RSS Feed

Category Archives: Healthy

Chicken, Leek and Asparagus Oven Risotto


Here’s another recipe that’s super easy, pretty fast and will cheer you up if you’re staying at home in social isolation.

It’s quick and easy because it’s an oven baked risotto! The recipe Is based on a Bill Granger recipe. Our own home grown cook and restaurateur has recipes for a couple of oven baked risottos.It makes sense to let the oven do the cooking rather than spend all that time stirring on the stove top!

You could replace the leeks or asparagus with whatever you fancy – zucchini, peas, broad beans or even tomatoes for a red hued risotto…

And have a glass or two of the riesling that you opened to put in the risotto!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
500g chicken breast or thighs, cut into thin strips
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced into rounds
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
250g Arborio rice
500ml chicken stock
250ml white wine + extra if needed
1 bunch of asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
A handful of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus extra to serve
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole dish on the stove top over a high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining olive to the pan, then the onion and leek, and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until the onion and leek are soft. Add the lemon zest and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat the grains in the oil. Add the chicken stock and white wine, and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.

Cover the casserole and put in the oven for 20 minutes. At this point, if the risotto seems to have absorbed all the liquid, add a splash or two of white wine. Add asparagus, return the chicken to the casserole and bake for a few minutes or until the asparagus is just tender, the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Bill says to do this for 3-4 minutes, I found it took more like 10 minutes to fully cook the rice.

Stir in parmesan or pecorino and season with salt and pepper. Serve with extra cheese.

Homemade Granola with Dried Grapes and Figs



Looking back over my blog there are several posts for granola. I love eating homemade granola – you know exactly what’s in it. Important if you don’t want added sugar. The recipe, or rather procedure, is super easy and quick. I make it every few weeks. The granola keeps well too, in a jar with a good seal like a clip top jar.

So here’s the granola recipe once more. And it’s another food staple that you can rustle up if you’re staying at home in isolation.

I usually add a variety of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins and apricots. This time I added my own version of raisins, black grapes that I dried in the oven. I had some grapes that were past their best, and reluctant to throw them out, I stuck them in the oven on a baking sheet at a very low temperature. Of course ordinary raisins are just fine! I did something similar with figs too. A quick how-to for the dried grapes and figs at the end of the recipe. I also threw in some some glacé orange slices left over from Christmas. This time I didn’t add seeds, however I have included them in the ingredients.

The proportions in the granola are really up to you. The quantities here are a guide only, feel free to add more or less of something to taste. And add different cereals, fruits, nuts or seeds to taste too!

Ingredients

2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of any cereal you have in the cupboard eg weetbix, corn or bran flakes
1/2 cup of salted nuts like macadamias, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts
A handful of mixed seeds like pepita, linseed, sesame
1/3 cup of honey, warmed with 1 tablespoon of water to pouring consistency in a microwave
1/2 cup of any dried fruit – dried grapes, figs, sultanas, raisins, apricots, cranberries, or even glacé fruit

Method 

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C. You could try 160 degrees C for a quicker toasting but be careful you don’t burn the mix. Line a large baking tin with baking paper. You need to be able to spread the mix out so that all the mix is exposed to the heat.

Mix the oats, cereal, seeds and nuts together in a large bowl. Loosen the honey before microwaving with the water to make it more runny and easier to mix. Pour the warmed honey onto the mix and quickly stir it through. The mixture will be quite sticky, so stir fairly aggressively.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper in the tin, spreading it out so that it covers the base of the tin and there aren’t any big lumps.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture is golden brown and thoroughly toasted. You will need to turn the mixture over half way through cooking, so that the underneath mixture gets its time on top and gets toasted. The oven time is a bit of guess work – just keep checking and remove when the mix is golden and not burnt!

Let cool for 5 minutes then add the fruit, combining everything well. Don’t worry if there are some clumpy bits stuck together with honey – they are a bonus!

Delicious with Greek yoghurt, milk or almond milk, or sprinkled over a big bowl of fresh fruit like stone fruit or berries.

Dried grapes are rather like muscatels in that they are more juicy than raisins. I guessed that drying grapes in the oven would work – and it did!

Take any black grapes you have that are just past their best. Pull individual grapes off their stalks or you can leave a few on stalks if you want. Lay the grapes on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Put the baking sheet into the cold oven, then turn oven to 100 degrees C. Bake until the grapes have not completely dried out, but are looking more like raisins. This process should take about 4 hours, but you can decide just how dehydrated you like your grapes.

Store in an airtight jar. You can use them in granola, or as part of a snack mix, or lovely with cheese.

Dried figs are easy to do too. Again, I use figs that are past their best. Cut them in half and place the halves on the baking sheet. Drizzle just a little bit of honey over each half. Bake in the same way as the grapes.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts: Isolationist Cooking

free

It’s Sunday 22 March, the fourth Sunday in Lent, traditionally a time when children spend time with their mothers. This seems very apt, as many families now have to spend a lot of time together, as we go through these isolationist times.

