Archive | Cooking RSS feed for this section

Drying peppermint for tea

2 Oct

I was given a lovely peppermint plant for my birthday. In the 2 months since then it has grown extremely quickly. So much so that it has reached the limits of the pot and needs a good trim back.

I’ve found that I need more peppermint leaves that I first imagined to make a decent pot of tea, so while the plant is prolific I thought it was a good opportunity to harvest as many leaves as possible for storage. That way I can cut the plant back hard, I’ll get a good supply of tea, and the plant will have room to re-grow.

I cut the growth back as hard as I could with a pair of scissors, putting the leaves into a large bowl of water to soak. That way any dust and debris will wash off along with any lingering bugs. I plucked off any damaged leaves and discarded.

I spread the leaves out in my dehydrator and put it on the lowest setting (35 degrees). I believe that a low oven will do the same thing, but I haven’t tried it. You could also just hang whole springs out in an airy place, or peg them onto a clothes airer.

My dehydrator was from Aldi. Once a year or so they have them for sale for $40.

Well worth the price considering you can also dry fruit, vegetables and herbs.

After the mint leaves were dry (about 8 hours or overnight) I simply stripped the leaves off the stems and put them into an airtight canister. Make sure that they are completely dry before you do this or it will go mouldy.

You will need at least a heaped teaspoon of dried leaves for a pot of tea.

It re-hydrates back to the lovely fresh green colour it started as.

Tuesday Night Vego – Vegetarian Pad See Ew

28 Aug

I’ve only recently discovered Thai noodle dishes. I’ve always avoided them in favour of saucy curries, but now I know what I was missing. My favourite is probably Pad Kee Mao or Drunken Noodles, but it has too much chilli for the kids. Pad See Ew on the other hand is mild and sweet – just the kind of food that kids love.

Pad See Ew is usually made with some form of protein such as pork or tofu, but I’m perfectly happy with just veggies and egg.  Egg is often substituted for meat in my house. This dish can be made with whatever seasonal veggies you have on hand. Tonight it was asparagus, spring onion, mushrooms and tuscan kale. It should have also been cauliflower and sugar snap peas, but I forgot them on the other side of the kitchen bench.


Pad See Ew with seasonal veggies

500g fresh rice noodles (found in the fridge of asian grocers)

Oil with a high smoke point (I used rice bran)

As many fresh veggies as you like

Sweet soy sauce

Fish sauce (or light soy)

Rice vinegar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Microwave the rice noodles for 1 minute to heat slightly. This makes them easier to separate.

They come packed tightly in a plastic tub, so separate them into rough strips one sheet thick so they cook evenly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok over high heat and cook the eggs into a rough omelette and set the omelette aside.

Return the pan  to high heat and once it is smoking add any non-leafy veggies. In my case I added the white parts of spring onions (shallots), asparagus spears and the mushrooms. When they start to colour well add a little fish sauce (or light soy if you are a stickler for the vegetarian thing). Add the leafy veggies and a little more fish sauce. Once the leafy veggies have wilted, remove all the veggies into a separate bowl.

Return the pan to high heat and add a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan. Once it’s smoking add half of the noodles, spread out evenly over the cooking surface. Let them rest there for a few seconds to colour before starting to toss them around to cooker further. Add a tablespoon of sweet soy, stir and remove from the pan. Repeat with the second batch of noodles.

Combine all the ingredients back into the pan, including the omelette (broken up into pieces). Season with a splash of rice vinegar and taste for seasonings. You may need to add more sweet soy, fish sauce or vinegar.

Serve as-is to the kids, or with your favourite chilli sauce or sambal to grown-ups.

I have a terrible habit of breaking Linda’s rules for the Tuesday Night Vego challenge. This recipe is fast and seasonal, but fails the healthy test. There is quite a bit of oil in this one, but it’s a great way of increasing the veggie consumption in the kids.

Tuesday Night Vego – Chilli with Tortilla Chips

7 Aug

No specific recipe here because I bungled my way through it, adding a bit of this and a bit of that. Here’s a general description:

Fry a very large onion (diced) with some added brown sugar in vegetable oil over low heat until golden and soft.

Add 2 cups or so of diced fresh tomatoes (or canned crushed tomatoes), a few tablespoons of tomato paste and a cup of water.

Add 4 cups of cooked (or canned) beans. I started with dried red kidney beans, black turtle beans, chickpeas and red lentils then gave them 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. The lentils were obliterated but add thickness to the dish and the larger beans were cooked perfectly.

