With my New Year resolution to lead a wholesome life well and truly broken, I thought it was time I spent some time at the healthy end of the cooking spectrum. The warm weather is continuing to hang around in Sydney at the moment, and the last of the summer veggies are still plentiful and delicious.
If you are getting a bit sick of pasta, try risotto as an alternative. This is one of my favourite recipes, and can be easily adjusted to suit your tastes or what you have available in the cupboards and fridge. If you don’t like chilli, leave it out; if you’re coming down with a bug, pimp up the garlic; if you have some fresh tomatoes to use up, throw them in; if it is the middle of winter or you simply haven’t been shopping and tinned tomatoes or dried herbs are all you have access to, throw them in.
If capsicums are a good price at your green grocer, they are easy to roast; refer to one of my earlier posts for instructions on how to roast capsicums. If capsicums are out of season or too pricey, there are plenty of pre-prepared roast capsicums (sometimes labeled as roast peppers) you can buy from your deli counter or in a jar.
I prefer to use large mushrooms (called portobello mushrooms in the UK) rather than the small button mushrooms, as the large mushrooms have more flavour. If you want an extra rich risotto, you could add a little pesto or olive tapenade at the end of the cooking instead of, or as well as, the cheese.
I tend to eat this risotto with my favourite piece of cutlery, the splayd. A splayd is part fork, part spoon.
Summer Vegetable Risotto
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 shallot or 1/2 an onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 small chillies
- 1/2 cup of arborio rice
- 250ml carton of V8 vegetable juice
- 1 large mushroom
- 1 zucchini
- 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
- 1 roast capsicum
- 2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
- hot water from the kettle
- 50g grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Finely chop the shallot.
- Finely chop or crush the garlic.
- Finely chop the chillies.
- Chop the mushroom into dice size pieces.
- Heat the pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil, the chopped shallot, garlic, chilli and rice.
- Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the rice is coated in oil and the onions are slightly softened.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until the mushrooms start to wilt.
- Add the vegetable juice to the fry pan and stir occasionally until the liquid is absorbed.
- Meanwhile, grate the zucchini, chop the roast capsicum, cut the cherry tomatoes in half and pick the oregano leaves from the stem.
- Add a little hot water at a time to the fry pan and stir until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked. Taste to test the rice, it should be slightly too firm but almost ready.
- Add the zucchini, roast capsicum, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and oregano to the fry pan, continue cooking until the vegetables wilt and the rice is cooked, then turn off the heat.
- Add the cheese and stir to combine.
- Add the salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Your risotto is ready to serve. Enjoy.
What is your favourite risotto recipe? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Easter is next weekend and I am super eggcited because it is one of the few times in the year when I can eat chocolate for breakfast without too many raised eyebrows. For most of us, the 4 day Easter break means we go away somewhere, or spend some quality time with family and / or friends. I will be going on a road trip with friends to the Blue Mountains, and will also get to spend some quality time with family (thanks mum and dad for letting us all invade your home).
With a steady stream of visitors calling in during the Easter break, and everyone prone to over-indulging in chocolate, I wanted to share with you my recipe for Apple Sour Cream Tea Cake. My recipe is adapted from a Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe by Annabelle White, who I believe is the New Zealand equivalent of Australia’s Margaret Fulton – someone who a lot of Kiwi’s grew up learning to cook with. I like that Annabelle included her recipe in the breakfast section of her book, but you can eat this cake any time and it goes really well with a cup of tea or coffee.
I have a plentiful supply of vanilla beans at the moment, so borrowed Jamie Oliver’s trick and blended a whole vanilla bean in with the sugar. If you don’t have a vanilla bean you could use a teaspoon of vanilla paste or vanilla extract and add that in when you add the eggs. I use raw sugar rather than white sugar in my baking because it is less processed. Apples are in season at the moment in Sydney and delicious. I like the presentation of a bundt tin, but you could of course use a round or loaf tin. Next time I make this recipe I will need to use a larger cake tin, as some of the mixture spilled out during the cooking.