So here’s another recipe in the series “Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era”. Last week I made pumpkin gnocchi – they were so easy – and quick to make, perfect for cooking as a family, and great to do with the kids! You can knock them up in under an hour, from preparing the pumpkin through to actually making the gnocchi dish.

Uncooked, they keep for a day or so in the fridge and freeze really well.

All the ingredients are fridge or pantry staples, except the pumpkin, and once you’ve bought some, it keeps very well in the crisper of the fridge for a couple of weeks. The aim of isolationist cooking is cooking from what’s at home, rather then running to the shops and markets for a whole list of ingredients.

Anyway, give gnocchi making a go. And once they’re made, they pair well with lots of sauces – tomato based, cream based or the one I made, brown butter sage and walnut.

Ingredients

Gnocchi

125g mashed pumpkin (about 300g uncooked)
100g ricotta
185g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
30g parmesan or pecorino cheese, finely grated
1 free-range egg
Salt
Black pepper

Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts

2 tablespoons butter
A handful of sage leaves – at least 10, more if you like sage!
A half handful of walnuts, at least 10, some pieces left whole, some roughly chopped

More parmesan or pecorino, for scattering over the gnocchi

Method

Chop the pumpkin into manageable pieces, skin on, and place in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Remove from the microwave, allow to cool until easy to handle, then peel. Mash with a fork until smooth.

The pumpkin has quite a lot of water, so you will need to drain it. Put the pumpkin into a strainer or colander lined with absorbent kitchen towels. After 5 minutes remove the pumpkin in the paper towels and squeeze out any excess water.

Put the pumpkin and all the rest of the gnocchi ingredients in a bowl. Mix well with a spoon to a firm paste.

Dust a large wooden board or the bench top with flour. Put the pumpkin dough on the board or bench top and gently pat the dough into a roll shape, using a little more flour if necessary. Be careful not to add too much flour – this will toughen the gnocchi.

Cut the roll into 6 pieces, and then shape each piece into smaller rolls. Cut each roll into slices using a sharp knife. Press down on the one of the cut sides of the gnocchi with the flat side of a fork.



At this point, you can freeze if desired, or store in the fridge. I recommend putting the gnocchi you want to eat in the fridge for 20 minutes just to firm up a bit, to make sure they stay intact in the pot when you cook them.

Put a large saucepan of water onto the stove top and bring to the boil. Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water once it’s boiled, one at a time, working quickly. Cook for 1 minute or so, or until the gnocchi rise to the surface. Have a strainer or colander handy, and put the gnocchi into the strainer or colander once cooked. (Have the straining utensil over the saucepan so you are not dripping water everywhere!)

Leave the gnocchi  in the straining utensil, while you make the sauce. Melt 1.5 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan until it is foaming. Add the gnocchi and fry until they are turning brown. Add the rest of the butter, throw in the walnuts and sage leaves and cook until the leaves are just crispy. The butter will have turned brown by now, but make sure not to burn it.

Serve the gnocchi, sage leaves (saving a few for decoration) and walnuts, in a big bowl, making sure to pour the lovely buttery sauce over the gnocchi. Scatter some finely grated parmesan or pecorino over the gnocchi and scatter the reserved sage leaves over the dish at the end. A sprig of fresh sage is nice too!

Beef Casserole: Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era

We are living in strange times, in the era of Covid 19. Like a lot of people, I am spending time at home, socially isolating to avoid unnecessary contact with people. I am shopping carefully, stocking up on staples, without going overboard, and thinking about what dishes I can cook with what’s in the freezer and pantry, and don’t require last minute shopping.

I will post a few of these recipes over the next few weeks. To start with, here’s a recipe for a beautiful beef and red wine casserole. I recommend buying some good slow cooking beef cuts and freezing for just this kind of recipe. The other ingredients that are not pantry staples are carrots and onions, and thankfully these can be acquired and then will last quite a long time, ie you can buy and keep on hand for a couple of weeks until you need them.

I began to write this recipe at the end of a Sydney summer, but it soon became apparent it would be a great start to my “isolationist cooking”.

It’s late March 2020 in Sydney. Just a month ago we were sweltering in a hot, hot bushfire summer with humid days and even stickier nights, when the temperature overnight barely dropped a degree or two, making sleeping and living difficult.

But the rain came and the cooler weather with it. Autumn is definitely in the air. While we will have plenty of warm days to come, there is enough cool weather to make me feel like starting some autumn cooking: cakes and tarts with autumn fruits, and nourishing, robust casseroles, rich with root vegetables and red wine.

This is a simple beef casserole recipe that I developed from the memory of many family meals and my own efforts at throwing a few things in a pot and coming up with something tasty!

Beef + onions + carrots + red wine + herbs = a pot of deliciousness.

Here’s the basic recipe. For the beef, any cheap cut of beef is great. My preference is for shin (gravy) beef, but that cut is hard to get in Australia. Chuck steak is good, as well as blade beef.


