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.

It’s hot in Brisbane but it’s Coolangatta – summer salads for celebrations

It’s so hot here – unreasonably hot for November, and as my thoughts turn towards upcoming end-of-year and Christmas celebrations, I’ve gathered a collection of my salad recipes for inspiration and to help me to keep cool in the kitchen. There’s something here for all tastes, and each one has a little twist to lift it above the usual fare. I hope there’s some inspiration here for  you too.

And if you are wondering about the title of this post – It’s hot in Brisbane, but it’s Coolangatta – it is the title of a real song, popular in the 1950s. You can read about it, see the fabulously kitsch sheet music and listen to the original recording here.

Rice 2 resizedCranberry and wild rice salad

Potato salad 2 resizedPotato and pea salad with hazelnut dressing

Carrot salad 2 resizedCarrot salad with coriander, chili and sesame

apple salad5 resizedRocket salad with apple and parmesan

nectarine salad3 resizedNectarines, prosciutto, mozzarella and mint

brie salad1 resizedBrie and rocket salad with pomegranate dressing

farro with pumpkin1 resizedMaple roasted pumpkin with farro

Fassifern tomatoesTomato and bocconcini salad with a beautiful basil dressing

Spiced carrot and brown rice salad

I’ve been having an enforced rest following some surgery, but today felt like some creative cooking – reading the recipe books and magazines given to me by my very thoughtful colleagues the inspiration. Our oldest is back at home with us for a time and as he is a coeliac, gluten free cooking is required at our place. So this combination of nutty brown rice with warm spices, sharp, fresh coriander and sweet carrots makes an excellent salad that is healthy and filling and delicious for all of us. I’d recommend serving it with some grilled chicken, Greek yoghurt or labne, and a crisp white wine.

 Serves 2- 4

1 bunch Dutch carrots, tops trimmed, and washed (or use 5 – 6 carrots, peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise)
finely chopped coriander stalks, from 1 bunch of coriander
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup brown rice, rinsed
2 cups water
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup mixed seeds (I buy mixed seeds from the health food store)
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
1 bunch coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Lemon dressing
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 200C. Place carrots, coriander stalks, olive oil, cumin, smoked paprika, honey, and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric in a bowl, season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mix well. Spread out in a single layer on a baking tray lined with silicon paper and roast for 25-30 minutes, turning two or three times, until and tender. I wanted to serve the salad in the roasting tray so as not to lose any of the pan juices, so I used a white enamel tray that could go straight to the table. Set aside to cool.

While the carrots are cooking place the rice, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 2 cups water in a saucepan, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, 30 – 40 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Check it now and then to make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Leave for 10 minutes with the lid on before uncovering to cool to room temperature. To make the lemon dressing, put all the ingredients in a small glass jar and shake well. When the rice is a t room temperature pour the dressing over and stir through. Add the currants, seeds and fresh coriander and mix well. Push the carrots to one side in the roasting pan, if you are serving from it and add the rice mixture. It will soak up any of the spiced juices in the pan. Alternatively place the carrots on a serving platter and drizzle over the juices, and pile the rice on the side.

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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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Spring vegetables

“It is a very beautiful day. The woman looks around and thinks: ‘there cannot ever have been a spring more beautiful than this. I did not know until now that clouds could be like this. I did not know that the sky is the sea and that clouds are the souls of happy ships, sunk long ago. I did not know that the wind could be tender, like hands as they caress – what did I know – until now?”

Unica Zürn

There are so many things I love about spring. The gradually lengthening days; gardening; cloudless skies, with warmth but not yet heat or humidity; flowers and strawberries and new honey and asparagus and the palpable sense of rejuvenation and re-invigoration all around. Today at the fruit shop I found the first asparagus of the season, along with some baby zucchini, snow peas and sugar snap peas, crisp and sweet and inviting. Cooked until just tender and tossed with a little butter and a sprinkle of sea salt, they were delicious and representative of all that is wonderful about spring vegetables. Any combination of new vegetables is beautiful cooked this way – the only thing to be aware of is not cooking them for too long – tender crisp is how they are best, and brings out their sweetness and delicate flavour.

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Serves 4, as an accompaniment

2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and cut in half
250 g baby zucchini, halved lengthwise
125 g sugar snap peas
125 g snow peas, trimmed
1/4 cup snow pea sprouts
20 g butter
sea salt

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil. Cook the asparagus, zucchini, sugar snap and snow peas for 3 – 4 minutes until just tender. Drain and immediately toss in the butter and season to taste with the sea salt. Scatter over the sprouts and serve. Delicious with fish, or chicken, or just with chewy bread smeared with goats cheese or ricotta and herbs.

