Archive for August, 2012

August 28, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

Simple things that will always always brighten my day:

  • This picture of kangaroos hugging
  • A cheap manicure
  • Soul music
  • Unexpected flowers
  • A new book
  • A good margarita
  • Treat yo self. And all things Amy Poehler is involved in
  • Dinnertime with Mr. F
  • Making lists of completely unimportant things

This soup is a brightener too – in color and flavor. It’s hearty and almost a little rich, without actually having anything rich in it. Depth is added to the sweetness of the carrots and sweet potatoes by roasting and the addition of earthy cumin and a little spice from Cayenne pepper balance it all out.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-2 inch chunks
– 4 medium carrots, washed well and roughly chopped
– olive oil
– 6 whole cloves of garlic (skins on)
– 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
– 1 large yellow or brown onion, finely chopped
– 1 teaspoon cumin
– 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
– 6 cups vegetable stock/ broth
– salt and pepper

Heat oven to 400 F/205 C.

Chop the bottom off of 6 cloves of garlic, but keep them in their skins.

Arrange the 6 garlic cloves, sweet potatoes and carrots on well oiled baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 25-30 minutes until the sweet potatoes and carrots are soft and golden. Remove garlic cloves from their skins.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped onion and a little salt and saute until softened and translucent – about 5 minutes. Add the 2 cloves of chopped garlic and cook for another minute.

Add stock and bring to a boil.

Add roasted carrots, sweet potato and garlic to the stock and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and then carefully blend with a stick blender or in batches in a blender, until smooth.

Serve warm with fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds.

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August 23, 2012

Roasted Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Now that I’ve settled into my antipodean lifestyle (can we call it that?) in Sydney, I’m starting to accept the fact that I will always have some small degree of season envy. Like in February, while it was the height of summer, I would find myself yearning for sad winter peasant food like cabbage soup or potatoes on potatoes.

Which is ridiculous. And a little frustrating.

And while I’ve fully embraced our quick and mild winter by stewing, braising and slow cooking everything I could get my hands on, I’m left fiending for elitist heirloom tomatoes from the Union Square Greenmarket. I mean, did you see this Bon Appetit cover?!

But then again…maybe it’s just an adjustment thing. Now that I’ve had my first full year in the Southern Hemisphere, maybe I’ve set my cravings right?

All I know is – right now – I’m only thinking spring. There’s that change in the air, where a sunny day has actual warmth to it and I want to take all coffees, books and projects outside. I’m able to wear short sleeves on morning runs and open up the windows. Spring is here. And so are strawberries. And I. am. pumped.

Let’s get giddy with something frozen. Some good Greek yogurt, sweetened with honey and flecked with a little vanilla. (Totally inspired by this guy.)

Let’s roast some gorgeous Queensland strawberries with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a touch of maple and swirl them into our creamy yogurt. It’ll taste fresh, tangy and strawberry-y. Just like spring.

This post was also inspired by the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop‘s August theme: Berry Nice to Meet You! Head over to the Hungry Australian to check out the other berry recipes!

Knowing me though, I’ll be needing pumpkin-spiced EVERYTHING in a month. Whatevs.

Roasted Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Roasted Strawberries:
– 2 heaping cups of strawberries, hulled and cut in half lengthwise
– 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
– 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
– 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup

Heat oven to 350 F/175 C.

Mix strawberries, balsamic, olive oil and maple syrup together in a bowl. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread out the strawberries.

Roast for 30-35 minutes until the strawberries are soft, give off a syrup and smell like candy. Allow to cool fully before adding them to the frozen yogurt mixture. This can be done the day ahead and cooled in the fridge overnight.

Vanilla Honey Yogurt:
– 500 mL (2 cups) good Greek yogurt
– 2 tablespoons honey
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Mix together yogurt, honey and vanilla. Place in the bowl of a frozen ice cream maker and churn for 30-40 minutes.