Ingredients

1 tablespoon plain flour
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g casserole beef cut into small pieces
4 shallots or 1 large onion, chopped
4 -6 baby or small carrots, cut into chunks or keep whole if small enough
1 tin whole peeled tomatoes
1 glass red wine
1 teaspoon vegemite or marmite dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
Bouquet garnis – bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, tied together
A pinch of sugar to season

Method
Pre-heat oven to 140 degrees C.

Dust the beef pieces in the flour and salt and pepper by placing them in a zip lock bag and shake. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed casserole on the stove top.

Fry the beef in small quantities to avoid “stewing” the meat, until brown on all sides. Remove the beef to a plate, add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and fry the shallots and carrots.

Return the meat to the casserole. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopping as you mix in to the casserole. Add the red wine and vegemite/marmite and water and the pinch of sugar.

Cook on a medium heat with lid off for 5 minutes, then transfer the casserole, with lid on, to the pre-heated oven. Cook for about 3 hours or until beef is very tender. I check after 2 hours and test the ”doneness” of the beef. It is usually a little chewy and needs further cooking. If the beef is cooked to your liking, by all means serve now.

If there is lot of liquid in the stew, now is the time to leave the lid off and return to the oven.

Remove from the oven when finally cooked, and serve. Or the casserole can be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to use.

I like to serve the beef casserole with rice or couscous or some potatoes baked in their jackets.

A really tasty recipe that not only is easy to make from the pantry and freezer but it’s a lovely way to spend time in these isolationist times.

Baked Garlickly Mushrooms – 5 Ingredients


I’m revisiting a recipe I blogged in 2018 from Jamie Oliver’s super simple book 5 Ingredients. All the recipes in the book are easy to prepare and can be whipped up quickly with 5 simple ingredients.

I have recently grown some lovely Roma tomatoes on four tomato plants which I have nurtured from little seedlings. I’m no gardener, so I was delighted with their first bumper crop! I have another crop ripening, so I thought it would be great to use them in this delicious supper or lunch dish.

So here’s the recipe. Lovely on its own and even better served with crusty sourdough!

Ingredients

4 cloves of garlic

 ½ a bunch of fresh sage (15g)

350g ripe mixed-colour cherry tomatoes

4 large portobello mushrooms

40g Cheddar cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Peel and very finely slice the garlic. Pick the sage leaves. Halve the cherry tomatoes. Peel the mushrooms, reserving the peel.

Place it all (peel included) in a 25cm x 30cm roasting tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and toss together. Pick out 12 perfect garlic slices and sage leaves for later and sit the mushrooms stalk side up on the top. Bake for IO minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven, crumble the cheese into the mushroom cups and sprinkleover the reserved garlic and sage*. Return to the oven for I5 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and everything’s golden then serve up.

*I added some rosemary sprigs too, as rosemary works well with sage.  

Sourdough, Ultimate Bread

I’m a sourdough evangelist. And I will preach to anyone who will listen – to which my friends will testify!

The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.

I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.

And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough (Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.

It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.

Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.

An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.

A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.

Sourdough starter
Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.

If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.

Ingredients
450g strong flour
150g sourdough starter
325g tepid water
10g salt

Method

Mix
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.

Autolyse
Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.

Knead and Prove
Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!

If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.

The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.

After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.

Pre-shape
Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!

Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.

Shape
I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.

It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.

For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.

For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.

For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.

Second Prove
While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.

Score and Bake
For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.

Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.

At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.

Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.

Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.

That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.

Mango and Berry Easy Ice Cream

This is a really simple way to make a “cheat’s” ice cream that is super refreshing, super simple and super good for you! It’s not new – everyone has been doing it, including Jamie Oliver in Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals.

It’s less a recipe than a procedure. Really, it’s just frozen fruit blitzed with yoghurt with a little honey for sweetness, to make a kind of frozen delicacy with a lovely ice cream like texture.

I have listed what works well for me, but find your version by varying the fruit used and the ratio of frozen fruit to yoghurt. My chosen fruit was mango and mixed blueberries and raspberries.

Ingredients 

A quantity of frozen fruit – mango, banana, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, papaya, peaches, nectarines, plums

Yoghurt – Greek yoghurt is nicest, but the recipe works well with low fat yoghurt too.

Runny honey 

Mint leaves, fresh berries for decorating 

Method

To make ice cream for two, or one greedy person, put 3 handfuls of frozen fruit into the bowl of a food processor with 3 tablespoons of yoghurt. Add 1 tablespoon of runny honey, or less, if you want less sweetness.

Blitz in the food processor until you have a creamy frozen mixture. Add more fruit or more yoghurt if you are not satisfied with the consistency and then blitz again.

 I don’t weigh my quantities – I really think you need to judge whether you have the ratio right by the look and texture of the resulting ice cream. 

Serve immediately in glasses, bowls or cones. It will melt quite quickly so speed is of the essence. Chilling the glasses or bowls is a good idea too. You can freeze leftover ice cream, but in my experience it’s a little grainy. Just make enough to eat in one sitting!

%d bloggers like this: