Category Archives: main courses

Recipe: Ratatouille for a ratty week

Taking a break from the travel diaries to write down a recipe that has been a bit of a lifesaver for me this year.  It tastes like comfort food, it’s full of vegetables, it creates copious leftovers, and it takes maybe ten minutes of preparation time.  Probably less, really.  And because the vegetables are all soft, I can even make it when my wrist is acting up and doesn’t want me to chop things. 

You can serve it with all sorts of things, really.  It goes with bread and hummus (or you can fling some chickpeas in to bake with the rest of the ratatouille), or grilled haloumi (which you can also chop into chunks and throw in to bake for the last ten minutes); with roasted or boiled potatoes and felafel or grilled fish or chicken; it’s great over giant couscous (again, with chickpeas), or stirred through pasta, or even made into a bake with bocconcini and more pasta. 

You can serve it hot, or warm, or at room temperature.  Tonight, I’ll be serving it hot with some little pies from Zaatar – lamb, and haloumi, and spinach.  And probably with some roast potatoes because everything is better with roast potatoes, especially when you are eating super late because it took nearly two hours to get home from work and your husband hasn’t even managed to leave work yet and it’s nearly 9pm…

This is not as fancy as my other ratatouille recipe, but it tastes very nearly as good and takes far less time.  It’s Friday night-worthy, which is really saying something, especially after a fortnight like the one I’ve had, with lots of stress and very little sleep.  (Though one of my scientists did bring me cake to cheer me up, which was possibly the nicest thing anyone has done for me ever.)

Oh, and it doesn’t create a lot of washing up, either.  Just one giant baking dish.  There’s really nothing not to like, unless you are entirely anti-vegetable.

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Your Shopping List

3 large capsicums, preferably in different colours
2 red onions
2 medium zucchini
1 largeish eggplant
olive oil
lavender salt
black pepper
rosemary
dried mint
400g cherry tomatoes
500ml – 750 ml (whatever size bottle you have) tomato passata
dried basil

(I know these amounts are very vague.  It really is a sprinkle of this and a sprinkle of that, and it is very much to taste.  If you don’t have lavender salt, a pinch of salt with some culinary lavender is good, or skip the lavender and add a little fennel, and rather more rosemary.  It will be fine.)

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Recipe: Modular Salad for Lots of Dietary Requirements

My best friend lives in Darwin, and she’s having a baby (!!!), so I went up for a quick visit last weekend, to hang out, help out a bit, but mostly just have a good chance to catch up for the last time before there is an adorably cute little barrier to conversation in the house!

The beach at Fannie Bay, just outside the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

The beach at Fannie Bay, just outside the Museum of the Northern Territory

My friend has gestational diabetes, and her husband has a number of allergies and food sensitivities, and when you add to these culinary challenges the fact that Darwin is appallingly hot and humid, figuring out dinner is a bit of a challenge.

On the road south of Darwin.  This picture somehow conveys the weather perfectly.

On the road south of Darwin.

Like many people in Darwin, they don’t have family living locally, so we also talked a fair bit about planning for food that requires minimum preparation time when there is a small baby in the house.  (Not that I have ever had a small baby in the house, but I am all about minimal food preparation in hot weather.  Or grant season.)

Wattle, coming into bloom.  In hot weather.  Did I mention that Darwin was hot?

Wattle, coming into bloom. In hot weather. Did I mention that Darwin was hot?

We came up with this modular salad, which has the capacity to tick lots of mutually-exclusive boxes. It’s more an idea than a recipe, and it’s pretty simple, but it’s a useful one and worth sharing, I think.

(It’s unofficial name is Franken-Niçoise salad, because originally, there was going to be tuna.  But since we skipped the tuna, and the green beans were looking a bit dodgy, it’s just Modular Salad now.)

We liked it, and hope you will too.

