Category Archives: Food

A kale salad for a hot summer evening

Kale saladIn Brisbane the summer rains have revitalised my garden but have also contributed to raising the humidity without dropping the temperature. By the end of these steamy days we are all wilting, appetites dulled by the heat and even the traditional rocket and spinach salads look limp and uninviting. This is when I resort to a kale salad that with its sturdy leaves always looks bright green and tempting. I don’t add too many ingredients to a kale salad, as they get lost amongst the strong curly leaves. In fact a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil, with a scattering of walnuts and of course slivers of Parmesan with its slightly nutty sweet flavour is absolutely perfect.

Parmesan is one of my favourite cheeses; I love its flavour and its versatility in cooking. So of course when I found an opportunity to visit a small co-op cheese-making facility in Emilia-Romagna I didn’t hesitate. Our guide was a charming English woman married to a local Italian and she explained the process as we watched.

The amount of fat is crucial in the production process. The previous evening’s milk from which the fat has been removed to make butter is combined with the fresh morning milk in enormous copper cauldrons. Here it is heated gently and stirred and whey that is rich in lactic acid is added from yesterday’s production to acidify the mixture. The heat is turned off and calf’s rennet is added to coagulate the milk. Curds start forming soon after and are stirred using a traditional tool called a ‘spino’ that breaks the curd into granules.

Separating and draining the 'twins'.

Separating and draining the ‘twins’.

The mixture is reheated to 55°C and cooked for about an hour. The curds sink to the bottom of the vat and start to form a mass. Then using wooden paddles the cheese makers lift the curds in a muslin cradle before a cheese maker expertly slices the mass in half. These ‘twins’ are wrapped in muslin and hung from poles to drain. The whey is collected for the next day’s cheese making or to feed the pigs from which prosciutto is made.

The cheese soaking in the brine bath.

The cheese soaking in the brine bath.

The curds are then transferred to round wooden containers where they are given a unique number, branded with month and year and dairy registration for easy identification.  After further draining the cheeses are placed in long vats of brine where they bob around for 24 days.

Racks of drying Parmesan.

Racks of drying Parmesan.

The final maturation process occurs when the cheese wheels are placed on shelves in curing rooms where they rest for at least a year and up to three before being released for sale. Every 10 days the cheeses are wiped free of mould, brushed dry and turned.  Independent testers determine whether the cheese meets the high standards expected by the Consorzio el Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.

This kale salad travels well if taking on a picnic or to a friend’s home and is delicious.

Kale salad with walnuts, Parmesan and lemon.

  • A couple of leaves of kale
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped walnuts
  • Grated rind of a lemon
  • Slivers of Parmesan (or Pecorino if you don’t have Parmesan)
  • olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette
  • Extras: slivers of black olives and sliced green shallots

Remove the hard core and leaf stems from the kale then cut it into small pieces. Pour a small amount of lemon juice into a bowl. Because kale is so tough, which does mean good fibre in your diet, it improves if it is massaged with a little lemon juice and salt. Dip your fingers in the lemon juice and massage the pieces of kale before placing in the salad bowl. This also gives it a lovely colour. You can see the difference in the colour in the first picture where there is a small section of the leaf that wasn’t rubbed. It is much paler.

Kale gets better also if it is allowed to rest for a couple of hours so this salad is even nicer made ahead of time. Sprinkle the kale with finely chopped walnuts and grated lemon. Place slivers of Parmesan over the top of the kale and toss in a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. I sometimes toss slivers of stoned Kalamata olives and shallots over the top of the leaves. IMG_6360

A Summer squash salad

Our unseasonal hot weather is stretching my imagination for summer salads that tempt the taste buds. Seeking inspiration I rummage through the vegetables in the fridge and came up with what I think is a perfect salad: a marriage of colour and tasty. I served it on the pretty yellow Laburnum Petal plate available at my Maddie & Marie online shop.

The squash and zucchini salad is tempting and tasty.

The squash and zucchini salad is tempting and tasty.

 

I served it on a pretty lemon yellow plate and drizzled a saffron infused vinaigrette over the top. I added a few beans which were also in the fridge but you could use other firm green vegetables such as the stem of asparagus or broccolini. It was delicious.

