Tuscan kale and bean soup

After a glorious food focused weekend in Melbourne (just Mark and me, no Thea, eeek), back in the regularity of my home kitchen, I wanted to make something simple and warming. Something both visually appealing and delicious, but more akin to the everyday than the food that I had relished over the past few days. Tuscan kale and bean soup, perhaps inspired by time spent on Lygon Street, Melbourne’s ‘Little Italy’, seemed like a good idea. Colourful and textural, with its nourishing chicken stock, sultry kale and comforting beans. Plus the snowy cap of parmesan that I could finely grate over the top for a salty kick, made it a perfect fit.

Melbourne was fun and we ate very well. Black Angus intercostals, slow cooked for 36 hours, then charred to perfection and served with watercress and green chilli at the Town Mouse. Chorizo and mozzarella arancini (something to try and recreate at home) and crisp, salty crackling with remoulade at City Wine Shop. Beautifully fresh buffalo mozzarella simply dressed with peppery olive oil at DOP. And quite possibly the most stunning duck that I will ever eat in my life, 55 floors up, surrounded by a sea of twinkling lights illuminating the city below at Vue de Monde.

Dining at Vue de Monde is not an everyday event. It’s a theatrical, multi course, gourmet adventure, the date reserved well in advance. An occasion anticipated with great fervor. Something to get really excited about. At least for me anyway. I have been longing to dine at this highly acclaimed restaurant for nearly a decade, so finally stepping in to the private elevator, to take us up the Rialto tower to our table was a dream come true.

Every element of the dinner was flawless, from the filigree adorned cutlery, always perfectly positioned in readiness for the next course, to the absolute lightness of the finishing dish, a chocolate soufflé. The standout course though was roast duck. A duck that, before being carved, was brought to our table in all its roasted glory. Dry aged for 15 days and anointed with Tasmanian leatherwood honey and plentiful Murray River sea salt, roasted in a hot oven, the skin was an even dark caramel colour. The whole exterior reminded me of the top of a perfectly blowtorched creme brûlée, in that you know when you crack your spoon onto the glasslike melted sugar top, it will break with a wonderful crispy snap. Presented later to us on individual plates, the meat under the skin was blushing and the flavour, superb. With each mouthful, the duck was savoured and a food memory was firmly made.

I never get sick of eating. Or thinking about food and the things that I’m going to cook. Juxtaposing the elite creations sampled at Vue de Monde as well as the other wonderful food eaten in Melbourne though, with a simple but satisfying Tuscan kale and bean soup, allows me to take stock. To stand back and mentally digest the wonderfully indulgent, somewhat hedonistic, almost relaxing, (would have loved one more lie in) weekend just enjoyed.

Tuscan kale and bean soup

The quantities below make a large batch of Tuscan kale and bean soup, enough for a few suppers for two as well as several lunches.

For the chicken stock

  • 1 kg chicken bones
  • 2 sticks celery, roughy chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, quartered, you can leave the skin on
  • few bay leaves
  • tsp black peppercorns
  • juice of a lemon

Simply place the bones, 5 litres of water and lemon juice in a pot and leave to sit for 20 minutes.  This simple step helps to extract all the minerals from the bones.

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring the stock to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer the stock for anywhere between 4-24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the more nutrition will be extracted from the bones.

Cook for a minimum of four hours though to get a good flavour.  For the first two hours, periodically skim the top of the stock, just with a large spoon, to remove any foam.

After the desired cooking time, strain the stock though a sieve and discard the cooked ingredients.

For the Tuscan kale and bean soup

  • 250g cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight OR 2 400g tins cannellini beans
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced
  • 4 rashers bacon, diced
  • 1/2 butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero (or other kale), finely shredded
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Begin by cooking the soaked and strained beans in the chicken stock. This will take about 30 minutes.

At the same time, in another pot, sweat the onion, celery and carrot in a little oil. By sweat I mean cook the vegetables over a low heat with the lid on until they are very soft, but not browned.

Add the bacon to the sweated vegetables and cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken stock containing the cooked beans, cavolo nero and squash, salt and pepper. Simmer gently until the pumpkin and kale are cooked about 20 minutes. Check fro seasoning at this point and adjust as necessary.

Now here’s the thing. This Tuscan kale and bean soup is the perfect make ahead meal because it’s best cooked the day before it’s eaten. So, if you can resist, cool it, put it in the fridge and then reheat and enjoy the next day. With lots of finely grated parmesan, extra pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy this recipe? You might also like chestnut soup.

