Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choc Berry Brownies

We're about to move house. We are having our first baby in May (woah!) and we need somewhere more baby appropriate - no steps, a dishwasher, a more accessible outdoor area etc. We found a new place much quicker than anticipated, which is great but I am definitely going to miss our current place. This has been our first flat together and we've been here for over a year, so it's home. I am sure our next place will be even better, but I'm sentimental. I have really enjoyed cooking in the lovely, sunny kitchen, so I thought it was fitting on our final Sunday here to spend some time doing one of my favourite things. I'm also trying to use up all the leftover bits and bobs we have in the fridge and freezer to make the move that little bit easier. Hence my choice for today - Choc Berry Brownies.

A friend gifted me some lovely 72% Lindt dark chocolate from a recent trip to Europe and whilst I love dark chocolate, I found this a little too intense for just eating so what better opportunity than to use it for a brownie. I also have a lot of frozen berries that I haven't been eating because of the hepatitis A berry recall, even though the brand I have hasn't been affected I avoided them just in case. But cooking the shit out of them should kill any bugs, so it's a good way to use them up.

This recipe is a 'healthy' one from the Healthy Food website. It's a little bit better for you as some of the sugar has been replaced with banana and some of the chocolate with cocoa powder - although I didn't have quite enough cocoa so used more chocolate after all. It uses low-fat spread instead of butter and trim milk, but you could just as easily use butter and whole milk if you prefer - it would make it a bit more like a traditional brownie, this one has more of a cake texture.

80g reduced-fat spread, melted
1/2 cup packed soft brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup trim milk - I used whole milk.
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/3 cup cocoa powder - I didn't have quite enough so added extra chocolate and a little extra flour.
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup self-raising flour
50g dark chocolate, chopped - I used about 75g
150g frozen mixed berries
2 teaspoons of icing sugar or icing sugar/cocoa mix to dust.

Preheat over to 180 degrees celsius. Grease a 20cm, square cake tin with a little oil and line with baking paper. Beat spread and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add eggs and beat to combine. Fold milk, banana, cocoa and flours into the mixture until just combined. Fold chocolate and berries into the brownie mixture. Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes or until firm to the touch. Leave cooked mixture to stand in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and slicing into squares. Dust with icing sugar or a mix of icing sugar and cocoa.

I used a slightly smaller, round cake tin which meant my mixture was higher in the tin than it would've been in a larger, square tin. I found I had to cook it for about 40 minutes for it to be cooked through. It definitely needed all the cocoa, despite my extra added chocolate, so it wasn't quite as dark or rich as I would've liked. It was nice and soft and moist though and the banana helped with both this and the sweetness. Perhaps not a legit brownie, but yummy all the same.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Chicken and Spinach Tikka Masala with Buttered Lemon Cauliflower 'Rice'

I am really stoked with this recipe - I'm just gonna say that right from the get-go. We eat chicken at least once a week at our house and it's hard to keep coming up with new and interesting things. I was looking for something a little bit different to the usual and came across this recipe by Nadia Lim, of MasterChef and My Food Bag fame, which I found on The Food Show website, somewhat randomly.
I was surprised to find that I had almost all the staple ingredients in my pantry already and I liked the idea of making a curry totally from scratch - I usually use a store bought paste. I'd also never had a go at the latest trend of using cauliflower for everything from pizza bases to mash to rice, so I was keen to give it a whirl. And it looked pretty healthy and quick - very important for a Sunday night dinner, after spending the better part of the day driving back from Hawke's Bay.

1 tablespoon of oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced or chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground tumeric
1 teaspoon of ground chilli
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons of chopped, grated or minced ginger
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon of salt
600g boneless, skinless chicken things, cut into 2-3cm pieces
400g can chopped/crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup sour cream or cream - I used lite sour cream
3 large handfuls of baby spinach, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of plain yoghurt (to serve)
1/4-1/2 cup chopped coriander (to serve)

