Saturday, March 31, 2007

Vegetarian Minestrone

My house smells pretty good right now, and it feels lovely and warm. I'm cooking soup. It's the time of year again, when soups and stews seem to be all I feel like. This one's pretty good and based on a recipe from a 1985 cookbook "The Gradual Vegetarian". Not exact, because I never have all the veggies, and I usually have a few extra one's I'd like to throw in.

Meatless Minestrone
220g yellow split peas
1 large onion, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
400g tin of tomatoes
dried oregano, basil and 1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns, 1 clove
3 carrots, chopped
200g baby spinach
1 C green beans, chopped
2 small zucchini, chopped
2 Stalks of celery, chopped
1 can of kidney beans
100 g cooked macaroni

Rinse and drain the split peas, then boil for 30 minutes in around a litre and a half of water. (The recipe book says 2 1/3 1/2 pints of water, but i've no idea how much that is). Add the onion, potatoes, can of tomatoes, carrots and herbs. Cook until the potatoes are soft. Add the rest of the vegetables, cook for a few minutes, then add the kidney beans and macaroni. Cook for 15 more minutes, adding more liquid if necessary.
Very simple. Very yummy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Been away

We've been traipsing around the country side, attending weddings and catching up with family. There has been much eating and drinking, but little cooking, writing or photography. We came home to an empty kitchen with a lot of dirty clothes, so menu planning is fairly low on my list of priorities. Instead of a Menu Plan Monday, here is a list of my favourite empty fridge meals.
  • Moroccan chickpea salad
  • tomato & garlic pasta
  • dhal & rice
  • sweetpotato curry
  • tuna casserole
  • omlettes
  • beans on toast, or potatoes, or rice, or whatever carbs are available.
  • corn fritters
  • Donna Hay's three bean chilli

Hope your week is going well, especially now that it's nearly over.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Macaroni and Cheese Nostalgia

One of my earliest memories is standing on tip-toes, and being able to see over the kitchen table. Ellie at Kitchen Wench has asked for the recipe and the memory of a food that invokes a feeling of nostalgia, so you get my kitchen table and macaroni cheese.
I'm Australian like Ellie, but I was born in Canada. We moved to Australia when I was 7 or 8, and the table came with us. Nowadays it lives in my aunts beach house with all the other family furniture cast-offs, and I'm on the other side of the country. I think macaroni cheese is one of the few remnants of my North American childhood. It was the first thing I thought of when somebody explained the concept of comfort food. Back then it probably came in a blue box, and was served with carrot sticks. These days I make it from scratch, with lots of healthy vegetables and a recipe from a well-worn Women's Weekly recipe book. I only use the recipe book as moral support while I make the white sauce - for some reason it hasn't turned out well for me since we came to Canberra. And I don't really measure any of it.
Macaroni Cheese with Veggies
Cook the macaroni. While it's cooking, chop up half a red capsicum, a small red onion, a yellow UFO squash and any other random vegetables. The aim is a variety of colours. Make a basic white sauce by melting some butter in a saucepan, then adding a couple of tablespoons of flour and a couple of teaspoons of mustard powder. Don't let it brown. Slowly add around a cup and a half of milk (I use skim), checking to make sure it's thoroughly mixed and no lumps are forming. Stir over a low heat until it thickens slightly. Add some grated cheese, the sharper the better, then remove from the heat. Throw the macaroni, sauce, vegetables and a cup or so of frozen peas into a casserole dish. Heat in the oven until it's a bit brown and bubbly on top. Adding breadcrumbs, extra cheese or crumbled crackers to the top is strictly optional.
Enjoy with carrot sticks, or left over homemade pizza.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Experiments in green cheese

