Penne pasta with brussels sprouts

penne pasta with brussels sprouts

It’s really happening. I’m going to run a marathon. In two days (at the time of writing). If I stop to listen, there is an electric hum pulsing around my body, generated by an amalgam of trepidation and excitement about Sunday’s event. I’m about to embark on something that has been a goal of mine for many years. And that feels good. Like something worthwhile. Like the stuff that life is about. Putting yourself on the line and chasing your dreams. To help in my quest, this week in the lead up to the big race, I’m stuffing carbs into my mouth left right and centre. Toast, porridge, bananas, dates, honey, pasta, rice, vegetables and the occasional snake. Yep. Who knew. Apparently snakes (jelly sweets) are a good source of glucose to help fill my cells with glycogen to burn while I’m running. I’ll try anything once if it’ll help get me across the finishing line. Preferably on two legs. My favourite source of fuel is still pasta though and this penne pasta with brussels sprouts will convert even the most staunch dislikers of these miniature cabbage like vegetables into new admirers.

penne pasta with brussels sprouts penne pasta with brussels sprouts

I’ve always fallen into the category of one of those strange people who enjoys eating brussels sprouts. At Christmas, I’d be one of only a few family members who would happily pile a small mound of the little edible green balls onto my plate. As I’ve grown older, I’ve experimented with sprouts, moving away from the simple method of boiling them. I’ve roasted them along with beetroot and the served the resulting medley with crisp bacon and a mapley Dijon dressing. I’ve shredded them to compose a salad with kale, parmesan, lemon and almonds. And I’ve braised them with lemon juice and cream a la Molly Wizenburg. And Molly’s lovely recipe for cream braised brussels sprouts was the inspiration for this pasta dish.

penne pasta with brussels sprouts penne pasta with brussels sprouts

Using the marathon as an excuse, a very good one I might add, we are staying in the city for the weekend. Running long distances seriously takes it out of me and after my longer training runs of 25km plus, I’ve almost needed an afternoon nap. Thea has prevented such luxuries from happening. But hopefully, in the city, in our hotel room, after a warm shower and a big plate of food, I might be able to have a little sleep, before celebrating my victory with a glass of champagne. I need to visualise after the event as much as I do running the course, because I feel that ultimately it will help spur me on to the end.

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I have also asked Ma and Pa, who have been so wonderful this week in cheerily finishing all the high carb meals that I have prepared (we are still living with them since the tree fell on our house) and will be looking after Thea for the weekend while I’m away, to come and watch me cross the finish line. I knownseeing their faces, plus Mark and Thea’s, in the crowd, will give me the boost I’ll need to get me across that line. More than that though. I feel that I would be doing them a disservice, as well as Thea who has accompanied me on many training sessions and Mark who has looked after our tiny wonder every Sunday while I’ve been off on my longer runs, if I don’t cross the finish at a fraction more than a walking pace. Everyone has been so instrumental in getting me this far and I owe it to them out of gratitude.

penne pasta with brussels sprouts

At the moment I’m unsure about whether marathon running will become a regular part of my life or just a one time goal. Getting to this point has filled a big part of the year, from our little holiday on the Central Coast in June when I ran the Bay to Bay half marathon to our now long weekend in Sydney for the full event, not forgetting all of the scheduled runs in between. It’s really fulfilling to have something to work towards and seeing yourself improve, if only in tiny increments. I like the idea of being a runner, able to put on trainers and fill my lungs with fresh air and get my pulse racing with speed and ease. It feels good. And you see the world from a different viewpoint; houses you’ve never noticed, flowers you’ve taken for granted, hills that always seem easy in a car. The nuances of your surroundings come at you in new and interesting way. So maybe I will continue with my running. Especially if it means I can eat more dinners like this penne pasta with Brussels sprouts. Watch this space.

penne pasta with brussels sproutspenne pasta with brussels sprouts

Penne pasta with brussels sprouts

Inspired by a recipe by Molly Wizenberg

  • 12 brussels sprouts
  • 25g butter
  • 1 cup cream
  • juice of a lemon
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • grating of nutmeg
  • 8 rashers streaky bacon, cut into batons
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup parmesan, finely grated
  • penne pasta

Begin by cutting the ends off the sprouts and discarding any loose outer leaves and then chopping them in half.

Melt the butter over a moderate heat in a large flat bottomed pan and then place the sprouts flat side down in the pan and leave them undisturbed to brown for 5-8 minutes. Flip and then cook for about another 5 minutes on the other side.

