Saturday, January 20, 2018

Thai green eggplant curry

It's a ferociously hot day in Canberra so, perhaps counter-intuitively, I've made a curry. The quantity here is enough for the two of us for dinner tonight, plus two more weeknight meals (for the freezer).

1 tablespoon green curry paste
1 tin (560 ml) coconut cream
20 Thai eggplant, quartered
hot red chillies, chopped (quantity to taste)
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn into pieces
20 leaves Thai basil
3 to 5 tablespoons fish sauce

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of coconut cream until boiling. Mix in the curry paste and stir for a minute. Slowly add the rest of the coconut cream, stirring continuously for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add a cup of water, then the lime leaves and fish sauce. When it returns to the boil, add the eggplant. Turn down heat when eggplant is cooked. Taste, adding more fish sauce if necessary. Remove from heat and mix in the Thai basil and chilli. Serve over rice.

All of the ingredients above can be obtained from Southeast Asian grocery stores. Happily, I used kaffir lime leaves from my own garden ;-)

Thai eggplant are about the size and shape
of golf balls, and range from white to green

The finished product. Yum!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Pumpkin scones

Many years ago, my colleagues and I used to frequent a French cafe for lunch. All the staff there had fabulous French accents. I remember asking the waiter what the soupe du jour was one day and he replied, 'It is pumpkin, Pumpkin!' Pumpkin still reminds me of that day ...

Today I adjusted my pumpkin scone recipe to have more pumpkin and less flour than usual. It worked well.

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
3 cups wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir in the butter so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then add the eggs. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to take to work for lunch.

Serve with a rustic salad for a summer dinner

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Brekkie @ Penny University

Eating at Penny University is like being a patron of the arts, only better: you get to eat the art rather than having it clutter up your home. We've been to Penny University in Kingston a couple of times before (see here for a previous visit ... one year ago this week) and the food is always delicious, nutritious, and gorgeously presented. Today was no exception. We started with drinks, a long black for Andrew and a soy matcha latte (with a dusting of cinnamon) for me. It was hard to select from the menu as EVERYTHING sounded wonderful, but eventually we chose:

For him:

Banoffee croissant French toast, with banana, crushed
peanuts, vanilla whipped mascarpone, caramel popcorn, salted
caramel and shaved chocolate, with a side of bacon

For me:

'The Deep Dark Wood Breakky': Mixed mushrooms,
almonds and kale, sautéed with truffled honey, served with
house-made cauliflower brioche and whipped goat's cheese

Just magnificent. The menu operates all day so you can eat breakfast-style foods for lunch, or lunch-style foods for brekkie, if you like. Nice. Penny University is not cheap; in fact at almost $60 for today's breakfast it's probably the most expensive brekkie we've ever eaten. But for times when you feel like splurging on culinary art, it is perfect.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Summertime pizza

When it's too hot to use the oven (as it most certainly is in Canberra today) but you still fancy home made pizza ... the answer is rice cakes!

Simply pile your ingredients on top of rice cakes and grill. Delicious and quick ...

Tonight's dinner: rice cakes with tomato paste, basil, tomato,
mozzarella and anchovies. (Omit the anchovies for a vego version ;-)

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Carrot and coriander soup

Coriander [cilantro] seems to invoke strong reactions. You either like it or you hate it. I like it, so this is one of my favourite soups ...

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 leek, chopped roughly
1 kg carrots, chopped roughly
3 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch coriander, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and leek and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add carrots and stock, and simmer till carrots are soft. Remove from heat, and purée until almost smooth. Reheat till almost boiling, then add coriander, pepper and salt.

Enjoy! Serves four. This recipe freezes well too.

I made a batch of this soup just before Christmas. 
Happily the carrots were suitable for human consumption too

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

So, this is 2018. Happy New Year! I don't usually make resolutions (too easy to break) but do set measurable annual goals for myself. Stuff like living within my means, minimising purchases and waste, getting plenty of exercise, supporting my favourite charities, continuing my three volunteer jobs and cooking plenty of spicy food

This year promises to be challenging and exciting, perhaps in equal parts, as I'm planning to reduce my hours at my day job and increase the amount of freelance editing, volunteering and gardening I do. Since we bought our house eighteen months ago I've become absolutely enraptured with the joys of gardening! A recent article suggested that exposure to bacteria in soil has an antidepressant effect. I can believe that.