Mix in cooled roasted strawberries and serve.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, mix strawberries with the cold yogurt-honey mixture and place in the freezer in an airtight container. Check on it every hour or two, giving it a good stir with a fork to break up the icy parts.

Store in the freezer and allow to warm up about 10 or 15 minutes before scooping.

August 21, 2012

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Cheddar and Corn

I have long history of picking out ugly eye glasses for myself.

Lots of people have bad eyesight, but I have terrible taste to match.

My first pair at age 10 was a very unfortunate purple and black marbled number. There was a cat-eyed pair that looked straight-up ridiculous and there’s my current pair that are too large on my abnormally small head. They’re so big that they slipped off my face at an airport drop-off area, scratching the entire left lens on the pavement.

If you want to see me at my most uncoordinated watch me either a.) try to play a team sport or b.) wrangle my luggage while blindly groping for my glasses on the ground in front of a taxi line. That’s real life.

Needless to say, I pretty much just wear contacts all the time.

But it’s time for a new pair. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I’ve convinced myself that this’ll be the time when I get it right. I will love my glasses and they’ll love my small face and we’ll look stylish and smart together. Forever.

How will she relate regrettable eyewear choices to quinoa stuffed red peppers? I hear you thinking, slightly annoyed.

Well! as it turns out, I never seem to have a share-worthy stuffed pepper for you. And the truth is I really enjoy a stuffed vegetable. It’s a purposeful container – like an ice cream cone…but not. (Edible cups = saving the world!)

But this time, I’m getting it right. This time I’m getting a wearable pair of glasses and making a photograph-worthy stuffed pepper. Getting. things. done. Vegetables and quinoa and cheese baked in a vegetable. Check it.

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa and Corn (serves 2)
– 1 red pepper (or color of your choice), sliced in half
– olive oil
– 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
– 1/2 cup corn kernels ( you can use fresh, removed from the cob or frozen and thawed)
– 1/2 teaspoon cumin
– 1/2 teaspoon paprika
– 2 green onions, thinly sliced
– 1/4 cup chopped cilantro/coriander
– 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling
– 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
– salt & pepper

Give it a protein boost: Add a 1/2 cup of cooked chick peas, white beans or black beans into the quinoa mix.

Make it meaty: Add some small browned cubes of chorizo into the quinoa mix.

To cook quinoa: Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a mesh colander. Place 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) for 5-10 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and serve.

Heat oven to 400 F/205 C.

Place the red pepper halves open side down on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, flip and bake another 5 minutes until just tender.

In the meantime, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add corn, cumin, paprika and season with a little salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook, stirring only once or twice, for 5 minutes, until the corn to get golden in places.

Mix together cooked quinoa, corn, green onions, cilantro, sunflower seeds and cheddar. Spoon this mixture into the cooked red peppers until they are full. Sprinkle with a little more cheddar and bake for about 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling with heated through.

August 17, 2012

Easy Black Olive Tapenade with Roasted Mushrooms

Aren’t families funny things?

One of my favorite things about meeting someone’s family is finding similarities between the person I know and their siblings or parents. I’m not talking creepysimilar (creepysimilar IS a thing) – just little things, like the way a person stands or laughs.

Loving olives is a family trait inherited from the women on my mom’s side. I know, I know lots of people love olives or whatever, but our love runs deep, people.

At family gatherings, there’s always a bowl teaming with green olives that’s set out before anything else. By the time the main meal rolls around, the dish will have exactly one sad-looking olive left, swimming in the salty juice. I’m talking an entire XL-sized jar gone. Weirdly, none were eaten by the menfolk, but by all the ladies – from my grandma on down to the youngest granddaughter – each one is a salty olive fanatic.

Real talk: this little sandwich combo was an elaborate excuse to make olive tapenade. The easiest black olive tapenade. Like if you have some pesto and a jar of olives, you’re in business kind of easy.

I chose black olives for their milder flavor – they mix with the pesto nicely, neither over-powering the other. I suspect a mix of kalamata and black olives with the pesto would be pretty excellent too.

