Pea and Zucchini Farro Salad

There are some things that I really wish I was interested in. Like cricket, football or the stock market.

This is mostly because I like to have something to say about everything, but when these topics are brought up…I’ve got nothin’.

I also really wish I was into astrology. Like, actually believed in it.

I’ve tried…I started reading my Astrology Zone forecast at the beginning of the month and have managed to find some tenuous links between what was predicted for me and my fellow lionesses and what has actually happened. But my trusty internal skeptic is kind of a loud-mouthed biatch.

I am, however, beginning to fully buy this Mercury in retrograde business.

For the past few weeks I’ve been seriously struggling in the inspiration and writing departments. While this is probably due to a number of other, more earthly things, I’m going to go ahead and blame it on an astrological issue.

If you’re looking to make excuses for your poor communication skills over the past few weeks, read more about this MIR beast here or here.

Something good that’s come out of these chilly July days is my daily reinvention of the warm salad.

Healthy, satisfying and endlessly adaptable – it makes the perfect lunch or slack dinner if you’ve got access to a large skillet. I’ve been using lots of warm grains, wilt-able greens (like kale and spinach), and quick cooking vegetables (like corn, zucchini and snow peas.)

This salad was one of my favorites – a nod to the summer weather in the northern hemisphere with the zucchini and peas, but served on the warm side to keep me toasty on cool Sydney winter days. If fresh peas aren’t an option, frozen work fine too.

It’s a simple combination, but the Parmesan and a generous amount cracked pepper really give it that extra (boom boom) pow.

Put an egg on it to make it a dang fine meal.

Pea and Zucchini Farro Salad

– 1 cup cooked farro
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 2 medium zucchini, grated on a box grater
– 1 cup shelled peas (or frozen and thawed)
– 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
– salt, to taste
– a liberal amount of fresh ground pepper

To cook farro: place 1 cup farro in a pot with 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered for about 15-20 minutes until tender and little chewy. Remove from heat and let stand for about 5 minutes.

If using fresh peas, blanch them first in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and run under cool water. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add grated zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes until the zucchini is heated through and softened. Stir in peas and cook for 1 minutes.

Stir in farro. If the farro is room temperature or cold, cook for 1-2 minutes until warmed through.

Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and heaps of cracked pepper. Serve warm, at room temp or cold.


Pumpkin and Yogurt Pita Pizza with Dukkah

Really good things: Finding that extra button that came with your blazer right when you need it. Wearing bright colors. Buying the perfect birthday card for someone. Pasta nights. Walking somewhere new. New dresses. Green juices that don’t taste like green things. Planning trips. Planning parties. Planning outfits. Pizza shortcuts.

These are pita pizzas – the easiest kind of cute, individual pizza. And also, my favorite kind of pizza shortcut.

I don’t like most pre-baked pizza crusts – they tend to be too doughy and cardboard-y. And when I’m feeling entirely too lazy to deal with a dough rolling/stretching situation, I want something that – once taken out of the freezer – is ready to be smothered in toppings. I try to buy pocketless pitas for this purpose – so they don’t puff up in the heat of the oven.

As you can see, I was a little heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes here – because…well, I always do that. I also sprinkled it with dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend that you can either make yourself or buy.

I love roasted pumpkin, so I made a whole big batch and used only a portion of it for this recipe. Just make sure you have about 1 cup of chopped pumpkin to work with for each pizza.

Roast that pumpkin.

Mash it up and smooth it out on your pita.

Dollop that situation with some plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with dukkah, salt, pepper and some chili, if you’re so inclined.

Baking time is super quick. Then, you slice.

Then you eat.

Pumpkin and Yogurt Pita Pizza with Dukkah (Makes 2 pizzas)
– 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Japanese pumpkin
– olive oil
– 2 pitas (mine were about 9-inch/23-cm wide)
– 3-4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
– 1-2 tablespoons dukkah (either homemade or store-bought)
– salt & pepper, to taste
– dash of red pepper flakes

First roast your pumpkin: Heat oven to 425 F/220 C. Cut pumpkin into 1 inch/2.5 cm chunks – you can take off the shin before or after roasting (I do it after – super easy!). Toss the pumpkin with a bit of olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is golden and soft enough to mash with a fork. This can be done a day or two ahead.

Heat oven to 400 F/205 C

Mash the pumpkin on the pitas until they are covered as the base (the pumpkin is like you tomato sauce on a traditional pizza here).

Dollop with yogurt and sprinkle with dukkah, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and bake for about 7-8 minutes until the pita is a little golden and crispy around the edges.

Shrimp with Coconut Coriander Broth

Let’s talk about pantry staples.

What’s up in your kitchen cabinets? You know, the things you need to have around for meals you make on the regular. Or stuff you like to have for when you’re in a pinch. (Ain’t no shame in some store-bought soup, people.)

For me olive oil, garlic and onions are the base of every great meal ever, so I must have those. A variety of grains, rice, pasta, nuts, seeds and beans are the norm too. Vegetable broth is excellent to have on-hand and a seriously decked out spice drawer keeps me feeling secure.

I  start to get uneasy if my canned tomato supply dips below 3 cans, I always have coconut milk for everything from curries to stirring in oatmeal, and frozen uncooked shrimp in the freezer is a great standby.

Having a well-stocked freezer and pantry is like an insurance policy on future good meals. When I’m tired and hungry or just feeling uninspired, the pantry is totally my secret weapon.

This dish is kind of my ideal pantry meal – it’s a bunch of my old cabinet-dwelling favorites thrown together and looking good.

The broth comes together easily – it’s packed with warming spices and rich coconut milk and is balanced out by light vegetable broth, fresh coriander and sweet prawns.

