salad

In a pickle!

Two of my favourite vegetables to buy and forget about are fennel and radishes. I see them in bunches at markets and cant but grab them for a mid week salad. Except I forget about them or couldn’t be bothered slicing them up so they inevitably wilt and become sad specimens in my crisper. So my solution? Pickle them! I adore pickled vegetables and when done at home they can be a great addition to a quick salad and can be complimented easily with many other ingredients.

So how do you pickle at home? It’s as simple as creating a pickle brine, bringing it to the boil and immersing the cut vegetables into it, placing them in a jar and a day or two later you are good to go! When it is this easy it is definitely a great solution to throwing out your produce. Of course, fresh produce is always lovely but a bit of a pickle never hurt now and again!

Another great pickled veg mix is the Italian Giardiniera mix. Carrots, capsicum, cauliflower and zucchini are all floreted and sliced to create a colourful combination great as an anti-pasto compliment or just on the table before a meal. Buono!  The old school mix sometimes slices the carrots with a serrated slicer or includes beans but I like to julienne them on a mandolin just for presentation on the other side of the jar. But do what takes your fancy and enjoy!

What do you eat your pickled vegetables with?

Pickled fennel loves: orange segments, fresh grated beetroot and apple, green beans and prosciutto

Pickled radish loves: lettuce and tomato in a salad, a peppery touch to salad sandwhiches or with ham

Giardiniera mix loves: salamis and prosciutto, grilled vegetables or just tossed through a lettuce salad

These are just my favourites, by all means experiment and enjoy! Just try and make them last once they are in the fridge. I can often be found with a fork in hand eating them from the jar standing in front of the open fridge door. But shhh….don’t tell anyone!

Basic Pickle Mix (makes approx 2 litres, enough to pickle all the vegetable mixes)

1l white wine

1l white vinegar (you can use apple cider or brown malt vinegar if it takes your taste buds fancy)

1 cup of white sugar

1 tbsp salt

1-2 bay leaves

2-3 dried chillis (optional if you like a little spice – I didn’t have them in the mixes below)

Method

Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil until sugar dissolves

Remove from heat and pour over vegetables

Allow the vegetables to steep and add to jars, these will keep in fridge for about 2 weeks if you use utensils to remove from jars, avoid the temptation of wandering fingers!

NB: Sterilise jars in boiling water to ensure freshness and to keep the pickles for longer

Pickled Fennel

1-2 Large fennel bulbs sliced finely on a mandolin and steeped in mix above

Giardiniera Mix

3 Carrots

1 capsicum

3 small zucchini

½ cauliflower

Julienne all vegetables, keeping zucchini to the side, cut cauliflower into small florets

Steep in hot liquid, add the zucchini when cooled to keep the green colour

Pickled Radish

Remove green from whole radishes, cut in half for small and quarters for large, steep in mix above

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Buying your pumpkin and eating it too! How to make sure you make the most of pumpkins in your fridge

When the weather turns cold you can’t but help to think of warming dishes such as stews, casseroles and roast meats. The usual suspects also feature – roast vegetables. I am a big fan of roast vegetables as to me it brings out the sweetness and flavour of the root vegetables giving them a satisfying and unique flavour.

Alas not all vegetables for roasting are root vegetables and pumpkins are one of the exceptions. Their inviting orange flesh can be used for sweet or savoury dishes and it is very universal vegetable (fruit if we are being particular with the seeds/flowers and all) to prepare.

One pumpkin can be a task to get through for a single person or even a couple, so what do you do when you have a whole or even half a pumpkin rolling around in your crisper?

As mentioned, the most popular choice would be roast pumpkin closely followed by the sweet counterpart of pumpkin scones. Again, these tackle some of the pumpkin’s offerings but how do you utilise it without having an array of pots and pans?

I roasted my pumpkin two ways. One features garlic salt whilst the other is given a spicy kick with a chilli and lime salt. You can roast all the pumpkin at once, but create some different flavours to keep the leftovers interesting. No one really enjoys eating the exact same thing three days in a row and this is a way of mixing up the flavours whilst not wasting your crisper contents.

Another advantage of the roasted pumpkin is that it can easily be transformed into soup and frozen for later. I actually prefer to roast my pumpkins and blend with stock for soup as I feel that just simmering the pumpkins doesn’t bring out the depth of flavour they achieve with roasting. If you have some chicken stock ready to go in the freezer as featured in my last blog, it can be as simple as giving the stock a simmer, blending in the pumpkin and dinner is served. Pretty simple right?

Try also pureeing some of the pumpkin after giving it a steam to keep the water content down and have it frozen ready for scone making or thin it down with the chicken stock as soup for more versatility too.