I'd been wanting to make a cheesecake ever since I saw Peabody's Donna Hay event. Ryan had made some green tea muffins for St Patrick's day, and the two ideas converged - Green Tea Cheesecake!
The green tea muffins were OK, but not as green as we wanted. If we could have put our hands on some Matcha Powder, they would have been greener. Instead, we ground up some normal green tea as a substitute. We had more than enough left over for the cheese cake.
Green tea is a great flavouring because it's mild but pervasive. Teamed with something stronger, and more easily identifiable (like lemon) it gives a nice herby undertone, without being too savoury. Matcha powder, used for tea ceremonies in Japan, is finely ground green sencha tea leaves. It's a really lurid colour. Our ground tea leaves were fairly grey, so not nearly as picturesque.
To make the cheese cake, we followed the recipe posted by Peabody. I left out the lemon zest, and brewed the green tea powder in the lemon juice (which I heated in the microwave).
I don't think the picture proves anything, except that I need more practice making cheesecake - it sunk a little, and stuck to the sides a lot. The colour, not particularly green. But not offputtingly brown either. It tasted really good though - the ricotta lightens the texture from your normal baked cheesecake and the tea added some subtle herby undertones. I will probably make this again, but I'll wait until I can find some matcha!

Menu Plan Monday - March 17

Here in Canberra we are on the last day of a long weekend. We've been camping down the coast! I have been experimenting with campfire cooking, but more about that later.
Here is our short list of meals for the week. It's short because we are going to Perth next Friday! Can you tell I'm already excited?
Coriander & feta patties
Tomatoey Pasta
Tomato and Garlic Stew with prawns

Ryan chose this weeks menu - he likes trying new things, so he flicked through some of the cookbooks I've been neglecting. I'm looking forward to cooking all of these things!

Happy Monday!


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

This was surprisingly, impressively good. I bought some TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein) mince when I decided to give up red meat and chicken for lent. I made chili with it - and it was pretty ordinary. This time, with the help of two sorts of mushrooms and some worcestershire sauce, it turned out great.
Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
1/4 Cup dried shitake mushrooms
1 Cup TVP Mince (mine was Sanitarium, I don't know if there's other brands)
A handful of fresh mushrooms
1 brown onion, finely diced
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon vegetarian stock powder
4 big potatoes, chopped
Grated Cheese

Soak the shitake mushrooms in a cup of boiling water, and add 2/3 of a cup of boiling water to the TVP. Put the potatoes on to boil, and heat some olive oil in a big frying pan. Fry the onion and the fresh mushroom in the frying pan until soft. Add some of the liquid from the shitake mushroom to the pan, and wait until it's reduced. Take the shitake mushrooms out of the liquid, squeezing out any excess water, and the chop them finely. Add the shitake's, celery, tomato paste, stock powder, and remain mushroom liquid to the pan. Stir until combined. Add the worcestershire sauce and a bit more water if it's looking dry. Remove from the heat.
When the potatoes are tender, mash with milk and butter. Fill four ramekins with the mince, top with potato and then grated cheese. Put under the grill until the cheese is melted.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Menu Plan Monday -11 March

On the menu for this week:

Veggie stacks with cous cous
Sesame Tofu with stirfry vegies
Pasta Primavera (ie spaghetti with a tomato sauce, with as many vegetables in it as possilbe)
Home made pizza with mushrooms (and chorizo sausage for Ryan)
Shepherds pie with TVP
Curry vegetables

I'm not sure about the TVP. I wasn't particularly impressed with it in Chili sans carne. But I'll try again this week before giving up completely.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Plum Tarts

The problem with tarts is that they are really easy to make. And the word can be interpreted so many ways. This recipe is loosely inspired by whatever Jamie Oliver show was on the other day. I think it was about strawberries, and I think he called this a free-form tart.
Plum Tarts
Heat the oven to 200 Degrees Celsius. Take half a sheet of puff pastry, and cut it into two squares. Quarter some fresh black plums and mix with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar. Sprinkle the pastry with more brown sugar, then pile half the plums in the middle of each square. Fold the pastry up around the edges, to make a loose parcel. Use some water or egg to make the pastry stick if it won't stay put. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and brown.

