My Kitchen Rules

So I don’t know if I have told you that I am applying for My Kitchen Rules! Well, I am with my partner in crime- Brenden, my housemate and friend. In preparation for the show (because we will definitely get on!), we have been challenging ourselves in the kitchen over the past few weeks. This post features TWO of our three course meals, both created under rather testing conditions due to rather a lot of alcohol consumed the night before on both occasions!

We have decided our speciality will be Asian/French fusion, to celebrate each of our favourite cuisines (well, mine is not really French food per se, but their whole approach and attitude to food and cooking!).

We have taken either a French or Asian technique, then switched around the flavours- rather ingenious wouldn’t you say?!

Meal 1

Entree: Spring rolls (Asian technique), filled with goat’s cheese, thyme and caramelised onion (French flavours), served with an apple and papaya salad (sort of both?).

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Main: Duck, duck and . We actually gave ourselves the task of butchering a whole duck! We really did that duck proud, by using every single scrap of it. Fat was rendered and used to confit the legs (confit was flavoured with bay, peppercorns, garlic), breast was rubbed with Asian spices and pan seared, then oven finished, carcass was made into stock and the stock was used as the base for an aromatic broth with Asian flavours (star anise, ginger, soy, oyster sauce)! Beak to tail eating??? We served the duck in a little tower, with the broth as a base, lightly steamed gai larn, forbidden black rice, the shredded confit, the sliced breast and crispy skin, and puffed black rice as a garnish (thanks Josh for the tip!!!). Really proud of this dish :)

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Dessert: Coconut creme brûlée, with sesame praline. I bought a blow torch at long last! But I still failed at the creme brûlée… I just cannot get them to not split! I have mastered normal custard now, but this dessert still eludes me (which makes me kinda mad because I fancy myself fairly adept at desserts… but I don’t even like it so not that worried really!). The brûlée part was fabulous though- thanks to Bren! The sesame praline didn’t work either, and was far too sweet to serve with a brûlée. You live and learn!

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Meal 2

Entree: Going with our new found love of confit, we decided to cook ocean trout this time. We flavoured the confit with Asian flavours (lemongrass, ginger, galangal, garlic, chilli). It was a success- beautiful way to cook this lovely fish. Served with fried vermicelli nests (made up this technique- blanched the noodles first, made into little nests then deep fried until puffed and crispy), cucumber and a soy, ginger dressing and kewpie mayonnaise. Yum!

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Main: Again, super proud of this dish. We (well, I did one and Bren did the other five!) deboned six quails, then made a stuffing containing braised Asian mushrooms and Chinese sausage, lemongrass, ginger, chilli, amongst other things (this dish was largely Bren’s creation, so I don’t really know what exactly was in it!) We stuffed and rolled the quail, and our trusty dinner guests trussed them for us (using dental floss for lack of kitchen twine!). Pan seared and oven finished, they could have done with one minute less but were really special. Served with fondant sweet potato (SO MUCH BUTTER), and a kickass Asian green sauce with lots of wonderful flavours in it. We then deep fried and oven roasted shelled edamame beans for some additional greenery and texture on the plate.

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Dessert: A complete hit! My failsafe Stephanie Alexander soft-centered chocolate puddings stole the show again, but this time served with her orange cardamom ice-cream which was OH EM GEE!!!!!! Delicious. And Bren has proven his sugar skills by making the most perfect candied orange zest for garnish. A truly lovely finish to the meal.

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So there you go- MKR ready??? Applications have been submitted and now we wait!

Bon appétit xxx

Cookie monster… or monster cookies?

As we all know- I love to bake. I have these “urges” come upon me not infrequently- often at quite inconvenient times!

Any excuse will do- rain? Baking weather for sure. Cloudy? Also baking weather according to me. Any sort of cold snap- definitely baking weather!

A Sunday? Baking sort of day. Public holiday? Baking day. Any sort of birthday/Mother’s day/dinner party/wedding? Baking excuse.

So when my housemate and his brother were heading on a 6 hour overnight train, leaving in the dead of the night from a deserted, eerie country train station- did I need any further encouragement to bake?

