Friday, June 27, 2014

Spicy Lentil & Corn Soup {Recipe}



Wintery weather has finally lashed itself over Melbourne and I just want to snuggle up in front of the fire with a big bowl of warm, comforting soup.

I try to make a big pot of soup every week. Not only is it economical, a bowl of lentil-laden goodness is filling and healthy too.

Soups are also a great way to use up the half or near empty jars of spice pastes you have languishing around in your fridge. The harissa paste was almost empty and a perfect match for the sad little capsicums rolling around in the crisper drawer. You could mix and match with whatever you have in your fridge (although I must say the harissa gives a nice hint of heat without blowing your socks off!)

The rest of the ingredients are basic pantry staples - tinned tomatoes, tinned corn and lentils.

This makes a very thick, almost stew like consistency soup (which we love). If you prefer a thinner consistency, use an extra 2 cups of stock or water.

Or why not leave it thick and turn it into a Mexican supper with a generous dollop of sour cream, squeeze of lime juice, fresh coriander and eat it with tortilla chips?

This pot will keep us going for most of the week but it would also freeze beautifully.

What's your perfect cold weather comfort food?

Recipe: Spicy Lentil & Corn Soup
An original recipe by Di Nolan
Serves: 6

Ingredients
1 Tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 sticks celery, diced
2 red capsicums, cored and diced
1 Tblsp harissa paste
2 x 440g tins diced tomato
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups extra water (I half fill each of the empty tomato tins, give them a swirl to get the last of the tomatoey goodness and tip this in for the extra water).
2 cups red split lentils
1 x 440g tin corn kernels, drained

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot over low-medium heat.
  • Add the onion, celery and capsicum and saute until the onion is softened.
  • Add the harissa paste and cook for about 2 minutes or until fragrant.
  • Add the tinned tomato, stock,extra water, lentils and corn kernels and stir well. Bring pot to the boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer soup for 30 minutes, stirring every so often to stop lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pan. (Alternatively you could sit the pot on a simmer mat if you have one.)
  • Enjoy! 





Saturday, June 21, 2014

Itty Bitty Brownie Bites {Recipe}


This is my go to recipe whenever I get asked to bring a dessert but I'm pressed for time.

The basic brownie mix is so easy to whip up and can be as posh or simple as you want them to be. Dress them up with perfect raspberries, a drizzle of chocolate glaze or ganache or a sprinkle of cocoa powder. Or better still, simply dust them with icing sugar.

Serve them up as dessert canapé at a posh soirée. Bring them along to a morning tea or take it to your friend’s house for dessert next time you get invited for dinner.

It's also a great beginner's recipe for young learning cooks.

The first time I cooked them I was disappointed because they looked so flat in the pan. “They’re too small!” I wailed to Mr Di-licious.

That was until I picked up my little round cutter, cut one out and tasted it – absolute perfection!

And then there is the matter of the little cook’s treat you’re left with after cutting out the brownies – brownie corners!

Pop them in a bowl and serve them up with a cuppa or crumble them up and mix with frosting to make brownie cake pops! 

Di-licious!

Recipe: Itty Bitty Brownie Bites
An original recipe by Di Nolan

These brownie bites are the perfect sweet treat to bring along to your next party. I prefer to whip them up in my KitchenAid mixer but you can mix them together by hand as well.

Ingredients
185g butter
3 eggs
1½ cups caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
¾ cup cocoa
1 pinch salt
icing sugar to decorate

Instructions
  • Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat and allow to cool. Set aside
  • Grease a lamington pan (20x30cm) and line with baking paper so that it extends over the edge of the pan.
  • Preheat oven to 180°C.
  • Whip eggs and sugar together till well combined.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa and salt. Add this to the egg mixture with the cooled butter and stir until all combined. The mixture will be thick.
  • Pour mixture into lined pan and spread it evenly with a spatula so it is smooth.
  • Bake for approximately 15mins. The brownie should be cooked on top and a skewer should come out with only a couple of crumbs clinging to it – not wet.
  • Allow tray to cool on a rack before turning out onto a cutting board.
  • Using a small cutter (I like a 2.5cm one), cut out ‘bites’.
  • Place cut out brownies onto a rack set over a tray or baking paper and sprinkle over icing sugar.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
  • Brownies are best eaten the day or day after being baked. They will become firmer as they age but are still delicious.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Cleaning bathrooms - my least favourite job


I really hate cleaning the bathroom. I mean I avoid it for as long as possible - probably much longer than I should.

