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Five serves of vegies a day.  Doesn’t seem like much, but it’s amazing how many days I realise I haven’t had my five serves.

I’m harvesting squash, tomatoes and capsicum from the garden, our new chooks are laying, I’m having lots of fun with sourdough, and I’ve been racing off to work every morning to sit at a computer all day lately and not getting enough exercise.  So this is my current favourite breakfast.

(The Breakfast Challenge??)

The Recipe:

For one – multiply by the number of people.

You need a nice heavy frypan with a lid for this. It takes less than ten minutes to make.

  • Slice a large button squash in half and use a dessertspoon to scoop out the middle.  Place it cut side down in a frypan with a tiny bit of olive oil over a medium heat.  Put the lid on and don’t peek too much.  Cook for a couple of minutes until the squash just starts to brown.
  • At the same time, in the same pan or another if you are making for a few people, sauté some spring onion, capsicum, tomato, and if you like a bit of spice, a little chili.
  • Turn the squash over.  Salt and pepper it and put a little dab of butter in the scooped out centre.
  • Spoon in tomato-onion-capsicum mix to nearly fill the hollow.  Hollow out the middle of this mix a tiny bit and break an egg into it.
  • Pour a tiny bit of water into the pan, enough so that the squash is sitting in a few millimeters.  Put the lid on the pan and turn the heat down to medium-low.
  • By the time you have toasted some sourdough for soldiers, the egg should be set and the squash tender.

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After floods followed by heat wave, my garden has practically no leafy greens in it.  The parsley and celery keeled over in the wet – they hate waterlogged roots and although my drainage is pretty good, it wasn’t up to 150mm of rain in a day.  The lettuces and rocket keeled over in the heat wave, not up to several days in a row over 40º.

But that’s ok.  Summer salads need more crunch and cool than leaf-based salads anyway. This is one of my favourite summer salads, great with anything on a barbeque.

The Recipe:

I like snake beans best for this salad, but french beans work too.  Blanch beans by cooking for just a couple of minutes in boiling water, then cooling straight away in cold water, so they are still crunchy.

Beans are the stars and it is best not to over-elaborate: some diced cucumber and sliced capsicum and red onion go well,  but leave out tomatoes or leafy greens.

Toss through the dressing and it’s done.

Dressing:

1 dessertspoon olive oil
1 dessertspoon  lime cordial
1 dessertspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
few drops sesame oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs – mint, vietnamese mint and culantro or coriander are my first choices, but you could also include lemon, lime or Thai basil.

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I nearly share a birthday with my father, so I made these for our shared birthday dinner.  We had family and friends for dinner, and  the last thing I wanted to do on my birthday was to be so busy I missed all the jokes.  The recipe is elegant enough to be a celebration dinner, economical for a large group, and it can be made well ahead of time.  And those of you who have visited before will know my thoughts about kangaroo as the red meat of choice.

The Recipe

The Meatballs

Finely chop

  • 2 medium onions
  • 5 or 6 cloves of garlic
  • a cup of fresh oregano leaves

In a big mixing bowl, add them to

  • 1 kg kangaroo mince
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 dessertspoons of worcestershire sauce
  • a good grating of black pepper

Use your hands to knead the mix until it is well combined.

Wet your hands and shape the mix into balls (wet hands will stop them sticking).  Fry quickly in a hot pan in a little olive oil until they are browned. (They don’t need to be cooked through).

The Sauce

In the same pan, saute

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 chopped capsicum

Add about 1 kg of peeled tomatoes (I used tomatoes that I had bottled last summer) and 3 or 4 bay leaves.  Cook for a few minutes (depending on your tomatoes) until it reaches a good sauce consistency. Taste and add a little salt, and maybe, depending on the sweetness of your tomatoes, a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar.

Assembling

In a casserole dish with a tight fitting lid, put a layer of sauce in the bottom, add your meatballs, and pour the rest of the sauce over.

Bake in a low oven for an hour or so, or until your guests are ready to eat.  It won’t matter if it sits in the oven longer.

I served the meatballs with a double batch of  Green Green Polenta, and asparagus and snow peas sauteed in butter and lemon juice, and it served 9 comfortably with birthday cake to follow.

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The Recipe:

The Base:

There are a million recipes for pizza bases on the internet.  Making your own base is easy and pretty foolproof, (much more forgiving than making bread) but it does need an hour and a half or so for the yeast to work.

