just add water

Just add water

Not everyone has the time to have a traditional stockpot simmering away on the stove. However, commercial stocks can be either disappointing in flavour or just very expensive.  So here are three simple, classic soups that don’t require ready-made stock -just the addition of water. This ‘back to basics’ approach relies on all the flavour coming from the raw ingredients: not a stock cube in sight. Experienced cooks understand how to extract the most flavour out of every ingredient. The result is an incredibly flavourful dish made from simple ingredients, cooked well.

A few tips to start: chop the vegetables into small pieces to extract the maximum flavour from each. Remember to cook off the vegetables for a little longer than you might be used to. There is a very good reason for this, explained by food scientist, Harold McGee.

Quite simply, heating makes the taste molecules in the food more prominent. Heat also makes the aromas more volatile and therefore more noticeable. And heat creates new molecules, too. So by cooking for longer, the food changes and develops more complex and cooked flavours and aromas. When browning the meat for the lamb shank and barley soup, the shanks will begin to undergo browning reactions, which produce characteristic roasted and caramelised flavours. When chefs talk about “sweating” the vegetables, they are referring to a technique of slowly cooking over a low heat with the finely chopped vegetables coated in oil, to develop a flavour base for the dish. Both the vegetables and the oil are infused with each other’s flavour and richness.

A final tip: remember to season well. Use herbs for flavour and add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

Molecular gastronomy at its simplest with three easy and delicious soups to try.

*For a thorough explanation of the food science involved, go to Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”.

lamb shank and barley soup with lots of vegies


Ask your butcher for some large hindquarter shanks, which are perfect for this soup. There are lots of vegies, as this is where the flavour is.

2 tbsp olive oil

50g butter

2 large meaty lamb shanks (hindquarter)

2 large onions, finely sliced

2 large cloves garlic, sliced

4 medium carrots, halved lengthways and thinly sliced in half rounds

1 leek, halved lengthways and sliced

2 sticks celery, sliced

sprig thyme

1 parsnip, peeled, cut in half lengthways and thinly sliced

2 large waxy potatoes, peeled and diced

½ cup pearl barley

fresh bayleaf

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup fresh parsley sprigs

Heat oil in a large heavy based pot. Brown the shanks on all sides, remove from pot and set aside. Melt butter, then add onions, garlic, carrots, leek, celery, parsnip and thyme. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes until softened. Add potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add 2 litres of water, pearl barley, shanks and bayleaf. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 60 minutes, until the shanks are tender and the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the shanks and shred the meat with your fingers or a fork. Discard the bones. Return the lamb to the pot. Season with salt and pepper, add chopped parsley and serve.

Makes approx. 2 litres

pea and ham soup


The split peas thicken this soup as it stands, so don’t worry if it appears thin whilst cooking. Any leftovers may need to be thinned down. Be careful with seasoning, as the ham hock may be quite salty.

2 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled

4 sticks celery, sliced

2 x750g ham hocks, skin on

2 cups (375g) yellow split peas

3 lt cold water

bay leaf

sprig fresh thyme

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in large heavy based pot, add onions, garlic and celery and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.

Add ham hock, split peas, water and herbs. Bring to the boil, reduce heat then simmer for 1½ hours.

Remove hock, discard the skin and bone, then shred meat and set aside.

At this point, you can use a stick blender to roughly puree the soup, if you like.

Return the ham to the pot, and season well with salt and pepper.

Ladle into deep soup bowls and serve with warm crusty bread.

Makes approx. 3 litres

potato and leek soup with parmesan


The addition of parmesan gives this soup a creamy, cheesy flavour. You’ll never throw out the end bits of cheese again.

3 large leeks

50g butter

500g (approx.3) floury potatoes

1-2 parmesan rinds (about 300g)

1.5 lt water

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 slices prosciutto

1 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

Cut the dark green ends from the leeks, trim the bases and discard. Slice the white part of the leek in half lengthways, then rinse well under running water to dislodge any dirt or grit. Drain on a tea towel, then slice thinly.

