Tuesday, August 31, 2010

STINGING NETTLE SOUP

Preparing the stinging nettles
 When Billie and I arrived to stay with friends in Melbourne on Saturday I admit I wasn't too excited when they announced what was for dinner. So I opted for the alternative of eating out - we were in Melbourne after all. But when Sunday evening rolled round I decided to take the plunge. I even offered to make it. Stinging Nettle Soup anyone?

Well, I'm now a covert to this fabulous SUPER VEGETABLE, which tastes like spinach and boasts a load of minerals and vitamins, including iron. In fact it's more than that. Stinging nettle has been used for many medicinal purposes by many different peoples for many, many years. To learn more, check out this Canadian article: WONDER PLANT . Or for some quick facts: stinging nettle on wikipedia

Stinging nettle of course stings when fresh and raw (soaking, cooking or drying remove the stings) so please note the rubber gloves.

Billie and Emily chat while waiting lunch at the Ceres' cafe


Sourcing this hardy weed may require a rummage in your local forest or garden. If you're in Melbourne, head to Ceres  -  Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies

It was by accident that Emily and Andrew wound up with an armful. Blame 6-week-old baby Oscar. By the time the new little family made it to Ceres Saturday organic markets, the cupboards were bare. Except for some lonely stinging nettle.

Billie enjoys the cafe at Ceres


When Billie, Emily, Oscar and I walked back to Ceres on Sunday for lunch at The Merri Table and Bar, serving delights straight from this urban farm, we suddenly saw stinging nettles everywhere along the Merri Creek route. But we're sure Ceres grows its own.

 This easy, yummy soup was adapted from one sourced online, Stinging Nettles Soup, but there is another version that looks pretty good included on the Wonder Plant link above which I may try next time we stumble across some stinging nettle.


STINGING NETTLE SOUP

 2 T butter
1 onion, chopped
1 pound of potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1 large bunch of stinging nettles (handle with gloves)
5 cups vegetable stock (homemade better obviously but we used 2 cubes dissolved)
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t salt
generous amount freshly ground black pepper
cream (optional)
yoghurt (optional but encouraged - we only had yoghurt in stock)


Chop and peel potatoes. Chop onion. Melt one tablespoon of the butter in large saucepan with heaby base. Saute onion until soft. Meanwhile, get hot stock ready. Add to pot with potatoes and bring to boil. Turn down and simmer WITHOUT LID for 15 minutes. Meanwhile wash and trim nettle (with  gloves). We used stalks and all but I would suggest removing most of the stalks to avoid a stringy soup. Add nettle to pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Blend well and reheat with cream, if using. Serve with generous dollop of yoghurt and some decent bread/toast. And yes, Billie liked it - with plenty of toast of course.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MAGIC ROLLS

I have not yet found anyone of any age who does not fancy these vegetarian 'sausage rolls'.

Pastry is of course one of the magic ingredients - we all love it, even if we won't admit it.

But the often-ridiculed TOFU and the charming PECANS are really the stars of the show.

This is a recipe from my mother, Elaine Allely, who is famous in Auckland for her cooking, particularly for these rolls, especially among my friends.

I need a good excuse to make them - being puff pastry and all they're kinda party food - so Australia's General Election on Saturday seemed appropriate. Billie's first sampling was her also her first TV dinner - she did love the rolls but was a bit distracted by a bowl of green olives (not pitted) and her 3.5yr old friend Charlie Moore's plate of tofu pecan rolls.

Seeing as this election is the election that keeps on giving - Australia has a hung parliament while we wait the slow count of postal votes in a couple of marginals - I thought it was appropriate to press repeat on the roll action at home last night.

Back home without the distractions of election commentary, Billie scoffed back roll after roll.

So here's the magic recipe (very easy and healthy actually, it just takes a few words to explain):


PECAN TOFU 'SAUSAGE' ROLLS

1 small onion
1 medium block tofu (pref hard)
1 generous cup pecan nuts
3/4 rolled oats
1/4 cup tamari
2-3 sheets frozen puff pastry
tomato or sweet chilli sauce to serve

You need either a food processor or a stick blender. If you have a large, fast processor just use that. If you have a smaller one like me, do onions and pecans in processor and then tofu in bowl with stick blender

 Preheat oven to 220c. Generously grease a large flat oven tray, or two smaller ones.

