Huevos rancheros – for Sunday breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner

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Huevos rancheros, or “ranch eggs” are Mexican in origin, and a simple and quite humble dish. But they taste terrific, especially with lots of delicious accompaniments such as dollops of sour cream, sprinklings of fresh coriander, chunks of smooth avocado and rounds of soft tortillas. They are also, we decided at our place, the perfect Sunday meal at any time of the day. One pan, quick and easy, lots of punchy flavours, and loved by all. If you are feeding more than two, just double the recipe and use a bigger pan, or two smaller pans. If dining solo, then halve the ingredients and luxuriate in a dish that you can eat straight out of the pan.

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Serves 2

1 medium onion, finely diced
1 small red capsicum, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 long, fresh red chillies, finely chopped (if you like lots of heat then by all means add more, or add some dried chilli flakes)
400g cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 bunch fresh coriander
4 eggs
sour cream, sweet chilli sauce, freshly diced avocado, fresh coriander leaves, and soft tortillas, to serve

In a medium sized frying pan heat the olive oil and then saute the onions, capsicum, chillies and garlic until softened. Finely chop the stems of the coriander, and add to the pan, reserving the leaves for garnish. Add the tomatoes, a tablespoon of water, and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes have broken down somewhat and become quite soft. Season well with sea salt and a little black pepper. Using a spoon make wells in the tomato mixture for the eggs. Gently crack the eggs into the pan, lower the heat and cook the eggs to your liking. Take the pan to the table and serve straight away with the garnishes on the side for everyone to add to their taste. For breakfast and brunch have with orange juice then coffee. For lunch, a Corona, and for dinner, a crisp white wine.

Raspberry and almond smoothie bowl – food is not art

I’ve seen some astonishingly pretty smoothie bowls online in the last few months, intricately and beautifully decorated with nuts, seeds, fruit and flowers. The smoothie takes but a moment to make, but I can’t imagine how long it must take to carefully and artfully place these toppings, to achieve the effect of an edible artwork. I am sure tweezers must often be involved. I even saw one where tiny cookie cutters were used to cut out banana shapes into stars and hearts.

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I like my food to look good, but I cannot imagine any person in the real world actually having time in the morning to create a smoothie bowl that is more art than food to be eaten. So as a small act of rebellion I created this smoothie bowl, which takes less than a minute to make, and I think looks pretty and delicious. No elder-flowers, no careful linear display of pepitas, granola and berries – just a sprinkling of chopped almonds and coconut and a few little raspberries on top. The almond butter adds beautiful flavour and the vanilla a delicate sweet perfume. It’s healthy and delicious, and certainly achievable before a busy day at work or play. Would love to see smoothie bowls you have made!

Makes 1 serve, takes less than a minute to make

1 medium sized lady finger banana
1 cup frozen raspberries, with a few reserved for topping
1/2 cup milk (cows, soy, almond or whatever you have to hand)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract/vanilla paste
1 tablespoon almond butter
A few dry roasted almonds, roughly chopped, and a little coconut

In a blender combine all ingredients except for the almonds and coconut and blend until smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and top with the almonds, coconut and reserved raspberries. Eat straight away.

Springtime strawberry jam

I’m spending a few days in Ballandean, near Stanthorpe, at my friends’ vineyard. They have gone to Italy for a joint 50th birthday celebration, and I’m teen-sitting. It’s a pretty easy gig, so I have had lots of time to explore, cook, read, reflect, listen to music and drink some beautiful wine. There are numerous wineries in the area – some making spectacularly good wine – but there are also a number of small enterprises making excellent produce suited to the cool, dry climate of the region.

