Bean, Barley and Vegetable Soup

Ugh – still sick. My chest infection  has devolved into a common cold, but it’s been a few weeks now, and I feel like little more than a drippy, droopy mess. But there ain’t no rest for the wicked, so all that’s left is to power on and occasionally whinge on social media.

Last night, I could think of absolutely nothing other than a big bowl of soup that would guarantee a full and immediate restoration of my health. Taste didn’t really matter, as I’ve temporarily lost that particular sense, along with its good friend smell – I wanted comfort and wholesomeness. And with this recipe, I got it in spades.

Bonus: even I could tell it tasted divine, and my family were more than willing to affirm this, even though they’re insanely carnivorous  and this recipe is decidedly not (well, except for the parmesan, but you can get vegetarian varieties if that matters to you). And at 170 calories for a VERY generous serve, it really is just a bowlful of goodness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2tsp olive oil

1 brown onion, diced

3 medium sized carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup pearl barley

1.25 litres chicken stock

2 x 400g cans four bean mixed, drained

400g tinned chopped tomatoes

1tsp dried parsley

2tsp dried basil

1tsp dried rosemary

1 large zucchini, diced

4tbs grated parmesan cheese

Method.

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add onions, garlic and carrots, and sweat for 10 minutes.
  2. Add  barley and stir to combine well with vegetables.
  3. Add stock, stir, and increase heat to high. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 25 minutes, until barley has started to soften.
  4. Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, and cook for a further 10 minutes.
  5. Tumble in zucchini, and simmer for 5 minutes, until softened but not mushy.
  6. Serve into large bowls. Top with parmesan.
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Mocha Macarons (Mocharons?)

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with macarons since the Zumbo craze a few years back- they’re delicious, of course, but they’re also expensive and just a tad pretentious for what they are. And I was convinced that they’d be hard to make, even though I do know my way around meringue and baking in general. I wrote them off as something I’d never bother to make years ago.

For my later, I received a gift certificate from my mother in law to the Paris International Cooking School (sadly, in Sydney, not Paris, but it was still an awesome gift!), and walked out of there a few weeks later with a bunch of recipes, a full belly, and, inexplicably, a bottle of gourmet coffee flavoured syrup I’d purchased on a whim. Predictably, that syrup sat in the dark recesses of my baking cupboard for a month or so, until today, when another impulse purchase took me by surprise – a 2kg bag of almond meal.

You can see where this is going.

With all these ridiculous ingredients, guests on their way, and a healthy fear of what was to come, I had to work out the most fool-proof option for making these macarons. Thank goodness for Elaine and her recipe at The Spruce Eats,

as not only did she provide a really simple and effective base recipe that I could change up a bit, but she also talks the reader off the ledge every step of the way.

All I did differently here was add a teaspoon of cocoa to the macaron mixture, and a dash of coffee syrup to the filling. And it was perfect. Chewy, light, barely sweet, and a breeze to cook for only 110 calories a pop (if you make 12). I did, however, find that I had to keep them in the oven longer, but ovens are notoriously fickle, so I took that with a big old grain of salt.

Ingredients

3/4 cup icing sugar

3/4 cup almond meal

2  egg whites

Small pinch maldon salt flakes

1/4 cup caster sugar

1tsp cocoa

Filling:

2/3 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup icing sugar

2tsp coffee syrup

Method

Preheat the oven to 140 C. Line two baking trays with baking paper, and draw 12 circles on each of them, using a shot glass as a stencil.

Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds into a large mixing bowl, ensuring there are no lumps – I like to whisk the end result, just to be sure.

In a separate clean bowl (I used my stand mixer here), whisk the egg whites and salt until they form soft peaks. Add the caster sugar little by little, whisking until the whites are glossy and stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in the almond mixture. Don’t worry that the meringue loses air, this is normal.

Fill a piping bag with the mixture. Don’t use the star nozzle like I did at first – you want a round, flat base here. Pipe the mixture onto the rounds, filling in the circle.

Gently bang the baking trays on the bench to release any air pockets. Leave on bench to dry out for 20 minutes.