Heat butter in a large heavy based pot, add the leeks and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until tender.

Peel potatoes and cut into chunks. Add to pot and cook for a further 5 minutes, allowing them to soak up the flavours. Add the cheese rind and water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove cheese rinds and discard. Puree soup with a stick blender. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Place prosciutto under a grill or in a pan and cook until crispy. Crumble into rough shards, scatter over the soup with parsley and serve.

Makes  approx. 1.5 litres

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footy food

Footy fever

Okay, this is just a bit of fun. Footy is a great Melbourne institution. I’m a Bomber’s fan. Here’s a column I wrote last year.

Everyone knows that pies taste better at the footy. Warming cold hands, the filling so hot you can hardly swallow, with rich gravy that somehow manages to drip onto bare skin; it’s all part of the experience. No matter if it’s junior footy or watching the professionals. No matter what code you follow. The same goes for chips. Piping hot, salty, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. Don’t forget the sauce.

With footy finals madness taking over, get into the swing by revisiting these old favourites. Many people follow a Grand Final day tradition and host friends and family for lunch whilst watching the game.

For the warm up, start with some spiced nuts. They’re great with a cold beer.

At half time, try my old-fashioned meat pie. It’s a simple classic, based on my mother’s recipe. Use some good quality homemade shortcrust pastry, gourmet tomato sauce and you’ll never look back. Of course, you’ll need some hot potato wedges, too. So much better than manufactured chips, use real potatoes and bake them with the skins on. If you ask me, King Edward potatoes make the best chips. Grate over some  parmesan for a cheesy hit.

At three quarter time, bring out the choc tops. An Aussie favourite, they’re surprisingly easy to make. For a bit of fun, decorate them with your team colours.

Now you’re set for the big event. Hope your team wins.

Footy nuts


There’s always some nut at the footy! Embrace this and make your own. You get a delicious mix of hot, sweet and salty, all together. I’ve used hazelnut oil, but you could substitute another type of nut oil or simply use vegetable oil.

500g mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc)

2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

¼ (quarter) tsp cayenne

3 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp sea salt plus extra to sprinkle

4 tbsp hazelnut oil

Preheat oven to 200C.

In a large bowl, mix the nuts and seeds. Add the rosemary, cayenne, sugar and salt. Mix well.

Drizzle over the oil and toss to lightly coat.

Spread on a baking paper lined tray and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, give the nuts a stir and continue to bake for a further 10 minutes, until the nuts are golden.

Remove and allow to cool. Sprinkle with extra salt if desired.

old fashioned meat pie


This is a real meat pie. Use cheaper cuts of meat, such as oyster blade or skirt, to provide loads of flavour and benefit from slow cooking. I have used ready made pastry here, but it would be delicious with homemade shortcrust. Individual aluminium pie tins are readily available at the supermarket, or make one large family pie for dinner.

1 brown onion

1 carrot

1 stick celery

4 tbsp olive oil

750g oyster blade steak (or skirt steak)

4 tbsp plain flour

2 cups veal stock (or water)

salt and pepper to season

8 sheets ready rolled shortcrust pastry (or homemade)

1 egg, beaten for pastry glaze

tomato sauce to serve

Roughly chop onion, carrot and celery, then put into a food processor and finely chop.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy based pot and fry the vegetables for 5 minutes until softened. Remove and set aside.

Cut the meat into 2 cm cubes and toss in flour to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pot and brown the meat in two batches. Pour in one cup of stock to deglaze the pot and scrape off any bits sticking to the bottom. Return the vegetables to the pot, add enough stock to just cover the meat, bring to the boil, cover with a lid then reduce heat and cook for 1 ½ hours. Stir from time to time to make sure the meat doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add salt and pepper to season and set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 220C.

Use a side plate as a guide to cut 6 x 16 cm diameter circles in the pastry. Cut 6 x 11 cm diameter circles as pastry lids.

Gently place the larger pastry in the bottom of 6 aluminium pie tins. Trim any excess.