Roast pumpkin is fabulous tossed through leafy green salads or even in a potato salad for a splash of colour and a kick of flavour. They can also be mashed up and folded through a potato mash for a bit of different side to your roast, sausages or casseroles.

However you like your pumpkins they are great vegetable to keep on hand. Have a go at some of the recipes below and tell me how you went. Happy cooking!

salmon salad

Recipes

Creating your own flavoured salts doesn’t need to be a task. Having a mortar and pestle or even a decent small blender/spice grinder can have your creating fabulous concoctions that bring your dishes alive.

lime salt

Lime and Chilli Salt Roast Pumpkin

Ingredients:

2-3 tbsp rock salt or course salt for grinding

½ tea spoon chilli powder (adjust according to your spicy preference)

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

Method

Place all ingredients into a mortar and pound with pestle until salt is broken up and flavourings are mixed through. If blending, same method applies

NB: You can use the lime juice to pep up the pumpkin once it is roasted. By using the zest you’re releasing all the fragrant oils into the salt

herb salt

Garlic and Herb Salt

Ingredients

2-3 tbsp rock salt

1 tbsp dried garlic

1 tbsp dried herbs – I used my own dried rosemary

Method: Place all ingredients in mortar and pound with pestle until combined

NB: I use dried garlic and herbs as the oils from fresh garlic can make it hard to sprinkle as it will clump together. If you are basting a meat with blend, use fresh garlic as you can then rub it in. The same applies for the herbs. I dried my own rosemary by handing it upside down in a cool area until the leaves became brittle and is stripped them from the stalk and store in an airtight container

pumpkin on tray

Roast Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

½ roast pumpkin

1l chicken or vegetable stock

4 cloves of roast garlic (if you like, add these with the pumpkin when roasting)

Method

Bring stock to a simmer, blend in pumpkin with stick blender and garlic and season to taste

NB: If you are using an upright blender please do not blend boiling hot stock as it will pop the lid and you can burn yourself – in this instance just ensure your stock is full defrosted if using from freezer or just pour in from the fridge and blend – bring the soup to a simmer once blended.

soup

You don’t win friends with salad….but I still love them

Pinterest Calamari

 

The title refers to one of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons wherein Lisa begs Homer to have a vegetarian BBQ and the family starts a song reminding her that ‘you don’t win friends with salad’ yet come summer and BBQ season, a good salad is always appreciated.

So what makes a good salad? To me it is the variety of textures and flavours. I love salads. It is my go to food any time of the year. In winter it is a warm salad with grilled vegetables or baked pumpkin, summer lends itself to crisp lettuce, vine ripened tomatoes and refreshing cucumber.

To flesh out a salad protein such as chickpeas, quinoa or meat is always a good start or a decent serve of carbohydrate such as potato, pumpkin or rice.

Fresh is always best so try to pick the crispest lettuce, nice ripe tomatoes, crunchy celery, green herbs and a variety of colours in your ingredients.

If in doubt, keep it simple. It is easy to throw the whole contents of the crisper in a bowl but there is an elegance in three or four quality ingredients combined and dressed to impress.

My Top Five Salads:

1. Asian Coleslaw – Crunchy, Tangy and add some fresh chilli for a spicy kick. What’s not to love?

2. Greek Salad – The taste of the Mediterranean in a bowl. Creamy fetta marries perfectly with tangy tomatoes and cool cucumbers for a summer treat

3. Baked potato salad – For a twist in the classic, bake your small cubes of potatoes first and dress when warm with a combination mustard and mayo dressing

4. Chickpea and kale – Pack a protein punch with a combination of chickpeas, finely diced red onion, shredded kale and pumpkin seeds for crunch. Top with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing and you’re good to go

5. Broccoli and spinach – Finely chop your raw broccoli, toss with baby spinach leaves and dress it up with flaked almond and dried cranberries. Great for a sunday bbq

 

 

I had a hankering for a seafood salad so I am going to share a grilled calamari and prawn salad. The ingredients are pretty simple and the method quick thus making for an easy mid-week dinner. I love to use fresh herbs in salads to create a bit of punch and flavour but you can always chop them up in a dressing if you don’t like leafy herbs in your dishes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

salad ingredients

4 squid tubes

250 g prawn meat

1 cup shredded wombok cabbage

1/4 large cucumber cut into thin strips

1/2 large capsicum diced into small cubes

1/2 cup of Thai basil and coriander

1/2 cup spinach

1 small can chickpeas

150 g butternut pumpkin sliced

2 tbsp Thai seasoning mix from gourmet garden tube

Juice one medium lemon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Dressing

3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

2-3 teasp fish sauce

Juice one lime

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp thai seasoning mix

squid

 

 

Method:

– cut squid tubes in half and cross score. Place in bowl with prawns and marinate with Thai seasoning mix, lemon juice and olive oil for half an hour (I use the tube mix as easy, fresh and no fuss)

– heat grill or fry pan to medium heat, cook sliced pumpkin until soft, set aside

– heat grill or pan to high, sear squid until opaque and almost cooked through, add prawns and cook both until opaque and cooked through

– remove from heat and cut tubes into 5cm strips

– mix salad ingredients together, add squid and prawns

– pour over dressing as desired and enjoy!

