Archive for the 'Winter' Category

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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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Spelt and Hazelnut Sugar Cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day!


  • 1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour (or half white/half whole spelt)
  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter (140g), room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • colourful sprinkles


Sift together flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder and sea salt.

Using hand or standing mixer, whisk together butter and sugar for 3 minutes. Add egg, whisk for another minute, then add vanilla extract.

Fold dry ingredients into butter mixture until well incorporated. 

Turn dough onto cling wrap, flatten into a disk, cover with more cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or over night.

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Roll out dough between 2 large sheets of cling wrap until it is about 1/4″ (0.5 cm) thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out hearts in various sizes. Place cookies on parchment lined baking tray and brush lightly with milk. Top with sprinkles and refrigerate for 10 minutes. If dough gets too soft when cutting the shapes, wrap it up again and refrigerate some more. I always use only half of the dough while the other half rests in the fridge.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating baking trays back to front and top to bottom half way through.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

Share with loved ones!

Leek and Mushroom Pies


Although we are back in a very summery Australia, I am keen to share this  savoury and wintry recipe of a Jamie Oliver inspired leek and mushroom pies with you. I cooked this recipe on our recent vacation in the lovely cold and snow covered Massachusetts and it was an enormous success with the family. So much so, that when one of my children spotted a picture of it on the computer this morning, he burst out with a “oh that was delicious”, a rather big endorsement.

I first came across this recipe while watching a Jamie Oliver special on Christmas left-overs. One of things he cooked was a ‘turkey and leek pie’. I raced through the living room trying to find a working pencil and jotted down an approximation at best of his recipe. He was talking about the struggle many people face when left with a large amount of turkey left over from Thanksgiving or Christmas. I am not sure what he was talking about, as we tend to fight over turkey left-overs and even when cooking a turkey as large as the oven, there is never enough to satisfy everyone’s large appetite for more of it. We usually have a second Christmas dinner on Boxing day, followed by turkey sandwiches and turkey soup in the week leading up to New Year’s Eve. Delicious! Anyway, so when it was time for me to make this pie with left-over turkey, I actually didn’t have any left. I decided to use a few slices of free-range bacon to give it a little meaty flavor, but really didn’t feel like adding more meat after a carnivorous visit of the extended family.

To make the leek and mushroom pie or pies, you don’t need much time or many ingredients. Buy some good quality all butter puff pastry (2 packages if you want to make individual pies) or make it yourself, which naturally would be far superior. Get a package of free-range bacon (turkey is fine), fresh thyme, a few handfuls of mixed mushrooms and 5 leeks. You’ll need one cup of stock (homemade is best, otherwise store bought free-range/ organic chicken stock, or vegetable stock), flour, half a glass of white wine and a little cream. For a party, individual pot pies would be lovely; the first time, I used a 8″ by 12″ (20 by 30 cm) pyrex dish, the second time 5 individual large ramekins.

As a proper Englishman, Jamie Oliver likes his pie with gravy. Therefore he used double the amount of stock and flour, then strained the cooking liquid from his turkey-leek mixture and turned it into gravy. I couldn’t imagine the need to pour gravy over my lovely crispy pastry, but then again, I am not English. If you feel like gravy for your pie, use double the amount of stock and flour (just like J.O.), drain the liquid from your vegetable mixture through a large sift and heat it in a small pan just before serving.  

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Orange Cranberry Sauce

In case you have been wondering if I will ever post anything to accompany your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey, here it is. My much loved orange cranberry sauce which I have been making twice a year for a decade now. I am so particular about it’s ingredients (especially the oranges), that when we lived in Thailand, I would bring organic oranges back from our holidays, because I wanted organic zest in my cranberry sauce. I would then zest the oranges and freeze it until I needed it for my holiday cooking. Thankfully, organic citrus fruit is readily available here in Australia, besides I wouldn’t want to face the frighteningly thorough people from quarantine, when they discover fresh fruit in my luggage. Oh yes, every place has it’s special quirks.

As for the cranberries, if I am outside of the US, I use frozen ones, with just as much success as fresh ones.

Got to hurry and stop reminiscing. I have just 2 hours left, before unplucking my children out of their beds and embarking on a 24 hours plane ride to Los Angeles. We’ll stop there for a few days before heading to our final holiday destination in Western Massachusetts. I think we’re all packed, the dog had his last walk before his holiday in the “Paw House” kennel, the fridge is cleaned out, the state of the house is acceptable, the ipods fully loaded and the bottle of Benadryl at the top of my suitcase.

So here we go. I’ll do some old fashioned German cookie baking once the tree is up in Massachusetts and hopefully get around to post a few pictures taken with my new camera and lenses (finally).

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and enjoy the sugary and buttery delights before it’s time for New Year’s resolutions!


