Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nutty bars without nuts

Our school has gone nut-free because of a new student with serious allergies to nuts and sesame seeds. But sunflower and pumpkin seeds are OK, so I made nutty bars from Vive le Vegan without the nuts. I used a mix of dried fruit and seeds from the natural food store. They are bound together with honey and sunflower seed butter (another happy discovery!) and topped them with chocolate flakes. They are quite more-ish, but a little too sticky. I ended up rolling them in coconut to absorb some of the stickiness. The kids like them either way. I find if I make things like this at home, with at least some nutritional value, then they don't clamour for lollies nearly as much.

Tuna pasta

A quickie from the pantry (hmm not in the pantry, now that's a thought; where's Ralph Fiennes when I need him?). While the pasta is cooking, use the oil drained from a tin of Italian-style tuna packed in oil to saute onion. Then add fresh chopped tomatoes (toss in those cherry tomatoes from the back of the fridge as well), a tin of chickpeas, and the tuna. Cook until warmed through and the pasta is all done-te (oh oh bad pun alert). Toss it all together with some added extra virgin olive oil. Served with grated Parmesan cheese and a side salad of English spinach and red capsicum.

School lunches

This is my daughter's standard lunch box. Fruit and yogurt (usually frozen in my own little container) for morning tea. Egg or tofu with vegies (carrots, cucumbers or red capsicum) and bread/pita bread/crackers. This lunch doesn't have a treat but often I'll include a sweet biscuit or a slice (bar) or muffin as well.

Still loving that sesame mustard tahini sauce

I have really been enjoying the sesame mustard tahini sauce I made from Vive le Vegan. It dresses up a simple meal of brown rice, tofu and steamed vegies. Oh, how virtuous and gastrointestinally well balanced I feel afterwards!


I had gluggy buckets of leftover, uninspiring chicken risotto. And to quote the blog where I got the recipe, 'when life gives you leftover risotto, you make arancini'. Arancini are deep-fried Italian rice balls. Mine weren't balls: I made them into patties since I, um, wasn't deep frying them either... and I didn't put cheese in the middle. Well whatever I ended up with name-wise, they were pretty good.
The risotto was sticky and easy to shape into patties. Then I dipped them in flour, egg and then breadcrumbs and fried them, with a generous serve of my father-in-law's famous homemade tomato sauce. The kids enjoyed them in their lunch box the next day too.

Fruit and vegies

Shopping at the markets.

Vegies: cheery cherry tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers, baby potatoes, English spinach, broccoli, red capsicums, sweet potatoes, red cabbage, carrots, snow peas.

Fruit: bananas (finally affordable!), apples, plums, peaches, grapes, rockmelon, limes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Curry dinner

An old friend stopped by last week. It was such a pleasure to see him again, and cook for him! His wife fed me often and well during my graduate school days... I only wish I could have cooked for her as well. This dinner is a well-rehearsed group of dishes, many of which can be prepared in advance.
The chicken curry uses Patak's mild korma curry paste. I fry lotsa onions until nice and mahogany brown (this 10-20 minute saute, apparently, is the secret to a thick, rich sauce). Then I add to the onions a whole jar of the curry paste, cooking until fragrant. Into the slow cooker this mixture goes, followed by ~1 cup water used to rinse the jar and the frypan. I fry 2 kg thighs until golden brown on the outside, then mix into the onion and spice paste mixture and cook on low for 2-4 hours. This short cooking time seems to defeat the purpose of using a slow cooker -- but if you cook it much longer, the chicken disintegrates into shreds, probably because of the pre-cooking. I use the slow cooker because it's convenient to have the stovetop and oven free for the other dishes.

For vegetables, I have invented this room temperature 'salad'. It has nothing to do with true Indian cuisine, but it's convenient because it keeps very well and thus you can make it the day before. And the cool texture of the still-crunchy vegetables goes well, I think, with more mushy curries.

