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Silky aubergine dip with dill and basil

December 22, 2013

It’s not even Christmas yet, but all I want is some salad and water. Actually, that’s something I overhead at my work Christmas party from the suspiciously blonde girls looking at their champagne as though it was a form of slow torture. I’m secretly reveling in all the deep fried nibbly things that inevitably get passed around at this time of year. But then at some point, I do start craving veges – nothing so airy as salad though. No, I’m talking about dense vegetable maximisation. A plate consisting of nothing but vegetables, that you dig in to with gusto.

dilly aubergine dip-1

Essentially, the roasted veges lie in a creamy, smoky, herbaceous smattering of aubergine dip, that resembles a lighter version of baba ganoush. A light dusting of sumac, some fresh herb leaves and a drizzle of olive oil make things look a little less spartan, but to be honest, this is wonderfully vegetably comfort food that doesn’t need to be pretty past the first bite. Thankfully, because would you check out the colour of that dip? It does have many virtues – deliciousness, versatility, relative simplicity – but prettiness is probably not one of them. When you use veges as your dip delivery mechanism, you can eat as much as you like without wishing for “some salad and a water,” while still feeling like you’ve indulged in many of life’s greatest pleasures. Also, you can have cake for breakfast (tick) and still easily get in your five plus a day. If you do go the veges dipped in veges route, I’d highly recommend getting really fresh veges, or things are going to taste pretty mellow. There is a noticeable difference between real basil and wispy supermarket basil especially. Lastly, of course feel free to use other herbs and spices. Oregano, coriander/cilantro if you’re a fan ,and tarragon would all be lovely. I just happen to love the way dill and basil turn roast veges into something summery.

Wondering what to serve this with, other than veges? It’s phenomenal with toast, eggs, crunchy raw veges, lightly crushed lentils or beans, and seafood. A little crumbled feta wouldn’t hurt, especially the creamy stuff. It can be served warm or cold, but I prefer room temperature. This makes it fairly versatile, to say the least. I’m wishing I made more to be honest!

Silky aubergine dip

Thanks to Simon Said for the inspiration The first time I tried some of his dip at the farmers market I bought two containers and they were gone in two days.

Makes about a cup and a half. Measurements very much approximate, so taste and adjust as you go!

  • 4 fist sized aubergines, destemmed
  • about 1/3c very finely chopped fresh dill, tender stalk bits only (the bits near the tip)
  • around 10 basil leaves
  • juice and zest of half a regular sized lemon
  • optional: a few drops of sherry vinegar (or just more lemon)
  • optional: smoked paprika or liquid smoke if you don’t have a gas burner/bbq
  • optional: sumac for finishing
  • optional: tiny splash of cream, or just go bananas on the olive oil at the end to keep this vegan friendly
  • salt to taste
  • cooking oil for baking and extra virgin olive oil for finishing

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Over a naked flame with a fork, blister the skins of each of your aubergines. If you don’t have a gas burner, you might be able to do this under a grill, or over a BBQ, or just proceed to the next step.

Cut each aubergine into 2 inch chunks, and place on an oiled baking tray. Brush generously with oil and sprinkle with salt, and cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown splodges appear and a fork goes through with no resistance (the insides should be mostly translucent. Let cool slightly to help unstick the pieces better, then blitz with a stick blender with all the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings until you’re satisfied.

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3 rewarding and easy ways to get more out of your food dollar

December 12, 2013

With Christmas coming up, most of us will be preparing for some serious feasting. Unfortunately it’s also when we collectively generate the most waste. The surprisingly huge environmental consequences of food waste are hard to brush aside. Around one third of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that is subsequently not eaten. This land is often “created” by displacing forests, the animals that live in those forests, and the valuable ecosystem services they provide. Furthermore, growing, processing and distributing food racks up a lot of emissions. In Australia, the food supply chain is the next highest generator of greenhouse emissions, after power stations. After all that, 222 million tonnes of food is then thrown out each year in wealthy nations (in Australia, it’s 4.5 tonnes).