Place cooled meat filling in the pie. Before placing on the pastry lid, brush around the edges of the pie with the beaten egg to create a seal. Press down the lid firmly at the edges and cut a small vent in the centre. Brush the top of the pastry with more egg glaze.

Place pies on a baking tray in oven and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 180C and cook for a further 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve with tomato sauce.

makes 6.

Cheesy, salt and pepper potato wedges


You don’t need to wait for the footy to enjoy these. Look out for King Edward potatoes, or use a firm waxy potato that will hold its shape. Blended peppercorns are readily available from the supermarket.

8 King Edward potatoes

2 tbsp sea salt flakes

1 tbsp ground blended peppercorns

2 -3 tbsp olive oil

40g finely grated parmesan cheese

1-2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 220C.

Scrub the potatoes well, leaving the skins on. Cut in half, then cut each half into 4 wedges. Place in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. When boiling, remove from heat and drain in a colander. Place the warm potatoes in a large bowl and add salt, pepper, oil and parmesan. Toss to coat well.

Place in a single layer on a baking tray lined with non stick paper.

Cook in oven for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and crunchy.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 6.

Footy colours choc tops

In Australia, we all love a choc-topped ice cream. Have a go and make your own. They’re really easy. If you’re hosting a footy party, decorate with your team colours.

1 lt vanilla ice cream

1 pk ice cream cones

200g cooking chocolate (white, milk or dark)

ready made icing tubes (in your team colours)

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave or over a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat and allow to cool a little.

Scoop the ice cream into the cone and press down firmly. Return to freezer for a few minutes (or longer) to harden.

Turn the ice cream upside down and dip into the chocolate to coat. Place upright into a holder or stand carefully on the bench. The chocolate will harden and set.

Use the ready made icing tubes to decorate in your team colours.

makes approximately 12.

curries

Curries

On a cold wintry night, nothing warms you up more than a curry. With so many great quality curry pastes on the market, it can be very easy to do at home.

Curries are generally spicy dishes from Indian and other Southeast Asian cuisines.

In India, curries developed in the different regions and the dishes have been named to indicate the meat and/or vegetable, cooking method and combination of spices used. There are so many different types of curries; I have always found the names and varieties to be slightly confusing.

Korma is a mild, yellow curry. Rogan josh is a medium curry with tomatoes. Madras is fairly hot, red in colour with chilli. Vindaloo is regarded as the classic ‘hot’ curry, sometimes with the addition of potatoes. The tandoor (an earthen oven) is used to make tandoori chicken (first marinated in a spiced yoghurt). It is India’s version of barbequed chicken. Chicken tikka is traditionally baked on skewers, also in a tandoor, after marinating in spiced yoghurt.

Indian curries use spices such as coriander seed, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, pepper, chilli, cloves, tamarind, cardamon and saffron.

Southeast Asian curries, from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam use many of the same spices, but also galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf in addition to other fresh herbs. The different combinations of herbs and spices produce quite distinctive flavours.

I have included an easy recipe for a lamb curry that uses a ready-made curry paste. There is a great little shop at the Prahran market called Curry Creations, which makes its own. Add other vegetables such as potatoes or cauliflower, if you like.

If you are feeling more adventurous, try making your own curry paste. The yellow Thai curry is vibrant and refreshing. I have added pea eggplant, which is quite sour, but you could use other vegetables like green beans.

If you don’t have much time, you could try a quick stir-fry of Singapore noodles, which simply uses curry powder. It is so easy to make, you’ll never need to have takeaway again.

Kashmiri lamb curry

An easy curry that makes use of ready made curry pastes that are available. You can use lesser meat cuts which will become tender with the long cooking time. You could also cook this in the oven.

1 cup yoghurt

pinch saffron

3 tbs almonds, coarsely ground

1 kg diced lamb

2 tbs ghee

2 onions, peeled and sliced

375g bottle Rogan Josh Curry simmer sauce

1 bunch fresh spinach

juice of half a lemon

1 cup water

Mix yoghurt with saffron and almonds. Add lamb and marinate for 2 hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.

