Welcome to Eat Well Every Day

Welcome to Eat Well Every Day!

I've spent years researching nutritional information, food ideas and recipes, because cooking and eating - especially with family & friends - are some of life's great pleasures. And guess what- healthy food doesn't have to be boring! It can be exciting and delicious!


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Saturday, December 17, 2011

More Gluten-free Festive Baking

I finally got my act together and made two batches of Burnt Butter Crisps, complete with the chocolate dollop on top. Here they are:

A colleague was talking about gluten-free biscotti, and I remembered I had a recipe for Christmas almond bread, which really is biscotti with an English name. Here’s the recipe:

Christmas Almond Bread

Like the Piparkakut, this needs forward planning, as the bread rests for a week before the final baking It may be too late for Christmas Day, but you can have it ready for Boxing Day, as something not sweet or chocolaty. Or as a New Year’s Eve nibble to go with the bubbly.

4 egg whites
125 grams (4 oz) caster sugar (superfine white sugar)
125 grams (4 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
125 grams (4 oz) whole blanched almonds

Beat the egg whites until stiff, stir in the sugar, and beat well, like making meringue. Fold in the flour and the almonds.

Bake in a greased and lined loaf tin at 180C (350F), for 30 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the centre comes out clean. Turn out onto a cooling rack, and when completely cold, wrap in a clean tea towel or foil and store in the pantry for a week.

With a very sharp knife, slice the loaf as thinly as you can. Cut each slice into fingers. Spread on a baking tray and toast in a low oven (66C, 150F) for about 20 minutes until pale golden and crisp. Store in an airtight tin. These keep for a long time, unless all eaten over the holiday weekend!

Have a wonderful festive season! More good food ahead in 2012.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gluten-free Christmas Goodies

I was all fired up for a session of baking Christmas biscuits – not cookies, because these spicy delights are crisp and slightly chewy, not soft and cakey. But I ran into a problem, or rather two:

1: I couldn’t decide between making the Finnish ginger snaps (Piparkakut), which recipe I pulled from someone else’s cooking blog a few years ago, or my daughter’s variation on burnt butter crisps.
2: I didn’t have all the ingredients needed for the Piparkakut, nor enough gluten-free flour and sugar for both. Drat!

So, instead, I’ll give you the recipes for both, and after I’ve been to the supermarket and bought supplies, I’ll post a photo of whichever Christmas biscuit I decide to bake. They are very easy to make, and both recipes work well with gluten-free flour.

These spicy biscuits are perfect as little gifts, or just another sweet nibbly on the Christmas table. I’m not sure if they’re suitable for Hannukah, but if they are, that’s great. They’re also lovely at other festive occasions, or just for when you want something sweet and spicy.

V’s Burnt Butter Crisps

½ cup (100 gram) unsalted butter
1 cup castor sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped into sugar, or 1 teasp vanilla essence
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup plain (all purpose) flour
¼ teasp cinnamon
½ teasp cardamom
½ teasp nutmeg (optional)
2 or 3 grinds fresh black pepper
pinch of salt

I’ve been calling these ‘burnt’ butter crisps, but actually, the trick is to brown the butter without burning it. Put the butter in a small, heavy saucepan, let it melt and continue to cook, watching the whole time, until it browns. Leave to cool slightly.

In a large bowl put the sugar and vanilla. In another, sift the flour and spices together. Pour the browned butter over the sugar and mix well, then stir in the egg. Add the sifted flour and spices, and mix until blended thoroughly.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on biscuit trays (cookie sheets) lined with baking paper. Put them about 2 inches apart to allow room to spread. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 12 minutes, or until edges are turning golden and the tops have begun to crinkle. Let cool on the trays for a few seconds, then remove and cool completely.

You can serve them plain like this, or go for the chocolate option. Alternatively, make one batch plain, one batch chocolate-topped and offer them together.

The Chocolate OptionMelt a handful of good dark, semisweet chocolate chips in a double boiler, or a heavy based saucepan over another pan of boiling water. Take off heat, stir in an extra ¼ handful of chocolate chips, stirring until they melt. Drop a dollop of chocolate on top of each biscuit and allow to set.

Finnish Ginger Snaps (Piparkakut)

These take a bit of planning ahead, as the dough has to rest in the fridge or somewhere cool for at least 12 hours (and up to 2 days) before baking.

125 gram (4 oz) golden syrup or light molasses
2 teasp cinnamon
2 teasp ground ginger
1 teasp ground cloves
Rind of 1 orange, finely chopped
150 gram (5 oz) salted butter
150 gram (5 oz) sugar
1 egg
1 teasp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
500g (1lb, 2 cups) plain (all purpose) flour

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl, then beat in the egg.

In a small pan, combine the syrup and spices and bring to the boil. Allow to cool slightly, then add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and stir well.

Sift the flour and bicarb in to mixture and mix into a dough. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 12 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to very hot –250C (480F). Divide the dough into quarters and roll out very thinly (approx. 2mm or ¾inch). Cut with a biscuit (cookie) cutter into rounds, or stars, trees and other Christmas shapes, and place on a baking tray. Bake for 5-6 minutes until golden brown. Leave on tray for 5-10 minutes to cool before moving them to a cooling rack.