Add spices – cumin (more than a tablespoon because I like it), a good shake of ground coriander seed and smoked paprika, a little ground cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste. A generous amount of chilli if you don’t have wussy children. I left the chilli out and added jalapenos to my serving.

Add a can of corn kernals and some diced mushrooms and heat through.

Serve with tortilla chips – I made these by cutting tortillas into wedges, coating with canola spread, garlic and a little salt. Bake at 200 degrees for a few minutes.

I also served with sour cream, avocado, jalapenos and grated cheese.

If you multitask you can achieve this in the 30 minute limit governed by the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. I was a bit less focussed.

Nameless Tomato Soup – A family heirloom

26 Jul

Tomatoes are a wonderful summer fruit. They are amazing in a Caprese salad, fabulous on bruschetta, and great even on their own – straight from the garden -sprinkled with salt. But when you are fortunate enough to be able to grow tomatoes in winter (and that’s anyone in coastal NSW and further north) you really need a great cold-weather recipe to show them off.

This soup is legendary in our family. My Gran used to make it, and I was thrilled to find a copy in her collection after her death. It had been cut out of an old American magazine and was credited to Gary V Travers of Oakland, California.

After making it this week it was clear that Gran had made some adjustments to the recipe, primarily increasing the quantity of tomatoes. I’ve adapted the recipe to match her method – it’s a great way to use fresh tomatoes in winter if you have them, or alternatively you can use canned.

1.2 kilos ripe tomatoes
4 cups water
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup diced, uncooked ham
1/2 cup each of diced onion, celery and carrot
2 sprigs parsley, minced
2 slices green capsicum, minced
1 can consomme or beef broth
1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
3 sprigs thyme
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch paprika
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Peel the tomatoes by cutting crosses in the base, cutting out the stem part and blanching in boiling water. The skin should start peeling away after a couple of minutes and can be peeled off easily. Dice the tomatoes and set aside. In a large soup pot add butter to ham, vegetables and seasonings, and saute for 5 minutes. Combine all ingredients and cook slowly for 1 1/4 hours, adding water if necessary to increase liquid. Serves 6-8.

3 x 400g cans of tomatoes may be substituted for the raw ones.

Because of the ham, the beef stock and the seasonings this soup is heartier than your average tomato soup, or even a minestrone. It tastes even better after a day or so in the fridge, and freezes beautifully.

Tuesday night Vego – Cabbage and Corn Fritters with Caper Mayonnaise and a tomato salad

17 Jul

Getting back on top of things and picking heaps of veggies, so time for another Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe. I had 1/2 of a smallish wombok in the fridge, so I wanted to use it somehow.

The recipe for the cabbage and corn fritters came from here.

I used Linda’s caper mayonnaise recipe from here.

Then I served the fritters with a tomato salad of diced fresh tomatoes, a bit of finely sliced spring onion and the last of my basil, miraculously still clinging onto the bedraggled plant. I dressed with balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and olive oil.

The fritters were simple but completely delicious, and I’m not sure I’ll buy mayonnaise ever again.

Tuesday Night Vego – Home Grown Minestrone

12 Jul

My friend Laura is vegetarian, so when we catch up this year we have been doing so on Tuesdays to coincide with the nights that I’d be cooking vegetarian anyway.

Yesterday I harvested a huge basket full of produce from the garden, so wanted a recipe where I could use a wide variety of veggies in the one meal. Minestrone fit the bill, and it was perfect for a winter’s day.  I took it as a special challenge to cram as many different types of vegetables in as possible- I don’t think I did too badly.


  • Few tablespoons Olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 Dutch carrots, chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly diced
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 1/2 swede, diced
  • 6 wombok leaves
  • 100g daikon
  • 1/2 choko, diced
  • 100g kale, trimmed
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, diced plus 1 400g can.
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons small pasta shapes
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Grated parmesan cheese to serve

Fry the onion, celery and carrots in the olive oil until softened slightly. Add potato and swede, then fry for another minute, stirring. Add tomatoes, wombok, choko ,stock and tomato paste. Stir to combine.

In a separate saucepan, bring water to the boil and briefly parboil the daikon to remove the bitterness. Drain the daikon then add it to the soup. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.

Add the kale and adjust seasonings. Add the small pasta shapes and cook until pasta is al dente.

Serve topped with grated Parmesan and accompanied with bread. I used my home-made linseed and chia loaf.

Optionally, you could also add ham to the soup if you didn’t want a vegetarian soup.

