Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Road Trip!

Last Wednesday I went on a super fun road trip with my friend Fiona. We had luckily chosen the only day of the week which was not pouring down with rain. The previous day I had bought some gumboots for the lovely price of $21, but they were not needed because the day was so nice. I won't leave you hanging for much longer trying to guess where I went. I spent the day engaged in the favourite sport of the under 12 set - berry picking! The farm we sent to was called Chappies and it's in Silvan, just past Monbulk.
Throughout the day I managed to pick 2.5 kilos of blackberries and 5 (that's right, 5!) kilos of cherries. It was immense fun running around, eating our weight in berries and fighting off the old Spanish ladies for the best fruit. By the end of it all I had blue teeth and had probably ingested my fair share of spiders and other berry dwelling insects but it was all worth it. I had all these grand plans of cakes, cobblers, crumbles, pies, muffins and tarts, but to be quite honest with you I actually ate most of the fruit fresh. I did manage to leave a bit of fruit to cook with, most of which turned into jam. The recipe I am sharing with you today is for cherry jam. I had never actually tasted cherry jam before, which on reflection seems odd because as a child I was pretty much addicted to cherries. This jam is really delicious. And while it's essentially 50% sugar, just close your eyes and think of summer.

Cherry Jam

1kg cherries
1kg sugar (plain white works best)
juice of 2 lemons
250g liquid pectin (or powdered equivalent)

Ok guys, this starts out hard but gets easier. The first step is to pit all the cherries. I would HIGHLY suggest investing in a cherry pitter. I got mine from cuisine world in Melbourne but most kitchenware shops should have them and they cost around $20. So, wash your cherries, take off their stalks and pit them.

Next put the cherries in a pot with 150ml of water. It is best to use a wide pot as it is easier to stir when the mixture starts to froth up. Cover the pot and let it simmer for around fifteen minutes or until the fruit is tender. Essentially you are just stewing the fruit at this stage.

Once the fruit is soft, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and sugar. Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved completely. This may take some time. It's easiest to detect sugar granules if you taste a little of the juice.

Sugar all dissolved? put the pot back on the heat and bring to boil for two minutes. You should probably stir it a bit while this is happening as well. Light coloured froth will come to the top. I think, technically, you're meant to scrape this off and discard, but I just left mine in there and it all worked out fine, so it's up to you (word of mouth tells me that if you freeze this froth it makes a really nice sorbet!)

Take the pot off the heat and add the pectin, stirring well. If you're using powered pectin then just follow the directions on the packet, you may need to add it at a different point in the process.

Put it back on the heat and and let boil for around ten minutes or until it is at setting point. To test this, put some plates in the freezer to cool. Take a little jam and place on a plate. let cool for a minutes then push the jam around with your finger. If the jam wrinkles then you're all set!

Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

*A note on sterilisation: If you're going to make jam then you need to learn how to properly sterilise jars. There are heaps of instructions online and in books to help you learn to do this. Basically it involves heating the jars to a very hot temperature.

*A note on sealing jars: I used plastic covers to seal my jars. The brand I used is called FowlersVacola Kleer View. To use, wet one side of the plastic and place, wet side up, on top of the jar. place an elastic band (provided) over the cover. As the jam cools the cover will tighten.

Happy jam making adventures! xxx

Sunday, December 13, 2009

ricotta, hazelnut and broad bean salad

How I love broad beans! Their subtle flavour, spring-fresh texture, bouncy greenness... I've been using broad beans in every way possible in the past few months. They are very cheap at the moment - I've been getting them for $2.50 a kilo - but they will not be around for much longer. They are also not as fantastic as at the beginning of spring, but I will continue to buy them until they disappear. They command so much attention - first you have to pod them, and then painstakingly take each one out of its skin. You can feel a little sucked in after buying a whole kilo of them, shelling them carefully, and then ending up with a little green puddle of beans which hardly covers the bottom of a bowl. The best way, I've found, of overcoming the repetitious nature of shelling broad beans is to take them away from the kitchen and do it with a friend whilst sitting on the couch.

This salad is a broad bean vehicle - creamy ricotta and crunchy hazelnuts coat quickly blanched broad beans and asparagus (another love!), which is tossed with rocket, and then a dressing made with honey and apple cider vinegar.

ricotta, hazelnut and broad bean salad

1 kilo unpodded broadbeans
1 bunch asparagus (or green beans), rinsed
100 grams fresh ricotta
handful of hazelnuts
2 handfuls rocket, rinsed
2 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dry toast the hazelnuts in a pan until slightly brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Chop or crush roughly.

Pod and peel the broad beans and trim asparagus into 5cm pieces. Blanch both vegetables for 1 1/2 minutes in a pot of boiling water. Drain immediately.