Normally I get propelled into action when I know my mum is coming over or we are expecting overnight guests. 

More often than not the shower languishes for a few weeks and then I think I really should attend to that this week and another week or two goes by until I shudder at the sight of it.  

Perhaps it's this bathroom in particular. Dark slate floors that never look clean; a clumsily renovated shower closet that doesn't recieve an inch of natural light; a badly sealed shower base that has mould growing under the silicone no matter how much mould cleaner or bleach I use. 

I feel defeated before I even begin.

Rationally I know that if I do it every week or two weeks, it won't get so far out of control. I think it's been almost two months. It was nasty this morning.

Aside from the act of cleaning the shower, I also hate the smell of most cleaning products. 

Walking down the 'chemical' aisle in the supermarket makes my nose twitch uncontrollably. Few do what they claim to do and those that do smell the worst or cost more.

I've tried making my own cleaners but they need a regular weekly commitment that I seem incapable of giving - when did I turn into such a commitment phobe?  I prefer to use diluted sugar soap and a scrubbing brush.



Not being able to stand it anymore, I turned up the music loud this morning and scrubbed those tiles.

Twenty minutes later, the tiles are sparkling, the mould is as under control as it can be and feeling incredibly smug, I paused to take some pix and make two cups of coffee and write to you.

The basin is still waiting and the mirror still has Olive's toothpaste splattered all over it.  That'll be a walk in the park now.

Do you hate cleaning the bathroom too? Do you have a secret cleaning weapon you can share? 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Spread the love - Lemon Butter {Recipe}


You could be forgiven for thinking that there is a strong lemon theme happening on the blog lately. And you'd be right. 

When you have unlimited access to a ridiculously abundant lemon tree - you don't cook with oranges.

Luckily we're all lemon fans here. 

Can I just say categorically that I love lemon butter. It's tart, it's sweet and it makes the most decadent white bread sandwich. 

It's perfect on scones and pikelets; is a divine filling for cakes and sandwiched biscuits; and unbeatable eaten straight from the spoon.

It's also pretty easy to make provided you're not in a hurry. If you rush it..... well, you're going to end up with lemony scrambled eggs.

Trust me. I've been there. 

I got asked what the difference was between lemon butter and lemon curd. I couldn't find an answer online but according to my CWA Judging notes, lemon curd/cheese is made with milk and cream whereas lemon butter is not.

A good lemon butter should:


  • have a fresh, delicate flavour.
  • have a smooth and creamy consistency without any lumps. 
  • not be curdled nor show any egg streaks. 
The colour of lemon butters will differ according to the type of lemon and egg yolk colour used.



You can make lemon butter in a saucepan over direct heat but for best results, I'd recommend a double boiler. If you don't have one of these you can improvise by placing a bowl over a pan of simmering water. 

The original recipe was a bit vague in the method directions so I've expanded them based on my own cooking experience so you'll be spreading the lemony love instead of crying over scrambled eggs. 

Recipe: Lemon Butter
Adapted from Alice's Lemon Butter recipe contributed by Erin Morrison in CWA Classics Cookbook
makes 2 cups

Ingredients
3 large eggs, well beaten
juice of 2 large lemons (or 2 1/2 if not very juicy)
3/4 cups caster sugar
50g cold butter, cubed

Warm, sterilised jars and lids 

Method

  • Place eggs, sugar and lemon juice into the top pan of a double boiler or bowl, set above simmering pan of water.
  • Whisk mixture continuously until it starts to thicken and simmer.
  • Take off the heat and beat in the cold butter.
  • Pour the hot mixture into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately.
  • Allow to cool and then store jars in fridge for up to a month.
Notes
If you end up with small streaks of curdled/scrambled egg in you butter, strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl. Rewarm the mixture and then pour into the sterilised jars.