If using food processor, chop onion in quarters and then mince in processor. Add nuts, and mince with half of tamari. If you have a stick blender, place tofu in large bowl and use stick to blend. Stir through nut mixture and then oats (don't blend). Taste, and then add rest of tamari. You could use a little less tamari, but not too much less as it's an essential part of the flavor. Avoid soy sauce if you can, especially if includes sugar.

Remove pastry sheets from freezer. Place two sheets flat on bread board and use sharp knife to slice down middle. Each sheet will make two long rolls, which can then be cut into 8 pieces each. Brush edges facing you with milk, including along the cut.

Now use a spoon and your fingers to spread mixture along the edge closest to you and the edge furthest from you. Place the mixture in a long roll, but leave about 1cm before the edge so you can roll it tightly. Brush with milk, cut into halves, then halves again, until you have 16 little rolls from each pastry sheet. You can make them fatter - uses two sheets - of a little smaller - and use three sheets. Depends how much pastry you feel like eating.

Place on oiled trays, evenly spaced, and bake in hot oven for 15 mins or until well browned. If making ahead of time, cook for just ten minutes and then cook for another 10 when ready to serve. Dip them in tomato or sweet chilli sauce. Billie was fine with hers just straight.


Friday, August 20, 2010

UNUSUAL AUBERGINE AND SUGAR-FREE ORANGE AND DATE MUFFINS

I have a thing about aubergine/eggplant that's not crispy. When it's soft and soggy I usually turn up my nose.

So when I saw this recipe involving POACHING the aubergine I was a little suspicious. But as it came firmly recommended by New Zealand chef Julie Le Clerc, via her cousin living in Italy, I decided to keep an open mind.

Not only is this dish delicious, but poaching is in fact a great alternative to oiling and grilling/baking. I would still stick to those crispy slices for certain other recipes, but here poaching is perfect. It's healthier and much quicker too.

The recipe for Lemony Ricotta Eggplant Layers follows below. And good pictures to come but my camera batteries are flat...ughhh.

But first you need to check out my most creative endeavor so far this week: Sugar-free Orange and Date Muffins.

Now you may say 'sugar-free, get away!' and I usually would too. But there's two reasons to pursue sugar-free creations: It makes the muffins a decent healthy lunch or breakfast or snack. Most importantly for us it makes them Billie-biteable. We're doing our best to keep her off processed sugar for as long as possible, and she devoured these. In fact, she displayed some very bad manners by begging like a seagull for others' muffins once she had demolished her own.

I was very pleased with the results here as it was one of those making-it-up-as you-go-along recipes - quite risky when baking.

SUGAR-FREE DATE AND ORANGE MUFFINS

220g self raising flour - 1/2 wholemeal and half white
60g plain flour 
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup dates, chopped
2 oranges

Grease 12 muffin trays with butter. Preheat oven to 200-220c. Sift flours and baking powder into large bowl. Add dates and rind of one orange. In smaller bowl whisk eggs, oil and milk together. Add juice of half of one of the oranges. Peel rest of oranges and chop into smallish pieces. Add to liquid and then gently but swiftly combine with dry ingredients. Divide into muffin tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Turn onto wire rack to cool.


LEMONY RICOTTA EGGPLANT LAYERS

This is from Julie Le Clerc's 'Cafe@home' cookbook.

Poaching the eggplant in water removes its thirst for oil. Another good tip from Julie is to use a serrated knife to cut the aubergine - much easier on the arms.

2 medium or 1 large eggplant/aubergine, sliced into 1cm thick rounds
1 cup ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
zest of one lemon
salt and black pepper
2 roasted red peppers/capsicums, thickly sliced
8-12 anchovies (optional - but very good)

Cut peppers into fat strips - quarters - and wipe with oil before placing in oven on tray until well done.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and poach aubergine slices for 5 minutes or until softened. I found it best to do in several batches, as they float. Place on clean tea towel to dry off. 

Mix ricotta with egg and lemon zest, and season to taste. 

Lightly oil baking dish and layer ingredients to form several individual stacks - about four. Start with aubergine, spoon over little ricotta mix, then cover with red pepper strip and an anchovy. Repeat layers until mixture used up.

