Tag Archives: nut-free

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 and Review: Blood Orange Jaffa Cakes and Deceptive Desserts

When I got back to work after my long service leave earlier this year, I discovered a cookbook on my desk, courtesy of one of my Professors.  This is an excellent way to come back from long service leave and I highly recommend it to any who are considering such a thing.  The book was  Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad! (which I see is actually discounted at the Book Depository right now), and it is a rather brilliant collection of recipes for ill-advised treats – face-hugger cake, cannoli with little kitten faces, Frankenstein’s monster cake, terror-mi-su, cinnamon buns shaped to look like serpents ready to strike, cat-lady jello, and my personal favourite, screaming strawberries in vanilla mousse with chocolate tentacles.

It’s kind of like someone watched a lot of 1980s Dr Who and then read the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book right before bedtime, and then had nightmares.

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The illustrations are truly a thing of beauty – Christine McConnell, who is a stylist and photographer as well as a baker, photographs herself in vintage costumes that coordinate with her various disturbing desserts, with the occasional cat in the background, looking appalled.

The recipes are also nicely varied – it isn’t the sort of cake book that gives you six basic recipes at the start and then focuses on how to decorate them; there are recipes for sugar cookies (decorated to look like gravestones), waffle cones, various mousses and jellies, lime meringue cakes, devil’s food cakes, donuts (disguised as fried chicken and vegetables), banana bread, caramel popcorn, peppermint brownies, and apple pie, to name a random assortment.  I would note that the recipes are American and thus tend to have rather more sugar than I prefer in my cakes, but this is a minor quibble for an extremely fun and comprehensive book.

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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: Shortbread with Buddha’s Hand Citrus

I’ve only seen Buddha’s Hand Citrons once before, and weirdly, only at Coles, but I adore them.  Not only do they look like some sort of unnatural offspring of a lemon tree and a squid (leading to their affectionate nickname in our household of ‘Cthulu-lemons’ or ‘tentacle-fruit’), they smell rather amazing.  It’s a scent I can only describe as perfumed – lemony and floral at the same time. 

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Buddha’s Hand Citron (and I am now feeling rather concerned about the shape of Buddha’s hands, actually) is all zest and pith, with no juicy centre at all.  I’ve been fiddling around with different ways to use it to really bring out the flavour.  My mother’s shortbread recipe, which really only has four ingredients and thus tastes basically like butter and sugar (which, I hasten to add, is not a bad thing in any way) seemed like a good place to start.

The result is… well, it’s a rather nice biscuit, but in the end, I found the flavour rather subtle, and too much like lemon rather than anything else.  But when I tried testing it scientifically on real scientists, they seemed to like it more, and detect a different flavour.  So it’s possible that my tastebuds are just not sophisticated enough for the job.  This is entirely plausible, frankly.  I’ve often suspected that I was a fake foodie in this regard…

See what you think.

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Your shopping list

finely grated zest from one small Buddha’s Hand citron (about 5g)
150 g butter, softened
80 g caster sugar
150 g plain flour
40g rice flour Continue reading

Recipe: Super Easy Tomato Soup

Hello!  It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?  Sorry about that.  I got back from overseas, and dove straight into election mode, which meant a heap of work on my politics blog, and then I slept for several days, and then I went back to work, and then I got sort of low level sick for about a week and a half and then horrible things happened around the world and I got depressed about it, and then I had fiction writing to do, and then it was suddenly August.  I shall try not to go on such a prolonged hiatus again, but I make no promises – politics happens, work never stops happening, and I’m really enjoying writing fiction on my Stories Under Paris site at the moment, more than I’ve enjoyed writing anything for years, so a lot of my energy will be focused there.  I’m trying to reduce my hours at work, which should help a little, and I want to use some of the time I recapture to work on a cookbook, but I have to do things that aren’t writing sometimes, too, especially as my wrist is still not great…

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of very easy cooking recently, and I’ve made this soup a couple of times (without once managing to photograph it, alas), and really like it.  I’m not going to claim that it is a work of genius, and it does rely rather on things from the pantry, but it’s a tasty soup for a winter night, especially when served with a toasted jarlsberg cheese sandwich.  I like the combination of tomato flavours from passata, chopped tomatoes and freshly roasted ones – I think you get an interesting balance of tomatoishness from the different treatments the tomatoes have received.  (But mostly I like it because it feels like a healthier version of my childhood comfort food of Campbells Tomato Soup from a tin…)

Your Shopping List

1 kg roma tomatoes
1 red onion
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegarolive oil, salt and pepper for roasting
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1 bottle (500-700ml) passata

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Recipe: Saffron and Cardamon Yoghurt (Shrikhand)

I originally encountered this recipe in a pack from the glorious (and sadly, now on hold) Curry Delights startup.  It is a beautiful, pale-yellow-tinted, cooling yoghurt dessert flavoured with cardamom and the honey-like scent of saffron, and I absolutely loved it – so much that I made it two nights running, in fact. 

