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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.

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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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Plum and basil cake

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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Light chickpea & vege pancakes

October 31, 2013

I’ve made pancakes with flour, and fritters with chickpea flour, but for some reason the two never met. Fortunately before my low-nickel diet was a thing, I made up for lost time in a big way, because cranking out a few pans of these babies turned out to be the perfect quick-yet-rewardingly yummy midweek dinner, weekend brunch or vehicle for whatever vegetables were in the fridge…all while tasting deliciously moreish yet light and pretty healthy. Oddly with spring onions they also taste like they have egg in them, and the chickpea flour gives them a golden glow and richness that fools you into thinking there are eggs in – but there aren’t. If you want to keep these vegan, a little “nooch” (nutritional yeast) or soy sauce make them even more umami tastic. If you can tolerate dairy, some yogurt or crumbled feta are great too, but not at all necessary.

light golden chickpea fritters-1

I don’t have an exact recipe because I usually just make up amounts, so this might take a little adjusting after the first pancake. However there’s no need to be afraid, since my variations have all turned out quite delicious.

Chickpea & vege pancakes

make as much as you like!

  • 1 part flour (this can consist or plain flour, or a combo of plain flour and cornstarch for more crispness and lightness)
  • 1 part chickpea flour
  • about 1 tsp baking soda for every cup of plain flour
  • about 1 Tbs vinegar or lemon juice for every cup of plain flour
  • water to get the batter to pancake consistency
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a generous amount of cooking oil
  • chopped spring onions and other herbs of choice – spring onion really makes these yummy, but if you hate them or something, use a herb you like
  • grated carrot (other veges would work too, like finely shredded cabbage, spinach, copious amounts of parsley, courgettes…the list is endless…but if using courgettes use less water)
  • optional additions: spices of choice, crumbled feta, nutritional yeast, soy sauce

If you’re making more than one batch, heat your oven to low heat (around 100C/210F) with a plate in there to keep your pancakes warm.

Mix everything together, sifting the baking soda over so you don’t get any lumps. Heat a thin layer of oil covering the whole pan on medium, and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto the hot oil. Tip 1: start dropping from the outside, working your way in, to ensure more even cooking. Tip 2: well seasoned cast iron rocks so much harder than non stick.

Once the edges start going golden brown and the tops look like they’re sort of drying a little, flip and let sit for a minute or two to brown. If you have leftover batter, pop the cooked pancakes in the oven and cook up the rest, re-oiling the pan each time. Enjoy plain or with some chutney, ketchup or aioli if you were stingy with the oil. A wedge of lemon or lime would be nice too.

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Kaffir lime home made “ricotta”

October 25, 2013

Unlike many other cheeses, whole milk “ricotta” is actually ridiculously easy to make at home, and you don’t need any strange equipment or ingredients. Which is saying something, because making cheese at home is usually something my lazy self puts into the “are you insane” category of recipes. I’ve seen posts dedicated to making cheddar cheese for example. They are very, very long. Not that I haven’t considered it. I even asked the teenager at the supermarket if they stock rennet once, and the look I got was enough to make all cheese making dreams shrivel back into the insanity cave.

kaffir ricotta-1

Ricotta is apparently meant to be made with recooked whey – and by golly are there some people who are strict by that definition – hence the inverted commas in the title, as attempt to ward of “technically speaking” types. To be honest though, even the whole milk version I made here is a little grainier and crumblier than I would have liked, and I don’t really know very many (ok, any) places that make ricotta with pure whey in Australia – feel free to suggest one if you do know though. I think I’ll try using a little cream next time as Deb from Smitten Kitchen suggests. Maybe to avoid any qualms about definitions I could call it mascotta, a mascarpone and ricotta mashup that also sounds like a cheese masquerading as ricotta.

kaffir ricotta-2

Anyway, the exciting bit is the kaffir lime leaf, which imparts the perfect refreshing note that makes a great pair with fruit. I only used one frozen leaf for 500ml milk, but I could taste it quite easily when I had a little clump of “ricotta” on its own. That said when you eat it on toast with blueberries and honey as I did, you can’t taste any overt zestiness at all, so if you want to, maybe use more leaves or score the leaves slightly to release more flavour. On a side note, it’s a great way to make “ricotta” if you have vinegar on hand but not lemon juice, without the end product being vinegary in flavour.

Kaffir lime “ricotta”

each 500ml milk makes about half a cup 

adapted from Smitten Kitchen:

  • 500ml whole milk (or use a combo of cream and milk for a creamier, spreadable version)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt (this makes for a not actually salty ricotta useful for sweet things, so up the salt if you want)
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf, bruised (score the leaf or use 2 leaves if you want it very limey)

Bring milk, salt, and leaf to a bare simmer in a saucepan (a thin layer of froth will develop), stirring with a spatula every minute or so. Remove from heat and add your acid of choice, stirring slightly. Let sit for a few minutes while you set up a clean tea towel (or doubled up cheesecloth if you have one) lining a sieve or colander. Sit the colander or sieve on top of a bowl to catch the whey.

Pour the curdled milk into the fabric lined sieve/colander, and let sit until drained to the consistency you like – I only waited about half an hour.

Serve with whatever you fancy :)

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PS. Much to my chagrin, you won’t be seeing many posts from me over the next 3 months featuring wholegrains, legumes or nuts (except for a few I’ve been hoarding). This is a pretty big deal for me since I was trying to eat more plant based proteins. However I found out I have a nickel allergy that may be the cause of some pretty nasty eczema, so am trying out a low nickel diet to see if that helps. Sadly that means basically no wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds etc, and barely any dark leafy greens, as these are all high in nickel. The hope is that I will be able to re-introduce some of these good foods later, but right now my system is probably a bit overwhelmed from all my previously healthy eating. Annoyingly this means either daily iron supplements (I hate supplements) or red meat once a week (I was committed to once a month for environmental reasons). If it wasn’t something my GP, dietician, and multiple peer reviewed medical journals all suggested, I would laugh off the notion of going without almonds or chocolate for anything more than a week. However I’d really like to resolve my perpetually itchiness and not have to bandage my fingers when the flare ups get bad, so I’m going ahead with it for now. On the other hand, dairy fiends – you can rejoice, because there’s probably going to be a lot of cheese featured. Not exactly eco-friendly either but if I have to take any more rules into account my head might fall off.