To make the salad, I parboil cauliflower, carrots and beans until just barely cooked. Then they are marinated in a simple vinaigrette of 5 tablespoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and garam masala.
I also made a raita from yogurt, grated cucumbers, mint and cumin.
Oh, and a sharp garnishy thing of coriander (cilantro), tomatoes and red onions.
And Patak's spicy lime pickles.
And basmati rice in the rice cooker.
When it was ready, I surreptitously took a photo of my plate (no use having my old friend worry about my new strange habits). Ouila, mush everything together and come up with new and exciting combinations with every mouthful!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Peach jam and nut butter

My neighbour gave me bags of beautiful peaches last week (I still can't figure out how they became so luscious in the midst of our drought). I tried using the slow cooker to make jam, using the recipe from another new cookbook, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. It turned out well but I'm not so sure how much easier it was. You cook the fruit for 2-1/2 hours with the cover on. Then you remove the cover for 1-3 hours until the correct consistency is reached. After you remove the cover, you're meant to monitor it and not leave the house. It seems just as easy to cook it on the stove much more quickly and be over and done with it.

The cookbook does have an overnight recipe for apple butter... now that seems like a better idea since you usually have to cook apple butter a long time in the oven anyway.

Now I have peach jam and homemade almond butter (whizzed in the food processor) which I spread on toast for breakfast. Addictive and filling.

Vive le Vegan

I adore my new cookbook, Vive le Vegan by Dreena Burton. No, I'm not vegan, but yes, I like these simple, nutritious and delicious recipes. Every recipe I've tried so far is great. The kids loved her 'energy cookies', which are full of sunflower and pumpkin seeds (which they are allowed to bring to their newly nut-free school). Then I made a creamy avocado and cashew sauce, which was very nummy on Mexican burritos. Last night I made her baked tofu (in a lemon, olive oil and herb marinade) served with green beans and sesame-mustard-tahini sauce (pictured). This sauce is seriously delicious; it's the first time I actually liked tahini (pureed sesame seeds). The garlic and vinegar and sesame oil overtake the bitterness I usually don't like in tahini. It was good served over rice and vegetables, then the next day I've been eating the tofu and the sauce in pita bread.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hoppin' Jian

Oh dear, it's very late, I've been blogging excessively and now you, my captive audience, must bear my bad jokes. Get it? Hoppin' John with a Chinese bean (adzuki) is called Hoppin' Jian?
Brother B1 made real Hoppin' John for me with black-eyed peas. But I only had adzuki beans -- and I loved this simple yet tasty dish -- so here it is. B1 got this recipe from the Californian Dry Bean Advisory Board -- as you do.
Hoppin' John
1/2 lb (1 cup) dried black-eyed peas
1 cup chopped onions
2 T olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups vegie or chicken stock
Soak peas your favorite way (overnight or quick boil). Wash and rinse, discarding liquid. Cook onions in oil. Add seasonings, stock and drained beans. Cover and cook slowly to desired tenderness (~30 minutes). Tilt lid if necessary to prevent boiling over. While cooking, prepare rice to serve alongside.

Back home

Back home to parrots outside my kitchen window.

The first meal I cooked after getting over jetlag was inspired by the new Joy of Cooking which brother B1 gave me for Christmas. Wow, it's a really good cookbook. I had the 1963 version, which was too old-fashioned, if complete (i.e. recipes for whale). The latest edition has a perfect mix of old favorites and new flavors. I especially like the information on whole grains and the range of international cuisines.
The recipes I used here are the Becker lamb patties and tzatziki (cucumber, yogurt, mint). I grilled the small patties on the BBQ, along with red capsicum, and served them in pita bread with spinach. Juicy and flavourful. Next time I'll add some sweet onion as well.

Sun and moon mosaic

What I did in my summer vacation: made my first mosaic! Thanks for teaching me how to do it, Mom.

Whole Foods

Undeterred by the embarrassment of a salsa-photographing companion, Dad next took me to Whole Foods. We don't have these in Australia and I've always wanted to go to one... and now I want one in my neighborhood now! Wow, gorgeous food. To have all these specialty products under one roof is so fantastic. At home, we have only a small portion of this range, and they are scattered around the city in a handful of small stores.
I especially liked the Arrowhead Mills organic grain products and the Lundberg Family Farm rices. And the cheeses. And the natural cosmetics and creams. And everything.

AJ's with my dad

Next stop: Phoenix. I know that my dad loves me because he took me on a grocery store tour all over the city! You know it's going to be a good grocery store when there's a Tuscan-style fountain at the entrance. The produce! The heirloom tomatoes! The salsa, the salsa, the salsa: mohave mango, paradise pineapple, ruby raspberry, papago peach. Raspberry chipotle, fresca, cactus, tequila bean and lime, chipotle cha cha cha, borracho, roasted tomato and corn.