Nutritional value

These festive biscuits are not super healthy or brilliantly nutritious. There may well be microtherapeutic benefits from the spices. But they don’t claim to be super foods. Just cheery, spicy, seasonal treats from the Northern European midwinter to this year’s chilly Australian summer.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gluten-free Baking

I had a query from a follower of Eat Well Every day, who said wistfully that she loved the sound of the ginger and almond cookies, but was afraid to make them as she has been advised to eat gluten-free, and wasn’t confident about substituting.

I know exactly her problem! I’ve been trying to eat gluten-free for some years, and have had to take it seriously in the past 12 months, once we discovered I have one gene for coeliac disease, and therefore can’t tolerate gluten. To compound the problem, as part of my diet to keep me strong and healthy while suffering ITP, I’m also on a lowish-carb diet and avoiding all grains (as much as possible).

So I can reassure this person – and anyone else with a gluten-tolerance problem – that every cake and cookie, quiche or slice I put up on this blog has been made gluten-free.

Gluten-free pear and almond loaf

Is it hard to substitute when cooking gluten-free?

The honest answer is yes – at first. I was fortunate in having a good friend who is both a nutritionist and married to someone with coeliac disease, so she was very experienced in cooking gluten-free. She passed on some basic cookie and cake recipes, which I still use. From them, I got the basics of substitution.

The main problem is that gluten-free flour does not respond in the same way as wheat flour. It has much less body without the gluten, and often doesn’t rise as well, take up the same amount of liquid as wheat flour, or cook in the same time. Some flours, like rice flour and corn flour (corn starch) are very light. Soy flour, on the other hand, is quite heavy, and has a strange smell, which fortunately disappears in cooking. Soy flour and besan flour (chickpea flour), another heavy one, are best combined with lighter flours.

So you experiment. Be prepared for failures, or more likely, not quite perfects. Once you get the hang of it and find a flour or combination of flours you like, gluten-free cooking is just as much fun and the results as delicious as cooking with wheat flour. (I say wheat, because that’s mainly what flour is, but if you’re avoiding gluten, don’t forget to by-pass rye and oats. No more rolled oats, but brown rice flakes make a perfect substitute.)

Commercial gluten-free flours

Commercial gluten-free flour mixes, while more expensive than wheat flour, are fairly easy to find at your supermarket or health food store. Before I had to avoid grains, I found a commercial mix of rice flour, soyflour and tapioca quite good, although it was rather lumpy and needed sifting two or three times.

Now I use Orgran all-purpose flour, which is made from maize starch (corn flour), tapioca flour, rice flour and guar gum. It’s a lighter mix, and the ratio of rice flour to other ingredients is lower. I don’t usually endorse commercial products, but I’ve found this mix very easy to use, with consistently good results.

For some recipes, such as the pear and almond cake, and the next recipe, I add a bit of extra body by substituting with a couple of tablespoons of besan flour.

So, to the recipe: Beetroot Chocolate Brownies

This is my take on Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall's Chocolate and Beetroot Brownies. I was quite taken by his idea of treating beetroot as a fruit, and copied the recipe a couple of years ago, before I got serious about baking gluten-free. Now I've modified it to omit the wheat flour.

250g (10oz) dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces, or dark chocolate chips
250g (10oz) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, plus more for greasing
250g (10oz) caster sugar
3 free-range eggs
150g gluten-free flour (1½ cups), plus 2 tablespoons of besan flour
baking powder (baking soda) to make flour mix rise
250g of beetroot, boiled until tender, peeled and grated or chopped very fine
A 20x30x3cm (8x12x1 inch) baking tray (known in Australia as a Swiss roll or lamington tray)

Turn the oven on to 180C (350F). Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl or jug, and put on a lower shelf in the oven to melt. When partly melted, stir, and put back for a few more minutes to melt completely.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar together, and in a separate bowl, sift the flours and baking powder together. Cut or grate your cooked beetroot.*

When the butter and chocolate are melted, mix them, a little at a time into the egg and sugar mixture. Then fold in the sifted flour very gently, and lastly, the beetroot. Do not beat, just mix together gently.

Pour mixture into a greased and lined tray, smooth the top, and bake in the top of the preheated oven until just cooked. According to H F-W “a knife or skewer pushed into the middle should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Don't be tempted to overcook them!”

He says 20 minutes should be long enough. However, whether because of the g-f flour, the fairly large eggs, or a slightly lower oven temperature, my brownies took 30 minutes. Test every few minutes after the 20 minute bell.

Leave to cool in the tray before cutting into squares. Makes 24.

*To cook beetroot: Scrub gently under cold water, but do not cut roots off or peel the vegetables. Put in a large pot with plenty of water, cover, bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, or until tender. Allow to cool slightly, then, protecting your hands with rubber gloves, slip the peel off and remove the roots.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Almonds and Pears

“Almonds and pears” – sounds like something out of an old nursery rhyme, or maybe some Cockney rhyming slang. But it isn’t either of those, it’s two ingredients that are cheap, plentiful and healthy, which combine together beautifully in many recipes, especially cakes and cookies.