When the sprouts are browned on both sides, sprinkle them liberally with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the cream. Bring it to a gentle simmer, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting, put the lid on the pan and leave the sprouts to cook for about 10 minutes. You want them to be soft but still with a bit of bite and not falling apart. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice.

In a new pan, fry the bacon until crisp and then add to the sprouts. In the same pan that you fried the bacon, with the residual oil, cook the garlic, then also add it to the sprouts along with the parmesan cheese. You can now move to the next step, or leave the sprout mixture in the pan and bath small children, even relax with a glass of wine and proceed to assembling dinner when you are good and ready.

When you are ready for dinner, cook the pasta and when it’s done, to the magical el dente state, about 10 minutes, drain it, but keep a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water aside. Add it together with the pasta to the sprout mixture. Turn the heat back on under the sprout pan, stir and let everything heat through together. This step helps the lovely earthy creamy sauce stick to the pasta. Decant into bowls and eat.

Like this recipe? Then you might like my spaghetti carbonara recipe.

Baked lime chicken burritos


lime chicken burritos

Thursday dinners always seem to be Mexican in our house and this week it was something a little bit different from the normal tacos and quesadillas. I made baked lime chicken burritos. The inspiration for them came from a third birthday party a few weeks ago. This Mr. Three’s parents certainly set the bar high for the rest of us mums and dads in terms of how to throw a kid’s party. Upon walking through the front door we were greeted by dozens of little black felt capes, red stars emblazoned with everyone’s initials on the back, hung ready for their new owners to wear. The centrepiece of the celebration was a spectacular bright red fire engine cake, complete with Oreo cookie wheels, liquorice hose reel and chocolate wafer racks. That was for the littles though. For the grown ups there was delicious shredded chicken burritos.

lime chicken burritos

Before heading to the party I donned my trainers and earphones and headed out for an hours run. I’m still clocking up the miles in preparation for the Sydney marathon, now only a couple of weeks away. Hopefully I’m getting fitter. Some days my legs feel like jelly from the get go. One thing all the exercise does do though is give me an appetite, so despite having breakfast I was still hungry when I arrived at the party and very excited to hear that chicken burritos were going to be served. What fascinated me was the texture of the chicken, like angel hair, apparently shredded in a food processor. Genius. It packs into the tortilla so much better than pieces of chicken because it can be squashed down with the other obligatory burrito ingredients: Sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and grated cheese.

lime chicken burritos lime chicken burritos

So with my new insight of how to shred chicken fantastically fine, I set about cooking some to shred for dinner. Poaching is a great way of cooking poultry it as it helps to keep it moist, so that’s the road I decided to head down. Poaching chicken in milk along with some loosely Mexican inspired flavourings. When it was done (and had cooled), I will admit that I was more excited than I should have been to whizz it in the processor. The resulting chicken resembled fairy floss and was zingy with lime. It would be perfect wrapped up in lettuce leaves along with some strips of carrot and avocado, maybe some red cabbage for extra colour and a dousing of chilli sauce. Or served a top corn chips with some finely diced tomato (seeds removed) and red onion as little tostada appetisers. The chicken could even be poached in coconut milk and then served, strained poaching broth and all, with glass noodles, baby corn and coriander.

lime chicken burritos

This citrus spiked shredded chicken was folded into tortillas along with charred capsicum and onion, which were then packed into dish and baked. Enough for lunch and dinner, to keep my growling tummy tamed. Thea was quite content while all this was happeneing in the kitchen, wearing her super T cape and flying round the lounge. I hope I can come up with such lovely ideas, both to feed and entertain, when Miss 2 turns 3. For now though, I’m just happy with fairy floss chicken. And Thea is happy with her cape.

lime chicken burritos

 

Baked lime chicken burritos

Enough for 6 burritos

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 2 limes, zest and juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 200 ml milk
  • 1/2 red capsicum
  • 1/2 green capsicum
  • 1 red onion
  • 1-2 cups grated cheese like Cheddar or parmesan
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • pinch chilli flakes, optional
  • tortillas, I used flour ones
  • guacamole to serve, optional

Place the chicken, lime zest and juice, milk, garlic, pepper, salt and milk in an oven proof dish and bake for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

While the chicken is cooling, fry the capsicum and onion in some oil over a medium heat until the edges are nicely browned.

When the chicken is cool, cut it into 4 pieces and pulse it in a food processor until its finely shredded. Be careful not to over do this stage and make chicken puree.

To assemble the burritos, place a spoonful of chicken, some strips of capsicum and onion and a handful of grated cheese in a tortilla and roll. Place the filled tortilla roll in a baking dish and repeat with the remaining ingredients.

