, required no fancy kitchen equipment, and when served with a salad and crusty bread, made for a filling meal. They were a guaranteed “safe” meal during pregnancy, and I could easily ask for the ingredients in Spanish.

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I’ve been known to throw extra vegetables (finely diced zucchini, mushroom, capsicum) or cheese in, but this plain version is still my favourite. I’m pretty sure there are lots of variations floating around, but this one is pretty good.

Spanish Omelette – serves 2-3

10g butter
1T olive oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 red onion, finely diced
2 large potatoes, finely diced
salt & pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Over a medium heat, melt butter and oil in a lidded frying pan.

Add potato and onions, and fry, stirring, for three minutes. Cover the pan, reduce the heat, and cook a further 10-15 minutes until tender.

Season the eggs. Add a small handful of parsley, reserving some for later. Mix well.

Spread the potatoes and onions evenly in the pan, then pour in the eggs.

Leave to set (covered or uncovered), scraping cooked egg aside to let the uncooked egg run into the gaps.

Once the egg is cooked to your liking, remove from the heat. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Delicious served warm or cold, with crusty bread (in crusty bread!) or a simple garden salad, or on its own.

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Original recipe inspiration: Alison Holst

Making Salads Super

Someone once told me that I make a good salad.

I laughed, thinking that there really couldn’t be anything easier to make than a simple garden salad, but having tasted some decidedly average ones, I realise it’s true – I do make a good salad.

Over the summer, we eat salads so often that I’ve had to come up with different variations to avoid getting bored. And because I sometimes forget that I need to save half an avocado for another day….there are times when I have to get creative.

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I give you, therefore, some simple tips for making salads super:

~ season a simple garden salad with salt and pepper, and it’ll transform it into something good; add a splash of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and it’ll transform it into something great.

~ experiment with textures: add crunchy croutons, sunflower seeds, pumpkin kernels or crispy bacon. Bake ricotta for 15-20 minutes, then crumble in large chunks into your chosen lettuce leaves. Combine crunchy iceberg with leafy mesclun and baby spinach, or add raw sugar snap/mangetout or radish. Fresh herbs like parsley (I prefer the grassiness of the flat-leaf/Italian variety), chives and mint are a wonderful addition too, as are sliced sun-dried tomatoes, olives or gherkins.

~ instead of having salad alongside your meat of choice, make the meat the star of your salad. My favourites include hot- or cold-smoked salmon pieces, or barbecued then finely-sliced steak; served with fresh ciabatta or baguette and a crisp pinot gris…yum.

~ make your own coleslaw dressing: dissolve caster sugar (say, 1t) in red wine vinegar (let’s say 1t there too), then add a good mayo (2T? However much you need), and season. Leave for the flavours to develop before mixing into your shredded cabbage, carrot and red onion. Adjust the amount of sugar and vinegar to suit your tastes; way nicer than pre-prepared dressing.

~ if, like me, you’re not a fan of big pieces of raw red onion, you can blanch rings or wedges in boiling water for two minutes before adding to your salad. You still get the flavour without the nasty bite.

~ dress cooked new potatoes with a combination of mayonnaise and basil pesto (3:1), then add toasted pine nuts, fresh basil leaves, and shavings of parmesan cheese.

~ curb your roasted vege cravings by drizzling bite-sized pieces with olive oil and liquid honey, then roasting for 30-40 minutes until tender. Allow to cool before adding crumbled blue cheese (feta would be good too), and a dressing of olive oil, liquid honey, lemon juice and seasoning. I made this for our early Christmas dinner over the weekend and we all had second helpings….it was divine, if I may say so myself. I used parsnip, kumara and courgette, but any roastable vegetable would work.

~ play around with different dressings until you find something you like. Try adding dijon mustard and brown sugar to a basic oil/vinegar mixture, or add fresh orange juice as your acid. As long as you taste before adding to your vegetables, you really can’t go wrong.