Apple Sour Cream Tea Cake
* This recipe was adapted from a Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe in “Annabelle White’s Best Recipes” by Annabelle White. I have modified and adapted it to come up with the below reincarnation.
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 125g butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 300mls sour cream
- 2 cups of self-raising flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 granny smith apple
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Cooking oil spray to grease your baking tin
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, spray your tin with a generous coating of cooking oil spray.
- In a food processor, blitz the vanilla bean and sugar until the vanilla bean is finely chopped.
- Add the butter to the food processor with the sugar and vanilla and blitz until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs to the food processor, and blitz to combine.
- Add the sour cream to the food processor, and blitz to combine.
- Peel, core and chop the apple into small dice.
- Add the diced apple to a bowl and mix with the brown sugar and cinnamon.
- Add the flour and salt to the food processor and blitz until everything is combined and smooth.
- Add alternate layers of apple and cake mixture to your cake tin.
- Bake the for approximately 45 minutes. When the cake bounces back when touched and is cooked, remove from the oven.
- Leave the cake to cool for 5 to 10 minutes in the tin.
- Turn the cake out of the tin onto a serving stand or plate.
- Your cake is ready to serve, enjoy it while it is still warm or once it has cooled.
What is your favourite Easter tradition? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Mint slice biscuits made by Arnott’s are a popular chocolate biscuit here in Australia. A mint slice biscuit consists of a round chocolate biscuit topped with mint flavoured cream and coated in dark chocolate. Arnott’s are no longer an Australian company, but their biscuit’s popularity lives on in the hearts of many Australians. My recipe for this post has been inspired by and uses mint slice biscuits to create a chocolate mint cheesecake.
A friend made a cheesecake recently that used Oreo biscuits in the base of a cheesecake. I had never thought of using cream filled biscuits in a biscuit base, but it was delicious so I decided to steal the idea. I wanted to balance the ratio of biscuits to chocolate and cream filling in the base, and tried to track down a plain chocolate biscuit to add to the mint slice biscuits. The only thing I was able to find was chocolate flavoured tiny teddy biscuits.
I wanted to inject some real mint flavour into this recipe, so used fresh mint. When chopping the mint to infuse in the cream, you can either chop with a knife, bruise with a pestle and mortar or use a food processor. I do not recommend you use a blender as this pulverises the mint too finely and you end up with a cream tasting of green grass (not that I’ve ever eaten grass, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make – you will end up with an unpleasant concoction). Or you could do away with the mint infusing process altogether add simply add a couple of drops of peppermint essence to the cream.
If you don’t have a food processor to blitz your biscuits, you can put them into a plastic bag and whack them with a rolling pin or any other heavy implement you may have available to create biscuit crumbs. This is always good stress release but can be noisy.
Chocolate Mint Cheesecake
- 200g mint slice chocolate coated biscuits
- 100g chocolate flavoured biscuits (I used tiny teddy biscuits)
- 50g butter
- 600ml cream
- 1 bunch mint
- 200g dark chocolate
- 50g icing sugar
- 250g cream cheese
- 100g grated dark chocolate to garnish
- Pick the mint leaves from their stalks and chop the leaves.
- Add the chopped mint leaves and cream to a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the cream is steaming (don’t allow to boil).
- Transfer the cream to a bowl or container and cool in the fridge to allow the mint flavours to infuse.
- Strain the cream into a bowl to remove the mint leaves, add the dark chocolate and icing sugar.
- Heat the cream, icing sugar and chocolate over a saucepan of hot water until the chocolate melts.
- Cool the chocolate cream mixture again.
- Blitz the mint slice and chocolate flavoured biscuits in a food processor into crumbs.
- Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs, blitz again to combine.
- Press the biscuit crumbs into a pie dish to line the dish and create a base.
- refrigerate until firm.
- Beat the cooled chocolate cream mixture, add the cream cheese and add to the biscuit base.
- refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving garnish with grated chocolate and slice. Enjoy.
