Archive for the 'Dinner' Category

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Savory Pumpkin Crumble

It feels like a small eternity since my last post, and the person who threw away this recipe is partly to blame. I was so upset for having lost it and close to giving up my search, when I found it in the trash can of the bathroom. Who knows how it got there and what exactly made me look in there, but I am so relieved for having found it.

I made this crumble last week and while eating it, I said to my family that this is the recipe I want to be famous for. I had searched google forever to find a good savory pumpkin crumble recipe, but found mostly desserts and a few savory recipes that I didn’t really fancy. So I came up with this and I was so surprised and excited at the result that I made the above-mentioned, self-glorifying remark. You see, it doesn’t always work this way. I spend many hours in the kitchen experimenting, with frequent mediocre results. I usually keep trying until I am satisfied, but it takes a lot of time, patience, good will from the family and money. So when I get something right straight away (actually it was the second try in this case) I am thrilled.

Crumble until recently has meant dessert for me, usually with apples, rhubarb, berries or a combination of all. My mother-in-law taught me the basics years ago, which is flour, oats, brown sugar and butter. Simple, yet delicious. Since I am a nut-lover, I have alwyas added chopped almonds to this and experimented with walnuts, pine nuts, dairy- and sugar free versions, but the traditional version is still the best.

Last year, I have learned something invaluable from 101 Cookbooks. If you melt the butter before adding it to the dry ingredients, mix it all up and then put the mixture in the freezer for 30 minutes, you get the crunchiest crumble topping. This method also allows for less butter with the same fabulous effect. So now instead of using one stick butter (113g) I use only 2/3 of it. I am so happy with this new technique, I might never go back to the dairy-free option.

So go ahead and try this. I would love to hear what you thought of the crumble. Don’t be shy…

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Chicken and Pumpkin Curry

This is a version of my favorite go to curry recipe. The base is so versatile and can be used with fish. shrimp, tofu, beans and yes, chicken. It comes together easily and if you are a quick chopper, will be ready in no time. What makes this taste so good are a few essential ingredients – fresh garlic, ginger, lemongrass, Indian curry powder, coconut milk and coriander (cilantro). For the rest you can add what is already in your fridge or freezer. I try to use many different colored vegetables and herbs, which make this meal just as appealing to the eye as to your stomach.

Bear in mind the different cooking times for the vegetables, particularly if using pumpkin. I added it to the pan roughly 10 minutes before the remaining vegetables. Zucchini usually goes in at the end, as it quickly looses its texture and color. 

As to the chicken, here’s a tip that you might or might not know yet. If you cut the chicken breasts into bite size pieces and marinate them in buttermilk for a couple of hours in the fridge, the meat won’t turn tough and dry during the cooking process. It makes such a difference in texture. I can’t stand dry chicken breast and this is what I do to avoid it. Another option is to use a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, especially if you want to cook a whole breast in one piece. If you want to keep this recipe dairy-free, omit the buttermilk, or make your own using 1 cup soy milk and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or try the lemon juice and olive oil marinade.

You can make this as spicy as you like. I add a chili if I have one, otherwise  a bit more curry powder or cayenne pepper can spice things up. Here’s one last tip for cooking lemongrass. Only the lower 5-6″ (12-15cm) are soft enough to be eaten once you have removed the tough, outer husks. Slice the light green sticks into very thin rounds and then mince. You want them to be as fine as possible, otherwise they might not soften in the pan and you’ll end up with some chewy lemongrass bits in your curry. Use the left-over husks to make delicious lemon grass tea. Add the ginger peel as well, if you like.   Continue reading ‘Chicken and Pumpkin Curry’

Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers and Eggplant

The temperatures are still on the warm side at the moment and the markets full of peppers, eggplant and zucchini. So although I am way over summer, I cook what’s in season and continue to experiment with summer veggies. The other day, I remembered a favorite dish from years back – stuffed peppers with ground beef- and decided to try a new less meaty version with quinoa. I scooped out 5 peppers, an eggplant and a left over zucchini half, chopped up the flesh and sauteed it with chili, onion and garlic. I added another zucchini, a can of whole tomatoes, a can of black beans and some fresh herbs, mixed it with the cooked quinoa and stuffed the mixture into the vegetables. Before it all went in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, I topped it up with slices of mozzarella.

Fresh tomatoes would be at least as good, but the organic ones are increasingly hard to get and therefore I went with the canned version. I didn’t use any of the tomato juice left in the can, because I didn’t want my stuffing to get too wet. See how you go, you can always add it towards the end if you feel like you need extra moisture. As for the cheese topping, any cheese you like will be fine, I just happened to have some mozzarella open. If you don’t like any cheese at all, you can easily make this recipe without or sprinkle some chopped toasted nuts over the finished dish.

In case you want to stuff bell peppers only, peel the eggplant the recipe is asking for, chop it up and saute it with the onions, garlic and chili.  This recipe also works with zucchinis. The only downside there is that they flatten out quite a bit when stuffed and baked.

And just to let you know, the vegetarian version was even better than the meaty one I had been thinking about.