Bake the macarons for 15 minutes, opening the door halfway through to allow any steam (and hence moisture) to escape. Remove from the oven, and allow to sit in their trays until cool. They might seem a little underdone, but will firm upon cooling.

To make the filling, cream the butter and gradually beat in the icing sugar. Add flavouring and beat a little more. Spread 1/2 tsp of filling onto the flat side of one macaron, sandwich with another, and gently twist to cement them together. Repeat with remaining cookies.

 

 

 

 

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Mongrel Chilli

Years ago, an online acquaintance from Texas gave me her recipe for some of the best chilli I’ve ever had. I’ve since lost both the acquaintance and the recipe, and spend my days searching to recreate this amazing celebration of spiciness.

What I remember most of this unicorn of a recipe is that it had black beer, coffee, whiskey and cocoa in it. It was dark, complex, dramatic and extremely impressive It also had red kidney beans and beef, tomatoes and – rather obviously – fresh chillies, ground cayenne and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. It was HOT. It also made the most insanely delectable chilli dogs ever.

Over the years, I’ve tried others – some good, some great, and some downright awful. It’s become obvious that I simply had to make my own recipe based on what I could remember of T’s chilli, and the good bits of other recipes – hence the name. Here, I’ve swapped the very delicious red kidney beans for inky black beans, which changes the flavour profile quite a bit, but not for the worse. I’ve decided they’re completely interchangeable here. Perhaps half and half would be an option? I’ll have to try it one day. I also used chuck steak here, but I feel the original recipe might have called for mince. The steak, however, falls apart after 4 hours of stewing, and lets the beans shine the ingredient that holds it all together – I don’t think kidney beans could do that quite so well.

This mongrel of a recipe easily feeds 8 – and still provide leftovers. Luckily, it freezes beautifully. I served this with cabbage and potato buns, and have plans to make burritos with them next Thursday night, which is crazy night in this household. Even after this second meal, I’ll suspect we will have have leftovers (I’ve portioned my frozen chilli so that none goes to waste). It makes a lot, but we don’t really eat it by the bowlful. Those who do, will obviously not be eating quite so much frozen leftover chilli.

Ingredients

2tbs oil,

1 onion, diced

3 red chillies, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic

2tsp ground cumin

2tsp ground coriander

1tsp dried chilli flakes

750g chuck steak, cubed

80ml whiskey

330ml stout or black beer

375g dried black beans (no need to soak)

1/2 tsp cayenne

2tsp cocoa

1 shot espresso

750ml beef stock

400g diced tinned tomatoes

2tbs maple syrup or treacle

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160C.
  2. Heat 1tbs oil in a large cast iron pot (with a tight lid) over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, and add onion, garlic and chillies. Sweat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant. Stir in cumin, coriander and chilli flakes.
  3.  Increase heat to medium-high, add the extra oil, tumble in the steak and stir to brown.
  4.  Add the whiskey, and when this has stopped frothing, the beer. Stir to combine.
  5. Pour in the dried black beans, then the stock, tomatoes, espresso, cayenne, cocoa and maple syrup. Give it all a good stir, season, and bring to the boil.
  6. Transfer to the oven, and cook for 4 hours, checking periodically to ensure that it hasn’t dried out. If it’s looking a little parched, top it up with a half cup or so of water, stir, and place back in the oven.

 

 

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Pear and Pomegranate Chutney

I’ve been sick for a full week, and I’m so over taking it easy that I’m seriously considering running around the block just to take a rest from resting. But I’m slowly getting better (until I get excited, do something stupid like go to work, then end up back at square one!), so I’ve been looking for ways to entertain myself while being drowsy, disracted, and grumpy. Cookbooks to the rescue!

While I was flipping through my veritable library of Nigella Lawson cookbooks, her pear and passionfruit chutney recipe jumped out of me. I love just about any excuse to slow cook onions into jammy messes, and cooking chutneys, preserves and sauces is my jam (so to speak), and that page got post-it noted to an inch of its life. After dragging myself past the kitchen for something completely unrelated (and probably medicated), and the fruit bowl housing a couple of slightly long in the tooth buerre bosc pears, the fate of my afternoon was sealed. I was making chutney, come hell or high water.

