Sunday, 22 April 2012

Use your tools to their full potential - part 1

One main excuse I hear from people for not cooking, or for cooking very basic fare is the lack of time. Some folk look at a recipe and only see the words SLICED, CHOPPED and SHREDDED. They then decide it is all too hard and either go out to eat, or open a tin.

NOT necessary. A basic food processor doesn't cost a fortune. But owning one opens up a very wide range of options when it comes to preparing your meals. Grating, chopping, mincing - I never buy mince of any sort now, I buy the meat and mince it at home in the food processor. I have total control of the fat content, as well as the specific cut.

The never-ending preparation of Asian dishes is far less daunting using a processor, and the cooking is super quick. The world opens up..........

Here is a recipe for Thai Chicken Rissoles. Easy anyway, it becomes child's play using a food processor. In fact, with supervision, a child could do most of this. I'll give you the processor version.

Serves 4

500g chicken thigh fillets (usually 4)
3 spring onions
1 tablespoon Thai Red Curry paste
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 crusts of a nice grainy bread
1/4 cup frozen peas

Fit the chopping blade to your processor bowl. Cut the chicken into large chunks and place in the bowl. Chop on low speed until it is minced and forms a ball. Tip into a large bowl. Cut the spring onions into large segments. With the processor running on low, feed in through the input tube. Follow up with the bread, torn into large pieces. Turn up to high for a few seconds, until the bread is crumbed.
Add the bread and onion to the chicken, along with the paste, coconut milk and peas. Dig your hands in and mix well. (More on using your hands later...)
When well combined, use wet hands and shape the mixture into small balls. Place on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Shallow fry in hot oil for 5 minutes or so, then finish in a 180C oven for a further 15 minutes. Brush with some sweet chilli sauce if you have it, just before they go in the oven, then serve with extra sauce.
Serve with a salad. In a later blog, I will give you a great Thai dressing.......

* on using your hands - I used to be horrified at how TV chefs dug their hands into everything. Then, with experience, I learned that is just the best way to mix many recipes - you really do get a feel for what you are cooking.
It is of the utmost importance that you practice proper hygiene - those anti bacterial gels are worth their weight in gold. Use them, and also wash your hands often. And, unlike those TV chefs, ALWAYS remove any rings prior to using your hands as utensils - so much bacteria hides under rings. Why else do they make you remove or tape them thoroughly before an operation?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Making it up

Making it up as you go along is something we all do - we just don't see it. Who follows a recipe to the letter? Even in the Internet recipe club I belong to, I often see these words: " I followed it exactly, but added........." Hmmmmm. It is hard to resist.

Invention is the starting point to becoming a competent cook. Whether you replace coriander for parsley because you don't like coriander, or substitute chopped ham for prosciutto because it is easier to find, you are beginning to experiment. And that is what cooking is about.

My computer died a year ago and I lost all of my recipes. Meh!! There are a lot of recipes out there, and I know what flavour combinations I like. Thinking outside the square is the term, I guess.

The two recipes I have included below illustrate lateral culinary thinking. The first is a curry which is definitely not a curry, but just uses the warm flavours. The second is a spring roll which is certainly a new angle, and (I hope) will have you drooling.



2 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken thigh fillets, sliced
1 large onion. chopped
1 tsp ground corinder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp curry powder
1 440g tin Cream of Pumpkin soup
200ml coconut milk

Heat the oil and gently fry the coriander, cumin and curry until fragrant. Increase the heat and add the chicken and onion. Fry until the chicken is browned through and the onion is soft. In a seperate bowl, beat the soup and coconut milk together until there are no lumps. Add to the chicken and simmer the lot for 20 minutes. Serve with rice and crusty bread, or naan.


8 Spring Roll wrappers
2 cups coconut
1 440g tin crushed pineapple, drained (reserve 1/4 cup juice)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 395g tin condensed milk
coconut oil for frying

Mix all ingredients (except wrappers) together and refrigerate for 30 mins.Lay Spring Roll wrappers in a diamond shape and put approximately 1/2 cup (size of a sausage) into  sausage shape across the bottom third. Roll and tuck into a spring roll shape. Seal the edges with a little egg white.

Heat coconut oil until smoky (a tiny piece of wrapper will sizzle immediately.) Cook rolls in batches for approx two minutes each side, or until golden. Drain and sprinkle with sugar.

Serve at room temperature.

Remember this - hot coconut oil smells like melting plastic. Ventilate well!!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Chillier Than Thou

Hot chillies.