1 lbs. (450g) fresh or frozen cranberries

3/4 cups sugar

6 oranges, segmented, piths and membranes removed; juice reserved

Zest of one orange (preferably organic, or unwaxed)


Pour sugar and reserved orange juice into medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Add cranberries and cook just until berries start to pop, about 15 minutes. If you use frozen berries, give them a bit of a squeeze with a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and stir in orange zest and segments.

Cool and refrigerate overnight.

Kale and Mushroom Pizza

I am constantly looking for new recipes that would help me make a dent in the enormous abundance of kale in our backyard and one of my ideas was to use it on pizza. When a guy at the market, who makes pizzas in his trailer, offered me some of his fresh dough the other day, I couldn’t resist. His pizzas looked delicious and I figured his dough would be too. Although I do make my own dough, using half whole wheat or spelt and half white flour, I am not opposed to getting a break in the kitchen once in a while. Back at home, I picked about a kilos worth of Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale or Lacinto Kale) to use with some caramelized onions, garlic, sliced mushrooms, and a mixture of sheep’s milk feta and fresh mozzarella on my pizzas.

Cavolo Nero is widely used in Italy and you might have seen it in some Italian cook books or in one of Jamie Oliver’s shows. When sauteed, it doesn’t wilt like spinach or chard and needs slightly longer to be cooked. It’s excellent stir-fried with lots of garlic, but I also add it to freshly made juices and use the younger leaves in salads. When fresh, it is very tasty and mild, plus it is loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. If you can’t get it at the farmer’s market or grocery store, try growing it on your own. It lasts forever and new leaves just keep coming up.

The pizzas turned out fantastic, even if my kids kept searching for the tomato sauce. And yes, the market-bought pizza dough was a winner and probably didn’t have the least bit whole wheat flour or spelt in it. But you only live once… However, if any of you would like to make your own pizza dough and are looking for a recipe that works well, let me know and I’ll be happy to post it for you.

Serves 6


  • 2 large balls (about 1 pound each) of fresh pizza dough, enough for 2 baking trays
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) Cavolo Nero, Chard or Spinach, washed, thick stems removed and cut into 2.5 cm (1 inch) strips
  • 1 punnet of mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced into rings
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 balls fresh mozzarella, grated or cut into small bits
  • 200g (7 oz) mild feta cheese, crumbled
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Bring pizza dough to room temperature by putting it in a bowl coated with olive oil. Let rise for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 225 C (450F).

Using a rolling pin, roll the 2 separate balls into 2 thin rectangles, fitting 2 baking trays. Alternatively, make 6 individual round pizzas.

Sprinkle baking tray with corn meal to prevent dough from sticking.

Lay rolled out dough on baking trays and cover with cling wrap. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in large frying pan. Add onion rings and fry on low heat, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until onions are nicely browned and caramelized.

In a separate pan, heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add chopped garlic and fry until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  With the heat on medium, add cavolo nero or other greens and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until greens are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread sauteed greens evenly on pizza doughs (remove cling wrap first). Top with sliced mushrooms and caramelized onions. Spread each pizza with mozarella and feta and drizzle with extra olive oil.

Place both baking trays in the oven using the middle and top shelf. Rotate and turn the trays 180 degrees half way through baking. The pizzas are done when the cheese has melted and and the crust is nice and golden (8-10 minutes).

Bueno Appetito!

Aloo Gobi Variation

Curried cauliflower and potatoes with broccoli, beans and chick peas

Aloo Gobi is a traditional Indian vegetarian dish made with potatoes (aloo), cauliflower (gobi) and a great variety of spices. It is one of those popular 30 minute one pot dinners that are so handy on busy week nights. I added some broccoli and green beans for extra color and cooked chickpeas for protein. Traditionally, aloo gobi is served with roti or naan. I substituted with whole wheat pitas, which I brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and chopped garlic and toasted them in the oven until crisp and lightly browned. Thankfully my family is quite adventurous when it comes to food and they all loved it. I hope you’ll have the same luck with yours.


  • 8 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 small broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 handful green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch size pieces
  • 4 large tomatoes, quartered, or one can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cans (15 oz. or 420g, each) chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas soaked over night and cooked for 1 hour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons (10-15g) freshly grated ginger
  • 2 hot green chillies, stemmed, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons (4g) whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons butter, ghee, or canola oil
  • 1-2 handfuls of fresh cilantro (coriander), finely chopped for garnish


Heat butter or oil in large-size pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, chilies, ginger and cumin seeds and fry until onion is translucent and cumin seeds begin to pop, about 5-10 minutes.  Add potatoes and vegetables and fry, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Add remaining spices, sugar and salt, stir. Pour in 1/2 cup water and tomatoes, stir well, cover the pot, and cook on low heat, stirring occassionally, until potatoes and vegetables are tender but not mushy. Add more water if vegetables stick to the side of the pan, but don’t turn it into soup.

Stir gently before serving and garnish with chopped cilantro (coriander).