You can eat it with crackers, crudites or on pasta, too.

AND! you can make it vegan friendly if you make your own pesto – simply omit the Parmesan cheese or sub in nutritional yeast.

Easy Black Olive Tapenade
– 1/2 cup pitted black olives
– 2 tablespoons pesto (homemade or your favorite store-bought brand)

Place your ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blitz until it forms a slightly chunky, spreadable paste. Store in an air tight container in the fridge for a week. Freeze for 3 months.

Roasted Mushrooms
– baby portabella mushrooms, whole (you can use larger mushroom caps too, the baking time is just slightly longer)
– olive oil
– thyme
– salt and pepper

Heat oven to 400 F/ 205 C.

Toss mushrooms with a drizzle of olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.

Bake for 10 minutes. Flip the mushrooms and bake for another 3-5 minutes until cooked through and soft.

Make a sandwich: Spread olive tapenade on toasted or grilled bread, top with mushrooms and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. A little feta or goats cheese wouldn’t be a bad idea either – if you’re not keeping it vegan.

August 15, 2012

Cajun Spiced Farro and Cauliflower Pilaf

Birthday cake…this is not. This is more like a fridge clean out -slash- way of using up some odds and ends of leftovers situation. Cooked black beans, one corn cob, half a head of cauliflower and some shredded kale – all tied together with my guiltiest spice-blend pleasure: Cajun seasoning.

This wasn’t a well thought-out dish, but it’s a perfect example of my no-wasting, often experimental lunchtime cooking.

Have you heard about this whole “ricing” of cauliflower thing? I think its main selling point is as a low-carb/low-cal substitute for rice. My regular diet is neither of those things, but I was curious – so I took to the food processor.

The idea is to get your cauliflower chopped up so finely (but not too finely) that it becomes rice-like in texture. Then you use it like you would rice – as a bed for a stir-fry or in a pilaf like this one here. I would recommend applying some heat to the chopped cauliflower along with a little olive oil and seasoning, otherwise it’s straight up dry and bland.

Since I had some farro lying around, I added it for some chewy good-for-you grain-ness. But you could leave it out altogether or swap it for quinoa, barley, wheat berries or brown rice.

This pilaf is a total texture party with a great kick to it. It’s perfect as a side for some grilled salmon, chicken or beef. Or, just serve up a bowl with a poached egg on top and some lashings of hot sauce for a good time.

In related news, I’m thinking about changing my middle name to “put an egg on top”. It’s my favorite remedy to magically turn a salad or side into a meal. Poof!

I would also really like to name a pet Oprah, but we can talk about that another time.

Cajun Spiced Farro and Cauliflower Pilaf
– 1/2 cup dry farro (you will have leftover)
– 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, divided
– olive oil
– 1 shallot, finely chopped
– 1/3 cup diced red pepper
– 1/3 cup corn kernels either fresh or frozen and thawed
– 2 cups “riced” cauliflower
– 1/3 cup cooked black beans
– 2 cups of kale, shredded or finely chopped
– salt, to taste
– a handful of cilantro chopped, to serve
– fresh lime, to serve

To cook Cajun farro: place 1/2 cup farro, 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 15 minutes until the grains are tender and chewy. Allow to sit covered for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork. Set aside. Can be made without Cajun seasoning

To rice cauliflower: roughly chop a half a head of cauliflower and place in the food processor. Pulse until the cauliflower is chopped into small pieces the size of rice.

In a large pan with high sides, heat a splash of olive oil over a medium high heat, add shallot and cook, stirring for 2 minutes until softened.

Add red pepper and corn kernels and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until the corn is browned in parts.

Add remaining seasoning and riced cauliflower and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until the cauliflower has softened.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in black beans and kale and cook covered until kale is wilted – about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup farro. Season with salt as needed.

Top with cilantro and a spritz of lime. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature. Keeps for a few days in the fridge.