I’ve told you about pears – ‘the gift of the gods’ and why pears are counted in the top 100 healthiest foods.

But what about almonds? The humble ‘nut’ (botanically, it’s a ‘drupe’ not a nut, but who’s counting?) of a tree related to peaches and apricots, with the most glorious blossom in early spring, the almond has been revered for thousands of years as a symbol of fertility and happiness. When you see the white froth of almond blossom, you know spring is just around the corner.

Believed to have originated in the North of Africa and western Asia, almonds are now grown in many countries with a Mediterranean climate, including Australia. Australia is the world’s third-largest producer of almonds, after California and Spain. No wonder we can always get fresh almonds relatively cheaply!

Almonds can be bought as plain raw nuts, roasted, blanched, blanched and slivered or flaked, or as almond meal. Because the Omega-3 and Omega-6 content can be damaged by high heat, it’s preferable to dry roast the nuts yourself, instead of buying commercially roasted almonds. Put them in a single layer on a baking tray and roast for about 20 minutes in a low oven (no higher than 100C or 212F).

Almonds’ high nutritional value

Because of their subtle flavour, almonds can combine with almost any other food But it’s not their versatility that includes them in the ‘healthiest foods’ – these nuts are actually given ‘qualified health claim’ status by the United States’ Food & Drug Administration in recognition of the health benefits of eating almonds every day.

For such a small item, an almond packs a mighty nutritional punch. As well as their high protein content, almonds have monounsaturated fat, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, fibre, and as much calcium as cow’s milk, along with good amounts of Vitamins A, C, E and D, all the B vitamins, folate and Vitamin K. Then there's the minerals: copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.

So, to the recipes: Pear and Almond Cake

Almonds combine beautifully with pears in this cake, which can double as dessert, warmed slightly and served with cream, icecream or yoghurt. Or you can toast slices and spread with soft butter.

2 cups sugar
3 cups pears, peeled and diced,
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour and baking powder to raise,
1 teasp bicarb (baking soda)
1 teasp salt
2 teasp cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup oil or melted butter
2 teasp vanilla essence
1 cup slivered almonds

Mix together the pear pieces and sugar and leave for 20 minutes or so to develop juices.

Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon and raising agents, then add rest of the ingredients and stir well. Bake in a greased large square tin or a Bundt pan at 180C (350 F) for 1 hour.

Ginger and Almond Cookies

Remember to make the dough well ahead of when you want these cookies, as it has to sit in the fridge for several hours to firm up before baking.

¾ cup (190 g/6 ounces) of softened butter
1 cup packed, soft brown sugar
2 tablesp light molasses, honey or Golden Syrup
1 egg
1½ teasp baking powder
½ teasp salt
1 teasp fresh ginger, grated finely, or at least 1 teasp ground ginger (more if you prefer)
1¼ cup plain (all purpose) flour
1 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
48 blanched whole almonds (cheaper to blanch your own.)

In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses/honey/Golden Syrup, the egg and ginger. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then mix into sugar and butter mixture until you have a soft dough.

Form the dough into two logs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Meanwhile, blanch your almonds, if you haven’t bought ready blanched ones. Put them in a heatproof bowl, pour hot, (not quite boiling) water over them and leave to cool, when you can slip the skins off.

Cut the dough in slices and shape these into walnut sized balls. Put about 2" apart on a greased cookie sheet, and press a blanched almond into centre of each ball, flattening them slightly. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a 175C (350F) oven until lightly browned on bottom.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More Hearty Winter Casseroles – Goulash

This is another of my old favourites from the 1970s. Cooked slowly in the oven for three or four hours, it transforms stewing steak or gravy beef into a savoury, slightly spicy – and in the 70s, distinctly exotic – dish redolent of paprika, tomatoes and caraway seeds. There's a potato topping to this casserole, or you can add dumplings instead to make a really filling dish

A Hungarian friend has since told me this is not an authentic goulash, so I haven’t called it Hungarian Goulash, as the 70s recipe did!

500 gm (1lb) stewing steak, cut into 4cm (1½ inch) cubes
500 gm (1lb) potatoes, sliced thinly
400 gm (12 oz) canned tomatoes & their juice
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
slurp of oil for sautéing
1 tablesp paprika, sweet or hot, (or a mixture, depending how hot you want the goulash)
1 tablesp marjoram (or oregano if no marjoram)
1 tablesp caraway seeds
1 teasp sugar
Hot stock, about 2 cups – you may not need all of this

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are soft but not browned. Remove to the casserole. Turn up the heat and brown the beef cubes briskly all over. Sprinkle with the herbs and spices and add to the casserole.

Pour the tinned tomatoes and their juices into the frying pan and stir briskly to pick up any bits of meat or onion left behind. Add sugar to balance the tomatoes’ acidity, and pour into the casserole. Stir the mixture together. Add the hot stock, gently, a little at a time, until the meat is just covered with liquid.