I baked cookies. Boys everyone likes cookies right?

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Especially triple choc monster cookies!

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This recipe was adapted from one on the Stonesoup blog (can be found here http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2011/05/the-art-of-recipe-organisation-solve-your-dinner-dilemma-fresh-ideas/) which was originally adapted from one on the Orangette blog! Thanks ladies!

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I added more chocolate- in the form of white eating chocolate, dark chocolate flakes infused with macadamias, dark chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. So really- I could claim that these cookies are quadruple chocolate chip!

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Anita, my other housemate- couldn’t help herself!

 

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And I am rather obsessed with salt at the moment- so adding my favourite Murray River pink salt flakes to the cookies was a worthy addition.

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The boys survived the train trip- but I doubt they would have without these cookies for companions!

Bon appétit! xx

I’m back! In a big way!

Dear lovely readers. I am sorry I have deserted you for so long! I kinda lost my mojo when it came to blogging, and have been a bit all over the place in my life, so my blog took a bit of a back seat!

But after much thinking, travelling, cooking, eating, crying, laughing, living… I am back and here to stay. I do love this space I have created in my life. It truly does give me a way to express myself and even if I make one person smile, or even one person likes my photo or enjoys seeing what I am cooking, then its worth it. In fact, it is even worth it if it is just for me alone. My space, my passion, my art.

So. I made a wedding cake last weekend.

No, I have never made one before.

Yes, I will definitely be making one (at least) again.

I loved every, buttery, sugary, intense, nerve-wracking, stressful (but in a good way!) moment of it.

I created my own recipes to use together to create what I think was something rather special. And it got rave reviews too so it must have been ok!

The dear bride is an old, great friend of mine from school days. She asked me to make her cake months ago, and I have been planning and testing (not quite enough I must admit) and stocking up on butter for months.

It also gave me an excuse to finally take my baking passion to a new, more professional level- I bought specialty baking tools! Oh it was like Christmas opening that parcel when it arrived! Icing spatula, piping bags, nozzles, couplers, levellers, lifters, boxes, tins, boards... Serious time! I am so glad I had done my research and bought all of the recommended tools- each and every one of them was heaven sent!

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So… the cake. Our bride, Emma, was getting married near the beach, so I decided to take a tropical theme through the cake.

Tier one: Lemon butter cake filled with lemon curd mixed with mascarpone.

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Tier two:

Coconut milk cake filled with lime curd.

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Tier three:

Lime butter cake filled with raspberry filling.

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Icing: Lemon, lime buttercream.

It took me 2.5 days to make the whole thing, except for the final stacking which I did at the venue.

On the first day I made one of the two lemon cakes and the lime curd. I froze the cake (double wrapped in baking paper and foil, then in a plastic bag) and chilled the curd.

Day two: baking baking baking. I made the other lemon cake, the two coconut cakes and the raspberry filling.

Day three: I baked the last two lime cakes, made the lemon mascarpone filling and made SO MUCH ICING.

I also defrosted the other cakes, then came to the scary part- levelling and filling!

Using my new best friend- the cake leveller, levelling was a breeze. Once I had the first cake down pat (thanks to a steady handed Mum!), the rest were a cinch. I did find that they were much too hard straight from the freezer though- definitely worth letting them defrost for an hour first.

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After all the cakes were levelled, and levels checked with my downloaded “spirit level” app, I started filling.

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I made a dam around the outside of each cake using the buttercream icing, then proceeded to fill each cake with the desired filling. Then it was a matter of just sandwiching them together! Piece of cake!

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Once I was happy that each sandwiched cake was perfectly level and the same height, I started icing.

I actually was pleasantly surprised with how great the buttercream icing looked! After putting on a generous amount (I was going to do a crumb coating, but elected not to after no crumbs were escaping), I used my fancy spatula dipped in hot water to smooth it. It worked a treat. I was thrilled with the finished product!