Place rocket, asparagus and broad beans in a salad bowl. Add ricotta and toasted hazelnuts and gently stir.

In a small frypan, heat apple cider vinegar until it starts to simmer. Add the honey and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat. Drizzle the vinegar and honey dressing over the vegetables and stir gently.

Sprinkle salad with a pinch or two of salt and plenty of cracked black pepper.

Serves 2 - 3

I served the salad with some pan fried chicken marinated in chilli and apple cider vinegar, but the salad stole the show.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wabi Sabi and the idyll of inner-city living

Originally written March 21, 2008.

I've spent my Good Friday writing an essay about Japanese ceramics. Amongst all the talk of clay, there is one theme that repeatedly comes up: Wabi. Wabi is a Japanese word, a concept. It means such things as the beauty of poverty, the feeling of being alone in a crowd, poetic nostalgia for emptiness, seclusion, the approach of death, the love of simplicity. It goes on. It is apparently impossible to comprehend Wabi properly unless you are Japanese, or have at least lived in Japan for a long time. It's often coupled with the word 'Sabi', which means rustic, or the patina of age, the appearance of being worn down by time. What I find interesting about these ideas is that we have no English equivalent - these feelings are completely incongruous to our daily life. Whilst I spent many hours rubbing my bare feet over the worn down bluestone in the hallway when I lived in Fitzroy, trying to get a sense of the lives that had walked across it in its 140 years of existence, I didn't have a word for that feeling. To others, it was just me being vague, distant. To me, that stone held some sort of phenomena, it had seen so much. It was smooth in the middle, and had formed itself into a valley shape.

Today was cold and quiet, autumnal and conducive of reading and studying. My family gathered together and ate, we picked on each other and laughed and made each other angry. We hugged a lot. The door to my room fell off when I got up. My Dad spent the day digging in the garden and found an old spoon drain, possibly a hundred years old. My Mum found a photographic slide - we looked at it and thought it was me. It was only on close inspection that we found that it was in fact her, the clue being her brother sitting in the distance beside her. They were young teenagers. We looked so similar - even our expressions are the same. Spending the day together I thought would leave me with an exuberant feeling - rather I feel slightly lonely and still, like someone is pouring cold water through my blood.

Riding my bike to work, whole families are getting around together. Bicycles built for two, tricycles, kids getting to school on roller-skates. I go by bike track, it's leafy, everyone gives way to everyone else. People smile at each other. At work, everyone laughs and chats and gets things done. Boring tasks like filing are ameliorated by cups of fragrant tea and encouraging words by benevolent managers. Books are read at lunch time, someone shares some left over cookies.

At home, something delicious is cooked, the house smells of onion. We chat, discuss the news. We are anti-racist, anti-war, pro-love, pro-academia. We talk about our latest efforts. We are peaceful - talkative, but reserved. There are always books, talk of books. If we have problems, we believe a book might solve it. We look at each other with the respect that only knowing someone too well can bring, to be able to predict their jokes and put up with their terrible puns. Friends come and there is more laughter.

There must be some name for this feeling - that you are living in some sort of idyll, a beautiful but temporary state. You know that everything around you is falling apart; there is economics and greed, war, racism, boredom, exploitation, starvation, ennui. To be quietly peaceful is to be ignorant. You are patriotic in loving your surroundings, but commit treason in hating your government.

If I could find a word to express all this, it would be my own Wabi Sabi. The feeling of being completely happy and completely sad at the same time.

the discovery of salted caramel

You know how trends pop up gradually - you hear about them here and there, not paying complete attention, but the term enters your conciousness. Then one day it reaches critical mass - you've heard about this 'thing' - ingredient, bar, item of clothing, song, whatever, just one too many times to not investigate what's so darn hot about it. Obviously I am not an early adopter.

Recently the concept of 'salted caramel' came into my sphere of recognition. I'd heard about it on plenty of Melbourne Gastronome's fabulous degustation adventures (surely a sign of an 'It' ingredient) and pondered it quietly to myself. I'd heard countless other chefs and food bloggers gush about it, whether as a flavour for the equally fashionable macarons, or an icecream recipe, or some molecular gastronomical desert involving foams and highly calibrated temperature control equipment.

Caramel. With salt in it. Such a simple thing, but I constantly daydreamed of what those two flavours would taste like, mingling with each other. I couldn't figure out how to get some of this salted caramel for myself - I'd never seen it on a restaurant menu, not in the low-end restaurants I frequent. I considered making it myself but didn't know where to start. Should I make caramels, ie the sweets? Or something with caramel sauce in it? And why did caramel sauce recipes always seem to come with danger warnings? Off putting to say the least! Each caramel sauce recipe I read had some associated flesh-searing story that alluded to caramel being for hard-core trained chefs, not flavour-curious apartment dwellers with no kitchens (ie me).