Australian Native Finger Limes and Speckled Finger Lime Curd

4 Apr

After much resisting, Louise from Garden Glut‘s boasting about her finger lime tree just made me too jealous. In a moment of weakness I ordered a tree of my own, and it arrived from Daley’s (in Kyogle) yesterday.

It is beautifully structured and incredibly spiky. Might have to position it strategically to stop Little D from climbing the retaining wall towards the street.

If you have never encountered a finger lime, you are in for a treat. They are an Australian native citrus with a flesh that resembles caviar – tiny little balls of limey deliciousness. You cut them in half and squeeze out the flesh – great in salad dressings because you get little surprise bursts of acidity with an amazing texture.

They also come in a great range of colours – from clear  through to light green, dark green, pale and dark pink. The flavour varies too from quite sweet to very acidic like a normal lime.

I had 2 finger limes in the fridge (a gift from a friend) and a handful of beautiful tahitian limes from my next door neighbour that I wanted to use.

The finger limes were dark-skinned and vivid pink in the flesh. The limes were large and juicy – freshly picked from the tree. I thought they all deserved to be used in a special way.

So I planned a lime curd – a special one with little pink speckles. Very decorative and appropriate for Easter I thought.

I based the recipe on this one from

I added half the finger lime flesh before it thickened, then reserved the remainder until it was finished – concerned that I’d overcook and curdle the mix, then need to strain it to salvage the situation. It was fine in the end – induction cooking is incredibly good for fine control at low temperatures.

I agonised about the level of thickness. Recipes use useless descriptions such as ‘so it coats the back of a spoon’. What does that mean? I wanted a thick curd, but I knew it would thicken further when cooled. In the end I let it thicken to the point that it wasn’t quite thick enough for my liking, but passable if it didn’t get any thicker. Whenever I stirred it vigorously it stuck to the sides of the pan without running back down on its own.

The finished product was quite pretty in the jars – I gave a jar to my neighbour who supplied the limes and I have another for my friend who gave me the finger limes.

I planned to water bath preserve the curd at the end so I could store it in the cupboard, but I chickened out, concerned that the eggs would overcook and go lumpy in the jars. Maybe some things are just better stored in the fridge.

Tuesday Night Vego – Souper Salad

3 Apr

When I was 7 I spent 6 weeks in California. I actually celebrated my 8th birthday over there with my American cousins. I think Australian and American culture has blended over time, but in 1987 it really did seem like a ‘foreign country’.

I remember going to a restaurant soon after we arrived and the waitress asking if I wanted a ‘super salad’. I said yes.

But she was actually asking if I wanted soup or salad with my meal. That was tricky – couldn’t I have both? I have always really loved soup so I find it difficult to refuse, but it was the middle of a Californian summer so salad made a bit more sense.

Since that time I’ve enjoyed constructing meals of both soup and salad in my not-really-very-rebellious spirit. I like to call it a ‘Souper Salad’ meal. Tonight was one of them.

My neighbour gave me some leeks and limes yesterday from his garden. I used the limes earlier today (I’ll give details tomorrow), but the leeks went to dinner tonight. I needed something fairly bland because P and J have a tummy bug. Joy.

Leek and Potato Soup

3 leeks, thinly sliced, green tops discarded.

2 potatoes, diced in 1.5cm cubes

3 tablespoons butter (or dairy-free spread, like I have to use)

1.5 litres stock (vegetable or chicken)

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium-high heat and saute the leeks until they are wilted but not browned. If you have the time, you can reduce the heat and let the leeks caramelise slightly for better flavour, but I was in a rush tonight.

Add stock and potatoes, bring to the boil then simmer until potatoes are tender and the flavour of the soup is developed.

Season with salt and pepper. Puree if desired, but I’ve always made this soup chunky because my brother requested it that way the very first time I made it. Tonight I actually pureed after I added the stock and before I added the potatoes, because my 4 year old is convinced she hates onions. It didn’t seem to affect the flavour.

Sounds really simple (and bland), but leeks have an amazing flavour  – you can’t go wrong. Once I convinced the 2 year old to try the first spoonful tonight he ate almost 3 bowls.

I served this with a simple garden salad of wild rocket, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber.

For some really inspiring vegetarian meal options, visit Linda’s blog to see what other people are serving tonight. Probably all more inspiring than my simple soup 🙂

Wish me luck tonight – I really don’t want to be cleaning any more puke off carpet, particularly as we are supposed to be going away for Easter.