Cover the casserole and cook at 160C (325F) for an hour and a half. Lower the temperature to 150C (300F) and cook for another hour and a half. While the casserole is cooking, make the dumplings, which you will add before the last 30 minutes of cooking.

If you’re not doing dumplings, layer the potato slices carefully over the top of the meat, pouring a little more hot stock over them to moisten them. Leave the lid off the dish and cook for the last 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and slightly crispy.

For the dumplings:
60 gm (2 ounces) self-raising flour or plain (all-purpose) flour and ½ teasp baking powder
a 250 gm packet of suet mix
Water, about ¼ cup to mix

Mix ingredients to a stiff dough. Divide into 8 and roll into small balls. Add these to the casserole when there is still 30 minutes of cooking to go, burying them in the stock. You may need to add a little more stock if the dumplings aren’t covered.

Serve with steamed and buttered carrots and cabbage. Serves 4.

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hearty Winter Casseroles - Boeuf Bourgignon

August has just begun and at last we’re on the downhill run to Spring. But it is still winter, and August is the month when the old saying “as the days grow longer, the cold grows stronger” holds true. So, despite sunny days in Sydney that can reach 21C at midday, there are still chilly nights and gloomy grey days, (especially in Melbourne and Tasmania), and that means warming winter stews.

Stews and casseroles are interchangeable terms. Technically, a casserole is cooked in a casserole dish in the oven, while a stew simmers gently on the top of the stove. But really, they are interchangeable, the main point to remember is to cook slowly and gently. You can use a crockpot or slow cooker, a casserole or a stewpot, but DO NOT use a pressure cooker! Pressure cooking a stew results in tough meat and bland flavours and is a waste of good ingredients.

In an earlier post I wrote in praise of meat as a treat, not as something to be had every day. In that post, I talked about lamb – my favourite meat, and one of the world’s 100 healthiest foods.

So this time I’m focusing on beef – actually stewing steak and gravy beef, (sorry, I don’t know the equivalent US term). Australia is fortunate to have high quality meat that is relatively inexpensive, and stewing steak and the slightly fattier gravy beef are budget pleasing cuts. They are cheap, incredibly nourishing, and respond best to slow, gentle cooking, melting into tenderness and creating rich flavours with the other ingredients.

What’s so good about beef?

• High quality protein with all the essential amino acids in one package in relatively large amounts. One hundred grams of beef contains approximately 33 grams of protein.
• Iron, specifically haem iron, the easiest one to absorb. Iron is so essential for avoiding anaemia, and for enabling the blood's red cells to carry oxygen around the body. That 100 grams provides a hefty three to four milligrams of iron.
• Vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12, zinc, selenium and phosphorus – good amounts of these essential vitamins and minerals.
• Tryptophan, the “feel good” food element. Tryptophan is an amino acid that works as a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite and mood. Foods rich in tryptophan are said to be “good mood foods”. Beef has tryptophan in spades – 100 grams contains about 0.33 grams.

So to the recipe: Boeuf Bourgignon

This is not the upmarket version that Guillaume Brahimi prepares, but a more budget conscious, down-to-earth casserole that’s probably nearer the French peasant original. As the name suggests, the meat was originally cooked in Burgundy. Since appellation contrôlée, we can no longer buy Burgundy in Australia, so choose a hearty red wine such as a cabernet-merlot or cabernet shiraz blend. Even a good cask wine will serve the purpose.

1kg (2 lb) stewing steak cut into 4cm (1½ inch) cubes
125 gm (4 oz) streaky bacon, cut into strips
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 (or more) garlic clove smashed or chopped
1 teasp salt and ¼teasp ground black pepper
1 tablesp plain flour
500 ml (2 cups) red wine
250 ml (1 cup) beef stock (or chicken stock)
2 tablesp tomato puree
½ tsp thyme
1 bay leaf

16 small button onions or shallots peeled
60 gm (2 oz) butter
2 tablesp olive oil
375 gm (12 oz) button mushrooms

Put the flour with the salt and pepper into a large paper or plastic bag, and shake gently to mix. Drop in the beef cubes, a few at a time and shake to coat the meat with seasoned flour. Keep the bag firmly closed as you shake, you don’t want flour flying all over the kitchen and you!

If your casserole is safe to use on the stovetop, fry the bacon strips in it until the fat is rendered out and the pieces are crisp. Use a large frying pan if you can’t fry with the casserole. (The frying pan needs to be big enough to hold the meat, vegetables, stock and wine.) Take out the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add a big slurp of oil and heat until sizzling, throw in the meat cubes in batches so as not to crowd them, and brown all over. Set aside with the bacon. Now add the carrot and chopped onion and fry briefly.