August 13, 2012

12 Things I Learned in This Past Year of Life and a Birthday Cookie Cake

SO! I had a birthday last week.

This sort of thing doesn’t usually get me all introspective, but the past couple of years were pretty big for me… so I feel like I should have something to say for myself.

I lived my dream of quitting my job and traveling Europe with my favorite guy. And at the end of all that, we settled in sunny Australia – very very far from my home, my city and my people.

And while I am not even close to having much of anything figured out…I think I’ve learned a few important (and some unimportant) things this year.

1. I can live in Australia without melting into a puddle of homesickness and tears.

2. Feeling homesick can be really frustrating and tough. Be nice to yourself.

3. A mustache tattoo on one’s index finger is a good omen.

4. I need a dog.

5. Sometimes gelato is an acceptable Saturday lunch.

6. Buy the fancy butter and salt. You won’t regret it.

7. Don’t throw house parties with white carpets and people you don’t know.

8. Magpies are evil winged creatures that are out to get you.

9. I can successfully make a souffle, pulled pork and pavlova.

10. Travel is amazing, but nesting can feel just as rewarding.

11. Regularly counting the small things you’re thankful for can make a big difference.

12. It’s totally OK to make your own birthday cake.

For my birthday this year, I decided to make myself a blondie/cookie cake studded with some of my favorite things: dark chocolate, coconut, banana and pecans bound together with brown sugar and butter. Not a traditional birthday cake, but I couldn’t think of anything more perfect.

Unfortunately final product photos didn’t happen due to late-night overzealous cake consumption. Forgive me, it was my b-day, and I was being selfish.

I was inspired by Joy the Baker’s Banana, Walnut & Chocolate Cookie Cake – she’s got the good looking cookie-cake pics going on too, if that’s something you’re into. Which you probably are. I hope.

Banana, Pecan, Coconut & Chocolate Cookie Cake
(makes 1 8-inch cake)
adapted from Joy the Baker

- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
– 1 cup brown sugar, packed
– 1 large egg
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1 ripe banana (mashed)
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 cup spelt flour
– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks
– 1/2 cup large coconut flakes
– 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
– a pinch of sea salt flakes

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat oven to 350 F/175 C.

Melt butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Stir in sugar  and vanilla extract and remove from heat.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.  Allow mixture to stand and cool for about 5 minutes.  The mixture should not be super hot when the eggs goes in, or the egg will cook.

Add the egg and whisk together until smooth.  The mixture will be glossy and no longer greasy.  Add banana and cinnamon and stir to combine.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir carefully until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Add the chocolate, coconut and pecans and fold together.

Spread mixture across the pan creating a somewhat smooth top. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt. Place in the oven.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until mixture is dry on top, but still slightly soft in the center. Under-cooking this cake is where it’s at! Think over-sized gooey cookie.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Top with ice cream and serve warm.

Here’s to another excellent year of life!

August 7, 2012

Roasted Fennel and Pear Quinoa Salad

I’m beginning to write myself a life handbook. Basically it’s just an Evernote list that I can refer to when I need a confidence boost, or some real-talk from myself.

I add to it in those moments when I’m feeling inspired or insightfully self-possessed and think I’ve figured out something about life…so yeah, it’s a slooow process.

Sometimes I curse in this list to get my point across. That’s something you should definitely know about me: I have a terrible mouth, which I inherited from my Grandma. I’ll do my best to not curse when I’m talking about quinoa.

One of my most important life bullet points is: Be nice to yourself. Seriously, stop being so hard on yourself.

I wish it didn’t require the seriously.

But I don’t think I’m alone on this one. I think we can all be a little hard on ourselves. We’re not making all the right moves in our careers, we’re not making enough money, we’re not fit enough, thin enough, cool enough, good enough. And all of that crap kind of has to stop.

It’s important to set goals for yourself and do your dang best, but it’s also important to ease up and show yourself a little love, kindness and leeway. Be good to yourself starting…now.