When all the tortillas are in the baking dish, pour over the chopped tomatoes, sprinkle over a few chilli flakes and top with as much extra grated cheese as you like.

Bake for 20-30 minutes at 180C until the cheese has melted and is golden and the tortillas are crisp.

Like the idea of poaching chicken in milk? Then you’ll love this recipe

Easy chicken vindaloo recipe

easy chicken vindaloo recipe

How do you celebrate father’s day with your dad when you’re in one country and he’s in another. A 24 hour fight between you. Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I cooked my dad his favourite meal. A spicy pungent Indian curry. And ate it in his honour. I think he would have liked my easy chicken vindaloo recipe. And I hope he likes the honesty and the good intentions that this post was written with, which is dedicated to him.

easy chicken vindaloo recipe

It must be hard being a dad and having your only child live so far away. Even harder when said child forgets English father’s day, in June, Australian father’s day being in September. There was a time when I didn’t send my dad father’s day cards at all, owing to a turbulent series of events during my teenage years. But as I grow older, I have come to see that people simply try to make the best of life. The best of their choices. Whatever may have come to pass, I am his daughter, he is my father and there is an unending bond between us.

easy chicken vindaloo recipe

If I think back to my childhood, it was a fun one. My dad would always be the one to encourage me to do adventurous things. Riding down rapids in a little blue and yellow inflatable boat at a river that we always used to visit. Jumping the big waves in the sea at Newquay until I had turned blue from the cold. Hanging from the beams in our house and when I could no longer hold on falling on to the bean bag that he had placed below. Sitting on his lap and steering the car up our steep driveway turning the wheel round the tree at the top my grandma protesting loudly in the back. Picking up large spiders trapped in the bath with my bare hands and returning them back outside. He instilled in me a sense of fearlessness, a spirit to just do things and make ideas happen. He made me believe that I could do anything that I set my mind to.

easy chicken vindaloo recipe

I’m sure that he is partly responsible for my passion for food too. You see my dad loves to eat. He’s one of those people for whom food is not just fuel for the body, it’s pleasure, it stimulates the senses, brings people together. The enjoyment of food for him is living life to its fullest. Thinking of him is thinking about Sunday roasts with every side and condiment available, a pub lunch of gammon and chips with pineapple AND a fried egg (you’re supposed to have one or the other), a full english breakfast, porridge, toast and a pot of tea, Chinese spare ribs, Greek lamb kleftiko, duck a l’orange and crepes Suzette flambéed at the table, asparagus and hollandaise sauce, bread and butter pudding with custard and ice cream, gooseberry fool. And of course, Indian curries.

easy chicken vindaloo recipe

Every Friday when I was wee, mum, dad and I and another family of three would go out for an Indian meal. Papadums, mango chutney, lime pickle, raita, samosas, bajees, naan bread, korma, malaya, tikka, jalfrezi, pilau, saag, gobi and of course vindaloo, are all words I could say probably before I could read. The restaurant that we went to was called Ali’s, run by Marge and Ali. When they returned to India to visit family, they used to bring back gifts for us. That’s how much we ate there.

easy chicken vindaloo recipe

So whatever has passed between us, I know that my dad still instinctively understands me like no other. He gave me some of the most important beliefs and values that I have. To chase after your dreams and not to stop until you achieve them, to dive head first into challenges without fear, to always entertain a sense of adventure and take the path less traveled. A dad who can do this, who can give you these qualities, has done a remarkable job. The hurt that was caused is in the past and the future is full of possibility. I think that food has a way of transcending words, so despite the fact that he can’t taste my easy chicken vindaloo recipe, hopefully the symbolic gesture of making it for him will convey my sentiments. Happy father’s day dad. I love you x

Easy chicken vindaloo recipe

Adapted from a recipe my Madhur Jafrey

  • 2 onions
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 2 inch piece ginger
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 11/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 – 1tsp cayenne pepper **add as little or as much as you like to suit your chilli palate
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 2 tbsp ghee, butter or oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 120ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 large chicken, jointed or 4 small chicken breasts, diced

In a food processor, blitz the onion, garlic and ginger and then add the turmeric, garam masala, **cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and coriander and mix again until everything is well combined.

In a couple of tablespoons of ghee (I love Pepe Saya‘s), fry the mustard and fennel seeds until that start to pop and then add the curry paste that you have just made.

Fry for a couple of minutes before adding about three tablespoons of water and putting a lid on the pot and leaving the curry paste to slowly simmer for about 20 minutes to cook out the spices. Stir from time to time.