Put the bacon and meat back into the casserole/frying pan, add the tomato puree, thyme, bay leaf and garlic, then pour in the red wine and stock. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, stirring as it boils, and turn down to a low simmer. Allow it to simmer gently for five minutes to cook off all the alcohol, then transfer casserole to a preheated 160C (325F) oven. Cook for 3 to 4 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms and shallots. Heat up half the butter & olive oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onions or shallots for about 10 minutes until softened and brown. Set aside and repeat with rest of the butter and oil and the button mushrooms.

When the meat is tender, pour off as much of the liquid as you can from the casserole into a saucepan. Pop the cooked onions/shallots and mushrooms into the casserole, tucking them in around the meat. Bring the cooking juices to a boil, and simmer until reduced to about a third. Pour back into the casserole.

Serve with potatoes, either steamed or mashed and creamy, and steamed green vegetables.
Serves 4.

Another Beef Casserole in the next post!

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pumpkins and Pears

It’s midwinter in Sydney – pale blue sky, sunshine, temperatures around 15-17C (60F), despite a chilly wind. Local councils are planning mid-winter festivities for the school holidays, with ice rinks in the parks or on the main streets. Meanwhile, up in the Blue Mountains they’re enjoying real winter – 100 kilometre/hour winds bringing trees crashing down on train lines, power outages, and sleet or even snow when the wind drops.

So, clearly it’s time for some winter comfort food! Keeping with our seasonal and affordable theme, I’m thinking pumpkin soup and a pear dessert. Pumpkins are one of nature’s wonder foods. They grow by themselves – a handful of seeds from a shop-bought pumpkin will transform into vines sprawling over your compost heap, backyard or balcony, and a minimum of two, and probably many more, pumpkins to last through winter and into spring.

No room for opportunistic pumpkins? No worries! At this time of year, all varieties of this giant squash – Queensland Blue, Jap, Butternuts and Golden Nuggets – are cheap as chips at the greengrocers. Butternuts are more expensive, perhaps for their thinner skin, but the other varieties keep better.

Golden Colour = Carotene

What are pumpkins good for, apart from cheapness and staying power? In a word, carotene. Pumpkins’ golden yellow-coloured flesh shows they are full of health-promoting carotenoids, including alpha and beta carotene, (precursor to vitamin A) – powerful antioxidants to combat free radicals that damage cell structure and DNA.

The really dark orange-fleshed pumpkins, such as butternut, also contain luteine, another form of carotene which is helpful in protecting the heart and for men, the prostate gland.

Pumpkin seeds, which many people like to eat roasted and salted, are high in protein, oil and B vitamins, and make a great garnish for vegetarian dishes. Don’t bother roasting the seeds of Queensland Blue – I found out the hard way they are virtually inedible, and even cockatoos disdain them!

Pears – Gift of the Gods

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods , pears were once known as “the gift of the gods”, but which gods is not explained. They are, however, a gift for people with food allergies, as pears are one of the few fruits no-one gets a bad reaction to, and can be eaten on a food elimination diet. Also, like their cousins, apples, they’re versatile, working well in sweet and savoury dishes.

Everyone knows pears are a good source of fibre, which plays a role in managing cholesterol levels, but they have other goodies as well. Despite their subtle flavour, they're a good source of Vitamin C, and also copper. Both help to protect against free radical damage and stimulate the immune system, vital in winter, with colds and flu around.

Beurre Bosc pears (sometimes pronounced Burey Bosk) are small brown pears that are best stewed or otherwise cooked. The bigger green ones are Packhams or Williams. They’re the cheap winter varieties. Green pears will ripen, even in winter, over a week or so in a fruit bowl, or in a paper bag if you’re in a hurry, and can be eaten fresh. You can buy lovely little red or gold coloured pear varietiess at famers’ markets, delicious to eat in a winter salad, if your budget stretches that far.

So, to the recipes

I would guess every Australian likes pumpkin soup, and most people know roughly how to make it. So here’s a variation I came across recently that neatly combines the two ps:

Pumpkin and Pear Soup

2 cups peeled pumpkin, cubed
2 cups peeled pears, cubed
1 leek, thoroughly washed and chopped roughly,
4 cups chicken stock or water
2 teasp grated fresh ginger (or 1 teasp ground ginger)
sea salt & white pepper to taste
¼ of a pear, peeled, cored & sliced thinly as a garnish (optional)

Put all the ingredients (except the garnish) in a large heavy-based pot, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin and pears are soft. Puree in blender or with a stick processor, and adjust the seasonings.

For the garnish, gently heat a couple of tablespoons of butter in a shallow pan and saute the pear slices until golden brown.
Serves 4

Pears with Cardamom Cream

This recipe heightens the somewhat bland taste of stewed pears with apple cider and lemon zest, and the subtle spiciness of the rich cardamom cream.

5 firm (not hard) pears, peeled, cored & sliced thinly
3 cups of apple cider (alcoholic or not, as preferred)*
zest of 2 lemons

Simmer gently until pears are soft but not mushy.
* Ginger beer could be used instead of cider.

5 egg yolks
2 cups milk (dairy or soy)
2 tablesp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split
3 cardamom pods, crushed.

Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk, add the pod and cardamoms, and heat gently for five minutes to infuse the flavours. In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar.