Bake at 200c for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with broccoli or other greens.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Foul with Fresh Eggs from the Backyard Fowl

Foul/Ful with poached eggs
I'm pleased Billie's first encounters with chickens has been watching them peck around friends' backyards. At least she won't be shocked when she finds out where the white fleshy stuff on others' plates comes from. Her dadda loves to recount the story of freaking out his nephew in Chicago many moons ago, when Miles informed young Justin of the roots of the food on his plate. Justin promptly ran off and told his mama Millicent that uncle Miles was telling tales.

Keeping a few chooks in your Sydney backyard has become popular with the rise of rent-a-chook schemes. A New Zealand newspaper recently proclaimed it as 'the new black'.

Unfortunately our landlord won't let us keep chooks in the shared hallway, so we have to make do with visits to Toni and Tim's Petersham chicken coop and Miream and Chris' Kingsford egg-layers.

Of course the best thing about having chickens roaming your yard is the constant supply of fresh, organic eggs on your back-doorstep. It's more than one family can get through, even if you eat frittata every day. Yesterday Miream sent us home from brunch clutching half a dozen spare eggs.

And what a brunch it was. Miream's Palestinian-Canadian mother is a chef in Toronto. We feasted on her fodder in December when she came out to cook for Miream and Chris' wedding. She was there to bless the couple too but her kitchen skills came in very handy.
Miream re-produces her ma's foul medammas

Yesterday Miream produced her mother's Foul adaptation and served it with fresh poached eggs and toast. Unfortunately for me, Miream is one of these cooks who doesn't measure or write recipes down. I did my best to transcribe her mum's special Foul. It's pronounced 'fool'.



MIREAM'S FOUL MEDAMMAS

Fava beans - Miream used 2 tins or you could soak and boil 2 cups dried fava
1/2 lemon, juiced
green chilli -mild (depending on who serving to)
about 4 fresh tomatoes
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed 
bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 green and 1 red pepper/capsicum, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to pour on top at end

Mash beans and heat up in small pot with garlic, lemon, chilli. Blend and then stir through chopped vegetables. Serve warm with toast and poached eggs.


From wikipedia:
Ful medammas (Arabic: فول مدمسfūl mudammas), also known as foul medammas, is a Middle Eastern dish of cooked and mashed fava beans served with olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic and lemon juice. It is often served for breakfast.

And yes, Billie enjoyed it spread on toast. It's beans, after all. There's something very cool about chomping on poached eggs while the chickens peck under your feet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Billie Rides the Dragon by guest blogger Miles Merrill

Who'd a thunk it? My lil' Billie just chomped down strips of pickled ginger and laughed like an invincible super eater, swooping into my bowl, snatching more.

Yes friends, followers and lovers of all things Japanese, we took our test-case daughter to the Ramen Kan Noodle Bar in Bondi Junction. This bustling hot spot was our local cheapo "fine" dining before Queen Billie popped into our food excursions. With all of our brave eating in the US recently, we decided to chance a night on the town with chop sticks.

We ordered a variety of entrees including sashimi and seaweed salad, neither of which we tried on Billie. However, the salted and steamed edamame had her demanding and squealing with glass shattering glee. We slid each soybean out of its furry skin into a red bowl. She plucked from the heap deftly with thumb and forefinger, stuffing each slippery bean into her sticky maw.

Next we sliced off a chunk of teriyaki salmon and chopstick-fed her.  Her eyes bulged for a moment at the savory morsel, she chewed and was hooked. More, more, more! We should have ordered her a plate of her own fish. All this sharing was taking its toll on my pile of goodies.

Then came the agedashi tofu, in sweet mirin-tinged broth, light tempura batter and fluttering benito flakes.  Devoured with a smirk.

What was left? Just a few lone, cold, soybeans, a wrecked glob of wasabe, several strands of seaweed and a few limp strips of pickled ginger. She tasted the seaweed, stretched the slime string out of her mouth, inspected, judged and swung a wild left fist, tossing the soggy leaf to the tiles.

We gave her a pinky nail's worth of ginger. Again, her eyes went wide. Her tongue was on a roller-coaster. She pursed her lips, pulled the chunk out, surveyed it... put it back in her mouth; smacking her lips, scrunching her nose and swallowing. I couldn't believe it. She pointed to the few remaining curls of yellow dynamo condiment on my plate. "More ginger", she mimed and grunted. We appeased her like good parent slaves.

We laughed, "how is she doing this?" Astounded, Sarah and I each tried a raw piece ourselves- not with the soy sauce, the raw fish- just a shaving of ginger, soaked in vinegar. Woah! Clears the sinuses. Gives you whisky breath. But Billie thought it was candy.