OK, right away I notice that half of you are drooling in anticipation, while the other half have gone and are now hiding under their bed.

Such is the power of the chilli. An awesome little guy with amazing health benefits. Very few negative qualities - and let's get them out there right now.

If you suffer from ulcers or similar sensitive stomach issues, you need to modify your use of anything spicy, as I'm sure you well know already. But you can still benefit from chillies by the measured use of cayenne pepper. 

The rest of us have the world to explore when it comes to chillies. 

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the chilli the hotter it will be. Green chillies are also hotter than red, and miss out on some of the health benefits. Removing the seeds from a chilli will halve the heat of the dish they are used in. Always be aware that this is not a vegetable to be taken lightly. I use latex gloves when handling chillies, and if there is a lot of chopping to do, I also use protective eyeware - even specs are better than nothing. We seem to have an inbuilt desire to rub our eyes after handling chillies, and that is a very painful lesson to learn.

Now that I have scared you sufficiently, here is the good part. Chillies are amazingly good for your overall health.

  • Chillies are a thermogenic; they assist your body to burn fat by increasing your body temperature and speeding up your metabolism. 
  • The capsaicin in the entire capsicum family is a big weapon in the fight against sinusitis and the general congestion caused by hayfever and the common cold. It also contains antibacterial properties to fight persistent sinus infections.
  • A chilli contains more Vitamin C than its big cousin the orange. I don't think I need to tell you how important Vitamin C is.
  • They can help us in the fight against migraine and the like. Capsaicin is known to inhibit a key neuropeptide, Substance P, that is the key brain pain transmitter. 
  • I could go on and on - lowering blood pressure, protecting the heart, capsaicin is also a natural anti-inflammatory. Research indicates that it also aids in the battle against cancer of the prostate. 
Perhaps it is worth persevering. If you can educate your taste buds to tolerate chillies, you will be doing your body a huge favour. (It is no secret that the Eastern cultures which eat a lot of meat also eat a lot of chilli to speed the gut-transit time, and have much lower incidences of bowel cancer than we do with our  Western "grilled-meat" madness.) 

Try a little at a time. Start with adding cayenne pepper to soup, for instance. A tiny bit at a time. You WILL build up a tolerance.

So remember: the smaller the chilli, the hotter it will be; remove the seeds for even less heat; even capsicums are good, but chillies are better!

10 chopped chillies (lose the seeds if you don’t want it to be too fiery)
Salt to taste
Juice of half lemon
100ml olive oil
2 tbsp. garlic powder

Put all ingredients into a mill or blender and whizz away - this Portuguese sauce needs no introduction, and is great on any meat as well as its natural companion, charcoal chicken. Don't substitute fresh garlic for the powder - the powder thickens the sauce, and fresh garlic would overpower it.

1 large onion, chopped
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 red chilli
Oil for frying
500 g good quality beef mince (I mince my own – much better)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped roughly
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
200ml beef stock
3 tablespoons Tomato puree
1 stick Cinnamon
1 bay leaf (or 1 tsp bay powder)
400g tin kidney beans drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives
200ml crème fraiche
Steamed rice  to serve

·         Sweat the onion, garlic, and chilli in 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan. At the same time, brown the mince in a separate pan over moderate heat in a little oil.
·         Add the dried spices to the onion mixture and cook until they release their aroma. Then stir in the beef and mix well. Add the fresh and tinned tomatoes and leave to cook down a little for about 5 minutes.
·         Pour in the chicken or beef stock and stir in tomato puree to taste. Drop the cinnamon and bay leaf in then bring to the boil and leave to simmer.
·         Once the sauce is beginning to thicken add the kidney beans and leave to cook for another 5-10 minutes to allow the beans to soak up the flavours. Check for seasoning.
·         Mix the chives and crème fraiche together. To serve, spoon the chilli into the centre of a mound of rice, with the crème fraiche and chives in a separate bowl on the side.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Let there be spuds