Tuesday Night Vego – Egg and Vegetable Curry

14 Mar

We were out for a family birthday on Tuesday, so it was really Wednesday night vego for us this week.

As the egg production from our chooks ramps up I’ll be looking for more and more creative ways to incorporate egg as a main form of protein in our diet over meat. The problem is that you can really only eat so many frittatas. Using whole boiled eggs in curry was something I discovered in my web trawling, so I thought I’d give it a go. This recipe may be a complete travesty to all Indian people, but it was healthy, quick and the family loved it, so I’ll be making it again.

Egg and Vegetable Curry

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs
  • 500g tomatoes, pureed.
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, sliced thinly.
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 small piece of ginger
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 handful green beans, cut into short lengths.
  • 200ml can coconut milk or cream
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Start by trimming then pureeing the tomatoes, then set aside. Separately, puree the onion, garlic and ginger to a paste. I did all the pureeing with my stick blender.

Heat the oil in a pan, then add the cumin and mustard seeds. As they heat up they will start to pop like popcorn, so have a lid ready. You want them to splutter, but not to burn.

Once they have spluttered a bit, add the onion/garlic/ginger paste, then cook down slightly until the onions are no longer raw-smelling. Add the tomatoes, and cook on medium heat while you peel and diced the sweet potato.

Add the diced sweet potato, then cover and cook until the sweet potato is tender. Blend all these ingredients with the stick blender until smooth.

Add the powdered spices (turmeric, coriander and garam masala) and continue to cook for another minute or so before adding the coconut milk.

I used 400ml of low fat coconut milk, but this was a bit too much liquid. I think in future I would use 200ml of coconut cream. Do not boil from this point onwards because you don’t want the coconut milk to split.

Cut the eggs in half, and crumble the yolk of two of the eggs into the curry. Add the rest of the egg halves in, along with the beans. Simmer until eggs are heated through and beans are tender.

Serve with brown rice.

You can add chilli to this recipe, but my kids prefer it without, and I just added chilli on the side of my serving.

For more great simple vegetarian meal ideas, head over to Linda’s blog where you can join in the Tuesday Night Vego challenge.

Last (diet) Supper – Seared Tuna on Red Coleslaw Salad

29 Feb

The end is nigh! February is over, and with it – the dreaded diet season. P has been amazing in his resolve, and tonight we had our final weight-loss dinner.

Seared Tuna on Red Coleslaw Salad

This is my recipe – drawing inspiration form a few sources, mainly Iku Wholefood’s Red Coleslaw. The meal is dressed up however by additional salad greens and some seared tuna – definitely not on Iku’s menu!


  • 1/2 head red cabbage, sliced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 2 small beetroot, roots peeled and finely sliced, leaves trimmed, washed and chopped coarsely.
  • handful of parsley
  • 300 gram piece of fresh tuna


  • 1/8 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed (or other) salad oil

Despite the image, the red cabbage didn’t actually come from the garden. I bought it.

Start by slicing the cabbage finely, then grating the carrot.

Peel the beetroot and finely slice, reserving the tops as salad greens. Wash these and set aside.

Combine the cabbage, carrot and beetroot together in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt. leave to rest for 1/2 and hour to soften slightly.

Rinse the salad mix in a colander to completely wash out the salt. This was only there to soften the crunchy components slightly and improve texture. Spin in a salad spinner to remove all the residual water.

Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until sugar dissolves. You may need to heat it slightly. Pour dressing over the cabbage mix and refrigerate until needed, letting it marinade in the dressing and absorb flavours. Don’t be tempted to add salt without tasting – umeboshi vinegar is really salty.

Wash the parsley thoroughly and remove the stems. Set aside with the beetroot leaves.

Slice the tuna into strips 2cm wide. Heat a pan over high heat with a small amount of oil and sear the tuna strips all over, just to colour them well. You don’t want to cook them through.

Remove and place on a plate to rest briefly, then slice into 2cm cubes. They should be pink on the cross-section.

Assemble the salad by combining the fresh salad greens with the cabbage mix, then top with the seared tuna. You can then drissle some of the excess dressing from the coleslaw bowl over the top.

I used parsley because it is what I had on hand. I think next time I would substitute for something with less pungency – perhaps spinach.

Now by now I’m sure everyone wants to hear less about rabbit food and more about gardening, so I’ll try to leave cooking to Tuesday night Vego posts for a while. I’m hoping the Autumn will be a wonderful growing season in Sydney and that we can leave our woeful wet Summer to our memories, where I’m sure it will be exaggerated beyond reality.