 

sallad complete

Dressing up is always more fun – 8 easy peasy salad dressings

Dressings – salad dressing and sauces to be precise can create fun and interesting lift to the most basic of salads. I have to admit, I have my go to favourite of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. When balsamic was ‘discovered’ in the 90’s by Australia, it was everywhere and I mean everywhere. Suddenly the 1l bottle of white vinegar in your pantry looked so passe. Balsamic vinegar is lovely of course, but it has it uses. There are all sorts of herbs and vinegars that can create a new dynamic if you’re willing to experiment and have some fun. Vietnamese dressings are my favourite reference point for that lovely balance of sweet, sour and spicy in dressings. Who hasn’t had a vermicelli salad and marvelled at the light and tangy dressing? Who also doesn’t love a fat potato chip dipped in aioli or mayonnaise? Many people shy away from mayonnaise as it can be ‘fattening’ and ‘bad for you’.

IMOK_evoobals

Let me share a little secret. I love mayonnaise. To clarify though, not store bought 98% fat free full of sugar mayonnaise but lovely, thick egg, oil, mustard and lemon juice mayonnaise. Have you ever actually looked at the labels on store bought dressings and wondered how something so simple suddenly has so much to it? Processed foods need preservatives to give it shelf life. Dressings at home don’t need to be kept forever, they can be whisked up and poured over and enjoyed. Home made mayonnaise can last at least a week if refrigerated well in a sealed container. This is the magic and difference of taking the time to make your own dressing. You can add and subtract ingredients at a whim and enjoy it there and then.

IMOK_dressings

So what’s the secret to lovely dressings? Have fun! Think outside the square. Some ideas:

1. Citrus dressing – either juice a citrus of your choice (orange, blood orange, lemon, grapefuit) or buy some (at least 1 cup required) and place in small saucepan and allow to come to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer until reduced slightly (the juice will thicken) remove from heat and cool, add oil of a ratio of 1:3, one part juice to 3 parts oil, season with salt and pepper, add some chopped herbs and use for chicken or seafood salads

2. Greek dressing – 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 tbsp dried oregano, 3 cups olive oil, salt and pepper, pinch of paprika – whisk together and use on Greek salads, chicken salads or whatever takes your fancy

3. Tzatziki – 1 small tub of Greek or plain yoghurt, 1 cucumber deseeded and grated, 1 garlic clove crushed, 1 lemon rind and juice, salt and pepper – combine in bowl and refrigerate – great for burgers, wraps, salads

4. Balsamic honey mustard – 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 cup olive oil – whisk honey and mustard together, add vinegar and then oil – lovely for chicken or beef salads

5. Vietnamese style dressing – 1 tbsp honey or 1 tbsp sugar dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water, 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice, splash of white vinegar, splash of fish sauce, 1 chilli finely sliced, 1 teasp crushed garlic, 1/3 cup chopped coriander, splash of soy sauce to taste for salty – mix ingredients together in bowl -lovely for Asian style coleslaws, dipping sauces, noodle salads

6. Raspberry vinegar – This is so easy and can be used with a splash of olive oil as lovely summer dressing – Place one punnet of raspberries in a sterilised screw top jar (sterilise bottles by boiling in a pot of water for about 2-3 minutes) and add at least 750 ml of vinegar and place lid on. Leave in a cool dark places for about 2 weeks. Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth or a strainer and voila, lovely handmade raspberry vinegar. The raspberries are edible, just pickled now. The same can be done with herbs such as tarragon and thyme, lovely for french style salads.

7. Aioli – 200g roast garlic (cheats way – bring garlic to boil in saucepan and simmer until soft, strain and pan fry until golden), pinch of salt, 1 egg yolk. 1 cup of vegetable oil, splash of lemon juice, 1 tbsp dijon mustard

Place yolks, garlic and mustard in food processor and process until well combined, slowly add olive oil through feed tube slowly allowing to blend easily until mixture thickens. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. (Chef hint – don’t use eggs straight from the fridge – mayonnaises work better with warm ingredients and combine with less chance of splitting. BUT don’t have the garlic too hot as the heat can also cause it to split. Solution? Add some ice cubes to cool. If the mix splits, don’t through it out!! It can be saved. Take the mix out into another jug, Just put another egg yolk and some salt in the blender, turn on and slowly pour the split mix back in until thickened. Easy!)