Add the warm milk gradually, whisking it into the eggs, then pour it back into the saucepan. Continue cooking over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Serve over the stewed pears
Serves 4

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stocking Up for Winter

With the colder weather upon us, at least in the southern hemisphere, it’s time to think about simple warming foods like soups and stews that use fresh ingredients complemented by what you’ve got stashed in your pantry and freezer.

As well as a recipe for chicken stock, I’m going to tell you a way to preserve garlic, a tasty mushroom spread, and the easiest way to keep fresh ginger fresh

Making Stock

As discussed in my previous post, good home-made stock is a great basis for just about any type of soup, and can also add a depth of flavour to stews, casseroles and gravy. Making stock takes time, but it’s pretty easy, and the results, as well as being full of minerals and flavour, are much cheaper than the ready-made stuff. You need to allow time for the stock to cook, and time to drain it, so it’s a good idea to start the night before. You also need a deep enough stockpot to take up to six litres of liquid, plus all your meat and vegetables. It’s best if it’s a heavy based one, but I’ve managed for several years with a cheap stainless steel pot that always feels too light, but does the job.

It's possible to make beef stock, but that involves a LOT more time and some very big bones, so I very seldom make it. Chicken stock is a great all-rounder. It's also possible to make a vegetable stock, but it isn't worth the effort - it doesn't keep well, and it's easy enough to make fresh each time.

Basic Chicken Stock

2 kilos (5 lbs) of chicken necks (very little meat) or chicken drumsticks (lots of meat)
large handful of salt,
3 or 4 bay leaves
8-10 black peppercorns
Celery leaves
3 large onions, skin on, cut in half
4 carrots chopped in quarters
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablesp white wine or vinegar (helps to dissolve the minerals in the bones)
5 litres of cold water.

Put all the ingredients in your stockpot, bring to the boil and allow to boil vigorously for 10 minutes, then turn down and simmer for an hour. If using the chicken drumsticks, now is the time to pull them out and strip of all the meat, then throw the bones back in and simmer for another 45 minutes. The chicken necks can just be simmered for the whole time. Keep an eye on the pot that you don’t lose too much liquid from evaporation.

When the simmering is done, turn off and allow to cool slightly while you put together your draining set up. You need a large colander, balanced over a pot big enough to take the approximately 3½ litres of stock. Pour the contents of the stockpot careful into the colander, scooping all the solids in as well. Cover and leave for a couple of hours, overnight is good, for every drop of goodness to drip through.

Throw all the solids into your compost bin, put the stock back on the stove and bring to the boil. Let it boil vigorously for at least five minutes to sterilise it, then pack it while hot into freezer containers. Any fat in the stock will rise to the surface and solidify in the freezer, and can be scraped off before you use your delicious and nutritious stock.

Hint: Keep a bread bag in the freezer and every time you prepare vegetables for a dish, put the trimmings in the bag. (Don’t use potatoes or potato peelings, they make the stock taste muddy.) Tops and tails of carrots, the outer skin of onions, the coarse ends of celery, and in particular celery leaves, are all good, and provide the basic aromatics for your stock. When you buy a bunch of celery, cut the leaves off immediately to stop the plant transpiring and losing its crispness. The leaves add valuable minerals – calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium – as well as flavour to your stock.

Keeping garlic in the freezer

Recently my local greengrocer had an over-supply of garlic and was offering 5 heads for $1. That’s way more garlic than I usually buy, especially in this rainy weather, when I’ve had garlic – the natural antibiotic – go mouldy! But I reasoned it should be possible to freeze garlic, and after a bit of Googling, I found several suggestions. Here’s my favourite. It takes a bit of chopping, but you have instant garlic.

Chop the garlic cloves roughly and put in the blender or food processor with some oil – about 1/3 cup to a cup of chopped garlic. This is vague I know, but it’s a matter of how much oil you think is just right. You don’t want it too runny but not too dry, as the oil helps prevent the garlic drying out. Whizz the mixture until it looks chopped enough for you. Decant into small airtight containers, label and freeze.

The neat thing about this method is that the mixture doesn’t freeze completely solid. It’s easy to scoop out as little or as much as you want without thawing the garlic. If you’re the sort of person who uses lots of garlic butter, simply replace the oil with butter. I would increase the proportion of butter to garlic, probably to 1:1. It’s all a matter of taste. Either way, you get all garlic’s health benefits – the antioxidants and polyphenols – especially allicin – that protect the heart and circulatory system and lower LDL cholesterol. To say nothing of it’s magnificent flavour!

Savoury mushroom spread

The same greengrocer had an abundance of white mushrooms, also very cheap, so I bought about 1 kilo (2lbs). As mushrooms are very light, you can imagine what a large lot that was. What I had in mind was a similar trick to preserving the garlic – some way to freeze the shrooms so they would be delicious when defrosted. I found this recipe in an old paperback on preserving. It was intended for wild fungi picked in the early morning from a dew-laden field, but it worked just as well for my cheap urban shrooms.