Fortunately, there are plenty of rewards  you get from reducing your food waste, beyond a healthier budget and clearer conscience. As it turns out, a lot of the food we throw out is actually really good for us and our tastebuds, if only we’d give them a look in. Here are three discoveries I’ve found really helpful…

1 Get adventurous – try the whole vegetable

While “nose to tail” animal eating has become a pretty well established concept, most of us still readily depart with our broccoli stalks, potato peels and carrot tops, unnecessarily binning perfectly delicious ingredients in their own right. If you don’t believe me, check out Root to Stalk Cooking by award winning food writer Tara Duggan, or this New York Times article from 2011. If you grow your own veges, you get even more bonus ingredients that most foodies would pay through the nose for (or not even be able to buy at all!). Younger broccoli leaves for example are basically like kale, and snow pea shoots are already enjoyed in many Asian dishes. If you’re ever unsure, a quick Google will often give you some ideas and fresh takes on your usual favourite dishes.

LeekFennelFritters-1

Fritters made with fennel fronds and leek greens

2 Friend your freezer

If you come home from your leisurely trip to the farmers market only to realise you’re never going to get through those three bulky items that need to be eaten super fresh – don’t panic just yet. Spring onions (scallions/”shallots” in Australia) are a classic for going wilty and slimy in the bottom of the fridge. Ensure they never die a slow death ever again – slice up the green parts when you get home and pop them in a freezable container. They separate easily even when frozen and are super handy to throw in when you’ve got them pre-cut. Spinach and many other cooking greens can be pre-cooked and frozen in ziplock bags too, making your meals down the track that much quicker too. Those pricier artisan style breads can be sliced and frozen too for easy breakfasts (simply toast your slices to bring them back to their original glory).

My homemade bread in a freezer baggie

My homemade bread in a freezer baggie

3 Get real when meal planning & be flexible

At first when I followed the conventional advice to “plan my meals” and “shop with a list” too stringently, I found myself spending more, not less. I was missing out on specials, and often resorting to take-out when the meal that day just wasn’t what I felt like eating. It was also incredibly boring. If you also suffer from these setbacks, I’ve found it really helpful to learn roughly how many “bags” you’ll eat in a week and bring that many bags with you when shopping. Then fill only the bags you’ve brought with appealing, seasonal, “on special” items. Aim to get less than 2-3 items that can’t be frozen and will go sad in less than 2-3 days (eg. lettuce). When you get home, pop all fresh ingredients into a spreadsheet (I use Drive so everything is on my phone and sharable), and then roughly plan a “menu” for the week. You can then pick what you want the most that day or is realistic to cook if you get home late. With the available ingredients in a list beside your menu items, it’s easy to re-configure a menu item. It can sometimes be handy to leave one day free that week for surprise social outings, or for using whatever you have left over in a bit of a lucky dip stir fry, salad, soup or stew. I’ve enjoyed a lot of surprisingly delicious new combos this way! Of course this approach might not work for everyone – so keep adapting until you find a sweet spot.

A sample weekly meal plan.

A sample weekly meal plan, which will inevitably get chopped and changed

Some great tips from commenters in my last post about food waste:

Use your food scraps to create compost for your garden (or someone else’s). I’ll add that if you’re in an apartment, try a worm farm.

Skip and swap ingredients in a recipe based on what you already have and save time shopping too!

Buy only what you need. I’ll also add here that I try and impose a “1 treat limit” per weekly shop since I’m only human – but this way I get the thing that I really want, rather than something I just bought on impulse.

Resources to help you rethink waste more generally this Christmas:

  1. Planet Ark’s 12 Do’s of Christmas offers simple advice, including some food waste tips
  2. 1 Million Women have heaps of ideas to help you celebrate a no-waste Christmas
  3. “Fill hearts not landfill” with Karma Currency for charitable gifts

What have you found works well to reduce your food waste? 

Merry Christmas! Here's our tree made of previous years' cards...

Merry Christmas! Here’s our tree made of previous years’ cards, that’s both reusable and recyclable.