After the 20 minutes is up, add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and salt, stir to combine, then submerge the chicken pieces in the sauce and cook for about 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked.

At this point, to get the most flavour from this easy chicken vindaloo recipe, once the curry has cooled, store it in the fridge overnight and then gently reheat the next day. Serve with rice and any veggies that you fancy, but broccoli or cauliflower would work well.

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Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

My freezer is full of chorizo. Of all shapes and sizes and with differing amounts of chilli. Why. Well, because it’s such a great ingredient. Versatile. Flavoursome. Quick and easy to use. I made a chorizo pilgrimage to Rodriguez brothers, a Spanish small goods shop about an hour and a half drive from home you see. And after such a long trip, decided to make the time taken to get there worth it. I selected enough chorizo to fill a grocery bag and in turn my freezer. Now at least one a week I challenge myself to put together a coherent creation with the paprika infused sausage as the star. This week it was egg fried brown rice with chorizo.

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

It’s funny that I should think up with such a dish as egg fried brown rice with chorizo seeing as I’m a total purist when it comes to things like pizza toppings, salads and cheese. There is no room in my world for the cross pollination of dishes from different cultures. Indian ingredients on pizza. Balsamic vinegar to dress a Greek salad. Wasabi flavoured cheese. Who dreams up such combinations. Yet I still saw fit to blend Spanish, Chinese and some quintessentially English sauce to make dinner. My capricious streak I suppose. Besides it was delicious. Nutty, meaty and wholesome, slightly spicy and with a little piquancy from the worcestershire sauce.

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

Other chorizo combinations have been less controversial, like using the sausage thinly sliced in place of pancetta in carbonara. Shedding the chorizo of its skin and whizzing it up in a food processor and then frying the meaty crumbs to serve over hummus a la Donna Hay. Thickly slicing it, tossing it with potatoes, cherry tomatoes and black olives and roasting the whole lot in the oven and the serving it tossed through with fresh rocket leaves. Once again, putting it in the processor, sans skin, with butter, combining the two then pushing the resulting mixture under chicken skin before roasting the chook. Mashing it up with chicken mince to make chicken and chorizo meatballs to cook in a rich tomato sauce.

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

I will admit that reading through that list just shared, there’s world food combining galore. What would the Spanish make of chorizo crumbs used to make a Lebanese dip taste fantastic. I guess that’s just what we do as cooks. We are bower birds of the kitchen, collecting beautiful ingredients and moulding them together to make great dishes. So maybe I’m not such a purist after all. Maybe I just prefer my pizzas Margarita style and my cheese plain. But there’s still no reason to use balsamic vinegar on a Greek salad. Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed.

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

 

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

Makes enough for 6 generous portions.

  • your choice of oil to fry with. I used a good quality lard
  • 2 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
  • 2 carrots, cut into semi circles
  • 2 chorizo, skins removed and meat chopped
  • 1 red oion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • worcestershire sauce
  • sea salt and black pepper

Begin by frying the carrots, chorizo and onion over a moderate heat in a pan big enough to take the rice when it comes to adding it.

When the vegetables have softened and the chorizo is starting to release its oil, add the garlic and fry for a minute or two until fragrant.

Now add the rice and peas and stir so that they are combined with the other ingredients.

Next make a well in the centre of the rice and pour in the eggs. Stir the eggs so that they start to scramble, slowly incorporating the rice as the egg cooks.

Season to taste with worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, maybe garnish with some coriander and parsley and tuck in.

Enjoy this recipe. Then you might like easy chicken pasta recipe.

Oven baked strawberry French toast

oven baked strawberry french toast

When it comes to strawberries, I’m pretty fussy. I grew up in an area where you could pick your own strawberries. In summer. Not all year round. They tasted like strawberries. Sweet, soft and juicy, oozing fruity nectar with each bite. And they smelt like strawberries too. Fragrant and jammy. Now these berries are ubiquitous, in every shop, during every month of the year and they just don’t taste of my childhood anymore. They just don’t taste like strawberries. Or so the story goes until I found some succulent strawberries at the farmer’s market this week, and with much excitement bought more punnets than I sensibly needed. I ate them with cream, in smoothies, Thea ate some, Mark ate some and there was still some left. So I made this. Oven baked strawberry French toast.

oven baked strawberry french toast oven baked strawberry french toast DSC_0195

oven baked strawberry french toast

I’ve wanted to try a baked French toast recipe for a while now, thinking that it would make a great communal breakfast centrepiece. And let me tell you. When I invited the girls over to breakfast one day this week. This one did. The roasted seasonal strawberries provided lots of ooos and ahhhs and pauses of appreciation. Plus, it just looked so darn pretty, all yellow and pink, wobbly and crisp all at the same time. Everyone dug in, taking seconds and thirds.