4 cups chopped mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
At least 1 clove garlic, chopped fine or minced
1 tablesp olive oil
1 teasp soy sauce
1 teasp dried savory or rosemary
1/2 teasp dried thyme or oregano
1/4 teasp nutmeg
1/8 teasp black pepper
a few grinds of coarse sea salt

Sauté the onion and garlic gently in the oil. When the onion starts to soften, add the mushrooms and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer about 10 more minutes over low heat.

Decant the hot mixture into small air-tight containers, label and freeze. This is good on toast, as a sauce for steak, chops, sausages – anything that would be improved with a dollop of mushrooms. It goes well in an omelette, and is handy for boosting the flavour of soups and casseroles.

Freezer-fresh ginger
Keeping ginger in the freezer is ridiculously easy. Simply cut the ginger rhizome into chunks about the size you would normally use. Leave the skin on, and wrap each chunk in cling wrap, then drop the chunks into a ziplock bag, or a handy bread bag. You can peel and grate or chop your ginger chunk while it's still frozen. (Don't defrost it - it goes soggy and uncooperative.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Winter Warmers

Winter has come to Sydney a week early, according to the Weather Bureau. In Australia, we don’t worry about seasons changing with the solstices, summer begins on December 1, and winter on June 1. This year, the cold, grey and very windy weather (including snow mountain ranges in southern NSW and Victoria), prompted the Bureau to shift the season back a week. Time for thick woolly jumpers (sweaters), heaters and hot water bottles. And warming winter dishes.

Super Soups

Apologies for the alliteration, I seem to have been infected with the alliterative bug! But I do think soups are super! A good home-made soup makes a filling and nourishing meal with the addition of a slice or two of toast, warm muffins or crusty bread. So, two recipes today are warming soups bungful of flavour and nutrition. But first, a note about making stock.

All soups taste better and have more minerals and other vital nutrients, if made with home-made stock. Making stock is one of those chores that fills the kitchen (and your whole place if you have a small flat like mine) with savoury steam and the sense of job worth doing. Stock keeps well in the freezer, so you have it on hand to whip up a soup or add depth of flavour to a casserole. (I’ll give a recipe for making chicken stock in my next post.)

Spicy Red Lentil Soup

Lentils are ideal for quick winter dishes like soups and dhals, as they need no soaking before cooking. Although relatively bland themselves, they soak up spices and aromatic flavours. They are high in easily digested fibre, have good amounts of protein and folate, and a surprisingly amount of antioxidants. As one of the first foods cultivated by humans, you’d have to say lentils have proved their worth!

The lentils used in this recipe are red, but the soup turns a beautiful yellow from the turmeric. It is not hot; the spices add subtle flavour, not heat. If you want it hot, add 1-2 teasp red chili powder to the spice mix.

1 cup red lentils
2 onions, chopped
1-2 sticks of celery, chopped,
garlic, chopped fine, at least 2 teasp
2 carrots chopped into cubes
large slurp of oil, preferably olive oil
1½ teasp turmeric powder
1 teasp cumin powder
salt and pepper to taste
5 cups of stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)

Heat the oil gently in a heavy bottomed saucepan and sauté all the vegetables except the garlic for 7-10 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the spices and garlic, stirring to release the flavours. Add the lentils and mix together to coat the lentils completely with the spices.

Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, lower heat and simmer for about 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Simmer gently another 5-10 minutes before serving. Superb with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream, quite delicious without.
Serves 4

Aigo Buido (Provençal garlic soup)

This quick and aromatic soup is great for fighting off winter colds, or just for making you feel full of vigour. It’s from an old recipe I cut out of a magazine 30-odd years ago, so I don’t know who to credit for it – apart from the Provençal people themselves. Only make it if you like lots of garlic! Garlic can truly be considered a wonder food. It’s an excellent source of Vitamin C and other antioxidants, it acts as a natural antibiotic and it stimulates to the immune system.

At least 6 large garlic cloves minced or chopped very fine
6 cups of stock
1 teasp salt
½ teasp dried thyme or oregano
1 bay leaf
4 fresh sage leaves chopped
1 egg
2 tablesp chopped parsley

Bring the stock to the boil, add the garlic, herbs (except parsley) and salt and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Beat the egg in a small bowl with a tablesp of cold water. Add a ladleful of hot stock and stir together, then pour back into the hot stock. Serve at once, topped with the chopped parsley, and eat with crusty bread or dry toast croutons.
Serves 4

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Colour-change your Menu to Autumn Tones

Autumn has just arrived in Australia, and I feel as though I have emerged from a long hibernation. Now at last the cooler weather is starting and I’m beginning to feel alive again, and looking forward to being creative with the season’s foods.

Those intervening months have seen floods, cyclones, droughts and bushfires in various food producing parts of the continent, which as well as causing pain and loss to the people affected, also means some fruits and vegetables are scarcer and more expensive than normal. But, the canny shopper can generally find a bargain, especially if they don’t mind surface blemishes, or produce that needs to be eaten or preserved quickly. As ever, the rule is “don’t go with a specific food item or recipe in mind, go and see what produce is cheap and plentiful, and base your meal around it.”

