Summer rice salad

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone.

Lin Yutang

A week’s holiday in the middle of summer has been an opportunity to rest and relax before the busy year really begins in earnest. It’s been stiflingly hot in my part of the world, so hot that a very fit man in his early thirties died of heat stroke over the weekend while biking in a nature reserve just north of Brisbane. So outdoor projects have been taken off the agenda, besides keeping the garden alive by watering in the late afternoon. Instead, I have been reading, finishing a quilt and spending lots of time in the kitchen. Creating new recipes is something that relaxes me, and this season has been one of trying to incorporate more seeds and nuts into my diet, both for the health benefits and for their taste. This rice salad was today’s experiment. The fresh peas, asparagus and zucchini sit atop a bowl of brown rice, seasoned with rice wine vinegar and a little olive oil, and stirred through are pepitas, sunflower seeds and black sesame seeds. I ate it on its own, but this salad would also be delicious as a side with grilled salmon.

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Serves 2 as a meal, or 4 as an accompaniment

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup pepitas
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup peas
1 large zucchini, sliced into thin strips, long-wise
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into short lengths
2 tablespoons soft feta cheese

Bring the water to the boil in a medium sized saucepan. when boiling add the rice and stir gently. Cover and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes until the rice is cooked, but still retains some bite. Check the rice occasionally and add a little more water if it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan before it is cooked. Drain the rice and turn into a medium sized glass bowl. Stir through the rice wine vinegar and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, rinse out the saucepan and bring more water to boil. Add the zucchini, asparagus and peas, and cook for 1 minute, until tender crisp and bright green. Stir through 1/3 of the vegetables into the rice and then place the rice into a serving dish. Top with the remaining vegetables and scatter over the feta. Best eaten warm or at room temperature.

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.

Seed crackers – and I have not gone crackers

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Making my own crackers came about almost by chance. Some time ago I was looking for a gluten free cracker for my son that did not taste like cardboard and have the texture of polystyrene. I came across some seed crackers in the health food aisle of my local supermarket. They were delicious, full of nutty flavour, and crisp in texture. The only downside was the exorbitant cost. Even in the world of  gluten free foods, they were eye-poppingly expensive.  So they were only purchased for special occasions. Recently, however, I saw a blog post for home-made seed crackers, which looked very similar to these crackers and decided to attempt making them. They turned out to be really easy to make, and so much more economical than buying them. I never thought I would be a woman who made crackers, who would have the time and energy to devote to a task that could be argued was a waste of time, but these are so worth the small investment of time and effort required, that henceforth, I will be a constant baker of crackers.

I discovered that seed crackers are a traditional Norwegian food, called knekkebrød, although the traditional recipes also seemed to have rye flour as an ingredient. A gorgeous blog, called North Wild Kitchen, gave me some great background on knekkebrød. “A Norwegian breakfast and lunch is never complete without a slice of bread or a type of knekkebrød. These ‘crisp breads’ or ‘breaking breads’ which are flat and dry, resembling a cracker, probably originated in Scandinavia close to 500 years ago. Some sources say that crisp bread was a staple of the Vikings as they could store them for long periods of time. These crisp breads would have been baked on hot stones, while today’s knekkebrød is baked in the oven. Baking them in the oven is what makes these crisp breads so different from the Norwegian flatbrød, which is baked on a flat griddle, much like lefse. Once considered a poor man’s diet, knekkebrød has become widely popular boasting a healthy lifestyle with numerous variants from slightly sweet to nutty to herby & salty. They are easy to make, forgiving, and require only a few ingredients, which can be interchanged depending on what you have available in your cupboards. All one needs is a little imagination and water.”

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I created my recipe using this blog’s recipe as a base, removing the flour and using chia seeds soaked in water to bind the seeds together, which seems to be how most of the other flour-less recipes make the seeds into a mixture that could be bound. I think the combination below is a good one, but you could use poppy seeds instead of some of the sesame seeds, or add a few more flax seeds. You could also add spices such as whole cumin seeds, or even dried chilli flakes. I like them plain, and enjoy eating them with a scoop of avocado, some sliced tomato, and a sprinkling of soft feta and pungent coriander, or with hummus, shaved carrot and mint.