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The final step was to put in the dowel rods- I have watched many a YouTube video on how to do this! I put in the first rod in the bottom tier, then marked where it reached the icing, and cut it and all the others the same length. I decided to place one dowel rod about every 1.5 inches in a circle to support the tier above.

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The precious cakes rested overnight in their boxes, before being driven four hours to the wedding venue the next morning. Arrived perfectly!

I carried the cakes up to the venue, then had to stack them straight onto the cake table because the stand hadn’t been delivered yet! This was stressful, as I had to go and get ready to be a guest!

I managed to stack them ok, and it felt very sturdy and was straight, although I was a little disappointed when I realised the bottom two tiers were very close in size (one was 12 inch, one was 10 inch), and when together they looked the same diameter! Oh well- nothing to do about it now!

I touched up the icing, and the beautiful Aleks (my high school friend and wonder florist) decorated the cake with fresh flowers.

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The bride was ecstatic, as was I!

One more final sigh of relief when the cake had been cut and didn’t collapse.

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And everyone thought it tasted delicious, especially the coconut cake which certainly had the best crumb consistency.

What a whirlwind and I am very proud I have to admit!

Bring on wedding cake number two later in the year- I already am milling ideas in my head!

Bon appétit xx

PS- Sorry about some of the photos! iPhone had to do at the wedding!

PPS- Its good to be back :)

Maqluba

Maqluba. Whaaaaat? I hear you say!

I have wanted to make maqluba ever since I first laid my eyes on it in Jerusalem.

Described as a “giant savoury cake”. I mean, who wouldn’t want to make or eat this!

(Although, also described as the sort of dish one’s mother/wife/better half would “whip up” when she needed to easily feed a hoard. Ummm. This was not a “whip up” sort of dish!!)

It involved a lot of preparation, a lot of steps, a lot of OIL and frying, and a lot of flavour.

And was made with a lot of love!

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Hello eggplant from our garden! (Hint- its the weird looking, seedy sort of pieces in the photo :))

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Eggplant and cauliflower were shallow fried until golden…

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Hello tomatoes from our garden! So pretty and dainty with their little green hats…

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These formed the bottom layer of my cake…

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Followed by layers of the fried eggplant and cauliflower…

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Followed by a layer of fried and poached chicken thighs, soaked basmati rice and covered in a homemade chicken stock mixed with the usual Middle Eastern spice suspects (namely turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, baharat mix, salt and pepper)

Hello something to cool and freshen up my mouth! Greek yoghurt, with cucumber, fresh mint (from the garden), lemon juice, white pepper and salt. You need this!

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The finished creation after turning it out! This was rather a nerve wracking event, done in silence with no-one watching…

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Topped with pine nuts and served with the yoghurt. What a feast for the eyes, mouth, and most definitely the stomach!

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Bon appétit! xx

I’m back…but in a slightly different way!

Hello dear readers!

I am back to blogging :) I had a month off, due to:

a) Not cooking much

b) Not photographing at all

c) In order to reevaluate what this blog means to me

And here I am, returned, at your service!

But this time, I have decided to change the way I blog… Its a long story, so settle in for the ride…

I just spent an amazing month in Sydney- working, playing and finding more meaning in my life. At the end of it I have made a few changes and am approaching life in a simpler, calmer fashion.

For a long time I have craved simplicity. Minimalism. Less. It is amazing how a month spent living out of a suitcase, in someone else’s home, without your usual creature comforts and foods, can teach you how little you need to live happily. I’m talking clothes, possessions, material things. And also food.

Here are the main foods I survived on for the past month:

- Oats (I went through a whole kilo bag!!!)

- Nut butter

- Milk (sometimes almond, sometimes organic whole unhomogenised)

- Greek yoghurt

- Nuts

- Coconut (water, shredded, oil)

- Tea

Yes, I did eat other foods- but the place I was working supplied lunch each day, and I was generally cooked for at night (I know, pretty lucky hey?). So there were also vegetables, grains and meat/fish/legumes/eggs. But I learnt that these are my comfort foods, my desert island foods, my less.