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Your shopping list (for about 5-6 serves, which can be held over for later if need be)

One lettuce
Two punnets of cherry tomatoes
Two Lebanese cucumbers
Two red capsicums
One tin of cannellini beans, drained
Six smallish potatoes, preferably waxy ones
Six eggs
A handful of olives (optional)
A few spring onions (optional)
A tin or two of tuna or salmon; or leftover poached or roasted chicken; or tuna steaks if you are willing to cook such; or marinated and grilled tofu; or pre-prepared felafel, or even toasted hazelnuts or cubes of cheese.  You want about 100g per person of protein that is ready to eat, essentially.
Extra virgin Olive oil
Red wine vinegar (or cider vinegar if that’s what your friend can eat)
Salt, pepper
Tzatziki, or mayonnaise, or plain greek yoghurt with a teaspoon of dijon mustard

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Recipe: Jacket Sweet Potatoes with Vegetarian Chilli and Guacamole

I have no idea when I will escape this food blog hiatus!  Even when I make and photograph food, there never seems to be time to write about it – and most of the food I’ve been making this year has fallen into the category if quick and simple.  And they tend to rely pretty heavily on Gewürzhaus spice mixes, which isn’t so helpful for recording them here.

I’m very fond of jacket sweet potatoes.  Actually, I’m very fond of jacket potatoes, but my husband has an unnatural dislike of them, and sweet potatoes are better for you anyway, so that’s how it goes.  If I ever manage to achieve regular writing on this blog, you can expect a fair number of jacket sweet potato recipes going forward, as they are becoming a bit of a winter staple…

This particular recipe, though, I’ve made a few times recently.  It’s a nice, healthy, vegan dinner that is straightforward enough for a Friday night at the end of a long week.  It wasn’t vegan on purpose, which is one reason it is so good, I suspect – I always get the cheese out, but never seem to use it, and when I made a point of using it once, it didn’t taste as good.  So this is a meal that really wants to be vegan!  It also happens to be gluten free and low-GI, and reasonably healthy, and tastes lovely and fresh and comforting, which makes it a much better alternative to the Friday night takeaway which was becoming a habit.

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Your Shopping List

3 medium sweet potatoes (I know that’s vague, but aim for a similar sort of weight to what you’d do for an ordinary jacket potato meal)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, brown or red
1-2 tsp cajun spice mix, or a mixture of cumin, oregano, garlic, paprika and chilli
1 tin of black beans, drained (these are suddenly available at the supermarket!  Yay!  But if you can’t find them, red kidney beans also work)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp chipotle chilli powder, or to taste
a little salt (lime salt is great if you have it)
2 spring onions (the long, thin ones that also get called shallots)
2 roma tomatoes
juice of one lemon or one lime (I almost never have limes, lemons do nicely)
2 tsp Gewürzhaus Guacamole Spice, if you have it, but failing that, a mixture of salt, cumin and chilli will do – probably a teaspoon in total will be fine.
2 avocadoes
chopped coriander, optional

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Recipe: Easy pasta with chicken and optional kittens

This is a recipe I posted on my personal blog back in 2003, when Mystery and Mayhem were still kittens.  The idea was to have a pasta recipe that was done by the time the pasta was cooked.  This recipe can, of course, be made vegetarian with feta replacing the chicken, and these days I might also make it vegan with chickpeas and a little chilli for zing.

I’m re-posting this recipe today for several reasons.  First, Mystery has not come home, and at this point, we are inclined to think that we have lost her.  I have written a memorial post for her on Cate Speaks, but I remembered this post, and thought it made a fitting memorial to put on a food blog.

Second, I have tendonitis, so typing is painful, and this recipe comes pre-typed.

Thirdly, it turns out that cooking is even more painful than typing, so I’m probably not going to be writing much here in the next little while.  I wanted to explain my probable absence in advance for a change.

Your shopping list

1/2 barbecued chicken
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
2 roma tomatoes
1 green capsicum
1 bunch basil
200g sundried tomato pesto (the ‘stir a whole bottle through pasta’ kind, not the ‘use two teaspoons worth’ kind)
Dried oregano and black pepper to taste
300g vegeroni sprial pasta
Two black and white kittens (optional garnish) Continue reading

Recipe: Pasta with Chickpeas and Greens

This is a recipe I made way back in August after being given a big bunch of broad bean leaves  – I didn’t even know they were edible.  It’s a nice, simple, wholesome dinner recipe, good for Boxing Day, when you just want something plain and not too rich and reasonably healthy to eat.