For the buttered cauliflower rice:
1/2 head of cauliflower (including the stem), cut into florets - the recipe said a whole head but 1/2 head was just right for 4 servings.
1 tablespoon of butter
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4-1/2 cup chopped coriander or flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Cook the onion for 4–5 minutes until it's just starting to turn brown. Add the spices, garlic, ginger, lemon zest and salt and cook for a further minute or two. If the onion or spices catch or stick to the bottom of the pan, just add a little bit of water to the pan and stir. Add the chicken, tomatoes, sweet chilli sauce, lemon juice and cream/sour cream, cover and simmer for 5–10 minutes until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened slightly. While the chicken is cooking, make the cauliflower ‘rice’. Put the cauliflower florets into a food processor and pulse until it's the texture of rice or couscous. Put into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes to steam the cauliflower slightly and evaporate extra moisture to make it fluffy. Add the butter and coriander/parsley to the hot cauliflower and fluff, using a fork, then season to taste with salt and pepper. The chicken should be cooked by now, so just stir through the spinach until wilted and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon some cauliflower rice and chicken tikka masala onto each plate and garnish with a little yoghurt and coriander.

This recipe was easy and quick, I already had most of the ingredients and, most importantly, it was delicious! I really liked the cauliflower rice - a simple and healthy alternative to rice - and even my partner who doesn't like cauliflower, thought it was pretty good. I can see this becoming a regular!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Banana Bread

Oh haaaaaay! It's been a month since I last posted but I've had a some other exciting-and-kind-of important-sort-of life-changing stuff occupying my time of late. And I've actually just been pretty busy with quite a few weekends away from home, but I have still managed to squeeze in some cooking here and there.

I was working from home the day I made this, which meant when I finished up for the day I had some time to put a banana bread in the oven. There were a couple of dire-looking bananas in the fruit bowl, which normally I chuck straight in the freezer for future use in cakes or smoothies, but I was inspired to whip something up then and there. I looked for a 'healthy' recipe for banana bread, something without as much sugar and fat and found one on BBC Good Food. I didn't quite have the right amounts of everything so I adapted it a bit to suit, and added some extras.

140g flour - wholemeal would make this even healthier, but I didn't have any.
100g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3 ripe bananas, mashed - I think 3 is best, but I only had 2.
4 tablespoons of agave syrup - I only had honey, so I mixed about 3 tablespoons of clover honey with a little hot water, to make it more like a syrup. I used a little less as I didn't want it to be too sweet.
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
150ml of low-fat, plain yoghurt - I didn't quite have 150ml so about 50ml was some mixed berry yoghurt I also had in the fridge.
chopped pecans or walnuts (optional - and I didn't opt for these).

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees celsius, fan bake. Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and line a loaf tin with baking paper - make sure you leave it coming up over the sides a bit. In a second bowl, combine the mashed bananas, agave syrup/honey, beaten eggs and yoghurt. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour into the tin and sprinkle the nuts on top, if you're using them. Bake for 1 hour 10-15 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean - mine was done in just over an hour though so keep an eye on it. Cool on a wire rack and eat warm, or like the Aussies do, slice it, toast it and spread it with butter, cream cheese or even lemon curd at breakfast time. Store in an airtight container and it should last at least a few days, longer if you're toasting it.

I was a bit over the usual for breakfast and this was a bit of at treat for the rest of the week but it didn't taste overly sweet and a couple of slices with butter were surprisingly filling. It wasn't quite as banana-ry as I would've liked, so I'd use 3 bananas next time. I've recently bought an Easiyo yoghurt maker too, which is great as I use a lot of natural yoghurt, both in cooking, smoothies and just to eat, so it's nice to be able to make your own. It's also great served with any sort of sweet cake instead of cream, to take the edge off the sweetness a wee bit. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cheesy Tomato and Veggie Pasta Bake

Yay! It's Spring time! And daylight savings! I love nothing better than cooking in my kitchen when it's still light - it's so nice and bright and the lighter evenings are promises of the approaching summer. It also means time to plant a new veggie garden, which I managed to do a couple of weekends ago, including potting some herbs for my window sill.

The weekend before last we were in Brisbane for a wedding, which was lovely - and warm. A couple of days before we left I wanted to try and use up some of the veggies we had in the fridge. Plus it was a Monday, so a good reason to have a meat-free meal. This recipe is great as you can pretty much put in whatever you like/have on hand/need to use up and it's very accommodating. And if you really need meat, you can add that in too. This concoction comes straight from the mind of yours truly!