I’ve visited a cheese maker, specialising in an apple wood smoked cheddar; an olive grove, where I tasted (and bought) a lemon myrtle infused, cold-pressed olive oil that was outstanding, as well as two or three varieties of olives; a jam and preserves enterprise that makes and exports their products Australia-wide; and a bee-keeper, who moves her hives according to the season, and produces subtle eucalyptus honey in the winter (which I also bought). And finally, strawberries, whose growers have had a bumper season, leading to a surplus, and thus, for me at least, the making of jam.

strawberry-jam1-resizedI think strawberry jam is the easiest of all jams to make, and gives a result that is far superior to any store bought jam. It’s full of soft fruit, slightly tart, and bright, bright red. On toast or scones it is superlative. There’s only a few tips to remember and you will get a great result every time. This is a soft jam, because there is not too much pectin in the fruit, but that’s the way I like it – oozing slightly and even dribbling a little down my chin as I eat my breakfast toast.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 kg strawberries, hulled, and cut into halves, or quarters if they are large.
500 g sugar (I like to use jam setting sugar, because it has added pectin, making the jam setting more reliable)
Juice of 1 large lemon

The day before you want to make the jam, prepare the strawberries. In a large ceramic or glass bowl layer the strawberries and sugar – a quarter of the strawberries, a quarter of the sugar, and so on. Cover with cling film and leave overnight in a cool place. In the morning, all the sugar will have dissolved and turned a bright red, from the strawberry juices (Tip 1: with no added water the flavour is much more intense). When you are ready to make the jam, heat the oven to 100 C and place in it 3 or 4 small, clean glass jars. (Tip 2: this will sterilise the jars, and ensure the jam will keep). In a large saucepan, add the strawberries and the lemon juice, and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes. stirring occasionally. Meanwhile place a small saucer in the freezer. After 10 minutes, take the pot off the heat, take a teaspoonful of the jam, put it on the plate and place in the freezer for a minute or so. Take it out and run your finger through the jam. If it wrinkles a little bit, and doesn’t just look like syrup, then the jam is done. Otherwise, return the pot to the heat for another 5 minutes and test again. (Tip 3: be careful not to let the jam stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.) When the jam is ready take off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Take the jam jars out of the oven and place on a wooden board. Pour the jam into a large glass jug and carefully fill the jam jars to the top. Seal with their lids when cold, and store in the refrigerator.

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Sunday morning avocado

A lazy Sunday morning is not a regular feature of my week, but today was all that could be hoped for in that regard. After a gym workout I joined my husband and daughter at a local cafe for breakfast before discovering a treasure trove of new season fruits and vegetables at the Greengrocer’s Pantry next door. There was so much locally sourced produce it made my heart sing. I bought avocados and radishes, fresh Australian garlic and beetroots, and sweet strawberries, then came home to spend the rest of my morning cooking. We harvested rhubarb from the garden and a friend dropped by with a bag of cumquats to make marmalade. Domestic bliss for me, despite the excessive washing up!

avo-on-toast1-resizedI made this avocado with soft feta on grainy bread for a mid-morning snack. The avocado was creamy and soft; the feta sharp and salty; and the bread chewy and delicious.


avo-on-toast2-resizedFor each person you’ll need:

1/2 a ripe avocado
1 tablespoon soft feta or goat’s cheese
fresh chives
salt and pepper
1 slice of grainy bread
a squeeze of lemon juice

Peel and de-seed the avocado. Slice thinly and squeeze over the lemon juice. Spread the cheese on the bread and top with the avocado. Sprinkle over the chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat right away, relishing each mouthful.

 

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Grilled peaches with thick yogurt and lime syrup

“you are ever
the only one

i want to give
all the peaches
in my heart to

the only one
by whom
i want them bruised.”

 Sanober Khan

A ripe peach, headily perfumed and heavy with sweet juice, is one of the delights of summer. I have been thinking over the last few days of friends in the United States who are experiencing the worst blizzard in many, many years, and the contrast between their world at the moment; blanketed in white, freezing cold, and resolutely indoors, and mine, which is blue-skied, hot and humid, and celebrating the outdoor life. This dish exemplifies that world, and I hope it brings a little sunshine to those who are huddled indoors today.

