food for thought

by michelle

pasta e fagioli

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Pasta and beans is a classic soup in Italy and can be served thin or thicker as you prefer. This is an adapted version of a recipe fromTHE RIVER CAFE COOKBOOK by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. Hard to beat.

The beans need soaking and cooking first. I used fava beans as I didn’t have borlotti beans. Soak 250g (8¾ oz) of beans in 4 times the water overnight. If you haven’t planned ahead, fear not as you can use a quick-soak method. Bring the beans to boil for 4 minutes and then soak them for 1 hour. When the beans are soaked, cook them in fresh water until they are soft but still retaining their shape and then set them aside in their cooking liquid. In a heavy saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry 3 chopped onions and a generous amount of chopped celery. When the onion is soft add 4 minced cloves of garlic, the chopped leaves of a bunch of fresh rosemary, 3 crumbled dried chillies and 200g (7 oz) of pancetta, prosciutto or in my case, bacon. Brown the bacon or pancetta then add 1 large or 2 small cans of chopped tomatoes and their juices. Cook for 20 minutes allowing the liquid to reduce. Meanwhile, in some boiling salted water, cook 250g (8¾ oz) of pasta. The original recipe suggests penne but I had thick fusili in my pantry. The pasta should be just al dente. While the pasta cooks, purée half of the beans in some of their liquid and add them to the tomato mixture along with the whole beans. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the soup. Use the remaining bean liquid to thin the soup to your liking. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve garnished with grated parmesan, fresh chopped parsley and a drizzle of good olive oil.

Written by michelle picker

November 25, 2020 at 12:17 am


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Ancient Rome had similar dishes using olives and anchovies but the Provençal tapenade is named for its ubiquitous ingredient of “tapenas” or capers. Traditional tapenade always includes black olives and capers but additional ingredients may vary. This well-researched recipe is by Felicity Cloake for The Guardian. Spread it on bread or crackers as an hors d’œuvre or serve it with a cheese platter.

Remove the stones from 200g (7 oz) of black olives and put them in a food processor with 3 tablespoons of capers, 2 anchovy fillets, 1 large crushed clove of garlic and 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme. Process to a rough purée and add the juice of ½ a lemon. With the motor still running, add 5 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil. Season with pepper and adjust with more lemon juice if necessary.

Written by michelle picker

November 18, 2020 at 12:14 am

stewed chicken with shimeji mushrooms + carrot kinpara

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This sweet and sour Japanese style stew is easy to make and just delicious. And carrot kinpira, a Japanese way of cooking root vegetables, is an excellent accompaniment. Serve them with rice.

Bring some salted water to boil in a small saucepan. Trim the green beans, cut them into shorter lengths and cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, run under cold water to cool and set aside. In a small bowl or cup combine 2 tablespoons of cooking sake, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of white rice vinegar and 50-100 ml (1½ – 3½ fl oz) of water. Cut 4 chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with a little salt and dust lightly with cornflour. Heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a frypan or wok over high heat and add 1 minced clove of garlic for a few seconds. Add the chicken and fry until sealed. Trim the bottom of the shimeji mushrooms and add them to the chicken. Add the mixed sauce ingredients and reduce the heat. Allow the chicken to simmer gently until almost cooked then add the beans to reheat them. Finally, add 2 lightly beaten eggs and gently stir through, allowing them to set in pockets.

To make the carrot kinpira, cut 4 carrots into small julienne. Heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a frypan over medium heat and stir-fry the carrots until they just start to colour. Add 3 teaspoons of maple syrup and 3 teaspoons of mirin, keep cooking until the moisture from the carrots has evaporated. Add in 3 teaspoons of light soy sauce and cook until there is no liquid left in the pan. Allow the kinpira to cool a little before serving and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

*chicken stew adapted from this recipe + carrot kinpara from this recipe

Written by michelle picker

November 11, 2020 at 12:23 am

vanilla custard with roasted rhubarb and strawberries

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For a recent celebration, Mary made this dessert. It’s another fabulous recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, this time from SIMPLE. The custard is made with double cream and is reminiscent of a crème brûlée without the crunchy layer. And the wonderfully red and tart fruit is a perfect foil.

Preheat your oven to 200ºC (390ºF). Cut 200g (7 oz) of rhubarb into chunks and hull and halve 200g (7 oz) of strawberries. Combine the fruit with 90g (3 oz) of caster sugar and transfer to an oven dish. Roast for 13 minutes or until the fruit softens and the sugar creates a syrup. Remove from the oven and cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 170ºC (340ºF). Whisk 4 large egg yolks with 60g (2 oz) of sugar, 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of cornflour until smooth. Continue to whisk while gradually adding 600ml (20 fl oz) of double cream until well combined. Pour this mixture into a high-sided ovenproof dish. Place the dish into a larger dish and fill the larger dish with boiling water to about 1 cm (⅓”). Bake for 25 minutes or until set and just beginning to brown on top. Set aside to cool before chilling in the fridge. Serve the custard with the fruit and syrup on top.