oven baked strawberry french toast

Since becoming a Mama, I reckon breakfast parties are the way to go. For a start instead of the alcohol that you would expect at an evening event, in the morning there’s coffee. Sometimes more essential to a new parent than a glass of wine anyway. Also, babes can come along to breakfast parties, no questions asked, and small people are usually at their best first thing after a night’s sleep. Due to the presence of children, breakfast parties end on time too, as little ones are taken home for naps. A combination of winning factors. And the best thing of all. This oven baked French toast can be made the night before, so all you have to do for the party is put the kettle on.

DSC_0187 oven baked strawberry french toast

 

Oven baked strawberry french toast

Serves 6

Inspired by recipes from Butter baking and Pioneer Woman 

  • 1/2 loaf stale sourdough bread cut into rough cubes the size of large walnuts (about 4-5 cups bread once cut up)
  • 2 punnets strawberries hulled and halved
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup – optional depending on how sweet the fruit you use is. I didn’t need to use it here, but with for example raspberries, it might be a good idea.
  • 2 cups whole milk

For the crumble topping

  • 50g brown sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • pinch sea salt

This is so easy. The night before, put the bread in a baking dish and scatter the strawberries over the top.

Mix the eggs, milk and syrup, if using, together and pour over the bread. Cover and refrigerate.

For the crumble topping, whizz all the ingredients in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs and then also store in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, pre heat the oven to 180C. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the bread and cook the oven baked strawberry French toast for about 45 minutes until the crumble topping is browned.

Love seasonal fruit? Then you might like Apricot jam

Mozzarella salad with celery and walnuts

Buffalo mozzarella has to be one of my all time favourite things to eat. Fresh, clean, silky and light, sublime in the company of ripe tomatoes and basil leaves. The classic caprese salad (although there’s some clever variations on the caprese here). But what can you pair this beautiful cheese with to make a mozzarella salad in winter, when tomatoes are sad representations of their summer counterparts. Celery, walnuts, garlic and chilli. That’s what. And unlike the caprese, this mozzarella salad can be made ahead of time, which when entertaining can be a very useful thing.
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Inviting friends around to share a meal is one of my favourite weekend activities. And recipes that can be prepared in advance are essential on such occasions, allowing for more time to relax and socialise, and less time in the kitchen. That’s why this mozzarella salad is so good. The cheese can bathe in its delicious marinade for a day or so before you plan to serve it, leisurly taking on the flavours of garlic and chilli. Likewise, the walnuts can be toasted and chopped and the celery sliced, hours beforehand, so all that needs to be done prior to sitting down to eat, is to simply assemble the salad.

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I realise that cooking in this pre prepared way may not be in alignment with everyone’s personalities and that some people are more inclined to leave things until the last moment. Take my Scottish friend (she knows who she is) for example, who at university would stay up writing until 8am to meet a nine o’ clock assessment deadline. The very thought of this still makes me feel on edge. Last minute is just not something I’m good at. And although in the world of food there are a lot of things that need to be done at the last minute, like dressing delicate salad leaves and serving a soufflé, a great many tasks can be done early on.

Marinated mozzarella salad with celery and walnut

Preparing food this way takes the stress out of cooking, yet still allows you to present a beautiful spread. It also leaves room for unforeseen events, like discovering you’ve forgotten to buy a crucial ingredient, that one of your guests hates cheese or that your toddler has just drawn all over the walls with a wax crayon that you missed when packing up her toys.


Mozzarella salad with celery and walnuts

Adapted from a recipe by Carol Field

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 20 grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 6 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • bunch chives, snipped
  • 200g walnut pieces, toasted and roughly chopped

Begin by placing the sliced garlic and chilli flakes in a small pan with the oil. Heat over a low heat for 10 minutes to allow the oil to take on the flavours of the garlic and chilli.

Cut the balls of mozzarella in half and then slice each half into 4-5 semi circle slices. Put the slices into container that will hold them and the garlic marinade.

When the oil is completely cool, pour it over the mozzarella slices along with the salt and pepper and delicately stir the cheese so that it’s completely coated with all the other ingredients. Leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle for at least 2 hours but ideally overnight.

About 30 minutes before you want to assemble the mozzarella salad, remove the cheese from the fridge so that it can come to room temperature, then simply drain the mozzarella of its marinade and arrange it on a platter. Scatter first the celery, then chives and then the walnuts over the top and tuck in.