In the 1800's, a blight virus struck the potato crops of Ireland and virtually wiped out the entire harvest. One million Irishmen perished in the famine which followed and a similar number were forced to leave their homeland and seek a living elsewhere. Such is the value of the humble spud. One of the simplest vegetables to cultivate, its nutritional benefits make the effort well worth it.
It is claimed that an adult can survive solely on potatoes with a little margarine or butter. This combination provides enough protein, iron, phosphorus, thiamin and niacin, as well as a good dose of vitamin C.
Potatoes also provide useful amounts of vitamins K and B6 as well as copper, magnesium, iodine and folacin. Not too bad for a vegetable that even kids seem to find edible.
And the news keeps getting better. When I was a diet-mad teenager, the cry was "Diet? No potatoes! No bread!" Fortunately we have now seen the error of our ways. The same medium potato which provides such valuable nutrition also contains a tiny 110 calories - and that in the form of valuable carbohydrate.
Potatoes planted in unused ground are an excellent soil-breaker; I remember, as a child, my father planting potatoes as preparation to planting a lawn in our newly-built home. It is a simple process - plant a seed potato under about 5cm of soil. Space each potato 30 to 40 cm apart. Weed and water them. When the tops die off, you just give them another fortnight (which extends the shelf life) and dig up your booty. Could anything be simpler?
More rewarding is planting spuds in tubs. Put 3cm soil in a large tub. Place a seed potato on the top and cover with soil. For the next few weeks, put all of your vegetable scraps etc. on top and use soil to keep the sprout under the surface. When you reach the top of the pot, continue to keep up the water. When the top dies off you are ready to harvest. Potatoes adapt well, and will grow small tubers along their length. Lovely little new potatoes.
At this point, upend the tub. You should have half a tub of potatoes and half a tub of compost.
Native to South America, potatoes are a part of the diet all over the world. The mild flavour lends itself to all types of dishes, and no self-respecting cook would attempt a home-made soup without adding at least one potato.
Potatoes can take the heat from a too-hot curry or the salt from a too-salty casserole. When it was kosher to smoke, a slice of potato in the tobacco pouch would save the tobacco from drying out. The water from boiling potatoes will clean silver, wood and leather. All of that, and they are still so very inexpensive.
It would seem that the humble spud has been the victim of dietary prejudice for long enough. Such a complete vegetable should be on our table every day, whether as a main meal or as an accompaniment. The local South Americans dubbed it the "Earth Apple" many years ago. Will we ever catch on?

750g potatoes
2 onions, grated
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (fresh is best)
2 tsps good chicken stock powder
2 beaten eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
good handful grated matured cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Peel, boil and mash the potatoes, adding the onion, salt, pepper, stock powder and nutmeg. Allow to cool, then stir in the eggs. Put in a casserole dish and top with the evaporated milk then sprinkle the cheese over. Bake at 160C for 30 minutes. Serves 6 as a side.

 3 large potatoes, sliced to 1/2 cm
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly
4 beaten eggs
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add potatoes. Toss around for up to 20 minutes until cooked, adding the onion about halfway through. When cooked, drain off most of the oil (retain for later use - EVOO is gold!) then spread out in the pan. Pour over the eggs, parsley and seasoning. Allow to cook, shaking the pan often to keep it from sticking. When the omelette is semi-set on top, cover with a large plate and upend. (Use oven mitts!) Slide back into the cooking pan and complete the cooking. Serve with a green salad as main light meal. (Serves 2.)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Meatless Meals

We eat way too much meat. Whether that is the product of a rich Western Society or just because we are lucky enough to have it all around us "on the hoof", many of us are still in the habit of eating meat daily, and don't consider a meal without meat as a true meal.

Which is why bowel cancer is the new black.........

Our ancestors ate meat when they could kill something, then survived for the rest of the week on grains, nuts and vegetation. We could learn a lot from them. And we should.

Don't get me wrong - I love a steak as much or more than any of you. And we are meant to eat meat - which is why nature gave us canine teeth. But not EVERY day.

Today, I am going to blog on about meatless meals. Vegetarianism is a subject best left to the experts, and I would hope that true vegetarians have studied up and know how to get all the needed protein which you miss out on by not eating any animal products.

Many teenagers suddenly come home and announce that they are now "vegetarians." Usually this is a conscience decision, based on not wanting to eat animals. And there is nothing wrong with that, although I have seen some who then go on to eat nothing but bread. Usually white bread which is virtually nutrient-free.

People who shun animal flesh while still happy to eat dairy products etc., are easy to feed. Those who only reject red meat are even easier. Did you know that you can survive a long time on nothing but potatoes and fat? (Which I will cover in an upcoming blog.)

All of us should have at least three meatless meals per week. The humble omlette is always a good one, and most people have a recipe for Macca Cheese. Here is a really easy version of Cabbage Pie:

1/4 cabbage, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 tbsp kecap manis (or soy sauce)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup grated cheese
frozen puff pastry sheets

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Take 2 sheets frozen puff pastry from the freezer.