Written by michelle picker

November 4, 2020 at 12:14 am

vietnamese caramel tofu

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If you think you don’t like tofu, this might just change your mind. This sweet and salty method of cooking is often used for pork, chicken or fish. Here is a satisfyingly chewy tofu version.

Choose a very firm tofu for this recipe. Place the tofu on a plate and cover with another plate. Weigh it down and leave the tofu to lose some of its moisture while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Finely dice a brown shallot and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Have ready some fish sauce, freshly ground black pepper and chilli paste. Pour ¼ of a cup of water into a small saucepan, then sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of raw sugar into the water. Cook without stirring until the sugar dissolves and starts to brown. I like a reasonably dark caramel but be careful not to burn it. When it’s to your liking add the shallot, garlic and some chilli paste to taste and cook briefly then remove from the heat. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (this will depend on whether you use stronger Thai fish sauce or milder Vietnamese fish sauce and can be adjusted to taste a little later) and a generous amount of black pepper. Set aside while you prepare the tofu. Remove the tofu from the plate and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Cut into squares and sprinkle with some salt. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a frypan. Dredge the tofu in cornflour, making sure not to use too much, and fry each piece until golden brown on both sides. When it’s cooked, drain on paper towels. Reheat the oil in the frypan. If there is too much oil for your liking you can remove some first. Now transfer the caramel sauce into the frypan and heat it, adjusting the flavour to your taste. Add the tofu and make sure it’s all coated with the sauce. Serve garnished with crushed roasted peanuts and fresh coriander (cilantro). Alternately, you can serve the tofu as part of a fresh salad or bun cha dau hu. To make the salad soak some rice vermicelli in boiling water until soft enough to eat. Rinse and set aside to drain. Finely shred some cabbage and carrot, slice some cucumber and pick the leaves from some fresh herbs like vietnamese mint and coriander (cilantro). Make individual serves from these ingredients and top with the tofu. To dress the salad make a Nuoc Cham by combining ¼ of a cup of Vietnamese fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 finely diced small red chilli, ¼ of a cup of water and lemon juice to taste. To adjust the balance use fish sauce for saltiness, sugar for sweetness and lemon juice for sourness.

Print the recipe here.

Written by michelle picker

October 28, 2020 at 12:12 am

Posted in tofu

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marinated mushrooms with tahini yoghurt

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If you love mushrooms, this is for you. The recipe is from PLENTY by Yotam Ottolenghi

The original recipe uses shimeji and chestnut mushrooms but since I didn’t plan ahead, I used button mushrooms. Slice 450g (1 lb) of mushrooms and put them in a large bowl. For the marinade whisk together 75ml (2½ fl oz) of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, the juice of 1 lemon, ½ a teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Pour this over the mushrooms and allow them to marinate for at least 1 hour. For the tahini sauce, to a small bowl add 35g (1¼ oz) of tahini, 120ml Greek yoghurt, 1 small clove of garlic (crushed), the juice of 1 lemon and ½ a teaspoon of salt. Whisk well to combine then set aside. Pour plenty of boiling water over 250g (8¾ oz) of broad beans (fresh or frozen) and leave them for 1-2 minutes. Drain and cool them. If you like your broad beans peeled you can do so at this stage. When the mushrooms are ready add the broad beans, 75g (2½ oz) of roughly chopped toasted walnuts and ½ a teaspoon of ground cumin. Mix well and adjust the seasoning to taste. Garnish with chopped fresh dill and oregano and serve with the tahini sauce.

Written by michelle picker

October 21, 2020 at 12:10 am

rabbit in a chocolate sauce

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Dishes with chocolate are found in many South American countries and were no doubt influenced by traditional Mexican mole negro. The chocolate, which is entirely sugar free, lends a depth of flavour to the sauce. This recipe from The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac was adapted by David to suit our rather small and very lean Australian rabbits.

Cut your rabbit into 6 – 8 pieces. Heat some oil in a heavy pot and gently fry a chopped or sliced onion until translucent. Transfer the onion to a food processor or blender and add 4 cloves of garlic, 1 can of peeled tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ a teaspoon of dried thyme, ½ a teaspoon of dried rosemary, ¼ of a teaspoon of chilli flakes and ¼ of a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Process to a sauce consistency and transfer to the cooking pot. Add the pieces of rabbit, 1 cup of red wine and 1 cup of water or stock. Bring to a simmer over very low heat and continue to simmer for 1½ hours. Add 30g (1 oz) of grated unsweetened Mexican chocolate and ¼ of a cup of roughly chopped dry-roasted peanuts. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with rice or tortillas.