Here are the clothes I basically survived with:

- Underwear (obviously)

- Exercise wear

- Shorts and tee for home

- Work clothes

- One dress

- One pair of heels

- One pair of thongs

- One top and skirt

- One bikini

I realised that I didn’t feel deprived, get bored, or feel like I wasn’t fashionable because I wore the same outfit every time I went out. Again, less is often more.

When I had free time over the last month, instead of wasting it on the internet, I read. And read. And read. And I did yoga.

Which brings me to my next major breakthrough/discovery. I’ve always dabbled with yoga, and liked the “idea” of being a devout yogi with a daily practice, but I have never seemed to really give it a proper try. But then I stumbled across yogadownload.com. Free 20 minute classes streamed through my computer. The simple act of giving to yoga 20 minutes a day has had huge implications for the rest of my life. I can’t believe how much calmer, slower, more mindful my life has become from this simple change. And its free. Its free and it frees me. A lifelong love has been born!

In fact, the whole concept of mindfulness is what I really have discovered over the past month. As a typical Type A, anxiety-prone, worry-about-my-future-type person, the act of being mindful, present, and learning more about this state of being, has been mind-blowing. I have a long way to go, but I am certainly up for the challenge! In fact, I am considering going to do a retreat in Bali this year… Stay posted!

Which brings me back to this blog. As much as I have loved posting weekly, I have to admit that sometimes I felt it was a bit of a chore that I HAD to tick off each week. So I am taking a new approach. I am only going to post when I feel like it. And photograph when I feel like it and have time to dabble and play to my heart’s content. Isn’t that what the whole purpose of this blog originally was? To have an outlet for my passion for cooking, and to explore a new found hobby of photography? I am also going to start to use this platform to express my current state of mind, new discoveries, and general chit-chat about what my brain is fixed on at any particular time.

So… today I really felt like cooking. I have an absolute BOUNTY of summer produce just screaming out at me! Eggplants, zucchini, basil and beans thanks to Dad (king of veggie patches). And the most incredible crop of tomatoes thanks to me and my housemates!!!! 3kg off just three plants and plenty more to come. Ridiculous! So my diet is very full of lycopene, antioxidants and summer lovin’ at the moment.

Today I wanted to get my pesto on before Dad’s basil lost too much flavour. I used the last of my frozen pesto last night over pasta, so I decided to make a new batch.

Here goes!

Oh, and I wanted to introduced you all to my new bestie- “Joby”! A christmas gift from my Dad that has already shined in the kitchen. LOVE this little man.

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Basil. Pine nuts. Pecorino. Salt.

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I’m working this simplicity thing.

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I made my pesto in a mortar and pestle. Again, the simple life.

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Melded together with olive oil, my simple, chunky basil pesto.

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Christmas recap

I decided to have a little break from my blogging life! I guess it felt like the holiday season, everyone was on holidays and enjoying life (not that my blog isn’t enjoyable!) and so I thought it was a good time to have a spell…

My post today is a recap of the food I had a part in making over Christmas!

I can’t claim all of it, but its a snapshot of my eats for the two days (Christmas eve and day). Except the ham. Gross.

Our Christmas Eve dinner was simple. Sometimes I crave simplicity- and this was just perfect before a big eating day the following day. A whole hot smoked trout, fresh grainy bread,  and a simple dill and lemon spiked creme fraiche. Delicious.

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Unpictured, but very much loved, was my christmas mince pies which we cracked into after this meal. BEST MINCE PIES I HAVE EVER HAD! I owe it all to Stephanie Alexander’s recipe- both for the shortcrust pastry and the mince meat. Find it here http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/christmas-feasts/recipe/stephanie-alexanders-mince-pies-20131209-2z0i0.html?rand=1386550464723. Never again will I stray from her shortcrust recipe! Here is the link- honestly, it is SO amazingly buttery, flaky and perfect. The soft and slightly difficult to work with-ness is absolutely worth the result!