1 tablespoon oil
1/2 onion
1 stalk celery
1 zucchini
1/2 red capsicum
6 mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes/fresh chilli
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon harissa paste (optional)
can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or 1 teaspoon of sugar (optional)
couple of handfuls of spinach
250g pasta - I used macaroni but whatever you like is fine
50g feta cheese
parmesan cheese
handful of fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Chop up the onion, celery, zucchini, capsicum and mushrooms. Heat a little oil in a pan on medium heat and, when hot, add the veggies. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is starting to become clear and the veggies are softening, Add the garlic and chilli and stir, cooking for another minute or two. Add the tomato paste, smoked paprika and harissa paste and stir, cooking for another minute. I love harissa and always have a jar in the fridge - it's so versatile and gives things a real depth of flavour. I often just have it on toast with eggs and avocado, It shouldn't be too hard to find, but it's not in every supermarket. Next, add the chopped tomatoes, stir, season and simmer for about 10 minutes. At this point, get some water on to boil on the stove, with a little salt and olive oil. Add the pasta when the water is boiling. Taste the sauce and depending on what you like, you can add either the balsamic vinegar or sugar to take away from the tartness of the tomato if you need it. Drain the pasta when cooked to al dente and tip back into the empty pot, off the heat. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir to wilt the spinach, then tip the sauce into the pot with the pasta. Stir gently to combine. Crumble the feta on top and the chopped fresh parsley and give it another quick mix. Pour into a rectangle baking dish, or 4-6 small dishes. Grate over the parmesan cheese to your liking and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Serve with a side salad. Creamy and cheesy but fresh and tomatoey at the same time. A great dish to use up leftover veggies and get your 5+ a day at the same time - and it's perfect for leftovers the next day or feeding a few hungry people.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

South-east Asian Pot Luck Part 2 - Spicy Thai Fish Cakes with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

As well as the chicken satay, I also made some spicy thai fish cakes for the recent pot luck dinner I hosted. This recipe came from Radio New Zealand of all places, but the recipe is actually one of Annabel Langbein's. I like this one because it has fresh fish and the ingredients list doesn't feature anything too wacky.

1 spring onion
1 red chilli
Zest of a lime or a lemon
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger - or if you're a bit lazy like me, use the jar stuff
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/4 cup coconut cream - I used coconut milk as I had it left over from the peanut sauce and whilst it still worked, I think coconut cream would have given them a slightly better texture.
1 egg white
500g boneless fresh white fish - I used cod

Put all ingredients into the food processor except the fish and blend to a fine paste. You could also use a hand blender if you don't have a processor. Add half the fish and blend again until smooth. Chop up the rest of the fish and mix it in by hand to keep the mixture a bit chunky. Make into balls around the size of walnuts and flatten into patties. The recipe said to barbeque or grill them, but I just fried them in a little oil on the stove. Cook the patties for about 2 minutes each side until they feel bouncy when you touch them and are slightly browned. I put them on some paper towels once cooked, just to soak up a bit of the excess oil. You can make these ahead of time and reheat in a hot oven for 4-5 minutes, however I think it's better to make them ahead of time, put them in the fridge and then cook them fresh right before you're ready to eat them. Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, simply made by combining the following:

1/4 cup sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime - or lime juice if the real thing is too pricey
2 tablespoons of chopped coriander

These fish cakes are really fresh tasting with the fish, coconut ginger and lime flavours. Not blending all the fish also gives them a great texture.

I'm pretty lucky to have some awesome friends who also happen to be excellent cooks and always made an effort for these sort of nights. Check out the spread below!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

South-east Asian Pot Luck Part 1 - Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

I've mentioned in a previous post that some girlfriends and I like to get together every few months and have a pot luck dinner. We choose a different type of cuisine each time, and it almost certainly involves a lot of wine, as well as an amazing array of food. I hosted at my place this time and even though we did a Japanese theme last time, we settled on south-east Asian this time. I decided to make a couple of things suitable for entrees/pre-dinner snacking - chicken satay with peanut sauce and spicy thai fish cakes with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

I did a bit of digging around the interwebs before I found some recipes I was happy with. Serious Eats yielded the recipe for the chicken satay and the peanut sauce was courtesy of the Nigella website. I'll tell you all about the spicy thai fish cakes in part two. 