Indonesian chicken curry

My niece is turning 13. Officially becoming a teenager. And I have volunteered to cook her birthday meal. She’s vegetarian though and the challenge is to make food that she and her sometimes fussy siblings, five and seven, will enjoy, as well as the rest of the family. With the flavours of ginger, lemongrass and turmeric still lingering on my palate from a recent holiday to Bali, I felt inspired to make an Indonesian chicken curry. Ahem. Chicken in the form of skewers to be cooked on the barbecue. A medley of vegetables in the sauce. It’s a recipe that I’ve made many times before and I was sure that that the slightly sweet and creamy dish would appeal to everyone.


Making curry paste from scratch is a rewarding activity. It’s also fun, akin to being in an apothecary shop, collecting an array of less commonplace spice jars form the kitchen cupboards and transforming them into a flavoursome base for a dish. Some might be put off by the long list of ingredients needed for a spice paste, but there’s no reason. Only one (usually) process needs to be applied to them all, pounding with a pestal and mortar or the less strenuous method of blitzing in a food processor. For large batches of pastes, utilising a motor is very handy, but for small quantities, bashing ingredients together by hand can be extremely satisfying. Even therapeutic.

It’s worth mentioning that the turmeric in this recipe, which is vital for the colour and flavour of the dish, will stain. Your hands. Food processor. Kitchen bench. Chopping board. Even sink. Don’t be alarmed though. Simply clean as you go and no permanent damage will be done. Besides, the health benefits of turmeric far outweigh any yellow spots that might sit on the kitchen bench for a few days.

It turned out that everyone loved the bright yellow curry, especially the birthday girl, who asked for seconds. Even Miss. five and Miss. seven enjoyed it and both my sister in laws wanted to know the recipe, something that’s always taken as a huge compliment. And always shared. As far as curry pastes go, this one is pretty easy. And if my family is anything to go by, it’s universally liked. So go on, get those spice jars from the back of the cupboard and have a go.

Indonesian chicken curry

Adapted from a recipe by Alina Lucas

For the curry paste

  • 100g medium–hot red chillies, seeded 
  • 100 g (French) shallots, roughly chopped 
  • 25 g garlic cloves 
  • 5 macadamia nuts 
  • 40 g fresh turmeric, chopped 
  • 15 g ginger, chopped
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer stem removed and sliced 
  • 25 g galangal, chopped 
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
    2 tsp ground coriander 
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
    2 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg 
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2-4 tbs melted coconut oil  

Simply combine all ingredients in a food processor and run the motor until a coarse paste is formed. Loosen with melted coconut oil.

For the curry

  • 1 litre coconut milk
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp salt 
  • 75 g sugar
  • 1 kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into walnut-sized pieces 
  • 1 kg mixture of pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli and snow peas

Fry the curry paste over a moderate heat until it is fragrant, about five minutes. There should have been enough coconut oil added to the paste for there to be no need for any more, but if it starts to stick to the pan, you can add a little non-flavoured oil.

Now add the coconut milk, fish sauce, salt, sugar and bring the brilliant yellow sauce to a simmer.

Add the chicken and root vegetables and simmer until all are just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Now add the green veggies, simmer for a further 5 or so minutes. Check the sauce for seasoning and add more fish sauce, salt or sugar as necessary. The curry should be slightly sweet, rich and creamy.

Enjoy with steamed white rice, or simply in a big bowl with a spoon.

If you liked this recipe, you might also like this beef in red wine stew

Chicken in milk

I have been absent. From my computer and camera though. Not the kitchen. I’ve still been busy in there, creating some comforting and filling week night dinners in preparation for a half marathon that I’ve been training for. Pork belly with roast parsnips and leeks coated in a white sauce, Karen Martini’s baked polpette with brussels sprouts and washed rind cheese and Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk. Winter food to warm, fuel and nourish.

I am proud to report that I completed the 22 kilometre race course at the weekend in two hours and four minutes, much faster than I had anticipated. There’s a lot to be said for a little competition. To challenge yourself with your inner dialogue to overtake the lady in the grey top, and then the man in the blue t shirt. To maintain the faster pace because you tell yourself that you have trained well, that the scenery is beautiful and it’s a wonderful feeling to be up and exercising early on a Sunday morning. And then there’s the marshals cheering you on, uplifting your spirits and making you smile. It seems I run faster with a smile.