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Sweet chilli and sesame dressing

I eat a lot of salad. A lot. It’s part of a significant change in my diet to improve my health and lose weight. And I really love salad, so it’s been an enjoyable refocus, and an opportunity to develop creativity with salad and dressing ingredients. This dressing is a riff on a Jamie Oliver dressing and it’s full of flavour and spice, and some heat. A little bit goes a long way, so it’s not a big deal that it’s not super low in calories. I paired it with a salad of gem lettuce, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, purple cabbage, mixed seeds, and crunchy noodles, but it and works well with all sorts of salads that have an Asian twist.

2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce (I love Roza’s Gourmet Sauces, sweet chilli and ginger sauce)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
juice of 2 small limes
1/2 teaspoon white sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon black sesame seeds

Put all ingredients in a small glass jar with a lid and shake well until combined. Taste, and add a little salt, to taste. Keeps for a week or so in the fridge.

Heritage tomatoes – no recipe required

Sometimes, the food we put on our table does not need to be cooked, or prepared in a special way, or even garnished. On its own it speaks to us; with beauty, astonishing flavour, and a certain joy that’s inherent with the feeding of the soul as well as the body.
That’s how I felt when I came across these heritage tomatoes in my local fruit shop at Indooroopilly. The tomatoes are grown in Fassifern, about an hour from where I live, by a couple, Matt and Sarah Muller, who started growing them commercially about a year ago.

They are so beautiful and the names entrancing – Green Zebra, Tigerella, Ida Gold, Black Cherry and the Mortgage Lifter, to name a few. All I did was to carefully wash them, put them in a bowl, and allow the family to eat them at will. The inside flesh was as much a revelation as their outside colour; rosy pink, bright green, shining yellow, deep purple and rich, dark red. I can’t think of any recipe that could have improved the experience we had when eating these tomatoes. If you live in south-east Queensland I encourage you to look for them. If not, perhaps your local Farmer’s Market might have a heritage tomato grower you can support. I know you will love them as much as we did.

Fassifern tomatoes

Lamb with cumin and sweet chilli

Mary had a little lamb… and it was delicious!!

unknown genius

Today we departed from our usual Anzac Day tradition of making and eating Anzac biscuits in favour of these most delicious lamb cutlets with cumin and home made sweet chilli sauce. Having been up and about quite early for my youngest who was marching in the local Anzac Day service, we were ready for a hearty lunch. The combination of great quality meat, and some of lamb’s best buddies – cumin, chilli, hummus and loads of fresh herbs, makes this recipe a delight to prepare and eat. The secret is to have the pan or grill really hot and to cook the lamb for only a couple of minutes each side, brushing on the sweet chilli sauce in the last minute of cooking and then liberally sprinkling with fresh herbs. I used home made sweet chilli sauce, because we have been inundated with chillis in the vegetable garden, but good quality store-bought sauce will also give an excellent result.

Serves 4

1 .2 kg lamb cutlets
1 teaspoon ground cumin
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
2 tablespoons good quality sweet chilli sauce
4 tablespoons roughly chopped herbs – oregano, mint, chives and flat leaf parsley work well
hummus, flat bread, and salad greens, to serve

Heat a large frying pan of grill until it is very hot. Meanwhile drizzle a little olive oil over the lamb and rub it in with your fingers. Sprinkle with the cumin and season well with salt and pepper. Cook in the hot pan or on the grill for 2 minutes per side, brushing with the sweet chilli sauce in the last minute of cooking. Place on a serving platter and sprinkle over the herbs. Serve with hummus, flat bread and a green salad for a delicious lunch or dinner.

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Egg sandwiches and being a little kid in the 1960s

For me, being a little kid in 1960s country Australia was idyllic, and I don’t think it’s because nostalgia has crowded out more sober or disturbing memories. It was just a safe, secure and happy childhood, untroubled by violence or poverty or strife, and full of love from parents who nurtured and cared for me – what we all hope and dream of for our children.

I come from a family of five siblings, very close in age, so we had a ready made gang and a pretty free-range childhood. Things that today’s parents would not dream of allowing their children to do were just a part of everyday life; we walked to and from school from the very first day, rambled unsupervised in the paddock behind our house, clambered over rusty tractors and among the hay bales in the shed of our friend’s farm, and scared each other witless playing Spotlight and Bogeyman in the darkness of our sprawling acre of garden.