Like preparing things ahead of time? Then you might like this kale salad

Home made crumpets in under an hour

I have fond childhood memories of weekend breakfast’s consisting of hot toasted crumpets spread with so much butter and honey that the two would melt and run down through the little holes on the crumpet’s surface and onto the plate below. Let’s be honest. This is the only way to eat toasted crumpets. An occasional treat bought from the supermarket, crumpets are not something that you can easily make at home. Or are they? Seeing a recipe for them in this month’s Gourmet Traveller, I read the list of ingredients. All pantry staples. And the method looked straightforward too. Before I knew it, I’d measured everything out, mixed it all together and crumpet dough was sitting in front of the fire proving. Half an hour later it had doubled in size and I poured mounds of the mixture into a pan and proudly watched as tiny holes formed in the batter. My first batch of home made crumpets.

home made crumpets

Ok. So that’s not the whole story. It took me three attempts to perfect my home made crumpets. After my first fail, I considered writing to Gourmet to tell them that their recipe hadn’t worked. But I had kept the batter in the fridge overnight and tried to make the crumpets the next morning. So I reconsidered. Not one to simply give up, I decided to have a second try and this time make the crumpets without leaving the batter chilling overnight, but cook it straight after it had doubled in size. I didn’t have any egg rings though, so although my second batch of crumpets had the signature divots in their surface, they were quite flat and more like drop scones.

home made crumpets

With two trials under my belt, on the third go, I even impressed myself with the results. Using buttered egg rings to cook the batter in made a huge a difference and my home made crumpets were tall, fluffy and perfectly dimpled.  I flipped a couple over in the pan to brown the tops and immediately spread them with rather a lot of butter and twirlings of sticky honey. Delicious.

home made crumpets

It’s very comforting when someone is able to try something out for you and report back that whatever it was is easy. Straightforward. Uncomplicated. It makes you feel safe and gives you confidence. I am now able to do this and tell you that home made crumpets are easy. That the recipe in the magazine does work. That a non stick pan will make the process a lot easier. That egg rings aren’t vital, but they do make a taller crumpets. That from start to finish, making crumpets will take under and hour. And they freeze beautifully. So go on. Have a go. PS. Thea is under the impression that Vegemite is best on crumpets.

home made crumpets

Home made crumpets

Recipe by Sean McConnell from August 2015 edition of Gourmet Traveller

  • 7g dried yeast
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 30ml warm just above blood temperature water
  • 500g plain flour
  • 3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g butter
  • 800ml milk

Combine the yeast, sugar and water in a bowl and leave to stand in a warm place for 15 minutes.

Combine the flour and bicarb in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a pot with 200ml of the milk. When the butter has melted, add the remaining 600ml of milk and when the time is up, the yeast mixture.

Add the yeast and milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Now leave this mixture in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until the batter has doubled in size.

Heat a non stick pan over a medium heat and pour the batter into buttered egg rings inside the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes until holes have appeared and the surface of the crumpet is set.

At this point, the crumpets can be stored for future use, either in the fridge or freezer or toasted right away, smothered in butter and honey and enjoyed.

Easy chicken pasta with feta and veggies

easy chicken pastaWith less than six weeks to go, I’m starting to get nervous. Can I really run the 42 kilometres that is the Sydney marathon. I’ve been diligently training since January for number 27 on my list of 100 things to do in my life. Yep. Running for nearly five consecutive hours, rubbing my skin raw, bruising my toenails and generally exhausting myself has been an ambition of mine for a while. I’m curious to know if I have what it takes to complete the course. I’m definitely not a natural runner. I have stamina. But I’m not a runner. A swimmer maybe. Even a sprinter. Present me with a challenge though and I will grit my teeth, dig in my heels and give it my all. I slightly underestimated how much more I would need to eat though to help me achieve my goal. And although pasta isn’t my go to meal every night of the week, it’s definitely featuring more frequently, to provide the much needed energy. Like this fresh and easy chicken pasta that we had last night.

easy chicken pastaI can’t take the credit for this dish though. In what feels like another lifetime now, while at University in Glasgow, I used to work at Dimaggios, a hugely popular American Italian restaurant in the city’s West End. I was the cashier slash coffee maker slash telephone answerer. It was my first real insight into the fast paced and often frantic world of hospitality. And I loved it. There was the erratic happy one minute shouting at everyone the next head chef, who scared the hell out of me. Then there was moody pizza chef, who equally scared me, yet despite his demeanour, made really good pizzas. And the espresso with three sugars downing manager, who never said very much unless I did something wrong, and then he’d say even less, shake his head and purse his lips to form an expression of much dissapprovement. He definitely scared me. They were all big personalities and I was just a shy student learning about myself and experiencing life freely for the first time.
easy chicken pasta