Roast Vegetable Quiche

This is a wonderfully versatile quiche recipe. The crust is delicate, crisp and light and blew all my worries in the wind once I tried it for the first time. It doesn’t contain any butter, which I didn’t think was possible at first. However, the careful baking instructions make this a winner and it will from now on be the main crust for any type of quiche I’ll bake. I made it with caramelized leeks recently, which was wonderful. I used the same recipe as below, without the pumpkin and cauliflower and substituted the Gorgonzola with Parmesan cheese. I sprinkled half of the Parmesan on the bottom of the crust before adding the filling and used the remaining half on top of the egg mixture. Since I had only one leek left in my fridge today, I decided to add some of my all time favorite roast pumpkin and cauliflower and it was delicious. The Gorgonzola added a nice note to it, but fresh goats’cheese or gruyere would be delicious as well. Read the instructions for the crust carefully. It takes a bit of patience and time to make the pastry taking into account the chilling and blind baking time. It’s worth it. Good luck!















1 cup whole spelt flour

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon of coarse cornmeal (polenta)

1/4 C ice water (more or less)

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp salt


3 eggs

1 egg separated

3/4 cup milk

1 /2 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced

2 cups pumpkin, cut into 1/2″chunks

1 1/2 cups cauliflower florets

3 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon salt



  1. Pre heat the oven at 200 C (400F).
  2. Rub together all the ingredients for the crust with the fingertips , except for the water.
  3. Add the water, a little at a time, till everything comes together in a ball. It should not be sticky. Do not knead at any time.
  4. Place the ball of dough on an 8 inch pie pan and pat it out to cover the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Make sure there are no holes. Prick all over lightly with a fork. Cover the pan with a plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove plastic wrap from dough in pie pan and cover with parchment paper. Fill pan with pie weights or dried beans
  6. Place the dish in the bottom rack of the pre heated oven and bake for about 20 minutes (This cooks the bottom of the crust better). Remove the foil and beans and bake for another 4 minutes.
  7. Transfer the pan to the centre of the oven and bake for another 15 minutes or till the crust is dry and crisp. It will move away from the sides of the pan.
  8. Separate the egg. Brush a little egg white on the bottom and sides of the crust and bake for about 3-4 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and cool completely.


  1. Toss pumpkin cubes in 1 tablespoon olive oil, spread out on paper lined baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until tender and slightly caramelized, approx. 25 miuntes
  2. Toss cauliflower florets in 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread on another lined baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes or until tender.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and thyme and stir occasionally until soft and lightly caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Combine with roasted vegetables.
  4. Whisk together the eggs, egg yolk and the milk and season with salt.
  5. Fill crust with vegetables until they reach about 3/4 of the crust, up the sides.
  6. Pour the egg/milk mixture over the vegetables, until it comes to just a little below the vegetables. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola.
  7. Place the pan in the centre of the pre-heated oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the filling is set.
  8. Cut and serve hot.

Curried Winter Squash Soup

Another cooking class favourite! Even the pickiest of eaters will love the combination of sweet, tart and spice in this soup. Roasting the squash will bring out it’s lovely sweet flavour. You can substitute the apple juice with apple sauce or add another apple.

Serves 6


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger root
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 large winter squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), such as butternut, cut in half length wise and seeds taken out
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced
  • Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons almond meal to thicken (optional)



  1. Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Brush both squash halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place on baking tray, cut side up. Cover squash with baking paper, followed by aluminium foil, wrapping both around sides of squash. Roast for about 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and let cool.
  2. Scoop flesh out of squash halves and place in a separate bowl.
  3. In the meantime, place large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and onion and sauté for 10 minutes until onion has softened. Stir in ginger and curry powder and sauté for another minute. Add the broth, apple juice, lemon juice, squash and apple.  Bring soup to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in almond meal if soup needs a little thickening
  5. Use immersion blender to blend soup until smooth. Alternately, transfer soup in batches to blender and process.
  6. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Quinoa Salad with Apples, Fennel, Celery and roasted Almonds

This is a lovely fall salad, which reminds me a bit of “Waldorf Salad”. Black and red quinoa is a bit nuttier than white quinoa and especially suitable for salads. I find they also needs a little less water in the cooking process than white quinoa. I use about 1 3/4 cups rather than 2 cups per cup of grain.


Serves 4

  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds or chopped, toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup white quinoa or 1/2 white and 1/2 black quinoa
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 1 apple, cut into 1/8-inch-thick wedges
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 4 thinly sliced spring onions, white and light green parts only
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C) or use toaster oven. Spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let cool
  2. Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a fine sieve; drain. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa; return to a boil. Stir quinoa; cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until quinoa is tender but still chewy, about 15 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork; let cool.
  3. Whisk together maple syrup, spring onions, curry powder, salt, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Season with pepper. Whisking constantly, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream; whisk until dressing is emulsified. Add quinoa, currants, apple, fennel, celery mint, and nuts; toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning and add a little bit more lemon juice if desired. Garnish with extra mint.