Written by michelle picker

October 14, 2020 at 12:17 am

Posted in poultry & game

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maple ice cream with salted buttered walnuts

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In Australia, most maple syrup is A grade. B grade is produced later in the season and is darker, with more minerals, a higher viscosity and a stronger maple flavour. Luc, our local Canadian importer and ambassador of maple syrup, assures me that the closest here is Coles Brand. My can of B grade, however, had been schlepped all the way from Canada so I decided to feature it in this delectable ice cream. The salty nuts are a fantastic addition and remain crunchy as they are coated in butter. This time, I was entirely faithful to an original recipe from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. Yum!

Measure 2 cups of milk. Remove 2 tablespoons of the milk to make a slurry with 4 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch) and set aside. In another bowl or measuring cup measure 1¼ cups of double cream and mix in 2 tablespoons of corn syrup. Set aside. In a saucepan, bring 1½ cups of maple syrup to boil and allow it to boil for 8 minutes until the edges begin to darken. Remove from the heat and, while stirring, carefully add the cream and corn syrup mixture followed by the milk. Bring to boil again and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cornflour slurry. Stir well, return to the heat and allow to thicken. In a large bowl whisk 3 tablespoons of softened cream cheese with ½ a teaspoon of salt. Gradually add the hot mixture and whisk until smooth. Cool the mixture thoroughly, preferably overnight, before churning. For the salted buttered walnuts preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Combine ¾ of a cup of walnut halves or quarters with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and ½ a teaspoon of fine sea salt. Toss well and spread evenly onto an oven tray. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until fragrant and allow to cool completely before folding into your churned ice cream.

Written by michelle picker

October 7, 2020 at 10:54 am

Posted in cakes & desserts

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seafood japchae

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Japchae is amongst the most popular dishes in Korea. It’s a stir-fry of noodles, vegetables and, in my case prawns and squid. The transparent noodles are made of sweet potato starch and have a lovely chewy texture.

Soak 6 – 8 whole dried shiitake mushrooms in boiling water for a few hours before you start the rest of the meal. When the mushrooms are soft, slice them and put them in a bowl with 8-10 prawns and an equal amount of sliced squid. Add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons of sugar, ½ a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Mix and set aside to marinate. Whisk an egg with a pinch of salt and fry it in some oil in a very thin layer. When the egg is just cooked and not browned, remove it to a plate, cut into thin slices and set aside. Prepare the sweet potato noodles according to the packet instructions. When they are cooked add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Mix well and set aside. Now cut 1 medium carrot  into matchsticks, 1 red pepper into thin strips, 1 onion into thin wedges, 2 to 3 green onions crosswise into similar lengths and thinly slice 6-8 fresh mushrooms. Cut the stems from Chinese broccoli into thin strips and set aside. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and blanch the leaves until just cooked then squeeze dry and slice. Heat a wok over medium high heat, add a little vegetable oil and fry the onion and green onion with a pinch of salt until the onion is a little translucent. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat this step with the mushrooms and then with the carrot, red pepper and broccoli stems. Finally, add some more oil and fry the seafood and mushroom mixture until the prawns are just becoming opaque. Add the noodles, the fried vegetables, the broccoli leaves, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2-3 teaspoons of sugar, ½ a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil. Toss everything together to heat through. Garnish with the strips of egg and toasted sesame seeds. Serve with kimchi.

*adapted from this recipe.

Written by michelle picker

September 30, 2020 at 12:22 am


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Broccolini is a hybrid of broccoli and gai lan (Chinese kale or broccoli). It has smaller florets and thinner stalks than broccoli and the flavour is a little milder. It lends itself to just about any cuisine. Here are 2 simple recipes.

Broccolini with lemon:

Wash and trim the broccolini and set aside. Warm a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy frypan over low heat and then add some strips of lemon rind and some sliced garlic. Allow them to become fragrant but not to brown before adding the broccolini. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the broccolini to cook, turning occasionally, until the stems are just tender. Add a splash of lemon juice and serve.

Roasted miso broccolini:

Preheat your oven to 220ºC (425°F). In a large bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon of white miso paste, 2 tablespoons of oil (I used peanut), 1 tablespoon  of mirin (sweet cooking sake), 1 tablespoon of grated ginger, 1 minced clove of garlic, some freshly ground black pepper to taste and ¼ of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes until well-combined. Add 2 bunches of washed and trimmed broccolini to the bowl and toss them until coated with the miso mixture. Transfer to a baking tray and arrange in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, turning once. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Written by michelle picker

September 23, 2020 at 12:09 am

Posted in vegetables

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