Heat the ghee or butter until sizzling. Add the onion and scrunch it up until it separates, then add the cabbage and keep it moving around the pan until it softens and cooks down. Stir in the kecap manis and sesame oil, and cook a few more minutes until they are absorbed. Allow to cool. When cool, mix in the grated cheese.

Lay out a sheet of pastry and place the cabbage mixture on one diagonal half - see below. Fold over, but don't press the edges together, press it together about 1/2 cm in from the edge. Brush with beaten egg - don't allow the egg to go past where you have pressed it together - these two steps will give a far superior result.

Cook for 25-30 minutes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Can that healthy food be made edible?

Sadly, that which is good for you doesn’t always taste good for you.

Although babies will happily slurp up unsalted food, vegetables and unsweetened milk, as soon as the kids are initiated into the wonders of junk food it is a totally different story.

The family meal at the dining table is largely a thing of the past, so here you are as an adult. You like Maccas, pizza, chips……… etc. You are heading straight down the road to Fat City.

Not to mention the expense.

And guaranteed: if you were forced to eat vegetables which you considered horrible as a kid, the miracle did NOT happen, and you still consider them horrible.

So how do you get the healthy stuff that you “hate” into your diet? Easy.

Ever had a cold, where you lost your sense of taste and smell temporarily? Did you notice that you still liked the same foods and found the ones you don’t unpalatable, even though you couldn’t taste anything?

The magic word here is TEXTURE. We largely eat for texture, so if you can change the texture of the foods you don’t like, you can go a long way towards introducing them into your diet.

Take vegetables, seafood and pulses as three items essential to good health that you may not like, and mash them. Hmm, different story now.

Any vegetable can be mashed, and I am here to tell you that even the Brussells Sprout has a total makeover as a mashed veg. The teaspoon of butter you add is a small reward for eating such a healthy little guy. And make sure you season mashed vegetables if you want to enjoy them.

Notice that lots of people who don’t like seafood will eat prawns? Different texture again. Prawns are crisp. A great way to eat fish without knowing it is to buy a really mild one, such as monkfish, and turn it into Thai Fishcakes. I’m sure I can dig up a recipe……..

Lots of people don’t like pulses (chick peas, dried beans etc.,) but with a bit of processing it is a totally different story. Hummus, falafel and the like are really easy to do, EVERYBODY likes them and you can get a big part of your day’s protein in one snack.

500g monkfish fillets, cut into chunks
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp red curry paste
1 kaffir lime leaf or 1 strip or lime zest, shredded very finely
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (leaves and stalks)*
1 egg
1 tsp palm or brown sugar
½ tsp salt
3 or 4 spring onions sliced thinly into rounds
Cooking oil for shallow frying.

Put all but the spring onions and oil into a food processor and process until pasty and smooth. Stir in the onions. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Using wet hands, roll tablespoons of the fish mixture into balls and fry until golden and cooked through. Serve with sweet chilli sauce.

*I’m only just learning to like coriander. If you don’t like it, use flat-leaf parsley. If you like the recipe amd make it again – add little bits of coriander at a time to build it up to the full amount – it does make the recipe.

1 can chickpeas*
2 tablespoons tahini paste
4 crushed cloves garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
Juice of one lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt to taste (1 tsp is my taste)
Paprika to garnish.

Easy one here. Drain the chick peas, but reserve the liquid. Put everything else into a food processor except for the paprika. Process until smooth. IF NEEDED, add some of the reserved liquid until the texture is creamy. Put in a bowl, sprinkle with paprika and dip anything you like in.
*down the track you can soak and cook your own chick peas, but this is an excellent recipe anyway

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Beginners recipe #1 Fish with Tomato Salad and Garlic Mash

PLEASE NOTE - This is a step-by-step cooking class meal for people who say they can't cook. Established cooks may ignore this one. (Unless you want to peek anyway!)

Battered fish with tomato salad and garlic mash

A simple fish dinner for two. Fish is an essential part of the diet, and this is a good mild way to include it.