Ambika and Vikram’s version of this dish was super-easy and very quick, but relied on a couple of products that I was unable to source in Australia, so once I ran out (i.e., about four days after first encountering the recipe), I was out of luck.  I did have recipes for Shrikhand in other books, but none of them looked quite right (though I *highly* approve of the one that suggests adding popping candy, and I will be doing this at the first opportunity), and most of them, being more traditional, required a longer preparation time, as the recipes relied on drained yoghurt.

But I was really craving those lovely, cooling flavours again this week, so I decided that it was time to see if I could cross the various recipes, modified slightly to my tastes, and make a version that was feasible here.

Short version?  I did, and it was glorious, and I’m writing it up right now, so that I don’t forget the quantities…

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Your Shopping List

saffron strands – a big pinch, crumbled between your fingers into a little bowl
250 g light cream cheese
1/3 cup icing sugar (slightly heaped, to be honest)
1/4 tsp cardamom powder, also heaped
350 g low fat Greek Yoghurt (nothing wrong with full fat, but the low fat Black Swan one is nicer than the full fat anyway, and frankly, this dessert does not need to be any richer than it is)
200g raspberries, to serve.  Trust me, you want something fresh and acidic. Continue reading

Recipe: Italo-Franco-Australian Berry Trifle

It is no secret on this blog that I am very fond of Josephine’s beautiful French tea shop in Brunswick.  What I have perhaps not mentioned about Josephine’s is that in addition to her beautiful macarons, crème brulées, tarts, savouries and other handmade goodies, she also stocks a small collection of imported French goodies.

Among other things, these include Rose de Reims biscuits, which are a pink biscuit, rather like a small, elegant sponge finger, designed to be dipped in champagne.  They do not, alas, taste like roses, but they did instantly inspire in me a desire to make a pink version of my berry-mi-su trifle (which I could have sworn I wrote about here, but can no longer find anywhere on this site), spiked with rosewater and champagne.

So I did.  I dipped the pink biscuits into champagne from a tiny bottle I was given a few years ago, combined mascarpone and ricotta with a little sugar, and layered the whole lot with mixed berries tossed a little rose syrup.

And it was delicious – light and fresh and unexpectedly alcoholic, a delicious meal for a hot day.

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Your shopping list

600 g mixed berries (prepared weight, any kind)
2 tsp rose syrup
250 mascarpone
250 ricotta (light ricotta works and then you can pretend this is healthy!)
50 g sugar
200ml champagne or chardonnay or any sparkling white
125g rose de renne biscuits (or sponge fingers)

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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: 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: Fruits in Liqueur

A couple of years ago, Diana Henry put out a book called Salt Sugar Smoke, which is all about preserving things.

I’m terrified of preserving things, because my kitchen is always full of dirty dishes and I’m convinced that no matter how careful I am about sterilising jars, I’m going to give everyone botulism.

However.  There was one collection of recipes that that looked so simple that it was basically irresistible.  Also, they are completely full of alcohol, and I defy any botulism bacteria to find a way in to something that is basically alcohol and sugar.

Lots of alcohol.  Lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol.  And sugar.

Lots of alcohol. Lots and lots and LOTS of alcohol. And sugar.

Also also, it’s November, and I’m about to get consumed by Christmas singing.  If I don’t get onto Christmas now, I’m basically stuffed.  And what could be more Christmassy than fruit preserved in excessive quantities of alcohol and sugar?

So on Sunday morning I hied me to the Farmers’ Market for stone fruits, and then to the bottle shop, where I proceeded to buy more alcohol than I have ever seen before (and probably considerably more than I have consumed in my lifetime to date, come to think of it), under the helpful supervision of the kindly Hannah at Dan Murphy’s, who took pity on my complete confusion about what eau de vie was and which kind of rum might work better in Confiture Vieux Garçon, and helped me find options that were not too outrageously expensive.

(She also very kindly did not look at me as though I was a total lush, though, to be fair, my obvious ignorance of what most of the things I was buying actually tasted like probably made it clear that I wasn’t a very promising candidate for alcoholism.  Though I did get quite distracted by a Sicilian blood orange liqueur which I could absolutely not justify buying…)

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Anyway, first, I want you to know that putting fruit in alcohol is awesome, and so is Diana Henry’s book.  My personal favourite recipe so far is the aforementioned Confiture Vieux Garçon, which is essentially a thing where you take fruit as it is ripe, mix it with sugar and cover it with brandy, kirsch or rum, and then leave it until the next round of fruit is ripe, at which point you sugar that and add it and cover it with more alcohol, and so on, until your jar is full of layers of different kinds of fruit, all thoroughly sozzled.

But the reason I’m really writing this post, the magic, glorious thing that I discovered this weekend is because I have discovered the ultimate Christmas gift recipe.  You can make it in November and then forget about it while you do all your mad Christmas parties and singing in December.  In fact, you want to make it in November, because it needs time to steep and become glorious.  It looks beautiful.  It tastes divine.  It is luxurious.  And it takes less than five minutes to make.

Do I have your attention?

Here it is:

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Your shopping list

500 g dried nectarines
750 ml white muscat Continue reading