I don't want to give the impression that we treat our daughter like a lab rabbit but I had to offer her one final test- a cold edamame bean squeezed from it's pod, dug from it's bowl. I smear a skerrick  of wasabi on. Sarah protests. It's cruel. It's a trick. The horseradish might scald her gums. Call me evil, I was curious.

Billie sucked the bean straight in. At first, we thought, "she's just swallowed it and missed the wasabi", but no. Chewing, pulling it out, looking at it, turning it over... back into the mouth.

Three more wasabi smeared beans and she reaches for her sippy cup with a cheeky grin. "Slurp! Ahh!"
Her eyes ask us,  "Is that all you got?"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

HEARTY SPINACH POLENTA PIE and A MEAL IN A MUFFIN

Muffins have a made a few appearances on billie bites, but I have a confession to make: Billie didn't actually manage to eat those. She wasn't quite ready to deal with the texture. Too crumbly or something.

But times have a changed. When I pulled out these vegetable muffins at our wee mothers' group gathering at Bronte Park this week, Billie instantly began her arm-flapping routine reserved for letting us know she wants some of that food please. This was despite her already haven eaten a hearty lunch at home. She demolished one and a half muffins, enjoying the freedom of being able to make as much mess as possible.

This was a little experiment to see if there's a limit to how much vegetables pack into one batch of muffins. At first when they came out of the oven I was concerned they were too moist. But after being left a few minutes to cool they were a fabulous mini meal. You could reduce the carrots, perhaps.


MEAL-IN-A-VEGETABLE-MUFFIN

220g self raising flour (half wholemeal)
1 cup grated strong cheddar, or 2 cups mild
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
2 medium carrots, grated
2 small courgettes/zucchini, grated
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
1 spring onion/scallion, finely chopped

Generously grease 12 muffin tins with butter, or line with paper baking cups. Preheat oven to 200 c. 
Sift flour into large bowl, add cheese and parsley and spring onions/scallions. Set aside. Whisk eggs, oil and milk together and add carrot and courgette. When everything is ready, gently and quickly combine wet and dry ingredients in large bowl and swiftly divide into muffin tins. Lingering at this point is not good for your muffins. Place in oven for about 20-25 mins or until browned on top and cooked through. Remove from tins and cool on wire wracks. Nice warm but Billie and I enjoyed left-overs the next day.

Navajo Tribal Nation - Monument Valley

Now for dinner...
I returned home from our re-acquaintance with the ocean to learn friends were coming for dinner. And a gluten-free friend at that. So I dived for the polenta jar and re-created this warming pie which proved popular with the Chicago in-laws. Despite it being the height of summer there.


HEARTY SPINACH POLENTA PIE

2 litres water
350 g polenta
1/4 t salt
 3 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
800 g tomatoes
1/2 t salt
2 T fresh oregano or basil, chopped
2 T parsley, chopped
Bunch English spinach
2 cups grated strong cheddar, or Parmesan


First prepare the polenta. Bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a large pot. Grease two large wide square or rectangle pie dishes. Or you can use one pie dish and one baking sheet. Sprinkle from a height 350g polenta and 1/4 t salt, stirring as you go. Turn heat to low and stir almost constantly until thickened. It will probably only take a few mins. When you can almost stand the spoon up in it remove form heat and whip through a tablespoon of butter and grind in some black pepper. Pour and spread evenly into pie dishes/baking sheet. One layer will be left as is in the dish and the other will be removed when cool and set to layer on top of the other.

Preheat the oven to 220 c. Prepare the red sauce (or use a good quality jar if in a hurry). Heat oil in a pot. Saute onions and garlic, add tomatoes and salt and black pepper. Simmer on low with lid off for about 30 minutes (or until you are ready to use). Add fresh herbs and remove from heat.

Pick spinach and wash. Lay uncooked leaves flat on top of polenta layer in large pie dish. Layer up half the bunch. Spoon over a third of the sauce. Sprinkle some of the cheese over. Now place the other polenta slab (you can cut it into manageable pieces) on top and then cover with another third of the sauce and the rest of the cheddar. Place in hot oven for about 20 mins or until golden and heated through.

Cook the remaining spinach in a large pot with a knob of butter on medium heat for 5 mins. Shake half way through. 

