Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mixed Capsicum and Chickpea Salad (An Ode to my Mother’s Group)

About five and three quarter years ago, when my eldest daughter was barely three weeks old I was told by the local child health nurse I should join a mothers group.

Don't believe everything you think when you are pregnant.... you are often very misguided or deluded

Ughh, I thought. A group of women constantly complaining, or worse still, bragging about their children. No thanks, I said.  I have plenty of friends.
The nurse, clearly much wiser than me, said ‘but do they have children the same age as yours? They will be a great comfort to you in the years ahead’

So I fronted up to the first meeting, and came upon a mixed bag of women, with different lives, different birth experiences and different histories. Yet we all came together with one thing in common, our babies.

The original salad (photo courtesy Jason Thomas)

Six years later, as those babies are entering Year One, and as we have welcome almost fifteen more children into our group, said goodbye to five families and welcomed one more, our group is still intact despite the different experiences, the different parenting styles and the different plans for the future.

Tonight we farewelled another family, destined for the red dirt of the far north and as I trawled through ‘Essence’ for a salad to bring to the group BBQ I decided on a mixed capsicum and chickpea salad.

This is how mine turned out, perhaps I overdid the dressing. Don't care, it was really tasty
Like my initial reaction to the idea of a mothers group, I wasn’t sold on the idea. My dislike of capsicum is a matter of public record and chickpeas reek of ‘healthy eating’. Yet, just like the group of women (and husbands and children) the salad fell together easily and the flavours just worked.

Sometimes it’s nice to be proved wrong.

The salad brings together capsicum (red, green, yellow), tinned chickpeas and fresh coriander and mint. I threw in a bag of pine nuts for good measure. The dressing is what makes it work – a mix of hummus, lemon juice, brown sugar and tahini.

My thoughts
Sometimes you need to just give something a go. Sometimes your initial reaction is wrong, and what you think might be awful, might actually end up changing your life.

Of course, I’m talking about my mum’s group. The salad, though pretty damn tasty, probably won’t change my life.

The dressing might though… I’m going to pinch it for other salads, and I bet it tastes great on steamed asparagus and green beans.

If you want to find out more about this recipe or have any questions, contact me on frommumtome(at)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beer Bread (Oi Oi Oi)

That big crack down the middle, it wasn't intentional but it left a great place to shove the butter

‘Do you want some beer bread to go with your beer?’ my husband asked his Dad.
‘That sounds good,’ was the reply. And it was.

Another deceptively simple recipe with only four ingredients –one of them being a can of beer – came in the form of beer bread: flour, salt, sugar and beer. The recipe called for 375ml of Little Creatures Pale Ale, admittedly one of my favourites, but I didn’t have any in the fridge.

Is it still Aussie bread if you use a Dutch beer? That bit left in the cup was my tipple for the day
I did however, have a 500ml can of Dutch beer left behind from a BBQ and my powers of deduction told me that meant I could have a 125ml tipple while baking the bread.

For such an easy recipe I couldn’t even follow the most basic instruction: sifting the dry ingredients into a bowl. Admittedly I rarely sift things, but I had every intention to do so in the spirit of taking this Project seriously. The problem was that I only own one sieve and at that point in time it was sitting on the sink, filled with the remnants of my Maggi Noodle breakfast. I am all class on a Sunday.

I doubt my lack of sifting made a lot of difference to the end product, although I am not sure why it ended up with the shape of a mushroom cloud. The recipe didn’t say how long to knead it for, and since it didn’t have any yeast to activate, I figured a few minutes should be enough.

This is what it was meant to look like (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

Freshly baked bread tends to be a crowd pleaser, and when it’s made with beer it will outperform any boring cheese and crackers that it is up against. Perhaps due to my lack of sifting and impatience with kneading, it was quite dense but when we cracked it open and slathered on the butter it was declared a success. Even by the kids.

I figured that the 50 minutes in the oven should have burned off any of the alcohol by that stage, but just in case, I limited the amount of bread they were allowed.

Besides, it would have meant sharing.

My thoughts:
As the recipe suggests this loaf would be perfect for tearing up and dipping into a bowl of hot soup.

And it’s not really the type of bread you can wrap around a sausage. I found that one out the hard way.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to find more out about the recipe.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bulgogi (I Vant To Eat You)

It’s a good thing I’m not squeamish, as there is a lot of meat handling in this recipe. I don’t mind handling a bit of meat, but this Korean dish involves a lot of knife work and then flattening the thin red strips with your hands. You can read anything into that you wish.