After a busy shift I would often order this easy chicken pasta for dinner. It was named fusili el Greco, signaling to the little cubes of feta cheese scattered through it no doubt. There was also roast chicken, cherry tomatoes, carrot batons and snow peas, lots of olive oil and garlic. Considering the number of other dishes that were on offer, with lashings of cream and rich tomato sauces, I wonder now what it was about fusili el Greco that I liked so much. I think its simplicity. The colourful crunchy vegetables, salty squares of cheese, and garlicky olive oil coated spirals of pasta. Undeniably fresh, yet still very satisfying. Delicious hot or cold.

easy chicken pasta

I find it funny reminiscing about a job that I used to do while studying for an English degree. My dad always told me, just get a degree. It will stand you in good stead for the future, whatever you end up doing. I so wholeheartedly believed him, that it never once crossed my mind that hospitality might be an industry that I should explore more fully. My role at the restaurant was simply for extra cash, right. Just because I felt so at home working there, loved the thrill of a fully booked restaurant on a Friday night and was always sneaking glances into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of the action, I was going to work in marketing, advertising or publishing. Right. Well as it turns out now. No. And answering that question brings me full circle. Because I’m not a runner. Right. Well, in five and a bit weeks, I might prove myself wrong. Again.

easy chicken pasta

Easy chicken pasta

Enough for 4, or 2 dinners and then 2 lunches the next day.

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 carrots, cut into batons
  • a handful of snow peas, tops trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
  • 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 100ml beautiful extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g feta, cut into cubes
  • 300g fusili pasta

Roast the chicken breast at 180C for 25-30 minutes and leave to cool. When its cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into large strips. Doing this with your hands rather than a knife adds a lovely texture to the dish.

Bring a big pot of water to the boil and cook the carrots and snow peas for about 3 minutes so that they retain some crunch. Scoop them out of the pot with a slotted spoon and plunge them into cold water (iced cold water if you can). This will stop the vegetables from cooking and help keep their colours bright. Once cool, drain and set aside.

You can now add the pasta to the same water that you have just cooked the veggies in. Cook for 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, over a low heat, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, another 5 minutes or so.

Now add the carrots, snow peas, halved cherry tomatoes and chicken to the pot and stir so that all the flavours combine and everything is heated through. Add the pasta and the feta, stir again, drizzle in some more olive oil if you like, a little sea salt and some black pepper.

Enjoy this? Then you might like spaghetti carbonara

Gingerbread men

Gingerbread men

I got a bit carried away. My daughter’s second birthday, a planned quiet family affair, somehow turned into a full blown high tea complete with grandma’s best china. It started with a cake topper. The famed green sheep from the gorgeous children’s book of the same name that I read to Thea every night before bed. I thought it might be nice to make her a cake that she would recognise and diligently sought out my nearest art shop so that I could purchase some fimo to make the little model from (I sentimentally thought that she could keep the lovingly made clay sheep). Simple. The next step was to find a cake recipe. And this is where my imagination got the better of me and I started book marking dozens of pages from an equal number of books. Cheese and olive biscuits, lemon meringue tartlets, double chocolate brownies. And gingerbread men.

Gingerbread men Gingerbread men Gingerbread men

I’ve always wanted to make gingerbread men, but haven’t for fear that the process would be too hard. Baking is not a process that I naturally turn to in the kitchen. I prefer to roast and simmer. Having a small person in my life though who has a penchant for all things crunchy and crisp, I’ve been doing more baking lately, preferring her to have homemade treats rather than ones in crinkly bright coloured packets from the supermarket. So with this in mind, I decided it best I set about learning how to make the gingery dough people.

Gingerbread men

Historically, I’ve never been one to let a recipe’s complexity put me off. As a chalet girl in France preparing dinner for 12 guests every night, my first real cooking job, trying out new recipes was second nature. Individual roasted shallot tart tatins, which I didn’t realise had to be inverted before serving. A cherry clafoutis made with cherries that I never thought to pit. Beignets, which are deep fried choux pastry. Apparently choux pasty is quite hard to master, but I dived in to the recipe head first, overcrowded the deep fryer and got oil all over the kitchen floor. The beignets worked out quite well though. A dodgy lamb curry from an English newspaper than one of my guests left behind, the spice paste made from scratch and the lamb and spices bought with more guesswork than exact translation. Looking back these mistakes makes me cringe. I was so eager to experiment and learn that I broke the golden rule of entertaining. Never try a new recipe out on your guests.