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Sesame Crusted Tofu with Soba Noodle Stir Fry

 

To my incredible surprise, the number of compliments I received for this sesame crusted tofu equalled all compliments I have ever gotten for making roast chicken or lamb. My family went completely gaga over it. They have always liked tofu, but never gushed over it like they did on Monday night. I have to admit, it really was very tasty, with a good crunch and great flavor. I first pressed the tofu to get rid of any excess liquid, marinaded it in a variety of things (see below) and then coated it in a simple mixture of black and white sesame seeds, cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Fried it in sesame oil and tadah!

As to the soba noodles, they are a staple in my kitchen and I use them for salads, soups and stir-fries all the time. I fry up a some ginger, a few cloves of garlic and a hot chili pepper, add vegetables and mushrooms of any kind, finish up with a seasoning of soy sauce, mirin and lime juice, add the noodles and just before serving,  sprinkle a handful of coriander, spring onions and black sesame seeds over it all. Done. The preparation is the main part, cooking takes no more than 10 minutes. Cook your soba noodles before you start on your stir-fry, taking care not to over-cook them and rinse them under cold water right after they’re done. They can sit in the colander until you are finished stir-frying the vegetables.

I fried up the tofu first and let it sit on the counter until the rest of the meal was ready. It kept its crunchiness and nobody cared that it wasn’t hot. You could however place the cooked tofu strips on a lined baking tray in a single layer and quickly reheat them in a hot oven before serving.

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Mamma Mia Minestrone

I love soups! And it is killing me that the weather is still not even turning the tiniest bit towards fall. I am trying to ignore it as best as I can and at least in my kitchen pretend that it’s time for soups, pumpkin bread pudding and other heftier fair. The pudding will need a bit more practice, although my husband commented (after having his second portion) that it’s made with too much sugar, cream and white bread, all of which we don’t really need. I wanted to strangle him, but he’s right, I have been complaining about my more and more unforgiving waistline since turning the big 40 last year. I guess I’ll be going back to whole grains, maple syrup and almond milk then, which are almost equally calorific as their white counterparts, but a lot better for the conscience.

The recipe of today, for the best Minestrone ever tasted, is nothing to worry about for all my figure conscious friends.  This soup is fantastic, very adaptable to the season you’re in (unless it’s over 30C/86F), full of good stuff and makes a great family dinner. It is a complete meal, so don’t think of this as an appetizer. No one is hungry after eating this soup, besides most will have at least two helpings anyway.

I got the recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy book. I changed it slightly over the years, mainly by adding more pasta and stock. I love it with zucchini and chard or kale, but it’s easily adaptable to any vegetables in season. Instead of the cannellini beans, you could use fresh broad (fava) beans, peas or borlotti beans. Great additions to the soffrito would be leek or fennel. A good quality stock is key, but that’s true for all soups. I used my homemade chicken stock, but if you want to keep it vegetarian, a vegetable stock is equally well suited.

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Kale Salad with Baked Beets, Walnuts, Sprouts and Creamy Goat’s Cheese

I love kale in all forms and shapes and to my credit I did so even before it became fashionable. It is one of my favorite vegetables to grow during our mild Australian winters, because it is so prolific and doesn’t require a lot of attention. We had so much of it last year, I could have sold it at the market. To me, Cavolo Nero is the king of kale, but I also like the curly, rougher kind. As it’s still summer here, although not according to the calendar, I don’t have any left in my garden, but thankfully others do. So far I have mainly cooked with it, except for the baby leaves which I add to mixed green salads. On a recent stay in Los Angeles however, I discovered marinated kale in a salad at the fabulous small chain restaurant “The Veggie Grill“. I tried it out at home and discovered that if I dress the tough and chewy curly kale with balsamic dressing and let it sit for an hour or longer, it turns into a lovely and not at all tough or chewy salad. I have made it almost every day for nearly 2 weeks now and everybody who was lucky enough to taste some agreed with me. It’s divine and a welcome alternative to the good old green salad. I like to dress it up with roasted beets, toasted nuts and a little creamy fresh goat’s cheese. I also had some mung bean and broccoli sprouts which were a great addition. Give rocket and spinach a little break and try this. It makes the loveliest, most satisfying and super healthy lunch or is delicious as a side dish at the dinner table. Best of all, it doesn’t wilt like most green salads do which makes it perfect for the buffet table.

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Millet and Amaranth Pudding

A couple of days ago, I was in the mood for comfort food. The kind that reminds me of my childhood in Germany. Growing up, we used to have one sweet lunch per week. Most frequently it was rice pudding with cinnamon, sugar and sour cherries out of a jar. It still is a hugely popular dish and served in most households. You can buy special ‘rice pudding’ rice in every grocery store. My grandma also loved to make waffles or thin pancakes with apple sauce or bread pudding with vanilla sauce. I loved those lunches and I try to keep this tradition in my family. Admittedly, these are almost the only German things I cook, although I will give “Spaetzle with Lentils” another go as soon as it gets a bit cooler.  