The Bulgogi from the book (image courtesy Jason Thomas)
With the ever so classy ‘Four Weddings’ on the TV, I started this very simple dish with an eye to serve it as a starter at a family BBQ. Fillet steak is sliced finely, flattened between your fingers and then marinated for a few hours in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, brown sugar and crushed sesame seeds. After being flash fried on the BBQ, you wrap it in lettuce leaves with a drizzle of dressing.

You can't go all Bobbitt on the fillet steak, you must be gentle. After all, it's very expensive

This recipe was beautifully easy. A very sharp knife helps though, and it became obvious very quickly that trying to watch TV while slicing through fillets of steak is not the smartest idea. I cannot even blame the ubiquitous glass of wine, as I was abstaining due to a mild touch of over-consumption at last night’s wedding.
I had no intention of actually taking any responsibility for cooking the meat though. I get a little panicky around a BBQ and firmly believe in division of labour. I will marinate, slice, skewer, chop and bake anything you want, but don’t ask me to put it on the BBQ and expect it to stay edible.

Toss it every now and then, and soon it will be tender and tasty

When the time came, we washed lettuce leaves, and threw together the dressing. The slivers of meat needed to be cooked for only a minute on each side, so it was really an exercise in precision. My cool-headed husband is much better suited to the task, although my father-in-law was quick to point out that there was an ‘awful lot of smoke’.

If I had cleaned the BBQ like I was meant to, we wouldn't have had to cook it on the foil (a major BBQ faux pax apparently)
Turns out the smoke was caused by marinade from the last (and only) BBQ I ever attempted, and clearly cleaning wasn’t part of my repertoire. No matter, as soon as the bulgogi was on it was off again, and we stood around making little parcels of meat and lettuce, the juices dripping down our chins, kids looking on in fascination.

My thoughts:
This is one of those dishes that looks really impressive and tastes really delicious, but the whole time you are scared that someone is going to find out just how simple it really was.

This was my version, a bit more successful than, say, the Japanese eggplant

This is a great dish for people who like getting personal with their food, both in the preparation and the consumption. It’s an interactive dish and lots of fun.
As all meat should be.

And you can read anything you like into that as well.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to find more out about the recipe.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Coriander and Mint Relish (The Big Easy)

It was curry night and I didn’t even need to make a curry. Someone else was bringing it. Awesome. I probably could have got away with some basmati rice and shop bought pappadums, but that’s really not my style. Going completely over the top and over-catering is more my style.

This is the relish from the book (photo by Jason Thomas)
The only problem with this dish was that I made it at about nine in the morning, so it meant I couldn’t have a glass of wine as I cooked. I had a cup of coffee instead.

Apart from the obvious coriander and mint, the special thing about this relish is that it is made with toasted coconut and spices. It make it into a very substantial relish, practically a meal unto itself.

And this is mine. The chilli sticking out of it is purely for food-bling, I'm too much of a girl to add real heat.
I heated the oil, added the spices, coconut and sugar and cooked until the coconut went a lovely pale brown. The recipe warns that you must watch it constantly because the coconut burns easily.

I do have a tendency to get distracted in the kitchen, so while I was tossing my ‘nuts, I pretended I didn’t hear the baby screaming, and ignored the fact that the three year old had fallen off the couch. It could wait.

There was more of this toasted coconut, sugar and spice mix, but I ate it

I tend to double any spice quantities in any recipe (except chilli, which I halved in this one) and I admit to playing loose and fast with exact quantities in general. However, I would strongly advise against using more mint sauce and lemon juice than the recipe suggests, as I did, and it ended up a bit waterlogged.

I've never used onion flakes before, and now I am not sure what to do with the rest of the jar. Suggestions anyone?
Once the spicy coconut mixed had cooled, it went in the food processor with all the other ingredients until everything was all whizzed up and finely chopped.

Mint tends to overpower things, which is why it’s the flavour of toothpaste I suppose. The expectations are rather high, so remember this when it is up against another herb in a recipe. This recipe uses half as much mint as coriander, and I probably should have thought about this a bit more before playing the ‘oh whatever, chuck it in’ game with the herbs.

Looks like Christmas, tastes like summer

My thoughts:
Usually I only tend to follow baking recipes strictly, otherwise cakes never rise, biscuits end up the size of dinner plates and muffins can be used as shot puts. With savoury dishes I tend to use the recipe more as a guideline, rather than a rule (a la Pirates of the Caribbean).