One day whilst walking home my dear Andrew was eating a Magnum Ego - that decadent icecream with a layer of caramel sauce in the middle. I asked him to let me look at the wrapper rather than throwing it out, and I analysed the ingredients. There it was. Hidden amongst the vegetable gums and numbered sugars - SALT. And I thought - yeah, salt goes where caramel goes. They follow each other around. Caramel so sweet, salt so... salty, why wouldn't such different things taste just inexplicably wonderful together? I had imagined the flavour so much by now that I didn't even really think I needed to try it anymore.

Until I came across a recipe for salted caramel cupcakes. They contained dark beer, and they looked amazingly over the top. But I couldn't make them. I was smack bang in the middle of exams. At work at the time, I covertly copied down all the ingredients I would need, and kept the list in my bag. Every so often I would look at the list and pique my excitement for life-post-essay - the cupcakes were my light at the end of the tunnel.

Final deadlines for uni came and went and I bought everything I needed for the cupcakes, including corn syrup ( ?! - it's an American recipe). I excitedly made the caramel sauce to top the cupcakes with, wearing rubber gloves whilst pouring cream into hot bubbling sugar as the recipes all recommended. Nothing dangerous happened. No flesh searing. I stirred in the half-teaspoon of sea salt flakes into the brown sugary goo and hoped for the best.

Once the sauce cooled, I had a teaspoon full as a taste test. It was caramel alright. Not caramel I'd tasted before, but richer, fuller-flavoured and more rounded. It was addictive. I now knew what all the fuss was about. Caramel needed salt! It was just too plain sugary without it. I went through quite a few spoons of it before I forced myself to stop. I needed some caramel left for the cupcakes!

I felt satisfied in my discovery, which was exciting but certainly not unique. I came to salted caramel the way I do to so many things - by endless pondering followed by gradual action. Welcome, salted caramel! I will be making it again.

Salt is a wonderful thing, if used sparingly and in the right place. Which brings me to another story, for another day - the endless search for sulphurous pink salt...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Super Healthy Muffins

Ok, so I've been trying to be more healthy. Unfortunately this does not mix well with my addiction to baking. I created this recipe in the hope that it would counter a particular problem that has been occurring recently. The shop I work in is next door to a Brumby's and all day we have the smell of apple scrolls wafting through the back door. I have to admit that I have succumbed more than once to this devil in disguise. However, these muffins have become my savior; they are incredibly filling, remarkably delicious and most of the ingredients actually hold significant health benefits. Now if I can only kick that family sized block of Cadbury caramel chocolate a day habit and I'll be bikini-body ready in no time...

Super Healthy Muffins - Vegan Friendly

1 1/2 cups Wholewheat flour
1/4 cup Oatbran
1/4 cup Lucuma powder
1/2 tsp salt (make it iodised, people!)
1 tsp Baking soda
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 cup Oat Milk (or whatever you wish to use)
1 tbsp Apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Agave syrup
1 cup Stewed apple
3/4 cup Dried berry mix (I used cranberries, blueberries and goji berries)

Firstly you need to preheat the oven to 375°F. I have a super old oven that is in Fahrenheit and doesn't close properly; google tells me that this is around 190°C.
Next, chuck all of your dry ingredients (except for the dried fruit) into a bowl and mix well. You can sift it together if you're into that sort of thing. Then add everything else and stir until it just comes together. Oil some muffin tins and spoon the batter in. I sprinkled a little raw sugar on the top cause I had some in the cupboard but I don't think it's really necessary. Stick them in the oven and leave them there for around 20 minutes. Take them out when a skewer/knife comes out clean and you're done!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Something to Goat About @ Provenance, Smith Street

I don’t really like to make rules for myself. This is generally because I know I will just break them, but it’s also partly because I like to be flexible and go with the flow. Rules such as ‘I will get up at 7am everyday so I have time to make and eat breakfast’ or ‘I’m never again going to go out with someone who plays a musical instrument’ sound all good in theory, but there’s always a what if. I could never be a vegetarian because I hate the idea of saying no to anything. If someone says, ‘Do you want to come over to my house to try my family’s traditional roast buffalo dish?’ the last thing I would want to say is ‘I don’t eat meat, sorry’. The first thing I want to say is, ‘Thank you so much for inviting me! What time and where?’ I admire vegetarians, but I just cannot cut out that many food experiences. I. Want. To. Try. Everything! But I digress. The point is I’m no good at setting myself and following rules.

The ‘Seasonal Pleasures’ degustation series at Provenance, however, is all about rules. Setting themselves the challenge of creating a full extended meal revolving on one ingredient, the degustation at Provenance on Saturday and Sunday night was focused on goat. Six courses of goat related goodness. It seems that they did not allow themselves one transgression of the rule – every course did indeed contain goat (never fear, the dessert was based on goat milk, not goat meat).

After attending the last ‘Seasonal Pleasures’ degustation a couple of months ago – (How Mushroom is Too Mushroom?) I could not miss this one. The food was lovely last time and my only qualms were with the service which was a bit flippant. As soon as I sat down for Goat night however, it became clear to me that this night would be an improvement on the last (which was pretty darn good).

The first course was a tasting plate of goat meat charcuterie – oh, how I love charcuterie! The plate consisted of handmade goat sausage (one regular meat, one offal), goat parfait (a little like terrine or pate), marinated goat riblet, ‘biltong’ (kind of like a goat jerky) and a goat cheese combined with sun dried tomato, accompanied by olives and toasted almonds and bread toasts. It was served with a Mountain Goat beer – which I’m sure was chosen more for its name than its suitability as an accompaniment, but beer in general suited this dish fine. I enjoyed everything on the plate thoroughly but the regular sausage was my favourite. Boldly flavoured and incredibly tasty.

Before I could finish my beer the next course was being served up – onion tart tatin topped with confit goat with a bĂ©arnaise sauce. This was served with a very light Rose wine. The onion was deliciously caramelised, the goat rich and the bĂ©arnaise a good addition, if not making the whole dish a little too buttery.

The next dish was announced as a ‘palate cleanser’ though – presumably to make up for the rich butteryness of the previous one. Three goat raviolis in a white wine broth garnished with goat floss and red cabbage and served with a NZ Pinot Gris. One major improvement on the last degustation is the variety of wines this time around. For the mushroom degustation all the wines were from the same winery, which was a bit limiting and made you wonder whether the night had been sponsored by that winery. At an event of ambition such as this, you would assume that the wines had been chosen due to their close affinity to the dishes being served, not because they had been donated. Much of the chatter by the waiters to diners at the goat degustation seemed to be about how such and such a winery had heard about the goat night and ‘wanted to get involved’. I wondered whether this meant the wine had been donated. I have no real problem with this but it does make a difference to me whether the wine has been chosen for taste reasons or for convenience, and I think this should be declared somewhere.

The final savoury dish was a goat loin roulade with liver, wrapped in prosciutto and served on asparagus. I loved the crispness of the prosciutto and the tenderness of the goat meat. This was well matched with a Victorian Shiraz.

The dessert was a goat milk pannacotta with a berry compote. Here is where the rules seemed to fail a little. Although using goat milk for the dessert satisfies the idea of having a meal entirely devoted to goat, it probably would have been a better dish if dairy milk was used. The pannacotta was nicely flavoured but a bit too solid and not particularly delicate. The compote, however, was very tasty.

Finally (and with little room for me to fit it in) was a platter of Milawa goat cheeses – camembert, blue and cheddar, served with toasts and quince paste. Whilst very lovely cheeses, I again wondered if they’d all come from the same cheese maker for in-kind sponsorship reasons, rather than the merits of each of those cheeses. Perhaps I am too cynical. Doubts about the origins of the cheese did not do anything to deter me from appreciating it, however, and I managed to get it all in despite already being quite full. The camembert in particular was wonderful - creamy and oozy.

At $75 per head, the ‘Seasonal Pleasures’ at Collingwood’s Provenance represent very good value. The only improvement I can suggest is for a more pragmatic approach in the menu that preferences taste over self-imposed ingredient rules and matches wines more carefully to the dishes. The commitment to quality at Provenance is very clear and they are obviously quite excited by these degustation nights. I left very satisfied and slightly bulging.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Why is it that some of the yummiest dinners I cook happen when I have just about run out of money?

It has been a rather expensive week - booked a hotel in Hobart for a trip in a couple of weeks (yay!), paid a deposit for a study trip to New York next year (double yay!) and went and saw a whole lot of films that were crying out to me to be watched (yay, yay, yay and yay). Tomorrow is pay day and I had $7.15 left tonight when trying to decide on dinner ingredients. I parked my bike at an oriental supermarket just off Sydney Road that I just discovered and went in to see what I could rustle up.

I bought, for a grand total of $6.05:
1 small tin of coconut milk
1 packet laksa paste
1 tin enoki mushrooms
1 large packet of tempeh

Laksa it was to be! I remembered also that I had some vegetables sitting in the fridge (a sweet potato, an eggplant, and a single buk choy) that desperately needed to be eaten before they sprouted body parts and ate me instead.