Christmas breakfast trifle has been a tradition in our house for probably about 5 years. Always mango, raspberries (out of the garden- what a treat!), a deluxe yoghurt (this time from Tilba Tilba), and granola. I made Sarah Wilson’s pumpkin spice granola http://www.iquitsugar.com/recipe/pumpkin-ginger-spice-granola/ for the occasion. DELICIOUS!

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I have to say I am pretty proud of my cake efforts- first time ever making a fruit cake and I thought it turned out pretty well! I used a recipe from my Granmother’s scrapbook, which is rather special… Real marzipan and royal icing too. Maybe the cake did dry out a little after a week, but apart from that it was magnificent! Sugar high alert…

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Christmas dinner was a traditional meal, with a salad twist. Heroes were the stuffing (Maggie Beer’s prune and orange stuffing http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/australia-food-blog/2013/dec/24/maggie-beers-turkey-prune-orange-stuffing-recipe), the crust on the ham (macadamia and orange), the ever popular cranberry wild rice salad, and the Ottolenghi green bean and pea salad.

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And again… those incredible mince pies, this time accompanied by Dad’s famous brandy butter.

All in all, a lovely day, lovely company and lovely eats!

Bon appétit! xx

PS- Sorry about the iPhone piccies!

Polpo

I haven’t introduced you to Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) yet, dear readers! Polpo is a special book I was given by a best friend. Did you know it means octopus in Italian? The book is a celebration of Venetian cooking. The cover of this book is so lovely- it appears weathered, without being weathered, has an exposed spine (means it sits flat when open) and a beautiful embossed image of an octopus on the cover.

For some reason I haven’t cooked a lot from this book, despite everything being LOVELY. I think 2014 should include more Polpo!

Our cooking challenge this week was a two course Venetian meal from Polpo.

Vegetarian was the order of the evening- not even my choice either!

Entree was a simple, but dashing eggplant dish. Who doesn’t LOVE eggplant? Actually, I know lots of people, but they don’t understand how amazing it can taste when grilled and well salted. Seriously good.

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These grilled eggplant slices were then smeared with a tomato based sauce (I had it on hand from another recipe), scatterings of grated mozzarella (“the hard, cheap kind”) and pecorino, with three little basil leaves FROM OUR GARDEN!

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Lightly grilled so the cheese melts, then quickly rolled and plated. And eaten. YUM.

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The main was a dish I have made before- a beautiful gnocchi, with the simplest, but tastiest of sauces made with cavalo nero/Tuscan black kale, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sometimes the simplest of combinations creates the best of dishes. (Remember this Louise?!)

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Our gnocchi had a few issues- note to self, don’t replace chicken eggs with duck eggs in a dough! TOO wet! So we had to double the flour, which meant the finished gnocchi were quite doughy tasting, and didn’t quite have that lightness that a more potato heavy gnocchi does. Still completely delicious and full of stodgy goodness!

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A light shaving of pecorino rounded out the dish.

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Oh PS- do you LOVE our new white plates? Makes for some great photography backgrounds!

Buon appetito! xx

Roasted summer ratatouille

Donna Hay is the star this week… I tend to rotate between her, Jamie, Ottolenghi and the various blogs I follow.

If you have ever wondered how I choose my recipes, I generally start with a single ingredient- either what is coming out of the garden, what is in season in the store, or what I already have on hand. I find that if I don’t start somewhere I feel completely overwhelmed by the vast choice of recipes out there!

I then put the ingredient into the search box on Eat Your Books. Have I told you about this wonderful site before? It is basically an online index for the cookbooks YOU have on YOUR shelf at home. As much as I love flicking through books at my leisure, I feel like this tool allows me to quickly narrow down to a few recipes in a few books, and it also feels like I am getting the most out of my books and not just sticking to the recipes I already have made or remember!

Once I have narrowed down to a few recipes, I go through each one and decide which will suit. Time, amount of ingredients (remember I am on a tight student budget!), whether I think my eaters will be happy. :)

And the final recipe is selected, the list is made and the trip to the shops is next! I actually really enjoy the whole process- weird? Good weird actually, or “gweird”- my new favourite word!

So today’s recipe has been made before, but it was memorable and I wanted to highlight the new veggies that are coming into stores these days- summer!!!