Now, I didn’t have enough pears to follow Nigella exactly, or any demerara sugar or passionfruit whatsoever, and I got excited and added an extra onion and ginger, so this is really pretty loosely inspired by that wonderful culinary hero of mine. Not only is the colour totally different, I kept mine chunkier, too. I have no idea what Nigella’s chutney tastes like, but I can attest that it inspires a mean spin-off. I was kicking myself for my impulsiveness the whole time, assuming that I’d just wasted a bunch of ingredients, but after 45 minutes of simmering away, I was  rewarded with a dark, sticky, complex and spiced-but-not-spicy pool of deliciousness. And that’s just what it tastes like today – Nigella suggests waiting a month to really develop the flavours. A whole month – that’s cruelty!

Makes 500ml(ish). I didn’t measure it, but it perfectly fit into two small jars from Ikea that hold about a cup each.

Also, apologies for the weird amounts – I was haphazard today but did think to write down what I did!

Ingredients

2 small onions, diced

5 small buerre bosc pears, peeled and roughly chopped

1/3 cup + 1 tbs brown sugar

100g pomegranate arils  (I unashamedly used frozen)

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

2tbs minced ginger

Pepper to taste (2 or 3 good cracks should do it).

Method

  1. Combine all ingredients into a medium sized saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, and allow to simmer away for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally so that nothing catches. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. After 40 minutes of simmering the chutney, bring a pot of water large enough to hold your jars to a rapid boil. Carefully insert jars and lids, and boil for 10 minutes to sterilise. Very, very carefully, use a pair of tongs to remove the jars and place on a cooling rack.
  3. Ladle the chutney into the jars and seal immediately. Keep, unopened, for up to a year (hahaha) and consume within a month of opening (also, hahaha).

 

 

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Spicy Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll never make it as a vegetarian, and certainly would fail miserably as a vegan. I’d give myself until my second meal until I slipped up on something minor (like the time I put sprinkles on vegan cupcakes for a vegan family member – luckily, I caught myself just in time to decorate the second half with berries), and just give up altogether.

In saying that, I’m playing around with vegetarian lunches a lot – not for any real ethical or health benefits (although I do recognise that there are both, and the hipster hiding inside me tempts to say that’s the case!), but because there are so many delicious options. I still don’t see myself giving up animal products for more than a few hours, but I’m REALLY digging meat free meals more and more these days.

I’ve had Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella since it came out. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who does this, but when I get a new cookbook, I read it cover to cover, then attack it with post-it notes to indicate what recipes I want to cook, and ideas on how to make them my own. Yes, I’m a little crazy, and it’s hereditary, because even at 7 years old, my daughter does the same thing. How Nigella’s recipe for warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds wasn’t instantly post-it-ed is a mystery, but the page flicked over while I was looking for her chilli recipe for later in the week, and I haven’t been able to think of anything else since.

As always, I’ve made the recipe a little more calorie-conscious, and to suit my taste preferences. I also skipped some olive oil, because 3 tablespoons was it was just too much – I like extra virgin olive oil as much as the next foodie, but I have my limits, both for taste and caloric intake. I also switched the parsley that Nigella recommends for my beloved baby spinach, and used sambal oelek instead of harissa. The results were phenomenal, and I’m so looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Serves 2-3, at 312 calories for a third.

Ingredients

1 small head of cauliflower

1tbs olive oil

1/2 tsp allspice

1tsp cumin seeds

400g can chickpeas, drained

2 tomatoes, chopped

1tbs sambal oelek

60g baby spinach

75g pomegranate arils

Method

  1. preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Cut cauliflower into medium sized florets.
  3. Combine oil and spices in a large bowl. Add cauliflower and mix to coat. Tip onto a baking tray and keep bowl aside, uncleaned. Bake cauliflower for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add the chickpeas and tomatoes to the oily bowl, and mix to coat. Add sambal oelek and stir to combine well.
  5. When cauliflower is ready, remove tray from oven, and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Return to oven for another 15 minutes.
  6. Lay the roasted vegetables over a bed of baby spinach. Scatter pomegranate seeds over the top and serve.
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