So now the question is, do I continue training for the full marathon in September. Currently with a cold and sore muscles, I’m not sure. But the possible achievement of completing the 42 kilometre run around Sydney, including running across the Harbour Bridge, does seem like a worthwhile feat. It’s also something that I’m curious to know if I can do. Watch this space.

But back to the chicken in milk. Cooking meat in milk is something that has been on my kitchen to do list for longer than I can remember, yet I have been scared of doing so for fear that it would be a complicated task. I can assure you now, it’s not. In fact this recipe yields stunning results for the small amount of effort that you have to put in. I adapted Jamie’s original recipe slightly to incorporate the flavours of bread sauce, a classic British sauce that traditionally accompanies roast chicken. It’s a sauce that I am an absolute fan of. Enjoy.

Chicken in milk

Adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver from his book Happy days with the naked chef

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 lemons, zest removed with a vegetable peeler
  • bunch of sage, leaves picked
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 10 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 500ml milk

Begin by browning the chicken on both sides in a little oil. Use a sturdy bottomed pan to do this, preferably that one that you are going to cook the chicken in the oven in. Heat the pan over a low heat, place the chicken inside and simply let it sit on one side until it is golden brown, which will take about 5 minutes, before turing it over (with thongs) and repeating the process.

If there is excess oil at this pout, drain it form the pan.

Now add the the remaining ingredients and place the pan in an oven preheated to 180 C.

Cook the chicken for about 1 hour 30 minutes, basting with the milk regularly.

Serve with green vegetables and mashed potato to soak up all the beautiful sauce. I used some of the milky sauce in the mashed potato. Delicious.

Enjoy this recipe. You might also like classic meatballs and spaghetti.

Three cheese quesadillas

I was craving cheese. Not just any cheese, but molten, runny, stringy cheese. In snack form, to be eaten with fingers and no need for a table. Being Friday, I knew exactly what I would make. Three cheese quesadillas. White corn tortillas, hot and crisp, glued together with melted cheese, spiked with pickled jalapeños. A lazy dinner requiring little effort or preplanning, that we could graze on throughout the evening while chatting about the week’s events.


The weekends seem to have been very busy lately, but Friday’s are still exciting, signalling a change of pace. Activities done on a Saturday and Sunday are usually carried out at in a much more leisurely manner and unrelated to Monday to Friday’s work. To mark the change in tempo, Friday dinners are fun. They involve less formality or forethought and in our house, a lot of the time, they are eaten with fingers around the kitchen bench. Sticky pork ribs, pancakes with crispy lamb and hoi sin sauce, garlic prawn pots with crusty bread, home made pizza and often, these three cheese quesadillas.


I’m not sure what it is about grated cheese, but I have always been one to steal little handfuls of this ingredient when it is sitting in a pile on a chopping board, prepared and ready for a recipe. It could be because it’s naughty. As I child I knew my mum needed all the cheese that she’d grated for a dish, but I couldn’t help sneaking some to stuff into my mouth while she wash’t looking. It could be textural, the way you can compress the individual strands together in your mouth. It could also be because you get the impression that you are being completely overindulgent, the air between the yellow strands tricking you, making you think you are eating more that you really are. Whatever the reason, grate lots of cheese for this dish. More that you think that you will reasonably need to sandwich together two corn tortillas. It will melt into a comforting, salty, savoury, moorish snack that you just won’t be able to resist.

Three cheese quesadillas

  • 3 types of cheese – your choice. I used mozzarella for it’s stringy characteristic when melted, cheddar cheese for it’s punchy flavour and feta for it’s saltiness and creamy quality when hot.
  • corn tortillas. They must be corn. Flour tortillas just don’t crisp in the same way and are more prone to burning.
  • pickled jalapeños, finely chopped
  • oil for frying
  • optional Mexican beer

1. Lay out several corn tortillas and spread each with a teaspoonful of pickled jalapeños.

2. Take a handful of the first cheese and evenly distribute it over the tortilla.

3. Now do the same with the second and third cheeses.

4. Place another tortilla on top the cheese laden base tortilla and you are ready to start frying.

5. Set a frying pan over a moderate heat and let it become nice and hot.

6. Pour a little oil into the pan and add the quesadilla. Fry until cheese starts to pour from the sides of the tortilla and the base is crisp and brown.

7 .Flip the tortilla with a spatula and cook until the other side is also browned, then tip onto a chopping board, cut into slices and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? You might also like this cheesy recipe for gougeres