I used dramatically less coconut milk than was suggested on the laksa paste packet, making a very light, delicious soup that was aided by the addition of a bit of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Method I made up as I went along:

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot. Add 2 tablespoons of laksa paste, frying until fragrant. Pour in small tin of coconut milk. Add a few cups of hot water until you have the desired quantity of soup liquid. Add diced sweet potato and eggplant. Boil until tender. Add chopped bok choy, tempeh and enoki mushrooms. Heat through until soft. Add fish sauce, soy sauce and lemon juice to taste. Stir through boiled noodles (or boil them in the soup, and add a little extra water for them to soak up).

It was fabulous! And cheap! And there are leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yay!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thai (ish) Noodle Salad

Hey! It's getting warmer, and warm weather = noodle salad time.

This is a basic noodle salad guide, but put in there whatever floats your boat. Bean shoots, tofu, chicken, cucumber, shredded carrot, lime, mushrooms, zucchini etc...all make good noodle salad additions.

I follow a loosely Thai theme for the dressing. Andrew was watching me make this and he said 'Sugar! Why are you putting sugar in the salad?' - it's to balance the flavours. Lemon or lime for sour, fish sauce or soy sauce for salty, sugar for sweet, sesame oil for nutty and chilli paste for hot. You can't taste the sugar when everything is mixed together, the flavours are just more balanced and complex.

Thai(ish) Noodle Salad
Serves 2 hungry people, or more people, if those people are good at sharing

Noodles (enough for 2) - I suggest somen, soba, rice vermicelli, sweet potato noodles or thin rice noodles
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce
juice of one lemon or lime
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon chilli paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
3 tablespoons crushed peanuts
Vegetables - I used a bunch of bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and a tomato I had hanging around
Protein element - I added a tin of tuna (that ol' standard), but consider strips of tofu fried in a bit of soy and sesame oil, or chicken done a similar way

In a large bowl mix together sesame oil, sauces, lemon juice, sesame seeds, chilli paste, ginger and sugar.
Boil the noodles as per the packet, drain and rinse under cold water. Prepare your vegetables to the state where they are good to be eaten - for example, just cut up cucumber into strips, but other vegies such as bok choy or zucchini can do with a little steaming or boiling. You know what I mean.
Stir the prepared vegies, coriander and noodles into the bowl with the dressing in it. Stir through the tin of tuna or some chicken or tofu. Another idea is to cook a fillet of fish quickly in a bit of soy sauce and then separate it into flakes, and then stir it through.
Have a taste of a noodle and see if the dressing is working for you. Add a bit more of whatever it needs.
Serve it up and then sprinkle generously with crushed peanuts or sesame seeds.

Summery goodness! Oh, please ignore the torrential rain in the background whilst I write this, my meals might be getting a bit ahead of the seasons...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Coffee Review - The East Brunswick Project

I have always intended to do some reviews on this blog but I have one major problem - I cannot fathom getting out my camera to take a photo of the food in front of me at a restaurant. How attention grabbing! How awkward!

Reviews without photos aren't pretty enough for my liking though, so I wasn't sure what to do. However, I simply had to write about The East Brunswick Project (EBP).

The East Brunswick Project
438 Lygon Street, East Brunswick
Tuesday - Sunday, 8am - 4pm

I haven't written much lately because this semester has been really busy and my cooking has sort of dwindled to vitawheats and spaghetti with fridge-bits thrown on it. One sustaining element of my diet however, has been the glorious coffee at EBP, up the northern end of Lygon Street, just around the corner from my house.

I am a picky coffee drinker. If I don't know that the coffee will be good, I will often order tea. I can't handle burnt, badly frothed, poorly-made in any way coffee. I'd prefer to stay at home in that case and make it in plunger. But the coffee they brew at the EBP is always mindblowingly good: smooth, creamy milk, nutty coffee beans that I think give it a slight biscuity taste, just the right strength.

The latte I usually order comes on a delightful handmade ceramic dish, in various colours, so it is worth staying in to drink rather than getting takeaway. Everyone who works there is warm and friendly and they've started to give me that knowing 'Oh hello, coffee addict!' look when I walk in.

To get all technical: I know that the EBP roasts their own beans, has lotsa special equipment, and do all that coffee nerdy stuff that makes them very important (but is a bit beyond me). It smells great in there. The coffee is $3, making it cheaper than most places now, especially those that specialise in coffee. My only criticism of the place, if you can call it one, is that they don't sell any meals. They do offer some sweet or savoury muffins and friands, and they are lovely. It's probably a good thing that they don't have meals or I might spend my entire life (and all my money) there.

It's Monday today. They are not open on Mondays. Sigh...

(Oh and about the photo. There is no photo, but you know what coffee looks like. It's what it tastes like that matters. Please go and give it a try!)

As of 16/09 - There is now a photo. I managed to sneak one in without drawing attention to myself! Doesn't that coffee just look perfect?

Saturday, August 29, 2009


This is $23.75 worth of fresh produce from Russel's Fruit and Vegetables on Sydney Road, Brunswick - (or slightly less, some had to be left out of the photo because it wouldn't fit).

Please show this to anyone who says they are too poor to eat healthily.

Over and out - off to make a green vege soup!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vegan, Sugar Free, Wheat Free Cookies

I'm not vegan, nor do I not eat sugar or wheat. But I my lovely friend Gemma is vegan and does not eat sugar, and it was her birthday on the weekend. I often bake something for a friend for their birthday, and thought that Gemma wouldn't get things cooked for her very often, so she might enjoy these.

I found this recipe on 101 cookbooks, which is a great resource for vegetarian and vegan recipe ideas.

Oil makes a good substitute for butter in vegan baking, and fruits make a good substitute for sugar. This recipe relies on mashed banana for both its binding qualities and its sweetness. I spoke to Gemma before I baked these and she gave me permission to add honey (she's not too strict a vegan), which I think really helped. I scoured the supermarket for some vegan sugar free chocolate - and they actually had some! This made the cookies really yummy but I suppose isn't strictly necessary - use normal chocolate if your diet allows.

Banana, coconut and choc cookies
Based on the recipe 'Nikki's Healthy Cookies' from

3 bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup oil (I used olive, but a lighter, sweeter oil might be better?)
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup finely shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
100 grams chocolate, finely chopped (vegan and sugar free available at safeway if you need it!)
2 large tablespoons honey (optional)

Preheat oven to 190 degrees c. Mash bananas in large bowl. Add vanilla and oil and mix in. Pour into bowl measured out oats, coconut, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, almond meal and chocolate. Mix thoroughly. Stir through honey if using.

Line a baking tray with baking paper and make cookie balls about 1 tablespoon in size. These cookies don't really rise so don't worry about how close you make them to each other. I had to do 3 batches, because I have a small oven. But fit as many as you can on the tray at once.

Bake in the oven for 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown and starting to harden. The cookies are still quite moist when they come out of the oven but harden a little when cool. They do not become completely hard but retain quite a lot of moisture.

They turned out gently sweetened, filling and quite moreish - not what I'd expect from something so healthy!

Makes about 32 cookies depending on size.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More photos from the Feast - Dessert

Got some extra photos from another attendee of the Feast, which was rather a long time ago now! The previous photos were lacking serious attention to the wonderful desserts, so I thought I'd put a few of these ones up.

Camila: How are we going to cut these cakes in seventeen pieces? Is that even possible?
Anna: We'll just cut it into sixteen pieces and let everyone fight it out...

Green Bean, Zucchini and Tuna Dinner Salad

Because I usually work all day and have uni in the evenings, dinner is something that often happens at about 9pm or later, and is quite rushed and often eaten whilst writing emails etc. However that doesn't stop me thinking about it. At about 6pm (usually during the middle of a class where everyone is in an in-depth discussion about some art exhibition and why they thought it was crap, and I've stopped paying attention) I start evening-dreaming about my dinner. Making little inventories in my head of the ingredients I have at home, then building a meal idea out of them.

This yummy dinner came about beause I remembered I had green beans and zucchini and potatoes to use up. I usually have stash of tins of tuna and eggs in the fridge. The dressing for the salad involved a bit of lemon, olive oil, ground cumin and salt and pepper, and the oozy yolk of the soft boiled egg that sits on top gradually getting mixed in as you eat it.

Green Bean, Zucchini and Tuna Dinner Salad
Serves 1

Handful of green beans, topped and tailed
Half a zucchini, sliced into strips
1 potato, chopped into 2cm cubes
1 egg
Tin of tuna (in oil, preferably, Sirena or Sol Mare is good, Woolworths Select is awful, and probably dolphiny)
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt & pepper
Tablespoon of sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Boil a pot of water and drop in cubed potato. Meanwhile, in a mixing boil, mix a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a pinch each of salt and pepper, the sesame seeds and the cumin. When potato is soft, use a slotted spoon to drain it and place in the mixing bowl. Put the beans and zucchini and the egg (unshelled) in the still boiling water. Boil for 4 minutes. Drain the vegetables from the water and remove the egg. Add veges to mixing bowl. Add tuna to mixing bowl and stir together well, trying not to break up the soft potato too much. When the egg is cool enough to handle, peel carefully. Serve salad onto a plate and then top with the egg. When eating, break the egg open and let it drizzle over the salad.

(PS - How daggy are my dinner plates? They came with the unit I live in. I really should get some sans pastel coloured flowers...)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sick Day Cake

So uni has officially started again and with the stress has also come sickness. After a week of feeling not so good, I have also lost pretty much all my motivation. I decided to take a day off to get away from it all. I spent it watching Scrubs, knitting and making/devouring this cake. The recipe comes from "Cookery the Australian Way."

- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 1/3 cups self-raising flour
- 1 - 2 apples
- cinnamon sugar = 2 tsp caster sugar/1 tsp cinnamon

- Set oven to 190C.
- Cream butter and sugar.
- Mix in egg.
- Add flour and milk alternately, one third at a time.
- Place in a 20cm lined and greased cake pan.
- Cut apple into slices and place on top of cake. Sprinkle cinnamon/sugar over the top.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Recipes from the Feast - Thai Green Curry

This is one recipe that I've made a few times in the vain hope that it will be as good as my Dad's version without success. Sure it's delicious, everyone loves it etc. But if you'd tasted my Dad's Thai Green Curry you'd think mine was pretty boring. Everyone raves about his - and get this - we use the same recipe! I think he has secrets about it that he won't let on... Nevertheless, this curry is still seriously good.

When I cooked this for the feast I omitted any ingredients that were not vegetarian, and it was still lovely. To make this vegetarian/vegan just omit the shrimp paste from the curry paste and the fish sauce from the curry (replace with soy sauce). Camila loved it and said there were 'four layers of flavour', so I can't be too far off. Maybe it's just years of practice, eh Dad?

I never watched any Masterchef but these popculture things filter through somehow. I found out that when they made curries on that show they used BOTTLED CURRY PASTE. This strikes me as pretty lazy for chefs who were competing on their culinary merits! Do try making your own curry paste! It's not hard, and it's very worth it. Bottled curry paste. Pfft. Just another marketing opportunity?

Anyway, here's the recipe.

Thai Green Curry
(adapted from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook)

Green Curry Paste

4 large fresh green chillies (I used 2)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 small brown onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped coriander - including root(I used more. I can't help it. I'm in love with coriander)
2 teaspoons chopped lemon rind
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cummin
1 teaspoon serai powder (? what's this? didn't use it - optional)
1 teaspoon laos powder (? didn't use this either, but Charmaine says it is optional)
2 teaspoons dried shrimp paste (kapi) - from asian groceries, omit for vege version
1 tablespoon oil

Remove chilli stems and slice open. Remove seeds if you want a milder curry, leave in for something mindblowing. Roughly chop chillis and put in mortar and pestle (or blender) with all other ingredients. Bash/smash/puree till paste-like. Note: Bashing ingredients with a mortar and pestle until paste-like is a great way to release tensions. Swear and yell and get it all out. How relaxing! You may need to add a little extra oil to bring it together. You can keep this paste in an airtight container until you are ready to use it. Keeps well in fridge for a few weeks.

Green Curry

1 kg chicken pieces, or vegetables for a vegie curry (I used zucchini and eggplant, but sweet potato, potato and bok choy are great too)
2 tins coconut milk (not 'lite')
3 tablespoons of your delicious home made curry paste
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce / (or soy sauce for vegie version)
As many or as little green chillis as you can handle (optional)
Big handful finely chopped coriander

Open tins of coconut and spoon off a cupful of the creamiest bit at the top. Heat this cupful of cream in a large heavy saucepan, stirring constantly until it comes to the boil. Lower heat and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cream thickens and oil bubbles around it. By this time it should be reduced to a quarter of the original amount. Add the curry paste and fry the rich oily cream for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. The curry paste will smell cooked and the oil will seperate from it when it is ready. When this happens add your ingredients, whether that be chicken pieces or lots of vegies and perhaps some tofu. Fry in paste until browned and partially cooked. Add the remaining coconut milk, lime juice, salt and fish sauce (or soy) and stir while the coconut milk comes to the boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the ingredients are well cooked, and the gravy rich and oily. Stir in the chopped coriander and chillis (again, chilli optional!), simmer 5 minutes longer.

Serve with rice and a garnish of coriander. Serves around 6 people.

Yum yum yum....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cooking Without A Kitchen

I've been meaning to write about this for a little while now, but since it's not actually a recipe, I was holding off. But I think it's an interesting topic. I mentioned in our blog description that Beans and Barley is about being able to cook delicious, cheap, healthy meals even in a messy sharehouse kitchen. I used to live in a messy sharehouse. Now I live in a very small unit - without a kitchen! A lot of units these days only have kitchenettes and I wanted to show you that it is possible to cook well with these types of facilities - you do not need to resort to take away.

I have, in place of a kitchen, a bench equipped with a cooktop/oven unit thing (2 electric burners, a small electric oven), a mortar and pestle (invaluable!), a toasted sandwich maker, a hand blender, and a jug full of utensils. I have a small fridge, but no freezer (no packaged frozen meals for me!). On top of the fridge is a toaster and a kettle. I keep all my crockery, cooking stuff (pots, pans etc) and shelf foods in IKEA storage racks. The bathroom sink very large and stainless steel, to double as a kitchen sink, and is equipped for washing up dishes etc.