Basically, for one pizza you need to dissolve a scant teaspoon of dried yeast in half a cup of warm water in a bowl.  Add a dessertspoon of olive oil and a dessertspoon of plain flour, cover and put it in a warm spot for 10 minutes until it goes frothy. Then add a cup of plain flour and half a teaspoon of salt.   Tip the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead for a few minutes, incorporating more flour as needed, until the dough feels smooth.  Oil the inside of your bowl and roll the dough ball around in it to coat, then cover with a damp tea towel and put the bowl in a warm spot to rise for about an hour.  It should double in size and feel springy.

Knead the dough again briefly then roll it out.  Put it on your pizza tray and back in your warm spot to rise again for about 15 to 20 minutes.

The Topping:

There are lots of substitutions possible, but the basic idea is something sweet, something acid,  something salty, and something bitter. For one pizza:

  • The Sweet: Caramelized Pumpkin and Onion:  Chop about 2 cups of pumpkin into dice, and an onion into fine slices.  Put them in a heavy pan with a lid, with a little olive oil, 2 dessertspoons of balsamic vinegar, and a good teaspoon of brown sugar.  Cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes until the pumpkin is al dente and the onion is caramelized.  You can add some chopped oregano and/or basil at the end as well. Then sprinkle over your base.
  • The Acid:  Roasted Tomatoes and Capsicum: Slice about 10 cherry or grape tomatoes in half.  Sprinkle them with salt and put them skin side down on a baking tray.  Slice a capsicum (or a few mild chillies)  in strips and put them on the tray too.  Roast them for a few minutes (as your oven warms up is fine), then scatter amongst the pumpkin.
  • The Salty:  Anchovies or Olives, and Feta Cheese: Scatter a few anchovies or olives, and crumble low  fat fetta cheese over the top.  (I’ve tried it with ricotta cheese too, but to my taste it really needs the saltiness of feta).
  • Bake the pizza for 10 minutes or so in a hot oven until the crust and the tips of the feta are browned.
  • The Bitter:  Scatter liberally with torn rocket and serve.
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This all started with an item in the Sunday papers about how women really should do weights training. I looked at the weights, but that idea lasted all of about two seconds.

But then I spotted the tray of beans drying ready for storage. The trusty old hand grinder and five minutes grinding beans and I had a jar full of besan (bean flour) – much more fun than weights.

Which of course led to the idea of a besan based breakfast. This seems like a complex recipe, but it came together in 15 minutes, and that includes the bean-grinding time!

The Recipe

Mix together half a cup of bean flour (you can find it in whole foods shops or Asian grocers if you don’t get inspired by the idea of grinding as weight training), with one egg, a desertspoon of mild-flavoured oil (like grapeseed oil), a scant half teaspoon of bicarb, and enough water to make a pancake-style batter.

Let it sit to soak together for a couple of minutes while you finely chop a good half cupful of vegetables and herbs. For this batch I chose:

a desertspoon of ginger
a half a desertspoon of fresh turmeric
a small capsicum
a small bunch of each of chives, culantro, and mint.

It is best with Asian-style flavours, but you can vary the vegetables and herbs.  Thai basil, mint, spring onions, ginger and capsicum also works well.

Mix into the pancake batter, and add half a desertspoon of soy sauce or tamari.

Fry in oil in a heavy frypan, hot but not full-bore, for a couple of minutes on each side till golden.  I topped these with avocado, tomato, cucumber and chilli jam, but minted cucumber yoghurt raita and chutney is also a good topping. Makes two large or four small very yummy pancakes.

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My partner came back from a trip to the coast with octopus.  I’ve cooked baby octopus before, marinated briefly and cooked fast on the barbeque.  But these were a bit larger than the babies I’d cooked before.  What to do with them?

They were fresh caught locally, a by-product of fin-fishing.   I can find plenty of sources recommending against baby octopus imported from the Gulf of Thailand or Japan, but it seems Australian octopus is sustainable.

Which is good because octopus is a decent source of Omega 3 and 6, low in saturated fat, and a good source of several minerals (zinc, iron, copper, selenium) along with protein and some of the B vitamins.

There’s a few stages in preparing it, but the result is worth it.

Chop the heads off ½ kilo of octopus just below the eyes.  Pop the beak out from the middle of the tentacles.
Turn the heads inside out, empty out the contents and rinse them.

Put both tentacles and heads in a pot, cover with water, boil for 5 minutes and drain.