Makes about 40 crackers

1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup sesame seeds (a mixture of black and white is nice)
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup chia seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cups water

Preheat oven to 170 C. Place all the seeds, the salt and the honey in a medium sized bowl. Pour in the water and mix to combine. Leave for 15 minutes for the chia and flax seeds to soften and to thicken the water. Tip out on to a large oven tray lined with silicon baking paper, or divide between 2 medium sized trays. Spread out as thin as possible, firstly using the back of a spoon, and then using a smaller oven tray to press the mixture really flat (after covering with another piece of baking paper. You will get the best results if the mixture is spread really thin and there is still some room on the tray to separate the crackers during the cooking. If in doubt, use 2 trays. Bake for 20 minutes. Take out of the oven and cut into into crackers, what ever shape you like, and carefully turn them over. Return to the oven to cook for another 20-30 minutes until crisp and golden. Place on a rack to cool then store in an airtight container.

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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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Hummus – so good!

“God bless the chickpea”

Dr.Michael Mitchell a.k.a George Clooney

Once you have made hummus yourself you may never go back to buying it. It is so easy, and delicious, and really good for you also. It’s a staple at our place, and we use it in lots of ways, especially as we love the food of the Mediterranean and North Africa. According to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus are recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo in the 13th century, so it is an ancient dish, with many regional differences, although the core ingredients are the same – chick peas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. There are a host of recipes for hummus available, so I made a version that suits my palate best. I like it with not too much garlic, so my recipe only uses one clove. When I was researching I found some recipes that had 3 or 4 cloves! If you really love garlic then I would suggest you use 2 cloves – any more makes the garlic flavour a bit too overwhelming. You can also add more or less tahini for your taste, but I would always suggest using a good amount of lemon juice – it’s a nice foil to the richer ingredients.

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Makes about 2 cups

2 x 400 g  tins of chickpeas (try and get organic)
juice of 1 medium lemon
1 clove garlic
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon tahini

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until well combined. I like my hummus with a bit of texture, but some people like it really smooth. It’s up to you. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to use. I like to serve it with a selection of fresh crisp vegetables and some flat bread, or Turkish bread. You can drizzle a little extra olive oil on top as you serve, or top with paprika, chopped coriander, toasted pine nuts, a swirl of harissa, or finely chopped chilli.

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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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Pumpkin and haloumi bruschettta

Some of my favourite things are combined in these tasty bruschetta; perfect for serving as a snack, or to pass around among friends with a chilled glass of wine. Sweet pumpkin, salty and squeaky haloumi, tangy lemon, crunchy almonds and fragrant oregano work wonderfully together to top the toasted slices of bread. Use the best olive oil you can afford to drizzle over the top because it will release a fruity perfume as it touches the warm haloumi and pumpkin, making the bruschetta irresistible. Enough waxing lyrical; go make them!

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Makes 16

1 medium-sized french bread stick
600 g Kent pumpkin
250 g haloumi cheese, sliced into 16 pieces
1/4 cup oven roasted almonds, roughly chopped
a handful fresh oregano or marjoram
1 lemon
good olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200 C. Cut the pumpkin into thin wedges, leaving the skin on, but with the seeds and membrane removed. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with sea salt. Roast for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Meanwhile, cut the bread stick diagonally into 16 pieces and toast on a griddle pan on both sides until golden and crisp. When the pumpkin is cooked, carefully remove the skins and break up into chunks in a medium sized bowl. In a medium pan heat a tablespoon of olive oil and cook the haloumi on both sides until it is golden. It should take about 2 minutes per side. To assemble, place the pumpkin and haloumi on top of the bruschetta and season with black pepper. Top with the fresh oregano and the almonds and the zest of the lemon. Lastly drizzle over a little more olive oil (I use a beautiful lemon-infused olive oil for this) and serve straight away.

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Sweet potato wedges with thyme salt

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My family fell in love with sweet potato wedges long before they became a cafe staple, principally because roast sweet potatoes were also a family favourite. I wanted something that was a little more healthy, and these oven baked wedges were perfect. They only use a little bit of olive oil, are seasoned with salt infused with fresh thyme, and dipped in tangy greek yoghurt for a smooth and creamy finish.