You can use any greens you have in the garden – wild greens, tromboncino zucchini greens, Warrigal greens, silverbeet – whatever.  Or you can use supermarket greens.  120g is a standard packet size for a lot of things like rocket and baby spinach.  Just get a good mix – 2-3 big bunches worth – chop them roughly and off you go.

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Your Shopping List

olive oil
4 garlic cloves (I mean it!)
1 tbsp chilli flakes (I mean that, too!)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp italian herbs (or just oregano)
salt, pepper
120 g baby kale
120 g baby spinach
1 bunch broad bean leaves
400 g chickpeas, tinned (drain and use the water for meringues!)
300 g pasta
80 g pine nuts
parmesan to serve

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Recipe: Cauliflower, Carrot, Crouton and Beetroot Thing of Great Yumminess (Vegan!!)

As you might have discerned, I have no idea what to call this recipe.  It’s sort of technically a main course salad, though a salad with absolutely nothing green in it doesn’t seem quite salad-y to me.  I know that ‘Bowls’ are the current big thing, but calling it a Bowl just seems pretentious to me.  Mélange sounds right to me, but probably sounds pretentious to everyone who isn’t me, so that’s no good.

The important thing to know about this meal is that it is *delicious*.  Picture this scenario: it’s the end of a long day at work.  The grants have just opened on RGMS.  I’ve gotten home late, because I was running choir after work.  I haven’t had a proper night’s sleep in about a week.  I’m tired and I am cranky and I am sulking because basically I want fish and chips or takeaway, preferably something with lots of creamy cheese in it like four cheese pasta, or alternatively all the chocolate in the world, and here I am with stale bread, leftover beetroot dip, a cauliflower and a bunch of slightly elderly carrots.

This is not the stuff of which comfort food is made.

And yet… honestly, I feel like this is the best thing I’ve eaten all week.  It was sooo good.  Warm and earthy and crunchy and soft and squidgy and aromatic and sweet and savoury and probably nowhere near as good for me as I’d like to pretend, though better than fish and chips, eh, and actually not too much of a pain to make.

So here I am, desperately wanting an early night but unable to rest without writing down just what I did, because I will need to do it again sometime.  Sometime soon.  And maybe so will you.

(I apologise for the slightly vague quantities and the terrible photos – this is what happens when you are making dinner from the fridge and don’t really have plans to write it up because you are sulking at having to eat vegetables when all you want is cheesy cheesy pasta or maybe cheesy cheesy chips.)

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Your Shopping (or leftovers) list

1 cauliflower – fairly large, I’d say
1 red onion
olive oil
1 tbsp ras el hanout or other moroccan spice mix
salt
6-8 smallish carrots (no idea how many really, more or fewer will be fine, and colourful is good)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
about half a baguette’s worth of sourdough olive bread, or any other good chewy bread
a tablespoon of parmesan (optional)
400g tin of chickpeas
about 100 – 150g of beetroot dip – I had about half a pot of beautiful beetroot and hazelnut dip with dukkah from Shouki and Louise, which is what I used here.

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Recipe: Lamb and Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Lemon, Chilli and Oregano

I keep popping my head up for air and then making big promises of a return to regular blogging.  And then I get swallowed up by work again, or come down with the plague, or both, and I disappear underwater again for another month.

So I’m not going to make any grandiose plans this time, except to note that I do, in fact, have three posts in progress right now, and a likely two more to come, if only I can tread water fast enough… After that, well, August is full of centenary stuff for work, so I suspect I will start sinking again.  But I’ll be back when I can, I promise.

(and if you are interested in the Centenary stuff, here’s a link to all the Science in the Square events for August – they look like a lot of fun, so if science is something you are interested in, come along and see what’s happening!)