8. Cocktail sauce  – 80’s style prawn cocktail anyone! This retro classic is my favourite with fresh seafood – 1 cup mayonnaise (make as aioli minus the garlic), 2-3 tbsp tomato sauce, splash of Worcestershire, salt and pepper, splash of Tabasco for kick – mix together and refrigerate. Enjoy with a fat fresh prawn dipped in and popped in your mouth when no one is watching. After all, you wouldn’t want to have a sneaky taste before it goes to the table would you?

So there you have it, 8 easy peasy salad dressing to dress up any dish and be dinner party worthy. Or just have some fun with your everyday meals. Happy eating!

IMOK_vegetables

Moroccan Chicken and Bean Casserole with Zucchini Salad

chicken and salad

Winter is coming here to Brisbane although if you look outside to the sunshine you could wonder when exactly this winter thing will happen. But there is a chill to the breeze which makes me want to wrap a blanket around my legs on the couch and cuddle up to something warm and comforting for dinner. My sister in law had the same idea for her dinner request as simple as ‘Something warm!’. I couldn’t help but agree. I have to admit I have default dishes. Things when I couldn’t be bothered I just through together. The upside to this blog? No one wants to see that I made boiled eggs, chopped tomato and tinned tuna for dinner! 😛 Well you might but I’ll leave that post for another time.

I googled around (googled is a verb now don’t you know) and found some casseroles and other winter dish inspirations. Nothing though that I wanted to follow verbatim so this recipe is a little bit of ideas from other sources and some of me thrown in for fun. I call it Moroccan in the way soy sauce and noodles can be Asian. There are ingredients that are synonymous to a food culture we identify with but I in no way vouch for the authenticity of the ingredients here other than the herb and spice tube was labelled “Moroccan”. If you are a purest please feel free to investigate and see how or what would be used for something authentic along the lines of this dish, or like me have some fun, call it what you wish and thank them for allowing you to create with restraint.

So the dish – essentially a roast chicken that was marinated and stuffed then torn up through a spiced bean casserole with a salad on the side. In can be vegetarian with the addition of some more root vegetables for heartyness if you so wish.

ingredients for chicken

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (please use organic or free range for this dish)

1 mandarin (or lemon or orange, this was just in my fridge)

2 capsicum

300 g rough chopped pumpkin

1 onion sliced

4 cloves garlic sliced

2 zucchini

100 g semi dried tomatoes

1 tin baby tomatoes peeled

400g tin Bean mix (four, five, ten, whatever tickles your fancy)

1 tube Moroccan herb mix

Spinach

Yoghurt cheese

Method:

1. Stuff and marinate chicken – remove chicken from wrapper and rinse (this just gets rid of stale juice/blood) pat dry and place on chopping board. Coat with oil and rub some of the spice mix over the front of the chicken. To stuff the chicken, roll the peeled mandarin (or orange or lemon) in more spice mix and stuff into chicken cavity. You can add any other herbs or garlic as you wish. The moisture from the fruit creates steam inside the chicken cavity which helps it cook inside and out.

stuffed chicken

2. Place in tray and surround with capsicum that has been halved and deseeded. Cover with foil and bake at 150 degrees for about two hours. It is a low slow heat to allow the chicken to remain moist and fall off the bone. If you like your chicken roasted another way by all means go ahead. The chicken is done when you prod the thigh joint and the juice runs clear.

3. For the casserole, pan fry the onion until softened, add the slice pumpkin and cook until coloured. This process creates a nice caramelisation to the pumpkin to add a little depth of flavour to the dish. If you have some leftover roasted root veg and chicken from the night before, this casserole can be a way to extend the leftovers and perk them up. Just add the cooked vegetables at the end as they will become too soft otherwise.

marinated chicken in pan

4. When the onion and pumpkin are coloured, add the garlic and allow to soften. Mix through some of the spice tube, add the tin of tomatoes, a tin of water, the semi dried tomatoes and the rinsed tin of beans.

chopped veg

5. Allow the mix to simmer on a low heat for an hour to develop the flavours. The tomato liquid will thicken and richen with the simmering. I used tinned baby tomatoes as they have a lovely flavour and their ripeness create a nice base to the sauce as opposed to watery unripe fresh tomatoes or plain chopped tinned tomatoes. You aren’t using a lot of ingredients in this dish so ensure they are quality.

pan fry veg

bean casserole

6. When the chicken is done, remove from the roasting dish and peel the capsicum. Chop the capsicum roughly and add to the bean mix with the juices from the roasting pan.

7. Season and grill the zucchini in long strips and arrange over some spinach leaves with some pieces of yoghurt cheese. Squeeze some lemon juice over as dressing.

salad w zucchini

8. Tear the chicken into pieces and serve over the finished bean casserole in a bowl with the salad on the side with some toasted sourdough or other dense bread.

Yum Yum!