Roasted summer ratatouille, from Fast, Fresh, Simple, by Donna Hay

Capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant... roasted to perfection

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Toasted sourdough, roasted chicken and baby bocconcini...

Finished with a lovely acidic basil dressing- simply basil, white wine vinegar and olive oil. 

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Salt and pepper of course!

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It was a hit again, and served with the roasted chicken breast it made for a well balanced, healthy, easy and tasty weeknight meal!

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Bon appétit! xx

Barley risotto with marinated feta

I love carbs. It never ceases to amaze me how people can “cut carbs” to lose weight. I would prefer to cut everything else BUT carbs! Actually, I would prefer not to cut anything at all, but to exercise more and eat lots of delicious, homemade, veggie filled meals. But don’t let me get started on THAT topic!

Today, we are celebrating carbs. Grains, to be exact. I think I have tried almost every grain in the last 1-2 years. Brown rice, wild rice, white rice (in all its guises), millet, quinoa (all three shades), spelt berries, buckwheat, bulghur wheat, and BARLEY!

Inspired by my love of grains, my LOVE of Ottolenghi, and my love of feta… this recipe was made for me!

Let us begin with a classic flavour base of garlic, shallots and celery, sautéed nicely in butter and olive oil.

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The next layer of flavour shouts of fresh thyme, bay leaf, lemon peel, chilli, paprika (hero) and tomato.

Next comes our hallowed grain- pearl barley, with stock and passata for liquid.

Simmered away until just tender and the consistency of a risotto!

What I TRULY loved about this dish was the topping. As we all know I am a feta fiend, but have I ever introduced you to my favourite spice? Caraway seeds! The feta was marinated with toasted caraway seeds and BOOM! Flavour bomb!

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(Actually, caraway seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, sumac and paprika are my favourite spices. Oh and cracked pepper. And cumin. Maybe if I was on a deserted island it would have to be Zanzibar?)

The risotto was served with the feta mix sprinkled over, topped with fresh oregano (thanks Mum!).

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I decided at the last minute it needed a little something something to complete the dish.

Hello spiced flat breads! 

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Pita breads, sprinkled with olive oil, sea salt flakes, sumac and sesame seeds. Crisped for 8 minutes in a moderate oven.

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Now its perfect!

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Bon appétit! xx

Unstuffed cabbage

I really enjoy reading other food blogs- for inspiration, photography envy/tips and, well, just because I love food! And it is nice to know I am not a crazy, food obsessed person alone in this world…

As much as I adore my cookbooks (37 and counting- at least 6 more on my wishlist!), I also like exploring recipes posted by my fellow bloggers. They are often modern, exciting, healthy, use interesting ingredients and fairly quick and easy.

I stole borrowed this recipe from one of my fave blogs that I follow- Eats Well With Others! This lady knows where its at! Her and I have nearly identical foodie faves- including a strong Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern influence. And she is a vego so I tend to warm to her recipes :)Image

She posts almost 4-5 times every week, AND is completing a medical degree, AND is running marathons, AND planning her wedding! Time management= inspiring!

I have made a few of Joanne’s recipes- they are usually borrowed from somewhere else, and altered slightly. So far I have not been disappointed!

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Today’s recipe is worth blogging about- it tasted delicious, was filling and VERY healthy too. Tick, tick, tick! Even my meat loving housie murmured noises of satisfaction… Here is the link http://joanne-eatswellwithothers.com/2011/08/recipe-unstuffed-cabbage-with-chickpeas-zucchini-swiss-chard-and-bulgur.htmlImage

In my books, ANYTHING topped with feta tastes delicious- especially a big bowl of veggies, chickpeas and grains!

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The dish was basically a huge bowl of sautéed cabbage, silver beet and zucchini, on top of burghul, combined with chickpeas, banging flavours like pomegranate molasses (adore), and cinnamon (yes to Middle Eastern spices!). Topped with the all important cheese of gods- feta!

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You should try it too… (I’m talking to you Louise…:)

Bon appétit! xx