Heat ghee in a large frypan and cook onions until softened, a few minutes.

Add lamb and marinade to the pan. Add curry sauce and simmer, covered, for 1 ½ hours until lamb is tender. Add water if needed.

Meanwhile, clean and wash spinach leaves. Cook spinach in a large pan over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until wilted. Remove from heat and drain. Chop finely and set aside.

When lamb is tender, add spinach and lemon juice. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with rice and pappadums.

Serves 4.

Singapore noodles

Pick up some Chinese barbecue pork from your local takeaway, where you see various cooked meats hanging decoratively in the window.

Half a packet thin rice stick noodles (rice vermicelli)

500g Chinese barbecued pork

1/4 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 tbs peanut oil

1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons curry powder

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons minced ginger

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 red capsicum, deseeded and finely sliced

One quarter Chinese cabbage, shredded

1 cup mung bean sprouts

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 eggs

coriander for garnish

Preparation:

Place noodles in a large heatproof bowl. Pour over boiling water to cover and soak for five minutes, gently stirring to break up any clumps. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse.

Cut the barbecued pork into thin slices.

In a small bowl, mix together the chicken stock, soy sauce and brown sugar. Set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add the oil for stir-frying. When the oil is hot, add the curry powder, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry briefly until fragrant. Add the onion and red capsicum and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes until it begins to soften, then add the cabbage and stir-fry for about 2 more minutes.

Stir in the bean sprouts, cook briefly, and then add the barbequed pork and the noodles. Add the sauce, tossing the ingredients carefully to mix. If too dry, add a bit more chicken stock or water as needed. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Add more curry powder, soy sauce or sugar if desired.

Make a simple omelet by whisking the eggs with 2 tablespoons of water and cooking in a small non-stick pan. When cooked, remove from pan and roll up. Slice thinly and scatter over the noodles. Garnish with coriander and serve.

Serves 4.

Yellow Thai curry

Adapted from a recipe by Geoff Lindsay, this is a lovely way to enjoy fish in winter.

Choose a firm fleshed fish that won’t break apart. The combination of sweet, sour, spicy and salty is refreshing.

5 dried red chillies

1 yellow capsicum

1 tbs ground turmeric

4 shallots, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped

1 tsp shrimp paste

1 tbs vegetable oil

1 litre chicken stock

1 cup coconut cream

1 tbs tamarind puree

2 tbs palm sugar

2 limes, juiced

400g swordfish steaks

1 bunch chinese broccoli, trimmed and cut in large pieces

To make the curry paste, blend the chillies, capsicum, turmeric, shallots, garlic, lemongrass and shrimp paste in a food processor until smooth.

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the curry paste for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, stock, tamarind, palm sugar and lime. Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the flavours and adjust to balance the sweet, salty, spicy and sour if necessary.

Cut the fish into large chunks and add to the curry. Add the broccoli. Simmer for 5 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the broccoli is tender

Garnish with Vietnamese mint.

Serve with rice.

Serves 4.

breakfast in bed, please!

Breakfast in bed, please

A good breakfast sets you up for the rest of the day. It kick starts the metabolism and provides enough fuel to keep you going ‘til lunch.

Some people have the same thing day in day out (me included –porridge and fruit).

With so many quick and easy options, there’s really no excuse for skipping it.

On weekends, generally there’s more time to spend cooking delicious breakfasts.

French toast is a family favourite at my house. It’s very easy for kids to make, too. Use different types of bread for variety. I have used a French baguette, sliced thickly on an angle, in the recipe below. Good quality maple syrup is essential.

Eggs, a great breakfast staple, are quick and nutritious. However, poaching eggs can cause panic. So many different instructions for cooking the perfect egg! Do you swirl the water? Add vinegar? I have an easy, fail-safe recipe that will have you poaching eggs like a professional in no time.