2 small yellow squash

2 small to medium zucchini

A handful of green beans

A handful of rocket or small English spinach leaves

Slivered almonds, toasted

Fresh parsley

If you have a mandolin this makes slicing easy, otherwise slice the squash and zucchini very finely. Steam the green beans until just cooked. I prefer them to be crunchy. Toss the vegetables together with the rocket or spinach leaves. Sprinkle the toasted slivered almonds over the top with ripped parsley leaves.

 

Easy to make Summer Salad

Easy to make Summer Salad

To make the vinaigrette:

Saffron threads infused in 2 tablespoons hot water

Juice of half a lemon

Light olive oil

1-2 tablespoons tahini

½ teaspoon mustard

Salt and pepper

Blend together the saffron infused water, lemon and olive oil in the combination of ⅓ water and lemon juice and ⅔ oil. Add the mustard and tahini and taste for flavour. Add salt and pepper. The longer you leave this dressing the brighter the yellow colour becomes.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve to gasps of delight.

Chilled Carrot Soup


Summer is here way too early;  30 degree days but at least the evenings are cool. I had invited friends over for a Sunday evening meal and wanted to prepare something ahead of time so I could enjoy talking with them rather than rushing around in the kitchen. I wanted something pretty and summery in colour and flavour.

Carrot Soup is a glorious summery colour

Carrot Soup is a glorious summery colour

Not only was I providing a delicious entrée but I suggested I was giving them youth dew.    Carrots are rich in anti-oxidants including beta-carotene which is thought to play a role in helping our immune system and possibly lower the risk of developing cancer or heart disease. Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A which aids eye health and revitalises the epithelium.

Carrots also contain Vitamin C another strong anti-oxidant, plus smaller amounts of Vitamin K, E,  B6 and B12. It also contains calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and potassium for your heart and blood pressure. Plus of course all that fibre, with no fat or cholesterol.

So to the Chilled Carrot Soup recipe which is such an easy recipe and so delicious.

Because I had run out of chicken stock I made a vegetable stock first with the ends of some asparagus I had in the fridge plus the leaves from the leek, half a small onion chopped, a bay leaf, sprigs of parsley and thyme,  the peels and ends of the carrots and a few black peppercorns which I simmered for 40 minutes before I used it in the soup.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek finely sliced,
  • 750 g carrots, peeled with the ends cut off and sliced
  • Sprig of thyme, or chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (or light chicken stock)

Add the oil to a large soup pan, and sauté the chopped onion and leek over a gentle heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, stir to combine then add the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots are tender.

Cooking the Carrot Soup

Cooking the Carrot Soup

Remove from the heat and blend until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This soup is also lovely served warm.

Flavouring ideas: you can add fresh coriander to the mixture while cooking, or ½ teaspoon ground cumin or 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger to give the soup a Moroccan flavour.

Hints: If you have run out of stock, use unsweetened carrot juice to add flavour rather than just use water.

 

 

The carrot soup

The carrot soup

Serving suggestions:

  • A swirl of sour cream, a scattering of coriander or thyme and a grind of pepper
  • I whipped up some crème fraîche until it was thick, then added finely chopped garlic chives from the garden and some thyme,
  • Lightly steamed carrot balls which are then chilled

Preserved Lemons

My delicious preserved lemons

My delicious preserved lemons

Preserved lemons: their beautiful colour and flavour enhance every dish they are added to. I use it in meat dishes to give a Middle Eastern and Moroccan flavour particularly to chicken and lamb. I add it to couscous, bulgar and quinoa salads and roasted vegetables.

How could I let myself use all my preserved lemons without preparing another batch? I had been waiting of course to try to get unwaxed lemons from my local market or from my trees but the timing hasn’t been right. It doesn’t take long to make a batch and it is so satisfying every time I open the fridge to see the squat bottle filled to the brim with beautiful jewel coloured lemons pickling in the salted water. I am collecting my recipes that use preserved lemon in anticipation.