For the chicken satay you need:

1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped - or use pre-prepared from the jar, like I did, if you can't get it fresh.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil - I use canola
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon of lime juice - fresh is ideal if limes aren't crazy expensive
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
2 medium cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Sriracha (or another hot chilli sauce)
About 450g of boneless chicken breast - you could also use thigh
Bamboo skewers (this made about 15)

Put everything but the chicken (and skewers, duh) into the blender and whiz on high speed until smooth. Slice the chicken into strips lengthwise, about 1/2 an inch thick. Put the chicken into a large resealable plastic bag, pour the marinade in and give it a squish around. Leave it in the fridge to marinade for at least 1-2 hours, but the longer the better. While the chicken is marinading, soak the skewers in water so they don't burn under the grill. Once the chicken has marinaded, thread the chicken onto the skewers and place on a baking tray, either non-stick, greased, or lined with foil. Grill under a high heat - but not too close to the element. They will take around 15-20 mins to cook, and make sure you turn them half way through. Don't overcook them - the problem with using chicken breast is that it can dry out. You can make the peanut sauce ahead of time, while the chicken is marinading, and reheat later if you like, as I did, but I think it's best fresh.

1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 small red chilli, finely chopped - leave out one or both types of chilli if you'd rather have it milder
1 small onion, finely chopped - I used a shallot
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tablespoon of peanut oil - I just used regular canola oil

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the garlic, onion and chilli over a medium heat until the onion is soft - but don't let it brown. Add the sugar and stir until slightly caramelised. Add the soy sauce and peanut butter and stir through. Add a little coconut milk at a time until you get the consistency you want.

These are really tasty - a great depth of flavour from the marinade with a hint of spice, and with the creamy nuttiness of the peanut sauce, they make a great snack at a party or entree before a main meal.

Next time - spicy thai fish cakes with a sweet chilli dipping sauce!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Slow Cooker Greek Lamb

As promised (albiet a little while ago), here's something yummy and easy peasy for the slow cooker - and coming into Spring, it's actually pretty perfect. Last weekend, we were pretty lucky to have a beautiful sunny weekend here in Wellington, so it's starting to feel like winter might finally be over. Which also means I probably won't be using my slow cooker quite as much any more, so best to get in a few final meals. I put this on last Sunday morning, before heading out to a baby shower and to visit some other friends, and it was lovely to come home to the house smelling like a good roast - with hardly any effort.

Sometimes I struggle to find interesting things, beyond the standard stews and the like, to make in the slow cooker - if you know any good links, please let me know. This recipe is courtesy of, a good website for kid-friendly recipes but also if you're not very experienced in the kitchen. I've found a few good, simple recipes on there - even one or two my partner was willing to have a go at!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1kg rolled lamb loin - I actually used a bone-in roast, because it was about half the price of a rolled and stuffed lamb loin, so this is ok too. Mine was about 1.2kgs.
1kg potatoes
1 bunch rosemary
1 head garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup lemon juice

Peel and cut the potatoes into eighths. Place these at the bottom of the slow cooker and put 2 sprigs of rosemary on top. Peel 6 cloves of garlic and slice. I had some large home grown bulbs a friend gave me which have a really strong flavour, so I used 4. Poke holes in the skin of the lamb with the point of a knife and push the garlic into the holes. Heat the oil in a pan on the stove and brown the lamb all over. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes in the slow cooker and push sprigs of rosemary into the holes you put the garlic into earlier. I had some leftover sliced garlic so I put that into the slow cooker too. You can also put your squeezed lemons in there as well. Pour over the wine and lemon juice and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours - a little less if you like your meat rarer.

The meat was lovely and tender and the potatoes were really soft. I took them out of the slow cooker and fried them, to make them a wee bit crispy.I didn't need to use any extra oil either, as they had some of the fat from the meat on them. Be warned though - the potatoes can have a little bit of a tart flavour from the lemon and wine, which didn't bother me but my partner thought the flavour was a bit too strong. If you didn't want to fry them, you could always roughly mash them with some feta cheese, fresh parsley and cracked pepper. I served the lamb with mint sauce but there was leftover liquid in the bottom of the slow cooker that could've made a nice gravy if I hadn't been feeling so lazy (or hungry). And there's always leftovers for sandwiches - which I'm sure everyone agrees is pretty much the best part about a Sunday roast.