Our first boysenberry crop

You know you've moved to the 'burbs when you
excavate four balls in a single morning of weeding

Since deciding to semi-retire I've been making an ever-growing list of things to do with all my expected extra spare time. Things like reorganising the kitchen, taking classes in various household maintenance activities, sewing and knitting, writing, drawing, creating macrame thingimijigs to complement our 1978 house, learning history and languages with the U3A, volunteering at a local nature park and so on and so on ... it's all very exhilarating.

A friend put me on to the idea of hand knitting dishcloths. What a lark!

Whatever else I do this year, I plan to keep exercising at least ninety minutes per day. That's been my (achieved) goal for the past two years and I'm hoping it'll ward off (or at least delay) all the genetic nasties (diabetes, arthritis, heart disease) lurking within me.

If you'll excuse me now, I have to go and dig in the garden ...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Keep calm and carry on (making rice paper rolls)

After several days of delicious Christmas excesses we're back home and I'm craving simple, fresh, vegetable-packed foods. Tonight we're having Vietnamese rice paper rolls. I know, I know ... not very photogenic. But a satisfying summer meal!

100 g bean thread (or rice) vermicelli
1 cucumber, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
fresh coriander [cilantro], chopped
about 10 mint leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)
Vietnamese rice paper sheets
sweet chilli sauce

Soak the vermicelli in boiling water for a few minutes then drain and put aside to cool. Chop the vermicelli (kitchen scissors work well) and combine with the cucumber, carrot, coriander, mint and sesame seeds.

Dampen a tea towel with water and spread it out on a flat bench. Fill a sink or large plate with water. One by one soak the rice paper sheets in the water (15 seconds seems about right) then place on the tea towel, put a handful of the vermicelli filling in the middle, roll up as neatly as possible and place on a wire rack for a few minutes. Serve with sweet chilli dipping sauce.

This quantity makes about ten rolls, depending how much filling you manage to get into each one. Enjoy ...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Art of Frugal Hedonism

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays ... or whatever greeting you prefer at this time of year! As always I'm hoping for a clutter-free Christmas. The gifts I'm giving are virtual (e-book vouchers), experiential (a trip to the ballet, a haircut, meals out, visits to exhibitions, food and wine) and charitable (donations to my favourite good causes). Fingers firmly crossed I finish this week with no more tangible possessions than I have now.

Anyway, time for a book recommendation. I am currently reading The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less while Enjoying Everything More on my Kindle and it's an absolute delight.

Seriously. Read this book!

I've been on a bit of a journey for, well, decades, to find ways to live happily and meaningfully with minimal possessions and waste. As I get older it seems even more important as I'd like to (a) retire from my day job sooner rather than later, and (b) not leave a house full of crap when I die. Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb's book is a joyous roadmap to leading a frugal, ethical and healthy life. It is beautifully written and inspiring.

If you're still looking for a last-minute gift for someone, I bet they'd love the e-book. Or you could give them a hand-made voucher offering your time (in the garden, pet sitting, walking around a gallery, whatever), or a virtual goat. Or some home made shortbread or granola. Cheers!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Splendiferous Hobart

Last week my partner and I visited Hobart, Tasmania. He attended a conference and I caught up with friends we hadn't seen for ages. It was fabulous!

Lunch at Midori

Lunch at Coal River Farm

Fashions from 150 years ago at Narryna

A glimpse of CSIRO's research vessel


Lunches and soft-scuplted fridge (!) at MONA

View from top of Mount Wellington / kunanyi

Floral delights on Mount Wellington / kunanyi

Local honey from Unpacked

... and some guerrilla knitting spotted at Salamanca Market!