Shrimp with Coconut Coriander Broth
adapted from Food & Wine

I should mention coriander is cilantro and cilantro is coriander. Another Aus-American language discrepancy for the list!

– 2 tablespoons oil
– 1 large onion, finely chopped
– 1/2 a large red bell pepper (or 1 small one), finely diced.
– 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
– 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
– 2 tablespoons ground coriander
– 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
– 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
– 1 cup drained whole canned tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch/1-cm pieces
– 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (or 1 15-oz./400-gram can)
– 1 cup vegetable broth
– 1/2 cup water
– salt
– 1 pound/1/2 kilogram large shrimp, shelled and de-veined
– 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro/coriander, with a little bit of the stems finely chopped

In a large pot or frying pan, heat the oil over a medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently – until golden, about 5 minutes. Add red pepper and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the ground coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, broth, water, and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cook at a low boil, stirring frequently, until thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the shrimp to the pot and bring the broth to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are just done, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped coriander. Serve immediately.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

I believe I was put on this earth to:
1. make people eat vegetables
2. dance terribly enthusiastically
3. rant about unimportant things while saying “REALLY?!” multiple times

I’m good at these things and they bring me joy.

I also think that there are some people in this world who were born to bake…I am not one of those people.

I like baking, I really do – but the thrill and urgency of cooking wins out on most days. I like the chopping, the stirring and the tasting of something being sautéed in a pan. I love starting out with chopped onions and garlic, seasoning and seasoning some more.

But really, I usually just don’t have the patience to bake something brilliant.

Lately though, something’s changed – baking has become a place of solace – a way of restoring a sense of order and control in my life. The process of measuring and mixing makes me slow down and be patient with myself. It’s like a lesson in treating myself right.

I love coffee cakes with a crumbly topping and a soft, fluffy base. I love sweetening baked goods with good local honey or maple syrup. I love little pockets of sweet and brightly colored berries all up in my cake’s business. If you love these things too – you should make some time for yourself and this cake. It’s going to be awesome!

Blueberry Coffee Cake
adapted form 101 Cookbooks

– 1 cup spelt flour
– 3 tablespoons rolled oats
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
– 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 1/3 cup good honey or maple syrup, room temperature
– 1 large egg, room temperature
– zest of 1/2 a lemon
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
– 1/4 cup buttermilk
– 1 1/3 cups blueberries, either fresh or frozen and thawed

– 1/2 cup spelt flour
– 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut 1/4-inch cubes
– 1/3 cup panela sugar (or brown sugar)
– 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 350F/175C degrees. Butter your baking pan and line with parchment paper. (Note: the original recipe called for a loaf pan, but I went for a square baking pan – it’s up to you – just start checking you cake at the 45 minute mark.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a separate large bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer or by hand – until light and fluffy. Drizzle in the honey or maple syrup and beat until well incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times along the way.

Beat in the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract, scraping the sides again. Add half of the flour, stir just a bit, now add a splash of the buttermilk, stir again, but not too much. Add the rest of the flour and stir a bit, and now the rest of the buttermilk. Stir until everything barely comes together and then very gently fold in the blueberries. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pan and set aside.

To make the crumble topping, place the flour, butter, maple sugar and walnuts in a food processor and pulse 20-30 times or until the topping is a bit beyond sandy/crumbly. It should be moist-looking – on its way to being slightly doughy. Crumble it over the cake batter and pat in place with your fingertips.

Place the coffee cake in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool for five minutes and then remove it from the pan to cool on a rack.


Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole

I grew up in a house where dinner wasn’t complete unless there was something green on the plate – or at least something colorful and nutrient-dense. Some days it was sautéed spinach or steamed broccoli or roasted bell peppers, but most often it was a salad.

This meal standard has quietly followed me into adulthood (with the exception of a hardcore grilled cheese phase in college) – I find myself always searching for that all-important color on my plate.

Sydney winter has got me craving warm vegetable dishes in the place of the usual salad. This recipe for a baked Greek-style vegetable casserole is perfect for all sorts of vegetables (and for cleaning out the crisper drawer) – topped with feta and dill, it’s comforting and vegetable-packed with a robust Greek flavor.

It makes the perfect side dish for fish or meat, or simply have it as a meal on its own with some crusty bread or rice. A fried egg on top never hurt anyone either.

Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole
adapted from Bon Appetit
Feel free to swap the eggplant for zucchini, the potatoes for sweet potatoes, and add or subtract any vegetables you’d like.

– 1 small-medium eggplant (or half a large one) cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
– 1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) wedges
– 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– salt
– 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) wedges
– 1 large carrot, cut into rounds
– 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) strips
– 1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
– 1 14-ounce (400 gram) can peeled whole tomatoes, cut into quarters or cherry tomatoes with juices
– 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
– 1 tablespoon dried oregano
– 2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
– 1/4 cup crumbled feta
Heat oven to 450 F/ 230 C
Place eggplant, onion, and 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to a large baking dish (9×13″ or larger) and roast until the eggplant is slightly dried and beginning to turn brown, 12–15 minutes. Set eggplant and onion aside.
While eggplant is cooking, toss remaining 2 tablespoon oil, potatoes, carrot, red pepper, green beans, tomatoes with their juices, garlic, lemon juice, and oregano in a large bowl. Season with salt.
Place mixture in the same baking dish and top with roasted eggplant and onion. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove foil and stir vegetables. Bake until pan is nearly dry and potatoes are tender and beginning to brown, about 25–35 minutes longer.
Sprinkle dill over the vegetables and let casserole sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with feta and serve.