Start by packing a picnic with some fresh bread, avocado, fancy salt and this salad and heading somewhere pretty and peaceful. Roasted pears and fennel with nutty quinoa and peppery arugula will make you feel like you’re doing the right thing. Seriously.

Roasted Fennel and Pear Salad (serves 2-4)
– 1 fennel bulb cut into 1 inch/2.5 cm thick sections
– 1 pear, cut into 1/2 inch/1 cm thick sections
– olive oil
– salt & pepper
– 1 cup of cooked quinoa
– 1 cup arugula
– 1/4 cup goats cheese, crumbled

Honey Dijon Dressing:
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinegar
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 1 teaspoon honey
– splash of water

To cook quinoa: Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a mesh colander. Place 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) for 5-10 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork and serve.

Heat oven to 450 F/230 C.

Lightly oil a baking sheet and arrange the fennel and pears on it. (Keep the pears on one side and the fennel on the other, so that if you need to remove the pear before the fennel is ready, it can be done easily)

Roast for 15 minutes and check on your baking sheet. Pears should be soft and golden – this is your cue to take them out. Place the fennel back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes until soft and browned in places.

While your pears and fennel are roasting, make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together in a small bowl or pouring them in a jar with a lid and shaking vigorously.

Once the fennel is roasted, toss your quinoa and greens with 1 or 2 spoonfuls of dressing. Stir in some of your fennel and pear, reserving some to arrange on the top of the quinoa and greens. Top with crumbled goat cheese and drizzle a little more dressing on top.

August 2, 2012

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

I hate it when people say they “HATE surprises!”

Ummm, no you don’t.

You’re going to tell me that if I (or someone else you adore) showed up to your front door on a random evening with a quality baguette, cheese, wine and some fabulous conversation you’re going to be totally miffed? I highly doubt it!

Everyone loves a pleasant surprise – like a free coffee, unexpected flowers or getting a card in the real-life mail – but some people just prefer to feel in control of a situation they’re unsure of. And that’s completely okay.

But sometimes you just have to ease up and roll with the surprises. They’re probably going to be awesome ones.

This soup was a surprise – and a damn fine one. The surprise part came from adding some jarred roasted red peppers which gave the soup an excellent sweet-smokey flavor and generally tszujed the whole thing up.

Also, I suggest adding a tiny pinch of (surprise!) baking soda to your tomato soups (and sauces) – it reduces the acidity of the canned tomatoes allowing their sweetness to shine through.

If you’ve got some stale bread lying around, make some pan-toasted croutons to top this soup off – they’re super easy, thrifty and will impress the person who’s eating with you.

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup (serves 2-4)
– 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
– 1 medium yellow onion, diced
– 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
– 1 can of whole tomatoes (I used canned cherry tomatoes, but plum tomatoes are good too)
– 2 whole (or 1/2 cup chopped) roasted red peppers (from a jar)
– 4 cups vegetable broth
– salt and pepper
– a pinch of baking soda

Heat olive oil in a large pot over a medium high heat. Add onions and a sprinkle of salt and cook stirring for 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute until fragrant. Add a little more olive oil if the pan goes a little dry.

Add tomatoes, red peppers and vegetable broth. Crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon as you stir everything around a bit. Add a small pinch of baking soda and stir into the soup. The fizzy action means its working.

Bring it all to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

All the soup to cool for about 10 minutes and then puree it in a blender in batches. I left a  ladleful or two out, so keep a little texture. Do whatever you’d like!

Serve warm with chopped herbs (I got in on some chive action!) and pan-toasted croutons or bread.

Pan-Toasted Croutons
– 2 pieces of slightly-to-moderately stale bread (I used 3 day-old sourdough)
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– smoked sea salt
– cracked pepper

Cut bread into bite-sized squares and heat olive oil in a medium pan over a medium heat.

Add bread, garlic, salt and pepper to the pan and toss to coat the bread in seasoning and oil. Arrange the bread pieces in a single layer and cook them for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden. Store in an air-tight container for 1 day.

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