It works beautifully as a dessert, or a brunch dish, but depends on having great peaches and good quality yoghurt. There is very little done to the ingredients, because they are so spectacular – just a little magic woven to bring them all together. In Australia, now is the time when peaches are at their absolute best, so a perfect time to make this little bowl of sunshine and light.

Serves 4

4 large, beautifully ripe peaches
500 g thick Greek yoghurt (not the sweetened variety. Tang is required here to balance the lime syrup)
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 medium-sized lime
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and the seeds scraped out

First make the lime syrup, In a small saucepan place the water, sugar, a few large pieces of lime zest (use a vegetable peeler to do this, but make sure there is no white pith on the zest – it is very bitter), and the vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to the boil and boil for 2 minutes. Take off the heat, and when it is at room temperature, remove the vanilla bean and add the juice of the lime. Set aside until ready to serve. You can do this a day ahead and store in the fridge until about an hour before needed. When ready to serve, carefully spoon the yoghurt into four lovely glasses. Halve the peaches and carefully remove the stones. In a medium sized, non-stick fry pan heat the butter until it begins to bubble. Place the peach halves, cut side down, in the pan and cook for about 3 -4 minutes on medium heat. Take off the heat and place on a dinner plate, cut side up, in a single layer, and pour over half the syrup. Carefully turn the peaches over and spoon the syrup that is in the plate over the peaches. Turn them over one more time and cut each peach half into three or 4 wedges. Top each glass with a few peach pieces and serve. Pass the remainder of the peaches around, along with the left-over syrup, so people can top up their glass with lime infused, peach wonderment.

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Figs with honey, yoghurt and toasted almonds

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Figs are one of the most beautiful fruits. Unctuously sweet and perfumed, they are also tender and very luxurious. Unless you have a fig tree they are an extravagance as they are so expensive, but for the short season when they are available, as an occasional treat there is nothing better. Give me figs over chocolate any time! They are one of the most ancient of fruits, and it is thought they might have been the very first agricultural crop, with fig tree fossils found in the Jordan Valley dating from thousands of years ago. They are certainly mentioned in Roman writings and in the Bible. The simpler the treatment of fresh figs, the better, and so, in this recipe, with just honey, yoghurt and lightly toasted almonds you can make a wonderful breakfast or brunch dish for the love of your life.

Serves 2

3 fresh, just ripe figs
4 tablespoons greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon honey (a floral one is best)
1 tablespoon lightly toasted flaked almonds
a few fresh rosemary or thyme flowers, if you have them, for garnish

Slice the figs in half, lengthwise and place three halves on each of two beautiful plates. Drizzle over the honey and then a couple of tablespoons of the yoghurt. sprinkle over the almonds and flowers, if you have them. Serve straight away.

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Grilled pears with ricotta, pecans and runny honey

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This simple, but beautiful recipe was inspired by the abundance of  fresh pears in my part of the world now that autumn is fully upon us. The mornings and evenings are chilly and we are looking around for something warm to eat in the morning. This dish is a great alternative to porridge or eggs for breakfast. I used beurre bosc pears, with their intriguing mottled brown skin, and heavy juiciness; perfect for grilling until soft, but still able to hold their shape. What a wonderful way to start an weekend autumn morning.

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Serves 4

2 large beurre bosc pears
11/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
250g firm ricotta cheese
4 teaspoons runny honey
2 tablespoons pecan nuts
grated zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the grill of the oven to 200C. Slice the pears lengthwise into 6 slices each. Place on a tray and brush generously with the melted butter. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and grill until  the pears are lightly golden and soft, about 5 or 6 minutes. Meanwhile,  toast the pecan nuts in a dry pan for a couple of minutes and then chop into small pieces. Warm the honey until it is runny (I do this in the microwave for about 20 seconds). Divide the ricotta between 4 serving plates. Place 3 slices of pear on each plate, sprinkle over the pecan nuts and lemon zest, and then drizzle with honey. Serve straight away, on their own, or with slices of toasted brioche.