Mindblowingly simple coconut sauce: 3 ingredients to weeknight bliss

November 29, 2013

This spaghetti was born on a “why-isn’t-it-Friday” Monday, inspired by our hands down favourite Samoan food, palusami (ok, maybe a close tie with the pina coladas with freshly made coconut cream). Our friends’ Lonely Planet guide described palusami as “calorie bombs” of coconut cream and we knew we had to try them. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to enjoy these creamy parcels made the Samoan way – wrapped in fresh taro leaves, then banana and breadfruit leaves, and placed atop some taro root that roasted in red hot stones covered with a motherload of banana leaves (all part of an umu). You should have seen the four of us descend upon the deliciously ugly, curdled, almost cheese-like palusami, with hunks of roasted taro. We cleaned up every last drop within minutes, after a somewhat hesitant start.

Salty coconut spaghetti-1

Since taro leaves and fresh coconut cream is a little hard to come by in Australia, and an umu is definitely not a weeknight sort of a meal for the average 9-5er living in an apartment, I was keen to make something with similar flavours. Lazily. All you do is finely dice a large onion (or 2 small), pour over a 400ml can of coconut cream, add salt to your taste, bring to a boil then simmer to thicken slightly. Crush the onions slightly with a masher to soothe your impatience release more of their flavour. 

Interestingly the sauce doesn’t curdle like it did with fresh coconut cream, but for presentation purposes, I consider this to be a bit of a bonus, even if the result doesn’t taste quite so transcendental.

What could you possibly use this amazing sauce on? Aside from drowning some spaghetti and spinach in it you mean? Well, we had the leftover salty oniony coconut cream cooked and drizzled over our fish while we were in Samoa (highly recommended), so chicken or tofu would love it too (or Quorn, which I’m growing worryingly addicted to on this damned low nickel diet). You could easily replace spaghetti with rice noodles or baby spinach with large punchy basil leaves. Or tip it over rice and veges. If you find yourself with a pool of it on your plate and aren’t a licker, deploy some crusty bread for mopping it up.

It’s time for a confession about pasta too: I like mine slightly overcooked. There, I said it. Not canned spaghetti mush levels of overcooked, but definitely a leap hop and minute past al dente. Judge away, but I have a real aversion to al dente, unless it’s fancy pasta or fresh pasta, which is definitely no longer a Monday evening endeavour.

Spaghetti with salty coconut sauce & spinach

Serves 3-4, remembering it is quite rich, even though it doesn’t look that way

  • 250-300g spaghetti (half a standard 500g packet if you’re in NZ or Australia)
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • coconut sauce (see text in bold above)
  • optional: freshly ground black and/or white pepper to serve

Cook pasta* to your preferred firmness, drain in a colander, set aside.

Make coconut sauce (in the same pasta saucepan is fine). Once it’s been simmering for a few minutes, or until the onion is softened, add the pasta back to the pan, along with the spinach. Stir everything to coat the pasta and just wilt the spinach, then taste and salt further if necessary before serving. I realised after I took this photo it’s better to serve this in shallow bowls. Take note!

Enjoy with a few cracks from your pepper grinder if you like, otherwise, enjoy! If you feel there’s too much sauce, you can drain some off, and refrigerate for another meal. I kinda like it borderline soupy though.

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*Confession number 2: I almost never use bucketloads of water to cook my pasta, and once I put the pasta in, turn the heat down to low and simmer the pasta, covered, just stirring every now and then. I feel like this saves energy and works perfectly fine in this particular dish. Feel free to keep tsking.

Sydneysiders, get ready to meet your makers!

November 25, 2013

Need a pick-me-up this Thursday? Come and join me and the rest of the Youth Food Movement crew for the latest Reel Food Nights. Sit back and enjoy our original short film debut Sourced, while trying a locally crafted beer, cider or iced tea, munch on home made popcorn, and cool off with a hand crafted ice pop. Sourced will enchant you with the stories and farmers behind Sydney’s food, tracing the steps from paddock to plate. You’ll also discover how to become part of the future of small-scale agriculture and localised Sydney food systems. We’ll be hosting an interactive panel discussion with local food experts to keep the night positive and solutions-focused, so you’ll be brimming with delicious ideas for change too. Click on the poster below to grab your tickets…

RFN poster granny smith full details

See you there! I’ll be there wielding my camera and jumping on the bike every now and then (we’re using pedal power to screen the film!).