2 good sized fish fillets. (I used flathead; whiting would be good too.)
1/2 cup beer (and drink the rest!)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup ice cubes

2 medium ripe tomatoes
1 red onion, chopped finely
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper to taste*

2 decent sized potatoes
2 peeled cloves garlic.
2 teaspoons salt*


  • First assemble the fish batter. Combine the beer, flour and ice in a bowl and allow to sit. The ice will melt in time!
  • Then put the potatoes on. Cover peeled and cut up potatoes with water, throw the garlic in whole and bring to the boil. Turn it down to a fast simmer. Set a timer for 18 minutes.
  • Cut the tomatoes into chunks. Smash a little with the back of a fork and mix in remaining ingredients in serving bowl. Pop into the fridge.
  • Coat fish fillets with flour, shaking off excess.
  • When your timer says 2 - 3 minutes to go, place canola or other vegetable oil in a deep frypan. (about 2cm deep is good) and heat - medium heat at this stage because you are now multi-tasking!
  • By now, your timer has gone off, yes? Drain and mash the potatoes and garlic, adding a good dollop of butter and a decent splash of milk, salt and pepper. Replace lid on the pan and put in a warm spot.
  • Turn up the heat under the oil. When a drop of batter sizzles instantly, dip your fillets into the batter and coat well. Place in the oil and cook for about 6 minutes, turning once.
That's it. Drain the fish briefly on paper towel, Put the mashed potato on the plates, partly top with the fish and serve the tomato salad separately. Yum.! Something green as a garnish will make this meal more appealing to the eye of your dining partner - think parsley or chives......

Friday, 10 February 2012

Endless ingredients or simple recipes - which is better?

Don't ever be daunted by a long list of ingredients in a recipe. Some, particularly curry recipes, can have as many as 30 ingredients. Read your recipe before you even consider beginning work. Look for phrases such as "add to dry ingredients," or "add cumin, coriander, and garam masala," which give you the green light to mix those dry ingredients or those spices together before you start cooking.
Another handy trick is to get everything you need out of the pantry and line it up on your work bench. Most recipes list the ingredients in the order they are required, and this is a very effective way to avoid panic. (And to keep the harmony flowing, add the ingredient, mix it in then PUT IT AWAY) I run a really tidy kitchen and I do believe it helps me to keep calm when I am cooking something new or something for guests.
Having said that, here are two current favourites. One is so simple it is hard to believe it will be special - trust me, it is. The other has a lot of ingredients, but is surprisingly easy to create, if you follow the hints above. Which is better? You tell me - I can't decide.


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 kg ripe tomatoes, quartered
salt to taste
400g pasta of choice (small shells for me)
a handful of fresh, young basil leaves
grated parmesan cheese.

Put the oil and garlic in a cold pan. When it sizzles, but before it browns, add the tomatoes and salt. Simmer at medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until tomatoes are soft and collapsing. Add extra salt and pepper to taste.
While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain and add to the sauce. Add the basil leaves, mix well and serve, sprinkled with grated parmesan.


1 tbsp cooking oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf (or 1/2 tsp bay powder)
1/4 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pureed tomatoes
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp cooking oil
500g chicken thigh fillets, cubed
1 tsp garam masala
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground
1/4 cup cashews, ground
1/4 cup water

Make the sauce first: heat the oil in a large pan. Gently saute the onion and shallot until soft, but not brown. Add the butter, lemon, ginger, garlic, garam masala, chilli powder, cumin and bay leaf and cook for one minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Stir in the milk, cream and yoghurt. Bring to simmering point, lower the heat, and cook for ten minutes. Season, and remove from the heat.
Now do the chicken: Heat the oil, and brown the chicken. Lower the heat and add the garam masala and cayenne. Stir until fragrant. Add about half of the sauce and simmer until chicken is cooked - about 7 minutes. Add the rest of the sauce, the fenugreek, cashews and water. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until thickened. Serve with steamed rice.

So have a go at these two. You'll notice in the Butter Chicken recipe, I have coloured the ingredients which can be combined prior to starting in blue. Makes it a lot simpler to create this recipe, which I really enjoy.

Good luck!

Saturday, 4 February 2012



I love to feed people. Whether it is a simple meal for two or a dinner party for 8, nothing compares to the moment when your guests take their first taste of your food and the compliments begin to flow.

In order to get to that moment, it is generally necessary to cook.

“I can’t cook!” I hear you say. Wrong. Anybody can. OK, it isn’t ideal to tackle a four course dinner party for the in-laws as a first attempt, but you can do a very simple two courses easily by following the simple steps I will give you. We’ll do that later.

Keep cooking; keep it basic until you are confident with the simple stuff and ready to take your skills to the next level. I’ll give you a series of simple meals you can prepare, along with lots of hints, tips and information about food.

Most of my recipes will be for four people, most recipes are. Cooking for two is very difficult, so make friends with your freezer. However, some of my early basic meal ideas are for two people – just to get you going.

Cooking is all about confidence and patience. And it is definitely worth the investment of time. You are giving yourself and your time to the people you care about – in this busy world, what better gift than time?