What is your favourite biscuit? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
With St Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I was looking for an Irish inspired recipe to share. I finally settled on making and sharing Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Guinness Cake. I haven’t altered Nigella’s recipe at all in the details below.
I was lucky enough to visit the home of Guinness a few years ago, located at St James’s Gate in Dublin. The Guinness Storehouse is like an amusement park for big kids, where you can learn all about the history and production of arguably Ireland’s most famous drink, with a pint of the black stuff included. Guinness is made from roasted unmalted barley, and it is this roasting that I think gives the stout a coffee aroma and flavour.
The only alterations I made to Nigella’s recipe as I was cooking was that I used salted butter instead of unsalted, raw sugar instead of caster, added a little vanilla to the icing and my cake actually took about an hour and twenty minutes to cook through. It may sound like an alarming amount of sugar, but given that the Guinness and cocoa are both bitter, the flavours do balance out. The recipe is from Nigella’s book “Feast”, which is a cookbook I refer to regularly. Feast explores the food we use to celebrate different events, including Christian Christmas and Easter, Jewish Passover and Islamic Eid celebrations amoungst the chapters.
Chocolate Guinness Cake
* This recipe is from the chapter “Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame” from “Feast” by Nigella Lawson.
For the Cake
- 250ml Guinness
- 250g unsalted butter
- 75g cocoa
- 400g caster sugar
- 142ml sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
- 275g plain flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
For the Icing
- 300g cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 125ml double or whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180°C, add butter and line a 23cm springform tin.
- Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter – in spoons or slices – and heat until the butter’s melted at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery beery pan and finally whisk in the four and bicarb.
- Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.
- When the cake’s cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the icing. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve over the icing sugar and then beat them together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsieved icing sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.
- Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.
What is your favourite Irish recipe? Has this post inspired any new ideas?
Classic mediterranean flavours include oregano, lemon, garlic and olive oil. I have combined all of these flavours in Mediterranean Inspired Baby Octopus.
Octopus has gained a reputation as being tough and chewy. Octopus is best cooked very slowly for a long time or very quickly over a high heat, anything else in-between will result in a tough and chewy dish. Octopus shrinks a lot once cooked, so bulk up your quantity of raw seafood to allow for the shrinkage factor. Most octopus purchased from a shop comes cleaned and ready to go, check with your fish monger if unsure. You could chop your baby octopus into pieces before adding to the marinade or leave them whole.
A trick I learnt about a while ago is to add some bicarb soda to the marinade to help tenderise the octopus. I have also heard of kiwi fruit or pawpaw being used to tenderise, but I haven’t experimented with these options so can’t provide insights on how well they work.
I recommend using normal olive oil in this dish, this type of oil is better for cooking with. Save your good quality extra virgin olive oil for dressings, drizzling or other uses not subjected to high temperatures.
You could cook these baby octopus on a barbecue, because it has been wet and miserable in Sydney, I have cooked mine in a very hot fry pan. Because of their unusual shape, you will need to turn them multiple times so they cook through. They could be served as part of a mezze platter or with a greek salad.
Mediterranean Inspired Baby Octopus
- 1 kg baby octopus
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon rosemary
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 3 – 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon bicarb soda
- Finely chop the garlic, rosemary and oregano, pick the thyme leaves and add to a bowl.
- Zest the lemons, add zest to the bowl with herbs.
- Add the chilli, bicarb soda and olive oil to the bowl. Stir to combine.
- Wash the baby octopus and pat try with paper towel.
- Add the baby octopus to the bowl and stir to coat in the marinade.
- Cover the bowl of octopus and put in the fridge to marinade. Leave for an hour or more, preferably overnight.
- Heat the barbecue or fry pan to a high heat.
- Cook the octopus in a single layer, in batches if required. Turn once the octopus is opaque and getting a little charred or brown.
- Transfer to a serving plate, accompany with wedges of the zested lemon. Sprinkle with salt. Your baby octopus is ready to serve. Enjoy.
What is your favourite Asian inspired recipe? Has this post inspired any new ideas?