Select a wide-mouthed jar to make it easier to push the lemons into. I use a Kilner jar. Sterilise the jar by boiling it in a large saucepan of water for a few minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

To prepare:

Lemons, preferably unwaxed

A bay leaf, preferably fresh

Salt –

Water or lemon juice

 

Wash the lemons in warm water to assist in removing any wax. Cut the lemons into quarters almost to, but not completely to the bottom of the fruit.

Pour a spoonful of salt into the lemons and squash it into the jar, keeping upright to retain as much salt as possible in the fruit. Continue to do this packing in the lemons as tightly as possible into the jar. If you can keep the lemons whole they look better, but you can also add halves and quarters to fill the spaces in the jar. Don’t worry if the salt spills out into the jar. Once the jar is full of lemons, fill the spaces with either water or if you have lemon juice left over from another recipe, add that as well. Try to remove all the air pockets. I add a bay leaf to the top of the jar for colour and flavour. You can also add coriander seeds for additional flavour.

Close the jar tightly and leave undisturbed for at least a month.

 

To use: Remove the lemon from the jar, scoop out the flesh and discard. Rinse the rind and then slice or chop it according to the recipe that you are making. Bon appetite!

 

Chocolate Banana Cupcakes

By mid-morning I am wilting under the influence of a heat wave in Brisbane with temperatures reaching 31°C. My coffee habit is entrenched but instead of hot coffee I make myself a Frappé Coffee using chilled brewed espresso, a small amount of low-fat milk and ice blocks. It is delicious but I still feel the need for something sweet to nibble on. There is no ice-cream in the freezer and no sweet biscuits.

I am not the only thing in my kitchen looking the worse for the heat. A solitary home-grown lady finger banana lies in the basket looking particularly unappetising with its blackened skin. The heat has probably caused it to over-ripen which is why both Andy and I have avoided eating it for breakfast. I don’t like waste and I need a chocolate fix so the only thing to do is make some chocolate and banana cupcakes. Within 30 minutes I am sitting under the fan on my deck, newspaper in one hand, Frappé Coffee on the table and I am taste testing my fresh batch of  delicious cupcakes.

I decided to make this recipe as it uses canola or light olive oil rather than butter and my husband can then justify eating them without worrying about his cholesterol levels. It is also easy because it doesn’t need a mixing machine.

fresh from the oven - chocolate and banana cupcakes

fresh from the oven – chocolate and banana cupcakes

Chocolate and Banana Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Place small muffin paper cases into muffin tins or lightly butter the muffin trays.

1 cup castor sugar;  1cup plain cake flour;  ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder;  1 teaspoon baking powder;  pinch of salt;

1 large egg, (free range if you can get it);  ⅓ cup of banana, smashed. My small lady-finger was perfect and wasn’t too soft. You could use up to ½ cup if you prefer a stronger flavour;  ¾ cup low-fat milk (or a mixture of milk and water);  ¼ cup of canola or light olive oil; ½ – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder.

In another large mixing bowl, blend the egg, the smashed banana, the milk, oil and vanilla. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients and blend well. Pour the batter into the muffin cups ¾ full or to the top depending on how rounded you want the rise to be. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. If using large muffin pans you might need to cook them for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

chocolate and banana cupcakes

chocolate and banana cupcakes

These cakes were so nice they didn’t need to be iced. The mixture makes quite a lot of little cakes, about 20. By the time I sent some over to my grandson for pre-school, given my parents some for their morning tea, Andy and I had just enough left for a couple of days. I think the oil keeps them lovely and moist, and they keep in the fridge for a few days.

Madeleines keep memories fresh

These petite cakes are a delightful way of recalling a french holiday.

These petite cakes are a delightful way of recalling a french holiday.

I needed a reminder of my time in France and decided that Madeleines with all their associated history would be just the treat to bring memories back. I also wanted to use the silicone miniature Madeleine molds I bought in Paris. The very sound of the word Madeleine brings memories of holidays in France where my husband and I would sit in a café, sipping a coffee and indulge in one of these light irresistible cakes and watch the world pass by. These buttery little cakes are so delicious and are terribly easy to make (a type of génoise gateau). Perfect for busy cooks. This mixture does not contain any rising agent. It is the shock of cold to hot that assists the rising.