We had a splendid time. In case you think it was all about food, my friend and I also walked, and walked, and walked ... totalling about 20 hours of walking over the six days. Phew ;-) Hobart is a lovely place to visit.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Walnut and vegemite sandwiches

While wandering around Victoria last month we bought one kilo of fresh walnuts. Yum! Today I resurrected a favourite lunch treat from when I was a kid: walnut and vegemite [or marmite] sandwiches. The first time I tried this combo was when I was about ten and headed for my first school camp. My family had recently stumbled across a walnut tree and were gorging on fresh nuts (have you tried them? so delicious!) and my mum recalled marmite and walnut sandwiches from her own childhood. A salty, crunchy delight.

Can't wait till lunch time ...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Scottish shortbread goes a-roving

Lately I've become fascinated by chickpea [besan or gram] flour. It's a South Asian staple and I first tried using it in this recipe for besan laddu, finding it so delicious I started brainstorming what else I could make with it. Here is today's experiment ... Scottish shortbread meets Indian chickpea flour meets Peruvian cacao nibs.

200 g butter
3 heaped tbsp icing sugar
150 g wholemeal flour
100 g besan [chickpea] flour
0.5 cups ground rice or cornflour
cacao nibs (optional)

Cream butter and sugar, add dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Roll into balls and place on baking tray. Bake at 150 degrees C until a delicate brown (about 30 minutes in my ancient oven but your mileage may vary).

Makes about two dozen. Store in an airtight container.

Mmmmm, crunchy

Chickpea flour is gluten free and has a much stickier consistency, when wet, than some other gluten free flours such as rice flour. This could be a handy feature when baking for coeliac friends. More experimentation may be required!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Around the world in many tea towels

As I've often ranted and raved here, I don't like accumulating stuff. I'm definitely in the Swedish death cleaning phase of my life and hope never to acquire anything I don't need or want again. That said, there are still some staples of daily life we do need and use. Like tea towels. Over the years I've bought tea towels from many places I've visited. It is fun to be reminded of past travels while doing mundane activities like drying dishes. I usually manage to squeeze many years of use out of them before they become thin and tattered; at that point they begin their next phase of use as bathroom cleaning cloths. Here are a few that put a smile on my face and remind me of past jaunts to exotic locales ...

New Zealand (Australians may recognise the bird New
Zealanders call 'Pukeko' as the 'Purple Swamphen'

Grumpy cats from Japan

Canberra (again)

 Canada (oh, Canada)


Tea towels also make great (reusable) gift wrapping. Why wrap a bottle of wine in something tacky and disposable when you can hand it over in a cow-print tea towel?!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Asparagus, mushroom and blue cheese risotto

Asparagus season has arrived in Canberra! This recipe is a delicious celebration of asparagus. I made some risotto today to take to our friends' place for dinner tomorrow ...

4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
2 leeks, diced
2 cups arborio rice *
6 cups vegetable stock
400 g asparagus, cut in angled 2 cm slices
100 g oyster mushrooms, cut into strips **
2 cups white wine
100 g blue cheese, crumbled
black pepper, to taste
100 g grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, add garlic and leek, and cook until leek is translucent. Add rice, and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes until all rice grains are coated in oil. Add 1 cup stock. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently. When stock is almost absorbed, add another 1 cup stock. Repeat process, 1 cup at a time, until 4 cups absorbed. Add wine, mushrooms and asparagus. Once wine is absorbed, stir in remaining stock, one cup at a time. As you add the final cup of stock, add blue cheese and pepper. Stir until cheese melts and rice is tender but firm. Serve on a warm plate and top with a sprinkle of parmesan.

Serves four with leftovers. Green salad and crusty bread make good accompaniments.

*   actually, while I know it breaks with tradition, I usually use basmati rice as it has a lower glycemic index than arborio rice
** this time I used Shimeji mushrooms as my local organic shop didn't have oyster mushrooms. Aren't they cute?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Try this salad!

My friend Jacqui recommended this recipe for a colourful corn salad. I tried making it yesterday and it was delicious! So good we ate it for both dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday. The only alteration I made was to replace the jicama with a finely-chopped green apple. (Why? Because I don't know where to buy jicama in Canberra. Suggestions welcome.)

A happy, crunchy, summery dish. Enjoy.