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Good news and Special Lemon Coconut Cake {Recipe}


I'm in a very, VERY good mood this week. Why? Well for starters, I finally landed my dream part time job.

The company is a gourmet food producer and I'll be actively involved with promoting their products through food tastings as well as behind the scenes in the office and (hopefully) helping develop their website. I may even get my hands messy in the kitchen sometimes.....

The other reason I'm very happy this week is discovering my ultimate, perfect cake nirvana - this (very) Special Lemon Coconut Cake.

The recipe comes from the Country Women's Association Classics Cookbook. It was contributed by Mrs Elaine Youd from Devonport Branch, Tasmania who shared that it is her "friend Barb Parson's special cake".


Special is definitely the right way to describe this cake. The coconut keeps the cake lovely and moist, making it a great bake ahead affair. It freezes well and the icing......well tangy lemon juice icing with coconut... it just keeps the lemon coconut flavour going on and on and on.

If you (or someone you know) has a prolific lemon tree then this recipe is a definite keeper.

Once again I'm grateful for the wonderful generosity of CWA women who openly share their fabulous recipes. They are, in a word, special.


Recipe: Special Lemon Cake

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups Self Raising Flour, sifted
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
125g butter, melted
grated zest of 3 lemons

Icing
1 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
Juice of one lemon

Method

  • Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line base with baking paper.
  • Place the sifted flour, coconut and sugar into a large mixing bowl and mix through to distribute the ingredients evenly. Make a well in the centre.
  • In a separate bowl or large jug (I like to use a big 1Litre Pyrex jug), beat the eggs, milk, melted butter and lemon zest together. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix through. It will most likely be a bit sloppy.
  • Pour the mixture into your prepapred cake tin and bake for about 45-50mins or until a skewer comes out clean. The cake will have pulled away a little at the sides and should be a lovely golden hue.
  • Allow cake to cool in the tin at least 20 minutes before turning out onto a cake rack lined with a folded tea towel (to avoid unsightly rack marks) and let it cool completely before icing.


To make the icing, mix the sifted icing sugar and coconut together. Gradually add the lemon juice until you get your preferred consistency - you probably won't use all the juice. Spread over the cake and if you like, let it drip down the sides a bit. Allow the icing to set before slicing.

Note - uniced cake will freeze beautifully. Ice when mostly defrosted.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A not so perfect day in the kitchen


Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect.  I'm a constant offender in the kitchen.

Yesterday I tried to do too much: I made another loaf of bread, I made up a chicken curry in the slow cooker, threw together a soup, prepped for dinner and then baked a cake - all before lunch.

The soup wasn't ready so we had sausage sandwiches.

I let the slowcooker cook and cook......too long. It was pasty, dry, too acidic and just plain revolting. 

The cake turned out well but there was no one home to eat it because the rest of the household had gone to the park.

Feeling despondent and surveying the dishes already in the sink, I couldn't bear the thought of cooking our planned family dinner of sausage risotto. 

By the time Olive & Mr Di-licious came home from the park, I was in a complete funk.

I felt like a complete failure.

"You know what darling?" he said. "Everyone is allowed to have a cooking fail once in a while. Even you."

"How about I pick up some takeaway?"

And that dear readers is why I love him.  Because whenever I fail at something or fall into a funk, he's got my back. Our 'simple Saturday family meal' turned into fish and chips by the fire. 

I'm still annoyed I didn't get it right (and wasted perfectly good chicken thigh fillets in the process) but that's life. 

On the bright side there's lemon coconut cake for afternoon tea today, our dog happily ate the curry, the chooks will get the leftover chips, we'll have the soup for supper tonight and I've already got Monday nights dinner prepped.

It's not quite the menu I'd planned but no one went hungry.