Apple Tarts

Ryan seems to be compensating for my vegetarian diet by craving dessert. He sneakily loads the freezer with things like Lemon Sorbet and then hounds me to cook something. And some of these things have been turning out rather well.

Wonton Apple Tarts
Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray (I use olive oil, but i don't think it matters). Push a wonton wrapper into each muffin hole - not all the way in, but enough to make them roughly cup shape. Bake in a moderate oven until they start to brown - around 10 minutes, but you need to watch them. Meanwhile, chop up two small apples, and mix with cinnamon. Zap the apples in the microwave until they are softened and the kitchen smells good. I did it with one minute intervals, stirring in between. When the wontons come out of the oven, let them cool slightly then top with the apples. Serve with lemon sorbet. Or else cream would be yummy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Copycat fig tart

I have a confession to make. I spend an obscene amount of time browsing on the internet. I'm not even going to tell you how much. But it tends to take my thinking (and my cooking) in weird and wonderful directions. Like figs.
At the farmers market two Sunday's ago, there was a stall selling beautiful, fresh black figs. They smelt beautiful, but I couldn't think of anything to do with them, so I didn't bring any home with me. Then I saw this post on Mad Chilli, and I knew what I had to do.
Another confession - sometimes I act like a spoilt 10 year old. On Sunday I spent the whole afternoon making vegetarian lasagne, then told Ryan I was sick of cooking so he would have to make dinner. And then I told him precisely what to cook (with illustrations, thanks to Mad Chilli's beatiful photograph). I can be such a pain some times! Ryan forgave me, but I think that was only because I had chosen such a delicious recipe.

Copy-cat fig tart
Pull a sheet of puff pastry out of the freezer, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Put the pastry on some baking paper on a cookie tray. Chop up a couple of onions, then caramelise. This means cooking them on a low heat in a frying pan, with butter and oil and a small amount of brown sugar, until they are soft and sweet. Drain the onions as best you can, then spread them over the pastry. Fold the edges of the pastry to make a border, then top the tart with quartered figs, fresh rosemary and crumbled blue cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pastry looks puffed and golden. Yum.
Invite a fellow cheese fanatic over for dinner to help eat it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - March 5

My vegetarian experiment is going well so far. Here's to another week of it!

Sunday: Blue cheese, fig and caremlised onion tart, with roast pumpkin.
Monday: Vegetarian lasagne with salad
Tuesday: Fish Burgers
Wednesday: Nachoes
Thursday: Corn and zucchini fritters
Friday: Veggie stew with beetroot

Happy Monday!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


I've been writing this blog for a while now, and I'm thinking it might need a bit of an explanation. In our house there are just two people, Ryan and I. We both have full time jobs so money isn't tight, but time often is. I hated coming home to a messy kitchen, late, with no idea what to cook. I hated buying take-away every week - it felt greasy, gross and such a cop-out. There was also the whole issue of cash - I wasn't really sure how much money we spent on groceries, but it felt like an awful lot. And I regretted the times we ate out, not because we wanted to, but because we couldn't be bothered cooking, or there was no food to cook.

Things are different now. I generally know what sort of things I'll cook each week, and how much money I've spent. I choose where and when I shop, and I know I'm eating good food. We hardly ever throw anything away, and as for eating out, my friends usually come here instead. : )
I started this blog for two reasons - it's a great, social way to keep track of what cooking adventures work and which ones don't. Also, people are always surprised that I cook most nights - "You cook?" is said in the same incredulous tones as "you save?". So I guess I'm trying to prove to myself and my friends that you can be a foodie without spending all your play money on food. And still fitting in to your favourite jeans.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to write some posts about the 'how' of what we do. None of it is rocket science but it works for us, and has made the whole process of food shopping, cooking and eating into something we really enjoy doing together. I'm even enjoying it so much, I've started writing about it!