Muesli is another fantastic recipe to try. The best part is that you can add whatever your favourite ingredients are. My basic version uses maple syrup for sweetness and ginger and cinnamon to spice things up. Then, use this as a basis for the bircher muesli. Bircher is, essentially, rolled oats soaked in liquid with some grated apple, but you can make this as extravagant as you like. I like to use delicious toasted muesli to which I add grated apple, orange pieces, extra flaked almonds for crunch and finish with a good quality natural yoghurt and some fresh berries. This is the perfect breakfast if you’ve got an early start, as you can prepare it the night before. Or, like me, enjoy a sleep-in on Mother’s day with breakfast in bed!

Toasted muesli


Raid the health food shop, nut stand or supermarket aisle for all your favourite muesli ingredients. Cheat (a little) and look on the back of the pack of your favourite muesli for a list of what you need.

2 cups whole grain rolled oats

half a cup of coconut flakes

half a cup natural almonds

quarter cup sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

half cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup mixed dried fruits of your choice (sultanas, dried cranberries, dried apricots etc)

Preheat oven to 180˚C.

Mix the oats, coconut, nuts and seeds, spices, syrup and oil in a large bowl.

Spread mixture out on a large baking tray.

Bake in oven for about 25 minutes, stirring to redistribute after about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool on tray.

Mix together with your choice of dried fruits.

Store in airtight jar.

Makes about 4 ½  cups.

Bircher muesli


2 cups toasted muesli (see recipe above)

2 cups milk

125ml (half cup) freshly squeezed orange juice

juice of 1 lemon

2 small Granny Smith apples, unpeeled and grated

2 oranges, peeled and roughly chopped

2 tbsp flaked almonds

natural yoghurt to serve

fresh raspberries to serve

Place muesli in a large bowl with milk, juices, apples, oranges, almonds and stir to combine. Cover and place in a fridge overnight before using.

Serve with fresh yoghurt and berries.

serves 4.

Cinnamon french toast with strawberries


2 punnets (500g) strawberries

juice of 1 orange

¼ (quarter) cup caster sugar

3 eggs

3 tbsp milk

pinch cinnamon

8 slices stale bread, thick cut (such as good quality baguette)

2 tbsp unsalted butter

maple syrup to serve

Hull the strawberries and cut in half. Place in a medium bowl with orange juice and sugar. Stir to combine and set aside to macerate.

Place eggs in a large shallow bowl and beat lightly. Add milk and cinnamon and beat to combine. Soak the bread in the egg mix on both sides.

Melt half the butter in a heavy based wide pan over medium low heat. Add half the soaked bread and cook for a few minutes on each side until cooked and golden.

Remove from pan and set aside on a large plate. Use an upturned plate to cover and keep warm.

Heat remaining butter and cook the rest of the bread.

Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and the fresh strawberries.

serves 4.

How to poach an egg

Sometimes, the simplest things seem the most difficult. Use fresh eggs for the best results. You will need a deep saucepan with a lid.

4 large eggs

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

Half fill a wide based saucepan, at least 10 cm deep, with water to 5 cm depth. Add vinegar and bring just to the boil. The water should be moving slightly, not boiling too hard.

Break the eggs into individual small bowls. Turn off the heat and tip the eggs gently into the pan. Place the lid on and leave for 3 minutes.

Remove lid and use a slotted spoon to gently take out the eggs.

Trim the edges with a small knife to make a neat shape, if desired.

Serve immediately.

Makes 4.

Poached eggs with roasted tomatoes, bacon and sorrel


Fantastic quality heirloom tomatoes make this dish special. You could also use ripe cherry tomatoes. It’s worth sourcing the best quality bacon you can find, as you’ll taste the difference. I have used sorrel from my garden, for its refreshing lemon flavour, but basil or parsley would also be delicious.

400g medley mix heirloom tomatoes

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

8 slices good quality middle bacon

8 slices good quality bread

4 poached eggs (see recipe above)

shredded sorrel leaves to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C.

Place tomatoes in a baking dish, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the skins start to split.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a non-stick pan. Toast bread until golden.

Remove tomatoes from oven and place on plates with the toast and bacon. Place a poached egg on top of the toast and garnish with some fresh sorrel. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Serves 4.