The trick is to allow the batter to rest and to chill it. This is what makes it such a perfect cake. If you know you are having a girlfriend drop by either later that day or the even the following morning you can make the batter up, then place it in the fridge. When you are ready to cook them, make sure the oven is hot and then just pull the batter out of the fridge, scoop it into the molds and stick them straight into the hot oven. Voila. 10 minutes later you have beautiful freshly baked cakes to impress your family and friends. Like any small cakes, they are most delicious eaten the day they are made but if there are any left over they taste wonderful the next day, particularly dipped into a cup of coffee or tea.

Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). If not using silicone molds, butter the Madeleine tins well with melted butter. This mixture makes 12 – 20 Madeleines depending on whether you use the miniature or traditional size molds.

52 g (1.8 oz) unsalted butter;  60g (2oz) castor sugar;  2 eggs;  1 teaspoon vanilla, (other flavourings such as orange water or rose water, grated rind of a lemon, lime or orange, cardamom etc.;  52 g (1.8 oz) plain cake flour

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and allow to cool. Put sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl and beat together until the mixture forms a thick mousse.  Add the vanilla to the mixture and blend well. Other flavourings can be used.

Fold in the sifted flour and using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix well. Fold in the melted butter and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour and even overnight.

Remove from the fridge, divide batter between the molds filling them about ¾ full. The fuller the shell, the rounder the hump on the cakes will be. Cook for about 7-10 minutes until golden. Remove from the pans immediately and allow to cool on a rack. Make a cup of coffee or tea pick up a cake and sit back and enjoy.

IMG_6303

 

Papaya flower stir fry

As you can see in the photo the flowers are very pretty and complemented the broccolini beautifully both in colour and size but goodness they are very bitter.IMG_5923

First I rinsed the flowers under running water to get rid of the sap, then blanched them. I sautéed finely sliced shallots, then added one smashed garlic clove, a teaspoon of shrimp paste heated in the oven, and a green chili finely chopped. I fried these up quickly, added the broccolini stems then the broccolini flowers and the papaya flowers.

I sprinkled rich chicken stock over the vegetable mixture and cooked them for a minute. The mixture looked very pretty but it was so bitter that I sprinkled 2 tablespoons of coconut sugar over the mixture before serving it to make it more palatable.  Although it was tasty, the bitterness is certainly an acquired flavour.

Papaya plants

I love breakfast. I wake up hungry and look forward to munching on fruit and toast and fresh coffee every day. In fact, if I don’t eat breakfast I am not a happy person, as my husband will testify. I never tire of eating breakfast and I think my favourite dish would be papaya with its colour of a pink and gold sunrise, the sweet distinctive smell and then the delicious flavour enhanced with a touch of lime juice. Yumm! This treat I took for granted until living in Los Angeles where I was disappointed in the quality of the imported papaya. USA import regulations use a hot water treatment which requires the papaya to be immersed in hot water at 48°C for 20 minutes that although it might kill fruit fly, tends to cook the outer layer of flesh and skin of the fruit thus altering the taste and flavour of the papaya. The fruit end up looking wrinkled and unappetising and I am not going to tell you what they remind me of (just use your imagination).

So it was with great excitement after moving back to Brisbane and its sub-tropical climate that I have grown a couple of papaya trees in my backyard. Tim, my neighbour has a papaya tree which bears so many fruit that he puts them in a box outside his front gate for local walkers to take. I decided that if he could grow them so could I. Plant lore suggests using local trees when planting the same species as they have already adapted to the nearby environment, so after enjoying my breakfast I kept the seeds from one of his papayas. I left the seeds on a sheet of kitchen paper to dry out then rubbed them in a sieve to remove the papery coating. Then it was a simple matter of planting a couple of seeds in the garden and waiting for them to sprout. And sprout they did with enthusiasm. I also had to wait until the trees flowered to determine whether I had male or female trees, which bear the fruit. The problem being that you only need one male tree to about a dozen female trees but I seemed to get more males than female trees growing. Male flowers are carried on long stalks where as the female flowers are carried very close to the trunk of the tree.

Yesterday was culling day for the males and I approached the trees carrying my tree knife, with great sadness, as I hate destroying plants. As I watched the vigorous saplings fall I was thinking what a waste of the flowers so I broke off the flower stalks and put them into my watering can.