Sunday drives, picnics at the seaside, family parties and church fellowship teas always included sandwiches, and mum’s specialties were ham and pickles, roast beef and mustard, and curried egg. I have made egg sandwiches my own over the last few years, especially as I have catered for a number afternoon tea weddings, where finger sandwiches are always on the menu. I make them with rye bread or a dark multi grain loaf in contrast to the filling. Needless to say the 1960s version was always soft white bread. Enjoy these sandwiches next time you picnic with friends, or want something a little fancy for afternoon tea,

Makes 12 finger sandwiches

6 eggs
15 cm piece of celery, very finely diced
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream or natural yoghurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices bread, rye or wholegrain are best

Place the eggs in a medium sized saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and pour off the water. When cool enough to handle peel the eggs. In a glass bowl and using a fork, mash the eggs until the the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the celery, nuts, chives, mayonnaise and sour cream and season to your taste with salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Place the mixture in the fridge to chill for about 20 minutes. divide the mixture between 4 slices of bread, making sure that the filling goes right to the edge of the crusts. Top with the remaining slices of bread and press gently together. Using an electric knife carefully cut the crusts off the sandwiches and then slice each sandwich into three fingers. If not serving right away cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Maple roasted pumpkin with farro

There is something very satisfying about autumnal food and this maple roasted pumpkin with farro has a richness and depth that is just right for cooler nights and warm days –  the essence of my favourite season. Summer has had a very long tail this year, and I am very much enjoying the cooler weather we have recently been experiencing. My vegetable patch is still producing late summer vegetables and herbs (there will be a Japanese eggplant recipe in the near future!), and salads are still firmly on the menu, but this dish is a foretaste of the pilafs, casseroles, tagines and soups I will be making in the coming months.

There’s a dissertation in the waiting regarding farro, freekeh and spelt, and how these ancient grains, which were commonly eaten in the past, lost popularity, and then, in the beginning of this century, rose again in the popular consciousness as healthy, delicious, and worthy of eating. Richard Cornish, from Good Food gives a condensed version of this story better than I ever could.

He says: “Centuries ago, Western civilisation had a midlife crisis and dumped a whole lot of wholesome and dependable grains for a newer, more glamorous species from the same genus – namely, wheat. We mostly stopped growing grains such as einkorn (Triticum monococcum), spelt (Triticum aestivum spelta) and farro (Triticum turgidum dicoccum) in favour of modern wheat varieties such as durum (Triticum durum). Freekeh is made from modern wheat varieties that are harvested green then roasted. Einkorn is still grown in parts of Europe on poor soils. In France, it is called petit epeautre, or ”little spelt”, and in Italy, it is called farro piccolo or ”little farro”. It can be cooked in a chewy pilaf or tossed through a salad with beans and tomatoes. Farro, sometimes called emmer, can be cooked as one would steam brown rice and added to salads, but is delicious made into farrotto, similar to risotto, or simmered in chicken stock with sauteed carrots and celery to make soup. Spelt is high in protein and quite commonly ground into flour and used in baking. Depending on how the grains are processed, they may require soaking before cooking.

I love the flavour and the texture of farro and really like cooking with it. I can usually buy farro from a good deli or some health food stores. If you can’t buy it, you could easily use brown rice as an alternative. Also, if you have a coeliac in your home it’s important to know that farro is not gluten free, so brown rice would be an excellent subsitute in this case.

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Serves 4
1 kg pumpkin, de-seeded and cut into 8 wedges. I recommend Kent or jap pumpkin, but butternut pumpkin will also work.
2 red onions, cut into wedges
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cup farro
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
1/3 cup currants
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley and/or chives
100 g baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a flat baking tray with silicon paper. Lay the pumpkin wedges, onion wedges and garlic cloves in a single layer on the baking tray. Drizzle over 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle over the maple syrup and return to the oven for 5 – 8 minutes, or until the pumpkin is well cooked and is a bit crispy and caramelised from the maple syrup. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile bring 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock to the boil and add the farro to the pot. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the farro soft, but with some bite still remaining, about 20 minutes. Tip the farro into a medium sized bowl and pour over the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice. Stir gently but well to combine. Add the pistachios, currants and herbs and mix well. To serve, place two wedges of pumpkin on 4 plates. Divide the onion and garlic among the plates. Toss the spinach with the farro and place to one side of the pumpkin. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired. Serve as a vegetarian meal, or as a heart accompaniment to grilled lamb or chicken.

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