Serve the pie with the wilted hot spinach on the side, and a spoon of the remaining sauce, reheated.

Makes very good leftovers for lunch.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

CHILLI BEAN-LOVER RETURNS HOME FROM THE DESERT

 Now I'm not advocating feeding your baby loads of hot chilli.  But perhaps keep an open mind. During our US travels Billie embraced food with a hint of heat, with both hands.

Here's a new recipe below to try out on all the family. It's a fabulous vegetable chilli served to us by Great Grandma Eve in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Billie's first accidental chilli outing was in Chicago when we stumbled upon a fantastic buffet at Oak Park's popular Indian restaurant - Khyber Pass. Billie ate spoonfuls, and handfuls, of the palek paneer without even wincing. The popular spinach and cheese curry often contains no chilli, but this one definitely had a wee kick. 

Black beans, refried beans and chilli beans became our go-to option to keep Billie busy when we were eating out in the US. We're gonna miss this $2 healthy option offered at the many and varied Mexican restaurants we visited in Chicago, and then on our little trip through the south-west desert.

Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border. Snapped out the window.
 But usually these Billie bean sides were without chilli. Until we got to the Taos Nachos. Billie and I took a later-than-usual dinner excursion, leaving Miles in the Taos hotel dealing with food poisoning picked up in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

 Taos is a gorgeous little arty New Mexican town that sits at the foot of several ski mountains, surrounded by desert. The buildings are all either Adobe or Faux-dobe, to keep the Native American tradition of mud-brick houses alive. Or at least the feeling of it alive.

Sidling into a bustling restaurant bar at 8.30pm with Billie strapped to me in the Ergo, I opt for the vegetarian nachos as an easy dish to share with my bean-hungry bub. Thankfully the staff notice my difficulty easing black beans out from under the fresh jalapeno, and deliver a bowl of plain beans for Billie.

But not before she has managed to consume several bits of jalapeno. Fortunately, each time her reaction is rather mild. A little spluttering and reaching for her water beaker, but then she insists on digging into more of where that came from please.

Dawn on the Amtrak between Arizona and California
Flagstaff, Arizona
I wouldn't go round sprinkling chilli in her food, but when I'm cooking a casserole of vegetarian chilli for the family meal I now know we can meet half way on the heat.

The recipe below called for two tablespoons of chilli, so I opted for just one. Miles and I enjoyed it last night with brown rice and good quality organic sour cream (ie just cream and cultures). Today we'll all enjoy it for lunch.

POST NOTE: Billie ate a bowl for lunch with rice and cheese and a bowl for dinner with sour cream stirred through to mute the chilli. This is a dish to spoon-feed to avoid rubbing in eyes, although Billie did finger feed a few of the beans (her favorite pastime).





GREAT GRANDMA EVE'S VEGETABLE CHILLI

3/4 cup olive oil
2 courgettes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 onions, diced
4 garlic gloves, chopped finely
2 red peppers/capsicums, diced 1/4 inch
800g tinned tomatoes
1 T chilli powder, or crushed dried chillis
1 T cumin
1 T fresh or dried oregano
1 T basil (opt)
black pepper
1 t salt
1 t fennel seeds
1/2 cup fresh parsely, chopped
1 cup kidney beans
1 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped (essential - tastes great)
2 T lemon juice
grated cheddar
sour cream
4 scallions/spring onions chopped for garnish

First cook the beans. If you don't have a pressure cooker, soak them for few hours or overnight in 3 cups of water each. Cook separately as chickpeas take longer kidney beans. Drain water and place in large pots with 3 cups of water each. Cook kidney beans for 1 1/4 hours or 25 mins in pressure cooker. Cook chickpeas for 2 1/2 hours or 45 mins in pressure cooker.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a fry pan and add courgette. Saute and then transfer to a large casserole. Heat 1/4 cup oil in the fry pan and add onions, garlic and red peppers. Saute and then transfer to casserole. Place over low heat and add tomatoes, chilli, cumin, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt, fennel seeds and parsley. Cook uncovered, stirring often, for 30 minutes. Cook brown rice now if using. Corn chips are another option.

Now stir in beans, chickpeas, dill, lemon. Cook for another 15 minutes. Stir well, adjust seasonings. Serve with scallions, sour cream and grated cheese on the side. 

Eve served hers with guacamole, refried beans, Italian beans and corn chips. It was a bit of a Welcome to Baraboo Feast.

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