Papaya flowers in watering can

Papaya flowers in watering can

It was fun challenging visitors to determine what type of plant they had come from because I don’t think I have seen anyone use them as a decorative flower. I can understand why as sadly the flowers don’t last very long and soon fall all over the floor or table. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to make the flowers last longer than a day or two?

I also wondered whether you could cook with them so did a bit of searching on Google and sure enough recipe posts started appearing. They are said to be bitter when used in Indonesian stir fries and the sap is caustic but if you rinse them well first then blanch the small flowers they can be delicious to western palates in stir fries. As my daughter has suggested she might cook a chicken satay tonight to celebrate Chinese New Year, I think I will contribute a new vegetable dish with stir fried papaya flowers and broccolini. I will let you know what it tastes like. Hopefully I will have found a use for the male of the species.

Play dough

This is my Play dough recipe.

As I have used this recipe for over 30 years, I don’t remember the source but I noted that there was one very similar on the back of a packet of Cream of Tartar. This recipe makes a very malleable play dough that doesn’t stain and is easy to clean up afterwards.

  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons Cream of Tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil ( Canola, Sunflower)
  • 1 teaspoon food colouring
Fabulously tactile dough

Fabulously tactile dough

Put all the ingredients into a medium sized saucepan, place over a gentle heat, and cook for about three minutes, stirring all the time to blend well.  Remove from the heat, and tip onto a bread board to cool. When it is cool to touch, knead it for a minute to ensure it has blended well.  Enjoy.

Playing Granny

I lay in bed hoping that the crescendo of rain on my bedroom roof indicated that it might be easing off not because I don’t like rain but tomorrow I was playing Granny for the weekend with a  2-year old grandson. My idea for a picnic at Southbank was dissolving faster than the sugar on the scrumptious doughnut drops I had planned to buy at the local markets for breakfast. There was no way I could see myself managing to juggle child on hip, basket over the shoulder, umbrella balanced precariously under chin whilst buying groceries even with a soggy husband nearby to carry the parcels. Lying there, I sifted drowsily through 30 years of memories to remember how I had entertained my three small children during wet days over summer.

‘I’m not putting that on my toast’, complained my husband looking in horror at the bright

Fabulously tactile dough

Fabulously tactile dough

blue gluggy mess that my niece helped me make very early the next morning. Thank goodness I hadn’t thrown out the wonderful recipe for play dough that is such an easy mixture for children to cook.  Hours of fun later, whilst I made chocolate cupcakes Harry made blue muffins to serve Grandpa with his coffee.

Now I am pleased that our concrete driveway has a few depressions in which the rainwater pools. These provided endless opportunities to splash the inquisitive cat.  The wisteria canopy filtered the light rain and Harry and I revisited those wonderful childhood memories of splashing through puddles. Afterwards my budding miner put buckets of sand in the water and wriggled his toes through the slush. I now have a fine dusting of sand throughout my tiled floors reminiscent of beach holidays.

A future engineer in the family.

A future engineer in the family.

However, the pièce de résistance was our firewood pile. We had cut into small lengths the floorboards that we had replaced from our front landing. These provided hours of entertainment as Harry constructed bridges, tunnels and roads beneath my washing line.  I was redundant; he was engineer and project manager as he put together metres of highway. When he ran out of his supply of clean boards, he would carry pieces into Grandpa’s study asking for assistance in removing the nails from the lengths I had set aside. Watching from a distance with a coffee I realised he didn’t need the bright colours or complex connecting shapes. He was completely happy just placing the lengths on top of each other, beside and end to end. Occasionally he would drive his Matchbox car along the route making car sounds but most of the time he constructed and pulled apart his highway.

Not once over the weekend did we need to turn on the television or computer games. He was totally absorbed playing with dough, sand, water and timber. Occasionally he would sit and draw me a picture, and when tired we would read books. The joy was in watching this small child use his imagination to entertain himself. I was always there watching, encouraging and interested but rarely was I needed to participate. Exhausting but rewarding.

I did have a wry smile to myself when later that week, my son who had been babysitting for a day commented on how little time one got to do things and how intense it was when looking after a small child. Tell me about it.