In this small space, I've made bread, meals for friends, curries from scratch and lots of other things that usually take a bit of space and effort. If I ever think it is tricky, I remind myself of my Nana impressing my Grandpa during their courtship in post-war London and making him a five course meal on one burner during food rationing (note to self: was Grandpa exaggerating?). My parents, who are currently living in a one bedroom unit in Rovigo, Italy, have only a small kitchenette to make do with. However, that has not stopped their inclination to throw dinner parties, garnering them the reputation amongst their co-workers as having 'The best restaurant in Rovigo'! I've found that you don't need a beautiful, well equipped kitchen with an island bench to get into cooking. You just need (a bit of) patience and (lots of) enthusiasm.

Here are some tips for small cooking spaces I have come up with:

* A mortar and pestle makes less mess and takes up less room than getting out and setting up a blender. It's also easier to clean. Flavours are richer if you bash instead of cut the ingredients as well.

* A dishwasher is a great way to keep the kitchen from getting cluttered up whilst you are cooking, because the dirty dishes are hidden. If you don't have one, which you probably don't in a small kitchen, get a plastic tub from IKEA and find a niche for it (ie under the bench). If you put all your dirty dishes in it whilst you are cooking, it keeps the benches free. Then just carry the tub to the sink when you are ready to wash up.

* The fewer items of cooking equipment you own, the less washing up. You may need to rewash them more frequently than you like, but you will be thankful when the final wash up never takes more than 5 minutes.

* Toasted sandwich makers can double as an extra cooking plate, if the others are full.

* Don't waste space (and money) on ridiculous single-function implements. Eg. - Apple corers look fun at the shop but they aren't really that useful (usually cutting an apple into pieces will suffice) and you have to store them somewhere.

* If you have decorative cooking utensils (eg a tagine dish), consider storing them elsewhere in the house as items to look at, freeing up more kitchen space. They may collect more dust this way so make sure to rinse them before you use them again!

If you are reading this and have any good 'small kitchen tips', I would love to hear them. Happy cooking!

Recipes from the Feast - White Bean Mash

I will not hide it: this recipe I invented was an attempt to replicate the white beans at A Minor Place on Albion Street, Brunswick. I don't know how close I came but they were delicious anyway!

White Bean Mash

2 cups dried white beans (cannellini or great northern beans), soaked overnight and drained
4 cloves good garlic
1 -2 vege stock cubes (I used the massel ones, they are pretty good)
1 onion
Olive oil

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Fry in olive oil, slowly, in big pot until translucent and fragrant. Add white beans and fry a little, until coated in oil. Fill the pot with about 4 cups of boiling water (approx). Add stock cubes, a few grindings of pepper, and a good glug of olive oil, and boil slowly until the beans become soft and squishy and the water is almost gone. If you require more water, boil some and add gradually. You are looking to get a consistency of sloppy mashed potato. Taste and add seasoning to your liking.

Would be lovely served as a side dish with a breakfast cookup.

Recipes from the Feast - Lentil and Beetroot Salad

I am finally trying to get around to putting up some of the recipes from the vegetarian feast.
The task seemed to daunting to get around to all at once, but I do want to share some of them!

I'm going to start with the Lentil and Beetroot Salad, because I think it's a must try for everyone.

Lentil, Beetroot and Feta Salad

1 tin baby beetroot
1 cup french du puy lentils
handful or two of flat leafed parsley
handful or two of coriander
couple of bay leaves
125 grams (approx) of danish feta
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove crushed garlic
salt, pepper (a pinch or so of each)
1 teaspoon mustard (dijon or grainy - and I always forget to put this in for some reason!)

Boil the lentils in a pot of water with the bay leaves in it until tender. Meanwhile, mix together the oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander seed and mustard in a mixing or salad bowl. Drain lentils, toss into dressing. Cut feta into cubes and toss into lentils. Chop the herbs finely and stir them into the salad. Cut each baby beetroot into quarters and add to salad. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Note: French Du Puy lentils are the only ones to use here. Other lentils turn to mush! The French lentils (a dark green/black colour) hold their shape and have a lovely flavour to them. Perfect for salads.

Note 2: In the dish in the photo, I used 1 1/2 fresh beetroot, boiled til soft in salted water. This is optional, but I have found the tinned beetroot is much less messy, and just as cheap. But if you are a no-can kinda person (like I was the day I made the vege feast!), then this works just as well. Boil the beetroots without cutting them (as this keeps their colour in). Leave them to cool, then peel and chop.