Runzas are a Nebraska thing: yeast bread filled with ground beef and cabbage. Ah, I remember many happy trips to Runza Huts in Lincoln. My mom makes fantastic runzas at home; my kids devoured them very quickly. For the first time she also added cheese to some of them which worked well -- it glued the normally crumbly filling together. The original recipe was found in the Wayne Herald newspaper but she has adapted it, mostly by increasing the ratio of filling to dough.
Mom's runza recipe
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 packages dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup margarine
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 pound hamburger
1 onion, chopped
3 cups cabbage, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 or 5 drops tabasco sauce
Dough: Measure 1 3/4 cups flour into bowl. Stir in sugar, salt and yeast. Heat milk, water and margarine until warm (120 to 130 degrees F). Pour into flour mixture. Add eggs and beat at low speed for 1/2 minute. Beat for 3 minutes at high speed. Stir in rest of flour. Knead 3 minutes until smooth. Cover with towel and let rest 20 minutes (I put in microwave to sit).
Filling: Brown hamburger and onions with salt and pepper. Add tabasco sauce. Wilt cabbage in butter (1-2 minutes in microwave) and add to meat mixture. Let cool.
Assembly: Divide dough into 20 equal portions. Roll each ball very thin -- approximately 6-7 inches in diameter. Place about 3 tablespoons filling in center of each rolled dough piece. Bring edges of dough to center and pinch together to seal. Place, smooth side up, on greased baking sheet. (I find it most efficient to roll, fill, and pinch each one separately and then repeat.) Let rise 40 to 60 minutes, until indentation remains when lightly pressed with finger.
Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until dough is done.

Quinoa with friends

Next stop was homeckybecky's Midwestern test kitchen. I was impressed that even the young members of this family read my blog! I was treated to delicious cooking, walks in the frigid Minnesota winter, and peppermint tea and eggnog cake before bed.

Here we are having corn chowder for dinner, made with rich organic milk, potatoes, corn and quinoa -- a really nice way to include this fantastic whole grain to your diet. Served with baked squash, toast and a salad of lettuce and peas. Thank you, my friends, for your gracious hospitality!

Movie nights with B2

Brother B1 has a fun tradition of movie nights at his house. My niece (see thumb in picture) demands every platter in the house to be filled -- nay, overflowing -- with party food. The goal: excess. Choose a plate of cheese and crackers, shrimp, nuts, quesadillas, goldfish, chips, and Chex mix, then watch a children's movie with serious inconsistencies (WHY do the bulls have UDDERS?). For dessert: cheesecake cupcakes from the Cooking for Engineers website. These were delicious and simple. A 'nilla wafer (sweet biscuit for the Aussies) is placed on the bottom of a muffin cup, then it is filled with a cheesecake mixture, topped with either mandarin oranges or cherries, and baked. Mmmmm, my brother is a very good engineer cook.

Wisconsin delights

When you're in Wisconsin and you see deep-fried cheese curds on the menu... well you must order them. And while you're at it you'd better have the bratwurst with sauerkraut (served with both raw and fried onions and a real cherry Coke). That's my brother B2's thumb; isn't he cute?
I remember eating fresh cheese curds at the EAA fly-in in Oshkosh every year as a child. I was especially fond of their squeak. Indeed the Wikipedia article on cheese curds (well worth reading) (if you're not that busy) quotes the NY Times as describing the characteristic squeak sounding like "balloons trying to neck". Deep-fried cheese curds -- which are also mentioned in Wikipedia (are you surprised?) -- lack the squeak but have the advantage of being battered and deep-fried which, as we all know, improves everything.


The famous Italian sausage calzone at Scoreboard Pizza, a favorite haunt of my brother B2. I think there's a 1/2 lb block of mozzarella cheese in each one. No I did not eat all of mine... though I think one of my brothers did.

New Year's Eve Dinner

I'm back from my summer holiday in the US. For New Year's Eve my dad bought king crab legs which we served dipped in butter and with sweet potatoes and green beans. We remembered these king crab legs for quite a while as their odor mysteriously lingered in the fridge for several weeks... I think my mom is only now talking to my dad ! :)

Note the Weihnachten Pyramide which is the one I brought my parents from Germany -- oh dear is it really 23 years ago? -- and which was the inspiration to find one of my own.