To the recipe, Batman!

This was just a simple stew I put together one Sunday evening when I had a shoulder of lamb that wasn’t quite defrosted enough to roast, a couple of lemons which had been zested but not juiced, chickpeas from a tin that had been drained for meringue purposes and were drying out in the fridge, and a lot of tomatoes and onions – and also no desire to go to the shops.  I was in an Italian or Greek sort of mood, so I added oregano and chilli and just a little cinnamon, and the result was one of the best lamb stews I’ve ever made – very fresh and clean tasting, and lovely with Turkish bread, labneh and tabouli (and the next night, in a bake with macaroni and melted cheese).

Of course, the challenging part of this recipe – which I do not expect you to do – was getting the meat off the lamb shoulder.  You see, this was yet another piece of the infamous and enormous Roast Lamb Pack that I got at Easter, in a state of ill-advised post-Lenten euphoria, but we just don’t eat that many roasts in our household.  So I figured I’d carve the lamb off the bone and cut it into chunks myself.  This turned out to be tricky for two reasons.  First, the lamb just would not defrost, which made cutting it difficult.  And secondly, well, let’s just say that I have renewed respect for butchers as professionals.  Figuring out where the bone is (especially when the joint is half frozen) is really difficult.  Making usefully sized and shaped chunks out of the meat, while avoiding waste, is even harder.  I suspect diced meat is priced well under what it is worth in terms of labour.

But in this case, my work was all worthwhile.  This is a great stew, and I’ll be making it again.

(And apologies for returning to blogging with yet another meat post.  Sadly, the tireder I am, the more likely I am to revert to easy food, and my repertoire of easy vegetarian food that Andrew will also eat is just not up to the job… something to work on next year, when I have a life again!)

Your Shopping List

olive oil
500 g – 750g lamb shoulder, diced by someone else
2 tsp lamb spice mix from Gewürzhaus (optional)
2 big onions, sliced
2 tbsp chilli flakes (yes, this is quite hot, but it’s a nice, clean heat – I really liked it)
2 tbsp oregano
5 cloves of garlic (or cheat like I did, and use 1 tablespoon of Gewürzhaus garlic lovers spice)
a handful of cherry tomatoes (optional, I had some, they were going to go off if I didn’t use them, you know the drill…)
2 tins of tomatoes, or one tin of tomatoes and a jar of tomato-based pasta sauce
juice of two lemons
1 tin of chickpeas (drained)
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper to taste Continue reading

Recipe: Slow Cooker Lamb Shoulder with Lemon and Garlic

As is my custom, I went vegetarian for Lent this year.  Then, at the end of Lent, Simply Free Range had this special on a lamb roast pack and I got a little bit overexcited and also apparently failed to read just how many joints of meat I was actually getting in this pack, and since then we have been positively swimming in lamb roasts of various kinds (actually, after the first week of this lamb-fest, during which I invited over just about everyone I could think of to share in the lamb-ish bounty, I did a freezer clean-out, and moved the rest of the joints to the fridge, where they now sit.  Waiting…).  Which is a bit bad, when you consider that Andrew doesn’t really like roast lamb.  Oops.

Still, he liked this one, and so did I, not least because it was magnificently easy and not at all roast like.  Essentially, you put your lamb in the slow cooker before work, with a few herbs and lemon and quite a bit of garlic to help it along, and leave it there all day.  (Don’t forget to switch the cooker on before you go…) When you come home, you take out the lamb and it just falls apart.  I quite literally served it on a big dish and gave everyone forks – no carving required, everyone could just pull off what they needed.  Amazing.  The garlic, meanwhile, has basically melted, and can be spread all over the lamb like a sauce.  It’s pretty much an advertisement for what a slow cooker can do for you. Completely fabulous.