Autumn – a colourful season for produce

Summer’s on its way out, and so are all the tropical fruits, berries and stone fruits. No more mangos! Some summer fruits are lingering, but no longer at their peak – late ripening plums and the last of the melons. Rockmelon & honeydew melon are still sweet and relatively cheap, so farewell summer with a melon bowl.

But in their place is a colourful cornucopia of autumn fruits: many varieties of apples and pears, nashis, grapes – red, black and green, figs – purple and white, an abundance of limes, passionfruit, oranges, tamarillos, cumquats and persimmons. All of them packed with Vitamin C and other antioxidants, fruit sugars, fibre and flavour!

Veg it up in Autumn

Glorious as the autumn fruits are, they don’t have it all to themselves. There are lots of colourful, tasty and healthy vegetables waiting for the discerning cook to choose them.

For end of season salads before the weather demands warm meals there are Fuerte avocadoes with their deep green glossy skin darkening to a purplish brown as they ripen, red, green and yellow capsicums, cucumbers and late season tomatoes.

Autumn veggies are some my favourites, coming as I did from a cold climate state. Pumpkins come into their own in Autumn, and when the weather gets cold enough, I’ll be making pumpkin soup with my home-made chicken stock. That warm golden hue comes from pumpkin's rich supply of alpha- and beta-carotenes. Pumpkin also goes remarkably well with lamb or chicken in a slow cooked casserole, or as the old Aussie favourite: lamb chops with mashed pumpkin, peas and potato. Or roasted in the oven either with a lamb roast, or in a baking dish with onions, garlic, potatoes, some olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and rosemary stems. The smell as they’re cooking is positively aphrodisiacal!

Other veggies offer themselves for creative colourful and flavour-rich dishes – shiny purple eggplants (aubergines), for example, appear in Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, Indian, and probably lots of other nationalities’ cuisines, usually with onions, tomatoes and garlic. Leeks and zucchini are also wonderful mixers, adding their own gentle flavours to soups, casseroles, quiche fillings, omelettes and bean dishes.

Mushrooms are in their element in autumn – the delightfully named ‘Slipper Jack’ which grows in pine forests and is related to porcini, is available at gourmet greengrocers. But for the mushroom lover on a budget, the standard white mushroom is wide open as big meaty flat caps, great for grilling or roasting, stuffed with a breadcrumbs, thyme, garlic and olive oil.

Then there’s sweet corn. Available all year round frozen or tinned, these are nothing like fresh sweet corn. Corn on the cob is a childhood favourite, simply boiled or steamed and slathered with butter or olive oil. The butter runs down your chin, the corn skin gets stuck between your teeth, the corn cob burns your fingers – the experience is sheer messy fun!

So, to the recipes:

One for the meat-eaters among us, and one for the vegetarians. I’ve adapted a Lebanese recipe for stirfried chicken strips marinated in lime juice, by adding julienned pumpkin.

Chicken with lime and spices

4 chicken breast fillets, or 8 chicken thigh fillets (thigh fillets have more flavour and are usually cheaper than chicken breast)
3 tablesp freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablesp olive oil
1 teasp ground coriander
1 teasp ground cumin
½ teasp turmeric powder
at least 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
A chunk of pumpkin about half the quantity of the chicken pieces, cut into julienne strips

Cut the fillets into thin strips and marinate in 1 tablesp of the oil, with the lime juice and spices. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, longer if possible.

Heat remaining oil in wok or heavy frying pan. Stirfry the chicken strips for about 5 minutes, add the julienned pumpkin continue stirfrying until both are cooked, about another 5 minutes.

Serve in pita bread or on rice, garnished with the fresh mint and with hummus and or salad on the side.
Serves 4-6

And from my 40-year-old Greek cookbook, comes this Greco-Turkish eggplant dish, Imam Bayaldi.
Imam Bayaldi

1 kg (2lbs) small to medium eggplants
6 ripe tomatoes, or 1 large tin tomato pieces
4 onions, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablesp parsley, chopped
1 teasp sugar,
1 cup olive oil (you may not need all this)

Cut the eggplants in half and spoon out the seeds and most of the pulp, leaving a thin layer inside the shell. Discard seeds, and put the pulp in a dish. Sprinkle salt inside the shells, and stand upside down in a colander for 30 minutes. Either fry eggplant shells gently, or cook in boiling water, until cooked but still firm.

Mix together chopped onions, garlic, tomatoes, sugar, parsley and eggplant pulp, and season with salt and pepper. Gently fry the mixture in about ½ cup of oil. Allow mixture to cool and stuff into the shells. (If the mixture is too sloppy, firm it up with breadcrumbs or ground almonds.) Drizzle a little more oil over the top

Pack the filled shells into a wide bottomed pan or baking dish and either cook gently on top of the stove or in a medium-low oven for 45 minutes. Leave to cool and serve at room temperature or warm.
Serves 4-6

Buon Appetito!