Deliciously ugly dinners: mushroom onion hash

November 21, 2013

Admission time: I am a shallow food blogger. With the food blogosphere bursting with beautiful photos that make your mouth water while being artfully placed on perfectly matched backgrounds, it can be easy to get quite inane and fussy about whether I should bother photographing an otherwise delicious dinner because I don’t have a napkin or table or fork that would make it look nice enough. Then I remember that the whole point of being a blogger is that I can be honest, real and relaxed. Right guys?!

potato mushroom onion hash-1

That said (since I’m being honest), I wouldn’t mind me some pretty napkins. Anyway, as well as being honest myself – I’d love to hear, just quietly, what your favourite “deliciously ugly dinners” are (if you’re a blogger, link me at ’em!). Or if you haven’t got a favourite, you can now create one by letting some mushrooms, onions and potatoes caramelise in “more butter than you at first think is probably enough.”

This hash is one of those foods that is exponentially more than the sum of its parts. I’ve made this quite a few times now since it’s pretty easy, and I think the potato, onion, butter and generous amount of salt are absolutely pivotal to taking things to that next level of deliciousness. Green peppers are another favourite alternative to mushrooms, and I imagine cauliflower would also make an amazing companion, or sweet potato, or pumpkin. Daikon radishes would actually be quite swell too (especially with a little splash of soy sauce).

Potato, mushroom & onion hash

To start, you need a very large, seasoned cast iron pan or one of those horrid nonstick pans, and a lid. Then chop some washed potatoes (no need to peel, unless you’re allergic or something) into roughly 1cm (approx 1/3″) cubes. I use about 4 mediumish sized ones. Slice some mushrooms and an onion. Then melt that larger-than-you-think-is-probably-enough knob of butter in your pan on medium high heat, swirl to coat the pan, and pop everything in. Sprinkle with a generous dusting of salt, cover, and leave for 3 minutes, or until the bottoms go golden brown. Flip and stir, cover, leave for 3 or 4 minutes. Repeat and don’t add any water to the pan until things start getting brown – then add a splash of water to help you dislodge the sticky gooey dark deliciousness. Keep going, never letting it get too stew-like, until the potatoes start to fall apart. Taste and season with more salt if needed, and some pepper. Serve alongside a fried egg or your protein of choice, and a zippy salad, like:

‘Slaw with lemon dill aioli

Mix aioli, lemon juice and zest with finely chopped dill. Slice cabbage and other vege(s) of choice (I used cos lettuce). Mix it like you mean it.

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Artichoke, radish & avocado salad

November 13, 2013

 

Salads like this make the sticky Australian summer feel almost acceptable in their intensity. It’s an excuse for me to eat bucketloads of fresh raw crisp things. Like this salad, full of lettuce from the local market and oh so thinly sliced pink radish glowing in amongst the jubilant green. A little avocado for richness, a little artichoke for interest, and…that’s it. Ok fine, I will admit I had this alongside some homemade bread and punchy cheese.

If you felt like being particularly luxurious on a non-ridiculously warm day, a little ranch, aioli or shaved parmesan would take this to new heights. If you’d like no animal derivatives in your salad, toasted seeds/nuts and a sweet balsamic dressing are your friends. Lightly salting and pepper-dusting the avocado is another option if you want to forgo the bother of dressing. Something about avocado, salt and pepper makes me weak at the knees. So simple. So good.

radish artichoke avo-1

 

Oh, and I have proof that I cannot resist the greens & pink radish combo around this time of year. It’s just too pretty, even with crappy lighting and terrible composition (proof that I am in too much of a hurry to stuff my face). Lest you think I’m a health nazi though, there’s always this (also wow…I still have that jar of truffle salt and it’s still good. It may have cost my weekly food budget as a student but boy have I made a ton of amazing things with that tiny jar).