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Sugar plums poached in verjuice

Sugar plums are beautiful, sweet little plums that have their short season in late summer and early autumn. I could not resist buying them when I saw a box for sale in the fruit shop. They are delicious to eat fresh, because their skin is not at all bitter, but are also gorgoues poached. I felt like Maggie Beer as I got out the verjuice, vanilla and raw caster sugar to cook them this afternoon. I split the plums in half and prised out the seeds, but you could cook them whole if you wanted. Serve them with thick cream, or on your breakfast granola, or just on their own. You could even make a fruit crumble with them. Endless possibilities.

Serves 4

500g sugar plums, washed
1/3 cup raw caster sugar
1/3 cup verjuice
1 vanilla bean

Split the plums in half and carefully take out the seeds. In a shallow pan place the caster sugar, verjuice, vanilla bean and plums and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or unti the plums are soft but not falling apart and the liquid a little syruppy. Eat warm or at room temperature, with thick ream or greek yoghurt.

Granola – breakfast bliss

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When I decided to make my own granola I looked at lots of recipes and found several that I liked, but they all seemed far too sweet for my taste, so I made up my own recipe that was loosely based on one by David Lebowitz via Nigella Lawson via Andy Fairfield with a large twist of me. It is full of nuts and dried fruit – so not really low in fat or sugar – but has lots of goodness, energy and fibre.  A smallish serve with Greek yoghurt and some sliced banana or fresh berries is a fabulous breakfast and will sustain all morning.

4 1/2 cups rolled oats
150g whole almonds, roughly chopped
130g pecan nuts, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 cups dried fruit – your favourites. I used cranberries, apricots and sultanas in equal measure

Preheat oven to 160C. In a large mixing bowl stir together the oats, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, spices and salt. In a small saucepan combine the butter, honey and brown sugar and cook gently over a low heat until the butter is melted. Pour the mixture over the oats and with a large spoon stir until the oats are well coated with the mixture. Turn onto a large baking tray, which has been lightly brushed with vegetable oil, and spread out until the mixture is a quite thin layer. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the mixture every 5 -6 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t be afraid to let the mixture turn quite dark – just shy of burning. It gives the granola great crunch and a caramel twist to the nuts. Cool completely, and turn into a large bowl. Stir through the dried fruit, and store in an airtight container.

Tangelos and oranges with lime and vanilla syrup

Tangelos have a short season which makes them all the sweeter, to me, at least. I just love the intense citrus taste that is like an orange, and like a mandarine, but also uniquely tangelo. I’m salivating even as I write this. When I made this ultra simple dish, I wanted to celebrate the beauty of fruit in season – so I simply segmented the tangelos and oranges and then drizzled over a simple little sugar syrup infused with vanilla and lime, just enough to add subtle flavour but not to overwhelm.

My dad used to love to eat any fruit that had been cut up for him, and we ate this dish after Sunday lunch and thought of him. I also think a small serve of this dish on the side of a panna cotta would make a classy dessert for a casual dinner party. My middle son, who is a very good cook, suggested that a sprinkling of micro basil over the top would also be a nice touch. (He loves the fancy styling of contemporary chefs, and often rates my plating skill)

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Serves 4
3 tangelos, peeled and any stray bits of pith peeled off
3 navel oranges, peeled and segmented with a very sharp knife
1 large, juicy lime
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
1/2 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup water

Place the sugar, water, vanilla bean and seeds in a small pan and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes and then take off the heat to cool. Place the tangelos and mandarines on a serving plate. Zest the lime and add to the syrup along with its juice. Take out the vanilla bean, and put it aside to dry. You can then add it to a container of sugar and it will become headily vanilla scented. Spoon the syrup over the fruit and let sit for about 15 minutes before serving, to let the flavours meld. Serve on its own, or with panna cotta, or on pavlova, or with yoghurt for breakfast. Endless possibilities!

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