In my humble opinion, this is one of the few savoury dishes where you should actually follow the recipe to the letter. Don’t muck around with the quantities, and if it says ‘watch the pan’, then for heaven sakes, watch the pan.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to find more out about the recipe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tic Toc Teacups (Let's Do The Time Warp)

My friend and I were discussing this extremely important topic just this very morning: when is something ‘cooking’ and when it is merely ‘assembling’? I claimed that ‘cooking’ is when you cannot undo what you just did. She felt that her husband making a dinner with pasta, a BBQ chook, some feta and herbs wasn’t cooking. I thought it was. Stephen, you owe me one.
So, you may wonder then if these biscuits belong in a cookbook. There’s not actually any cooking per se. I had them on the menu for Miss Three’s Birthday Party and even though they look simple, by the end, I really wish I’d had a drink. These deserve the cooking mantle, and I deserve a gold star for being Mum of the Year.

The ultimate in little girl dainties

The ironic thing about this recipe – probably the simplest in the book, is that you can’t substitute for the majority of ingredients: marshmallows, Tic Toc biscuits, musk lifesavers. And do you think I could find Tic Toc biscuits at my local Woolies? Not on your life. I had to send my hubby off to distant parts to hunt and gather this essential ingredient, only to discover then I couldn’t find musk lifesavers.

Anyway, once I got that sorted out I decided that rather than make icing to glue everything together, I was going to use leftover melted white chocolate from my disastrous attempt at cake pops. But that is a different story.

So while my Five year old watched with a critical (and hungry eye) and my husband kept trying to pinch marshmallows, I took out all the white and pink Tic Tocs, thus relegating the yellow ones to the cookie jar, to end their days soggy and forgotten in the cupboard.

Dip a marshmallow in the chocolate, dip it in the sprinkles, turn it over, dip it in the chocolate and stick it to the biscuits. Wipe up spilled chocolate. Eat a marshmallow. Repeat. Cut lifesavers in half, try and not cut fingers, stick in the chocolate. Stick to the side of the marshmallow. Repeat.

I wipes the blood up before I took this photo

Now there are two types of people in the world. Those who find these types of jobs cathartic and allow their minds to wander off to more important things. And those who freak out that the lifesavers aren’t sticking and every time they get distracted they dip both ends of the marshmallow in the sprinkles and so end up eating six chocolate and sprinkle covered marshmallows.

That second group of people, not only wind up very stressed, but with a stomach ache.

Best you can’t guess which group I’m in.

So they look pretty cute, don’t they. We’ll see what the kids think.

Later that day:

The kids thought they were pretty cool.

The adults thought they were awesome and ate most of them before the kids even got there.


Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to find more out about the recipe.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Brown Rice, Lentil and Feta Salad (A battle between good and evil)

This was always going to be a toughie. A salad made with some of my least favourite and most favourite ingredients: capsicum, brown rice and lentils being the least favourite, fresh herb, feta, rocket and pine nuts being some of the favourites.

I could hear Homer Simpson singing ‘you don’t make friends with salad’. So I guess it was a good thing that the dozen or so people I had coming to my BBQ were already friends, because I suspected I wasn’t going to love this salad very much, and so I needed to share the love, if you get my meaning (cough: no leftovers please).

Guess whether this is the photo from the cookbook or the real thing?
Now capsicum is one of my least favourite vegetables. I couldn’t tell you why, but there you go. Cold rice is also a big bleugh in my books. Lentils, unless cooked with lots of Indian spices and a bucketload of coconut milk also don’t rate very highly in my kitchen. When I saw this recipe, I knew it would have to be made for a large group of ‘other’ people (not least because it makes about twenty cups of salad).

I had already been to the shops to look for Camellia tea oil (for the dressing) with no joy. I could have got sesame oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, macadamia oil, peanut oil and about ten thousand varieties of olive oil, but no camellia tea oil.

So I Googled it.
Turns out its (other) most common use is to lubricate woodworking tools. Yum.

I took a punt and decided to substitute some good, old-fashioned EVOO.

Three colours uninspired
The recipe allows for tinned lentils to be used to save time. I also took the liberty of using some precooked rice a la Uncle Ben, figuring that it couldn’t possibly hurt, especially since I had no intention of actually eating it.
Did I just write that?
So I drained the lentils and threw them in a bowl with the rice (I just used the whole 450g packet), the chopped capsicum and the sultanas. My husband is a firm believer that fruit has no place in dinner*, so I didn’t hold much hope that he would help eat it either.

Here comes the conflict. The rest of the ingredients are some of my favourites: fresh herbs, feta, pine nuts, rocket. It was going to be a battle of good versus evil: could my love of these ingredients overrule my loathing of Cold-hearted Rice and the Red Yawn?

There was a mild panic that I had no lemons until I remembered I had a lemon tree in the back yard
I then chopped all the herbs and rocket, mixed it through the rice, chopped the feta, dumped a packet of pine nuts (minus the three handfuls I ate before they made it to the bowl) and then stopped in a mild panic.

I was going to need a bigger bowl.