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Baked tomato & cheese polenta

November 9, 2013

When I saw Hungry & Frozen’s baked tomato polenta, I felt like all the previous burning bubbles of polenta I’d ever suffered in the past were for naught. All this time I could have avoided the stirring, and burns?! So naturally I wait until it’s almost summer, five years after the recipe is posted, to make this. Fortunately for you northern hemisphere dwellers, this is perfect timing for any chilly weather that may or may not be heading your way (who knows with all the crazy climate stuff). Since I was too tired at the time to find the original recipe, I just kind of winged it, and as a result, the super-lazy version is born. Chuck everything in a casserole dish or a covered baking dish, and an hour later of not really touching it again, dinner is done.

baked polenta-1

Ohhh, and I almost forgot the most important bit, which should come as no surprise – layer it with fluffy clouds of grated parmesan to serve (if we’re going to get technical I used grana padano, but use whatever cheese you like, but something strong is good, as the polenta is pretty mild even with the tomatoes). Regular cheese is fine too, although I’d add that in the last 20 minute of cooking with the pan uncovered so the cheese flavour condenses.

This is one of those brilliantly versatile dishes that you can chuck just about any vegetable in, but just so you know – the vegetables don’t overcook even if you put them in at the very start. I quite liked the just-cooked crunch of the cauliflower I used, but was wise enough to roast the aubergine alongside rather than in the polenta. A quick rule of thumb is – anything that wouldn’t cook in 2 minutes in a stir fry will need to be roasted on a tray alongside the polenta, or you might have some pretty raw veges to contend with. Which is fine if that’s your thing. I used some pre-cooked frozen pine mushrooms I had, cauliflower, and only cooked the aubergine separately. For the small/medium aubergines I used, I just halved and scored, sprinkled with salt, and placed alongside the pot of polenta on the baking tray, skin side down. They cooked through in about 40 minutes from a cold oven, then I just ripped them up with a knife and fork and stirred them into the polenta, and let it bake a little longer. Since the polenta was a bit dry, at that point I also added some water and tomato paste. Fixed it nicely.

Extra things I have discovered work really nicely in this: mustard, lemon juice or vinegar (just to bring out the acidity in the tomatoes a bit more), extra tomato paste if it’s tasting a bit too mild, dried mushrooms, aioli or herbed mayo, lots of butter, nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, spinach, cream, olives, toasted slivered almonds to serve for some rich crunch, chipotle, a smidge of brown sugar, fresh herbs on top…you know, all the good things in life. If you’re an anchovy fan I’m pretty sure they would be pretty delicious in this.

Baked polenta

makes as much as you like – a rough formula adapted from the recipe from Hungry & Frozen

  • 1 part polenta/cornmeal (instant would work in less time and be good if your veges were spinach or something, but I used regular polenta)
  • 1-2 parts tomato goop (puree, passata, chopped)
  • 1-2 parts water, stock, or whey
  • veges, herbs, spices of choice (see preceding paragraph for suggestions)
  • 1 part (in volume, not weight) finely grated parmesan/grana padano, more or less
  • generous knob of butter or glug of extra virgin olive oil (if using olive oil, use it to finish rather than cooking it to death)
  • salt and pepper to taste

In your baking vessel of choice, stir everything except cheese together except any veges that need to be roasted alongside. Cover with baking tray or al foil or lid. Brush any veges you are cooking alongside with oil, and place them on a tray. Pop everything in the oven, turn the heat up to anywhere between 180C-200C (355F-390F), and leave for 40 minutes.

Once that timer goes, check consistency & seasoning – if your polenta is too dry for your liking, add stock/water. If too wet, uncover or tilt the lid/leave a little gap for steam to escape. If it’s not tomato-y enough, add tomato paste. Etc. Remember you’ll be adding cheese though. At this point if you have roasted veges alongside, it’s a good time to pop them into the pot so they soak up a little flavour from the stock/tomato. Or if you’re using regular cheese, top your polenta with it now and bake uncovered. Resume cooking for about 10-20 minutes if necessary to finish off any veg in the polenta or get cheese to a nice and golden stage. If using spinach or delicate leafy greens, add them in the last two minutes of cooking.

Serve layered with handfuls of cheese.

To reheat, break up the polenta with a fork, add water, cover, and microwave.

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