My favorite of all the sweet dishes is rice pudding, which pretty much sustained me through out university and my slightly “larger” years.  It is so easy to prepare, always a crowdpleaser and has the added bonus of giving me a night off from chopping. Yeah! I now cook it with short grain brown rice, maple syrup and vanilla extract and serve it with fresh berries and mangoes. It is so delicious, comforting and easy. Since I try and avoid cow’s milk, I usually make mine with fresh almond milk, which works just fine. I also use almond milk to cook our oatmeal in winter and not even my cow’s milk loving men can tell the difference.

Back to a few days ago, when I had the serious ‘urge’ for pudding. I decided to swap the rice for millet and amaranth which have been begging to be used for months. They have a similar cooking time and require about 2 1/2 cups of liquid per one cup of grain. A perfect match. Both grains are wonderfully healthy, gluten-free, full of protein, b-vitamins and minerals. I still make my own almond milk, as the Australian store bought stuff is absolutely undrinkable. I soak 1 cup of almonds in filtered water over night, give them a good wash in the morning and blend them with 4 cups of fresh water in my blender. I then strain the liquid through a special almond milk bag, which I got at a local health food store. I usually freeze the left-over pulp and add it to muffin or cake batter later on. When in the States, I use the “Whole Foods” brand organic, unsweetened almond milk, but I also like the “Blue Diamond” one.

I like to give the pudding a slight Indian touch by adding a few cardamom pods, ginger and cinnamon. It is best with fresh or frozen berries and toasted almonds. If you have any left over, it makes a delicious and very sustaining breakfast the next day. I add a bit more almond milk as the pudding turns quite solid when cooled, stir it and warm it for a minute in the microwave or on the stove. Shame that it’s all gone now, writing about it makes me want to cook some more already again…

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Super Summer Salad

 

I made this salad for a dinner party last weekend assuming we’d have a typical BBQ dinner. We didn’t, we actually ate wonderful Paella, not exactly a good match to my salad. Nobody seamed to mind however and everybody dug in, young and old. We had a wonderful time sitting outside, eating this wonderful food, drinking sparkling Shiraz and enjoying good company. It really made me appreciate everything summer has to offer and even I didn’t want it to end – at least not on that night.

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Summer Vegetable Lasagna

On the one slightly cooler day in recent weeks, I succumbed to the temptation to turn the oven on again and roast some vegetables for a lasagna. I since discovered that in order to get perfectly roasted vegetables, instead of using the oven, you can grill them on the BBQ, thereby cutting down oven time by half. In my A/C less kitchen, this is a huge bonus… That said, our BBQ is quite big and I can grill all of the vegetables at once, which makes this method fairly straight forward and fast. If you have a smaller one, you can either grill everything in stages, or go back to oven roasting.

My husband was away for business and one day I channeled all my energy, opened the BBQ, which so far has been his domain 100% of the time, and scrubbed it with all my force. That same night I started to BBQ. Since then I grilled fish, shrimp, mushrooms and various vegetables fairly successfully, except for the one time I was chatting and turned the slices of eggplant into coal. Long story short, I am hooked and will make much more use of the BBQ, even if that means that I need to scrub the darn thing every once in a while.

What you need for a roasted vegetable lasagna in peak summer is what you find in great abundance at your farmers market or back yard. Zucchini, red peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. You’ll also need fresh ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, good quality pasta (I used spelt… again) and you’re almost there. No need for any herbs, the flavors of the grilled vegetables speak for themselves. The end result is deliciously summery, not too heavy and wonderfully satisfying.

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Baked Sweet Potato Fries

 

I made a few changes to an earlier post, taking this recipe out and posting it again separately. These fries are lovely with lentil burgers and coriander yogurt.

Ingredients
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes*

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

fresh ground pepper (about 10 turns of a pepper mill)                                       

1 teaspoon minced  fresh rosemary                                                                      

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ground paprika or ground cumin, optional

*you want 1lb sweet potatoes after they are peeled, sliced, etc. If you weigh them at the store make sure you have a little more than a pound to allow for the peeling, and tossing of small brown bits.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (220 C). Use clean baking sheet to put fries on directly or line baking sheet with aluminium foil

2. Slice your sweet potatoes into wedges, about 1/4 to 1/2″ (1cm) thick.  Cutting them thicker can prevent the fries to crisp up, so small ones will get the best results. It’s important that the pieces are evenly sized to ensure even cooking.

3. Put the sweet potatoes in a bowl and drizzle them with olive oil. Use your hands to make sure each one is coated. If you’ve got more than a pound of sweet potatoes, add a little extra olive oil. They should all be glistening. Sprinkle with salt, rosemary and pepper and any other spices, if using. Toss well.

4. Place the fries on the baking sheet. It’s very important that they are not touching, otherwise they won’t crisp up as well.

5. Place baking sheet in pre-heated oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes take pan of oven and flip the fries. Be careful because at this point they’re quite soft.

6. Put the tray back in the oven and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them, they’ll burn very quickly. They should be golden brown, crispy crunchy on the outside, and sweet and soft in the middle.