Your Shopping list:

1 boned and rolled lamb shoulder
2 onions
2 potatoes (optional)
4 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of three lemons
1/2 cup white wine
salt, pepper
1 bulb garlic Continue reading

Recipe: Scrambled Tofu with Cajun Spices

Three quarters of the way through the month and it’s probably time I actually created a recipe for my Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian Food challenge.  And in fact, I did create this recipe, several days ago – I’m just having trouble getting around to posting it. I’m running a big event at work next week and am being a bit overwhelmed not so much by the workload as by the slightly terrifying levels of enthusiasm and competitiveness being demonstrated by those around me. 

The number of questions I’ve been getting about exactly how things will work and precisely how I will prevent cheating – including the Graphics department expressing an alarming level of concern about people forging voting tokens (and I’m not at *all* worried that it’s the people who design all the images, drawings, posters etc who have forgery on their minds…) is… well, let’s just say that I’m beginning to wonder if my trust in my colleagues is misplaced and I should be appointing scrutineers.  And maybe the Electoral Commission, to supervise.

(Still, given that my biggest worry a few weeks ago was that nobody would participate, overwhelming enthusiasm is a fairly nice problem to have.  I am beginning to feel a little bit like a kindergarten teacher, however.)

Anyway.  This is indeed a lovely, quick recipe to make – and it’s tofu, which is a product I’m normally terrified of, so it’s slightly amazing, even to me, that this recipe has been getting onto my weeknight roster.  To me, this tastes like a nice, spicy version of scrambled eggs.  (Andrew tells me it tastes nothing like scrambled eggs. He’s wrong, but since he hates eggs, and likes this recipe, I’m not going to complain…)  Like scrambled eggs, it’s a good, fast recipe to put together on a hot day.

I like to serve this with corn chips, which saves any extra cooking and is also yummy.  But it’s pretty nice on it’s own, or you could stuff it into a burrito for a vegan version of breakfast burritos…

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Your shopping list

250 g soft tofu
4 spring onions (scallions)
2 capsicums, one red and one green
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Cajun spice mix
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, or 1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
½ tsp turmeric
250 g cherry tomatoes
small handful of fresh coriander (optional – leave it out if you hate coriander)
½ cup grated cheese or vegan cheeze (cheddar, mozzarella, or a combination of cheeses)
corn chips or bread to serve

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Recipe: Cucumber Noodles with Gazpacho Sauce and Guacamole

I am the worst hostess ever for Pasta Please. No sooner do I set the Make Your Own Pasta challenge, but I acquire a Herman starter and become obsessed with him, and then disappear into my politics blog for a round of intensive pre-election blog-writing, pausing only to run out and sing in what feels like every church in Melbourne.  It’s a shocker.

But I am not a total failure, because here I am, a day before the end of the challenge, and I have made pasta! Or a kind of pasta anyway.  What with not being in my kitchen long enough to cook much of anything for the last couple of weeks, getting out the pasta machine was never going to be an option.  But my vegetable spiraliser is another story, and I had this random idea one one of the hot days recently about cucumber noodles, which would surely be an incredibly cooling thing to eat.  But what do you put with cucumber?  Well, I’m fairly sure cucumber gets used in Gazpacho, which is also lovely and cooling… at least until the lid falls off your bottle of hot sauce at the crucial moment and you accidentally add a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon.  My face is still tingling hours later…

Anyway, cucumber noodles with Gazpacho sauce it was, and very cooling and delicious it was too.  Alas, the weather was also quite cold, and not so auspicious for my purposes, so I’m calling this a trial run for the summer.  This is more of a light meal than a main, by the way – sort of a fancy salad, really.  But it’s very fast to make, and would be a beautiful starter for a long summer meal.
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Your Shopping List

3 roasted capsicums (from a jar is fine, you’re adding vinegar anyway)
6 roma tomatoes + 1 for the guacamole
2 tsp red wine vinegar (see?)
1 tsp hot sauce, or to taste, or however much you drop into the blender by accident
3 celery sticks
1 red onion
a handful of coriander, plus another handful for the guacamole
2 small avocados
1 clove garlic
1 tsp guacamole spice mix (sorry, I’m lazy today)
juice of 1 lime
6 lebanese cucumbers Continue reading