Serves 4 – 5 as a snack or a side

1 kg small orange, fleshed sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt (Maldon is my favourite)
5 – 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 tablespoons greek yoghurt

Preheat oven to 195 C. Peel the sweet potato and cut lengthwise into quarters, or even sixths, if they are fatter. Toss in a medium sized bowl with the olive oil until well coated and then place in a single layer on a baking tray that has been lined with silicon paper. Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until the sweet potato wedges are cooked and crispy and slightly caramelised on the edges. Meanwhile, in a pestle and mortar, grind the salt with the thyme sprigs. The leaves with disintegrate and you can pick out the stems. You’ll be left with a pale green finely ground powder that smells heavenly. When the sweet potato is done, turn onto a serving plate and sprinkle with some of the salt. Serve immediately with the yoghurt on the side. The left over salt will keep if kept in an airtight container.

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Flatbread with smoked olives, brie and prosciutto

Flatbreads have ancient origins, with the simplest and earliest forms just a mixture of some sort of flour, water, and sometimes salt, kneaded together, patted flat and fried over a fire. I love flatbreads, and have a weakness for chapatis, toasted pita bread, and tortillas. I’ve tried lots of recipes and this one is my absolute favourite – inspired a little from a Jamie Oliver recipe, and a little from the back of an Atta flour packet. It uses a couple of raising agents, so it isn’t a true flatbread, but the end result is very light in texture and the bread soft and almost fluffy. There is also a delicate sourness that comes from the yoghurt, and that’s what I like most about it. Paired with delicious smoked olives, soft and creamy brie and some salty prosciutto, it makes a perfect starter or pre-dinner snack. The flatbread can also be used to mop up a curry, smear with hummus or tzatziki, roll around a spicy meatball with tabbouleh, or serve as a base for a one person sort-of-pizza. They freeze well, too, so can be kept on standby for after-school teenager’s snacks.

Makes 12

500g self-raising flour, plus a little extra
3 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
500g greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Smoked Sicilian olives, brie and thinly sliced prosciutto, to serve

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, baking powder and yoghurt and bring together to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a board or bench top which is lightly dusted with the extra flour and knead lightly.  Form into a ball and then cut into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then roll out flat with a rolling pin to form a rough circle, about 10cm in diameter. Heat a heavy based griddle pan until quite hot. Don’t add any oil to the pan. The flatbread will not stick as long as you don’t try to turn it too early. Cook the flatbreads on the griddle, turning once after a minute or so, or when there are nicely browned marks from the ridges of the pan all across the surface of the bread. As you take each flatbread out of the pan, brush one side with a little of the melted butter. Keep warm while you cook all the flatbreads and then serve.

Printable version Flatbread with smoked olives, brie and prosciutto

Smashed peas with fennel and mint

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These beautiful little morsels are very easy to make, but look and taste as if they took a whole lot of effort and skill. Peas are gently simmered in a little stock that has been flavoured with onion, garlic and fennel, then mashed up and piled onto toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic and spread with some soft feta cheese. Fresh mint and snow pea sprouts finish them off and make them look just a little bit fancy.

Miss 12 is on the adventure of a lifetime this month, singing in concerts and competing in an international choral festival in Italy. There’s just a little bit of family envy here at home, as the rest of us are in the middle of the much more prosaic round of work, study and exams. Making this recipe and catching up at the end of another busy day was not as glamorous as a gondola ride in Venice, but satisfying and delicious nonetheless.

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Makes enough to serve 8 – 10 for a snack, or 6 for a first course

500g fresh or frozen peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 baby fennel bulb, finely sliced and diced
1 clove garlic
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1 long bread stick, cut into 1 cm slices
150g soft feta cheese
a handful of fresh mint, snow pea sprouts, and the fennel fronds, for garnish

In a small saucepan heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion, the fennel, and 1/2 the garlic clove, finely diced, for 3-5 minutes, or until the onion is softened, but not coloured. Add the vegetable stock and turn up the heat. When the stock is boiling pour in the peas and cook for 5 minutes. Take off the heat, add the butter and season well with the salt and pepper. Use a stick blender to make a chunky mash of the peas. Do this carefully or else you will end up with pea puree – delicious, but not what is called for in this recipe. Toast the slices of bread under a hot grill and then spread each piece with a little feta cheese. Pile on spoonfuls of the pea puree and top with some mint, a snow pea sprout and a few fronds of fennel. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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