Overcooked quinoa 2 ways.

I’m not quite sure what I was thinking, but I added double the recommended amount of water to cook some quinoa the other day. Having spied some preserved lemons at the back of the fridge, I was intending to make a Morroccan inspired salad to go with some lamb cutlets. Then besides dinner, I got stuck in to other household chores, rushing to get them done before Thea woke up and totally forgot about the simmering pot on the stove. After a sharp intake of breath when I remembered the intended base for the salad, which now resembled a mass of tiny, sludgy, beige pearls, I composed myself and set about thinking what the hell was I going to do with a mound of overcooked quinoa.

I’m not one to waste food, which drives Mark crazy. He despairs with all the little parcels of leftovers in the fridge, but I always find a use for them. Stale sourdough bread is consistently made into crumbs for schnitzels, the ends of cheese are grated to go into a smelting pot in the freezer for pizza, cheese sauce and the occasional toasted sandwich and leftover gravy is added to béchamel sauce for robust green leafed  vegetable gratins that I love to serve with roast pork.  Faced with the watery, stodgy, flavourless mound of pseudo grains, I thought about what they resembled and in turn might be converted into. The mushy quinoa seemed like it would work well in place of mashed potato to make salmon cakes. And the fishcakes could be spiked with preserved lemon, capers, dil and parsley, punchy ingredients that would transform the bland pile into something edible once again. Some crisp green leaves would form a complete evening meal and once again dinner was back on track.

But wait. That’s not all. After making six large salmon fishcakes, I still had oodles of overcooked quinoa left. I started to wonder if I’d added four times the amount of water I was supposed to! That or I’d had a brain freeze and cooked enough for a large catering order. Either way, another recipe was needed to make use of what still remained. With the tiny person still asleep, I embarked upon another dish. This time a recipe from the Petite kitchen cookbook for Cheddar and quinoa muffins with sun dried tomatoes and basil. Single serve snacks that could be put in the freezer for when a tummy rumble struck. They’re very simple and quick to make and baked in little paper cases, an entirely portable snack.

After all the huffing and puffing and scolding of myself for not having set a timer for the quinoa, I was now able to survey my kitchen bench burdened with dinner, possible lunches and enough snacks for the foreseeable future. Hindsight usually reveals mistakes to be entirely perfect in their outcome.

Salmon fishcakes – a recipe using overcooked quinoa.

4 cups (over)cooked quinoa
2 fillets of cooked salmon, flaked
A handful of chopped parsley
A handful of chopped dill
1-2 tbs chopped capers
1 preserved lemon, rind finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and then shape into tennis ball size fish cakes.

I will confess that I tried to pan fry one of the salmon cakes, imagining that it would go crisp and chewy. This was not the case as the patties were too wet from, ahem, the overcooked quinoa. Baking resulted in a much better result.

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 180C.

Enjoy with a crisp green leaf salad.

Cheddar and quinoa muffins with sun dried tomatoes and basil.

From My Petite Kitchen Cookbook by Eleanor Ozich

540g cooked quinoa
4 eggs
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 large handfuls basil, chopped
40g sun dried tomatoes, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and then divide among the holes of paper lined muffin tin.

Makes approximately 6 large and 12 mini muffins.

Bake at 180C for about 25 minutes.

The best roast lamb ever.

I have been wanting to share this recipe with you for a while. Well, it’s more of a technique really. A way to cook the best roast lamb ever. It requires no effort. None. Apart from actually going to your butcher and buying a leg of lamb or three, getting a roasting tray and some foil ready and turning on the oven. That’s it. And the results are worthy of any dinner table. Tender, moist, flavoursome lamb that falls away from the bone with the touch of a feather. The thing that makes this lamb so great, apart from the ease with which it’s cooked, is the time that it gives you once it is done. It will happily sit on the kitchen bench wrapped in foil and a beach towel for hours. YES really, while you, well, get ready for the party!

The thing about once having been a cafe owner is that you get to repeat tasks over and over again, and you become quite skilled at certain recipes. By making mistakes and learning from them, you get even better too and realise what works and what certainly does not. So having cooked lamb like this to fill wraps along with tabbouleh and minted yoghurt many, many times, the process has become second nature, but the results are no less memorable.

I think the whole process of cooking lamb for lengthy periods of time first started after reading Paula Wolfert’s recipe for Seven Hour Garlic Crowned Lamb in her wonderful book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. Again I read Alice Waters‘ thorough explanation of slow cooking shoulder joints in her book The Art of Simple Food and somehow combined the two accounts to create a method where I could put lamb in the oven just before I went to bed and then take it out first thing in the morning ready to take to the cafe with me to satisfy lunch time customers. The technique is well tested.

Preparing lamb in this way has also become a favourite dish with some of my regular chef by the sea catering clients. Perhaps because even though the meat in itself is a spectacular but understated main, it’s the perfect partner to such a wide array of sides. Complemented by smoky baba ganoush or piquant chimichurri, at home with roast potatoes or herby quinoa, side by side with shredded kale, barbecued corn or roast pumpkin, on a plate for lunch and in a roll for dinner. It’s a perfect entertaining staple. And I hope that it serves you well.





The best roast lamb ever

For this recipe, which is more anecdotal than a precise list of steps, you will need three things.

  1. A whole leg or shoulder of lamb, bone in.
  2. A deep baking tray
  3. Aluminium foil

Preheat your oven to it’s hottest setting, so somewhere around 250 C. My oven is like a furnace, which for some things is actually fantastic, like caramelising the outside of a joint of meat before leaving it to braise in a few inches of water for the day or overnight.

While the oven is preheating, place the meat in the baking tray and when the oven’s little light goes out to indicate the right temperature has been reached, pop your joint of meat in for 20 minutes.

When 20 minutes has elapsed, remove the meat from the oven and turn the temperature down to about 100 C. The first time you do this you may need to use an oven thermometer to calibrate the point where your oven cooks at the is temperature, because for me this heat is not actually any temperature indicated on my oven’s dial, but rather marked with a Sharpie from having worked it out many times before.

Before putting your meat back into the oven, fill the baking tray with about two inches of water and cover it tightly with foil. Now put it back into the oven and you can leave the lamb to cook anywhere from six to 12 hours.

Before serving the lamb, and I believe this detail to be just as important as the initial 20 minute heat blast, remove it from the oven and its baking tray, place it on a deep platter, wrap it in foil and cover it with a towel. I have even placed the lamb in a suitable plastic container and popped it in an esky to rest and keep warm. It will sit quite happily for a few hours and still be piping hot, but succulently moist when you come to serve it.

And to serve, simply use two forks or a pair of tongs and help yourself.

Enjoy x