You will now be able to just rub off the skin.  You don’t need to get all of it off, just the easy to remove bits.

Heat some olive oil in a heavy pot and saute an onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 2 stalks of celery with some of the leaves, a tablespoon of basil and a tablespoon of oregano, a capsicum, a zucchini, four or five tomatoes (all chopped) and a cup of red wine.  This is a very nice stew, but to my taste it needs a bit of zing – either a finely diced chili or a finely diced piece of preserved lemon to take it up a level.

Bring to the boil and simmer very gently, covered, for about an hour.  Check it occasionally and add some water if it is boiling low.  Taste the octopus.  It should be very tender.  If not, just simmer longer.

Taste the sauce and add lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle some chopped parsley on top and serve.  Served over couscous or with crusty bread, it makes two bowls for dinner, or it would make four very tasty entrees.

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As seasonal a recipe as they come, this eggplant with pizza topping is easy and fast.

Slice  eggplant into 1.5 cm slices.  Salt and drain for an hour or so.  Rinse, pat dry, and rub with olive oil.

Bake for 20 mins or so till just starting to soften.

Cover with pesto, then pizza toppings of your choice: onion, capsicum, tomato, olives, mushroom – all finely sliced.

Top with a mixture of low fat cottage cheese and grated parmesan cheese in about a two to one ratio.

Pop it back into a hot oven for 10 minutes or so till the cheese mixture bubbles and browns. Good with a crunchy salad.

Bunya Pesto

I made the pesto for this batch with bunya nuts, and it was divine!  We have bunyas growing but the trees are young and don’t fruit every year. These ones came from some cones that some friends (thanks Ashley and Annie!) collected  from a roadside tree.  The big green cones fall apart as they ripen, releasing the nuts inside, that look like this:

I pressure cooked the bunyas for 20 minutes then cooled them, then cut them in halves and scooped out the nut.

There is a knack to doing this without cutting your fingers off.  Use a big heavy knife – the kind you’d use for a pumpkin.  Hold the nut with one hand, sitting it on its fat end, and get the blade of the knife dug in across the pointy end.  Shift your holding hand to the top of the knife and cut down.  Once you have the knack, it’s easy and fast.

Then it’s simply a matter of blending together basil and bunyas with olive oil, and adding just a little parmesan cheese, and garlic, and salt to taste.

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They aren’t hugely photogenic, but they were really good!  This is one of those miracle dishes that seem to make a small amount of ingredients go a long way – great if you are stretching out dollars or calories, or trying to rustle up something really nice for unexpected guests. This recipe makes 15 pikelets,  most of the ingredients will come out of a summer garden, and it comes together in less than 10 minutes.

Separate 2 eggs and put the yolks in the blender and the whites in a small bowl.

Cut the kernels from a cob of corn and add to the yolks, along with a tablespoon of milk, a small chili, a good tablespoon of herbs and a pinch of salt. My herbs of choice for this are thyme and tarragon, but you could take the flavour profile in another direction with chives and coriander, or parsley and lemon basil.

Blend until the corn is finely chopped but not smooth. Add a small capsicum and just hit the pulse button to chop it but not turn it into paste. Mix in a tablespoon of wholemeal SR flour.

Beat the egg whites with an egg beater till soft peaks form. (With fresh eggs this will take literally 20 seconds – I timed it!) Fold into the corn mix.

Drop tablespoons into a pan with a little olive oil, and fry just a minute or two on each side till golden.

They’re good for breakfast or in a lunchbox, and really good with salad and hot tomato and mango chutney or a tomato salsa.

Tomato Salsa

Finely chop and mix together a small red onion, two or three ripe tomatoes, and a couple of tablespoons of fresh basil or coriander. Add a chili if you like your salsa spicy. Add a desertspoon of balsamic vinegar, a grating of black pepper, a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of lime juice. Mix well and let it sit for 10 minutes or while you make the pikelets.

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Into the blender, a good handful of basil leaves, a small chili, a clove of garlic, swig of good olive oil, pinch of salt. Add some fresh oregano if you have it, and perhaps a small handful of macadamias or cashews.

Into the pan, a chopped onion, capsicum, zucchini, snake beans, olives in a splash of olive oil and saute.

Into the pot, a relatively small amount of pasta (the vegetables are the stars of the dish – the pasta is just to carry them) in boiling water.

Toss the three parts together, grind over black pepper, and a grating of parmesan.

Nearly all out of the garden and Yum. And literally five minutes, no thinking required.

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