It was about to escape the bowl and take over the kitchen
This recipe, supposedly serving six, was ENORMOUS. Six sumo wrestlers, perhaps.
I squeezed the lemon and added it to my counterfeit Camellia oil for a good shake-up. Can I just stop for a second and say that all those (predominantly male) TV chefs who use their fists to squeeze lemons claiming that juicers are just ‘a waste of kitchen space and one more thing to wash’ are just showing off.

A little Dutch courage at the prospect of eating cold rice

Dress the salad and bung it in the fridge for the flavours to absorb (or battle?) for an hour or so. I had every intention of pulling it out at least an hour before serving, because fridge cold rice is even more woeful than room-temperature rice.

Later that night…

I will admit, the salad looked quite pretty. The compliments came thick and fast and when I tasted it, not only did I swallow the salad, I also swallowed my words. It was awesome. I couldn’t taste the capsicum and the rice merely absorbed the flavours of the dressing. I did end up giving some away at the end of the night… but I made sure I kept some for my lunch the next day.

Adult 'goody bags'
My thoughts

Regardless of whether or not my friends actually liked the salad, I hope they are still my friends after reading that I basically used them as not only guinea pigs but that I deliberately fed them a salad I didn’t even think I would like.

*Funnily enough, one of the authors, Kristen Watts also is not a big fan of sultanas and her inside tip is to added finely diced apple instead.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to find more out about the recipe.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Japanese Eggplant (Say Hello To My Little Friend)

I probably wouldn’t have started the M3V Project with this particular dish, but it was that horrible week between Christmas and New Year when it is practically impossible to live (or cook) normally. My husband suggested Japanese Eggplant and when I agreed, it was because I secretly thought he was going to cook it.
I had completely forgotten – before I even started – the main reason for this blog (ie that I am meant to cook my way through an entire cookbook).

Here is what the picture in the book looks like:

Original images were taken by Jason Thomas

Here is what mine ended up looking like.

It looks EXACTLY like the one in the book

It was actually quite a process to get it looking this bad.

According to the blurb ‘the flavours in this dish complement each other perfectly, with the soft and mild eggplant taking on the taste of the other ingredients’. This ended up being absolutely true. It was just a pity I didn’t actually use the ingredients suggested.

Something here doesn't belong in a Japanese dish

The recipe used a number of typical Japanese ingredients including sake, soy sauce and fresh ginger and garlic.I had every intention of using sake. I even went to the bottle shop to buy a bottle, but when they told me the only one they had was $30, I baulked at the thought of spending that much on two tablespoons of rice juice.
I would have quite happily drunk the rest – I don’t mind a drop of sake, even if it does taste like vegemite. But considering my usual tipple costs about $10 a bottle, spending three times that much to flavour some eggplants (not my favourite veg) seemed extravagant.

I thought I remembered reading something once that suggested you could use sherry in place of sake. I may have made that up. Anyway, I tipped in what was left of my McWilliams Sweet Sherry in place of the sake, and you know what? The recipe was right! The eggplant DID take on the taste of the other ingredients, unfortunately it was mainly the sherry.
While the original recipe suggests stuffing the chicken mince filling into the baby eggplants, dusting them with cornflour and then deep frying them, it ALSO suggested a ‘healthier’ option would be to slice a large eggplant thinly, and then sandwich the filling between two pieces before cooking in a sandwich press.

Eggplants looks pretty silly, I think

We went with option number two. Boo Boom (fail!). As soon as I dropped the sandwich press down, the filling oozed out the sides and made in it into a little eggplant circle with a chicken burger surrounding it like a halo of sherry-spiked goodness. It tasted strange, and it looked even stranger.

I'm pretty sure this isn't what the authors had in mind

I then tried cooking it on the sandwich press without actually closing the lid, but this just resulted in raw chicken and a few complaints from the gallery (‘Mummy, what are you cooking? It smells like pancakes’).

Finally, my husband took pity and suggested I cook the little eggplanty sandwiches in a frypan with a lid on. Finally success.  Sort of. They still looked terrible and still tasted of old-lady sherry.

Was I just flogging a dead horse by now?

There was also a bit of a drama when I wandered off to refill my glass of champagne: ‘Mummy! Something’s on fire!’

You're right dear, it's your mother's love for these new stemless glasses

Eventually, we had half a dozen finished Japanese Eggplants ready to serve.  The dashi based dressing really made the dish.

I blame my husband

My Thoughts
I strongly suggest NOT using sherry instead of the sake. I strongly suggest leaving sherry to fruit cake and old ladies.

I would actually like to try this dish if it were made according to the recipe.  It’s probably something you shouldn’t attempt at home, but leave it to the (Japanese) professionals.

Not a very auspicious start.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to find more out about the recipe.