Gingerbread men

Making these gingerbread men for Thea’s party, I suppose I was breaking that rule again. But my family are used to being experimented upon. Besides, someone has to try my dishes after their first rendition. The spicy molasses coloured men with their happy faces and white outfits turned out really well. There was just the right amount of spice and they had a perfect snap. In fact I was so pleased, that I’ve made a mental note to make a gingerbread advent house for Christmas. So for all my cringing over previous failed efforts, though I would still advise not to try new recipes at dinner parties or on people that you aren’t that familiar with, do have a go at making new things. You never know where the process may lead you.

Gingerbread menGingerbread menDSC_0114 DSC_0147

Gingerbread men

Adapted from a recipe from Bake by Alison Thompson

Makes about 30

  • 100ml water
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 180g golden syrup
  • 3 tbsps ground ginger
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 250g butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 550g plain flour

Lemon icing

  • 1 egg white
  • 250g icing sugar
  • juice 1/2 lemon

Place the water, sugar, golden syrup, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.

Now add the butter one cube at a time and stir until it’s all melted, then add the bicarbonate of soda and make sure everything is well combined.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and allow to cool a little before sifting in the flour and stirring to until dough forms

Wrap the dough in cling wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

When the allocated amount of time is up, preheat the oven to 160C and line three baking trays with baking paper.

Take the dough from the fridge and cut it in half. Roll one half out evenly to a thickness of about  5mm and then being as space efficient as possible, cut gingerbread men from the dough with a gingerbread men cookie cutter. Place the cut out men onto the baking trays.

Bake the men for 20 minutes and then cool on the baking trays.

When the men are cool, ice them with lemon icing and then decide where you’re first bite will be. Head, arms or legs. Thea goes for the head!

To make the icing, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form and then still whisking add the icing sugar one spoonful at a time and then the lemon juice. Pour into a piping bag with a tiny little hole and decorate.

Enjoy this? You might like chocolate fork biscuits.

Macadamia chocolate bark

Sometimes after dinner, I want a nibble of something. Not a dessert, nor something to be eaten with a spoon. Just a treat, perhaps containing a little bit of sugar, to punctuate an evening meal. Often this mouthful is in the form of a square of dark chocolate, a duchy ginger biscuit with a slice of cheese or a handful of homemade granola. Having only Callabaut chocolate callets and an array of nuts and seeds in the house, I decided to make macadamia chocolate bark.macadamia chocolate bark

Ok. I confess. This idea wasn’t as spur of the moment as I have just presented it. Back in January, I took Mark to Rockpool Bar and Grill for his birthday. After being faultlessly served a seriously great dinner, we finished the evening with a glass of peaty single malt each and some sweet and salty dark chocolate bark with cashews and sesames. I have been wanting to replicate it ever since.

macadamia chocolate bark

That’s the thing with enjoying something so much at a restaurant that you are inspired to recreate it at home. Sometimes a recipe for exactly what you want to cook isn’t available. I remember having a little bowl sweetcorn soup as part of the build up to the main event in the Barossa Valley a long time ago. It was like velvet in my mouth and the perfect balance of sweet and salt. I attempted to repeat the dish at home, but my version failed miserably in comparison.

macadamia chocolate bark macadamia chocolate bark

I remember that we went to the Barossa because I wanted to go to Maggie Beer’s farm. A bit of a pilgrimage really. Sitting by the lake with our picnic of terrines, pates, fresh bread and fruit pastes purchased from the farm shop, the experience was delightful. I was eating at Maggie’s place. Everything tasted so good. But now if I buy her pates or pastes, the experience isn’t quite the same because I’m not in the moment. I’m not there in Nuriootpa, sitting on the grass by the lake. Sometimes food tastes so good because of the circumstances we eat it in. That said, it’s still fun to try and recreate recipes at home. It brings back fond memories of past tastes and occasions. And sometimes brings about new ones.

macadamia chocolate bark

Macadamia chocolate bark

 

  • 90g macadamias
  • 45g pumpkin seeds
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • pinch sea salt

Toast the nuts and seeds on separate trays in the oven for about 7 minutes at 180C. Leave to cool. Roughly chop the macadamias and then mix the two together.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the temperature go above 70C.

Mix half the seeds and nuts with the melted chocolate and then pour it on to a piece of greaseproof paper. Sprinkle the remaining seeds and nuts on top and cool in the fridge for about half an hour.

Break the chocolate into an assortment of sizes and serve as an after dinner nibble.